Infantry fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers.

Author:Valpolini, Paolo
 
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With the Afghanistan mission drawing to an end, the demand for Mraps is losing momentum. Where will Western troops be called upon next is anybody's guess, but what is almost certain is that the scenario will again be of asymmetric nature. Part of the lessons learned in Afghanistan might thus be of use, although the terrain, which often dictates tactics and means, might be considerably different.

The First Gulf War definitely opened a few eyes on deployment requirements, thus vehicle air transportability seems to remain a prime design criterion (apart form a few exceptions), while protection will definitely remain among top priorities for political reasons, since western public opinion is not ready to accept black bags coming back home. With no major breakthroughs in technology to allow any substantial change in the weight-protection paradigm, though active defence systems may eventually come to the rescue in this department, not many revolutionary vehicles seem to be in the pipeline.

Some lessons seem, however, to have been learned, especially in terms of overall situational awareness and driver view, and this alone might modify the physiognomy of vehicles to come. This being said, approaches on future vehicles designs already show some strong differences, with Israel and its Rakiya seeking a reduction in weight compared to the current Merkava-based family of vehicles, while apparently future US Army combat vehicles might actually weigh more than current M1A2 Abrams.

Compared to a few years ago, when the wheels were all the rage, 2013 is showing the return of the track, in spite of higher costs in life cycle terms. One programme is definitely the one that might shape the future of tracked IFVs: following the demise of the Future Combat Systems, the US Army is still looking for a replacement for its Bradley family, which dates back to the 1970s--in other words 40 years--and the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) should apparently survive sequestration. The other major American programme is the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), which aims at replacing all those support vehicles based on the M113 chassis. However in this case the dramatic choice between tracks and wheels has yet to been made.

Turkey definitely appears a the most active nation in new vehicle development, IDEF 2013 seeing at least one novelty from each of the principal players in view of the new bids that might soon be launched by the Undersecretariat for Defence Industries (SSM). On the other hand few new vehicles are emerging on the European scene, where industry is still waiting to see how rationalisation moves will reshape the market. Overall though, the number of companies able to produce armoured vehicles, especially the wheeled variety, is still increasing, particularly in the Middle and Far East.

* GROUND COMBAT VEHICLES ON STEROIDS?

If this Compendium is to start with the heavier and more complex tracked vehicles, its inevitably has to open on the GCV.

The decision to award a Technology and Development (TD) contract worth approximately $450 million to BAE Systems and General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) goes back to August 2011. "Faster, lighter, more fuel-efficient alternatives" to the Bradley was what Gen. Eric Shinseky, the Army Chief of Staff in 1999, stated as the requirements for the new vehicles. Some 15 years on his wish for a lighter IFV have not become true, the current forecast weight for the Ground Combat Vehicle being over twice that of the Bradley in his original version. Moreover, due to the recent defence budget cuts, a decision on the GCV production might still not be made 20 years after Gen. Shinseky's speech. By that time the first Bradleys will be have had over 35 years of service and, all going well the Army expects its first production vehicles to roll-out in 2017. The decision to delay the TD phase by at least six months, due to budgetary pressure, was announced in late January 2013, pushing the RfP for the Engineering and Manufacturing Development (EMD) phase originally planned for Fall 2013 to the right, to Spring 2014. Another decision, that goes against the Army wish for a competitive bid, is the cut to one single contractor for the EMD phase. However estimates consider that this move might save some $4 billion in the next five years. What remains are the requirements for a vehicle that should host three crewmembers plus a squad of nine soldiers, be heavily protected and fully networked, with a propulsion system featuring a dramatic reduction in fuel consumption.

For this GCV programme BAE Systems has teamed with Northrop Grumman, and this team actually is the only bidder to have unveiled some details of its proposal. Starting with the weight issue where the first M2 Bradley had a combat weight of 22.6 tonnes and carried a three-man crew and seven dismounts, its BAE Systems proposed successor (according to the company's data sheet), will have a weight of 63.5 tonnes and will carry two more infantrymen in the back.

It is true that the Bradley has been criticised for its relatively low protection, which led to a series of upgrades resulting in the latest Bradley A3's combat weight of 34,3 tonnes. At 70km/h flat out not much extra top speed is available (the M2A3 topped out at 61 km/h), although the new powerplant should provide good mobility. BAE Systems decided to adopt its new hybrid electric drive propulsion. Known as the Traction Drive System (TDS), this was developed with QinetiQ, which provided a key component in the form of the E-X-Drive transmission. The TDS can be adapted to 20- 40 tonne vehicles and is based on two symmetrical power packages that enhance reliability and provide a degraded mode capability, something that is not available with a mechanical single-engine configuration.

The TDS is considered at TRL 6-7, and BAE Systems published a viewgraph showing some of its performances. The power, 1,500 hp, matches today's main battle tanks ratings (having to cope with similar weights, it must be said!). However, the hybrid drive, in which the final stage is occupied by electric motors, offers a number of advantages. Apart from being less intrusive in the vehicle architecture, fuel savings of 10% to 20% are announced, which means a range of 300 km with a full 965-litre tank (in comparison, the M2A3 runs over 402 km with 662 litres but weighs 50% less). Taking a current 70 tonner as yardstick, this would burn around 55,600 litres of fuel in a 180-day camapain. The new type at the same weight, but running on a mechanical powerpack would consume 39,700 litres, but the same vehicle powered by BAE Systems TDS would use 33,235 litres, in other words nearly 6,500 litres less. This means that three vehicles will save the equivalent of two M948 HEMTT fuel tankers. High torque typical of electric motors improves manoeuvrability at low speeds and during dismounted operations the hybrid configuration also allows silent operation. As said above, if top speed is not dramatically increased (operationally speaking not a major issue) acceleration takes a 25% boost thanks again to electric motor torque, with the vehicle leaping from 0 to 32 km/h in 7.8 secondss against 10.5 for a conventional 70 tomer.

The QinetiQ E-X-Drive transmission also provides seamless transition between all driving modes. Besides silent operation, another key virtue of the TDS is its 1,100 kW electrical power generator, enough to ensure ample supply to future subsystems. The BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman GCV will feature 7 roadwheels with in-arm hydropneumatic suspensions, and will have 635 mm wide tracks.

Looking at artist impressions provided by the company, the top view clearly shows the two powerpacks on the rear sides, with the centre tunnel allowing infantrymen to dismount using the rear ramp. The driving station on the front left of the all-steel core hull while the vehicle commander's position is on the right, where the engine used to be. Protection levels will be very high, BAE Systems claiming that they will exceed the mine and EFP protection of the RG-33 Mrap, (helped by the 0.5-metre ground clearance). Images clearly highlight the add-on armour installed on the sides, which broadens the vehicle width to five metres, which certainly is not an advantage when moving in urban canyons considering the nine-metre length of the behemoth (the Bradley MA3 is 3.2 metres wide and 6.5 metres long).

Firepower is by courtesy of BAE System Dynamics' Tactical Remote Turret (TRT) which can accept a dual-feed cannon up to 30 mm calibre. Apparently the turret offered to the US Army is the TRT25. Although remotely controlled, the TRT features a hatch in the roof to provide direct view to a crewmember. A remote control weapon station is installed on top of the turret and is used by the mission commander, who will not necessarily use its firepower but its sighting system for increased situational assessment. Equipped with open architecture vetronics the vehicle is ready to receive the plug-in sensors and systems that will form its C4ISR suite.

GDLS, for its part, does not communicate on its GCV proposal.

With some estimates pushing the GCV weight up to 84 tonnes and others saying that the issue is still wide open, one will have to wait at least until next year to have a clear idea of what the US Army IFV of the 2020s might look like.

* AMPV

The other programme that might add a new tracked vehicle to the US Army inventory is the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV). Based on existing and proved technologies, the programme aims at replacing the M113-based support vehicles in the following five mission roles: mission command (MCmd), medical treatment (MTV), medical evacuation (MEV), general purpose (GP), and mortar carrier (MCV). Current vehicles are unable to manoeuvre at the same speed as first line vehicles like the Abrams tank and the Bradley IFV. The AMPV should be a relatively low-cost programme, the average unit manufacturing cost having been...

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