The > type isn't dead!(Light vehicles)

Author:Kemp, Ian
 
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At the 2007 DSEi exhibition in September Chrysler announced that it would launch a new 4 x 4 version of the iconic Jeep light utility vehicle an the military market early next year. The more than 630,000 Jeeps produced during the Second World War defined the breed: it featured a robust chassis, excellent cross-country performance, great adaptability and it was inexpensive.

When America's National D-day Museum in New Orleans held an exhibition on the quarter-tonne 4 x 4 Truck, the formal designation for the Jeep, to mark the 60th anniversary of D-Day, it was titled 'Everyone has a Jeep'. Although it was pressed into service as a reconnaissance vehicle and a weapons carrier the unarmoured Jeep was not designed for front-line combat operations. In fact the name derives from the pronunciation of the two letters GP; meaning General Purpose.

The basic characteristics of any successful modern light utility vehicle, or LUV, such as the British Land Rover, the German Mercedes-Benz G-Class and the AM General Hummer, are the same as for those early Jeeps: a robust, rugged design with good cross-country performance. Land Rover estimates that some 70% of the more than two million Land Rovers produced for the military and civilian markets since the vehicle was introduced in 1948 are still in service. The Jeep and the Land Rover illustrate how the synergy between the civilian sport utility vehicle (SUV) market and the military LUV market is of benefit to both groups of users.

Light utility vehicles are found in combat, combat support and combat service support units across the entire force structure of heavy, medium and light units. In some light units, including special forces units, which give priority to strategic and tactical mobility over protection, these are the only vehicles used. They usually represent the largest single type within any army's wheeled tactical vehicle fleet. For example, within the US Army, light tactical vehicles, as the service categorises them, represent about 50% of the fleet with more than 120,000 Hummers, 9000 commercial utility cargo vehicles and limited numbers of small unit support vehicles in service.

While the basic roles for which light utility vehicles have been employed over the years--carrying personnel, cargo, and specialist weapons and equipment--have not changed, the operational environment since the end of the Cold War has undergone a radical transformation, especially since the attacks on 11 September 2001. American and allied military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq face an "asymmetric' threat from ruthless opponents who are quick to identify weaknesses. In the aftermath of the American occupation of Iraq logistics convoys and other combat service support units became the insurgent's targets of choice.

AM General notes that prior to Operation Iraqi Freedom, >. Fewer than 1000 M1114 Up-Armoured Hummers models were built by early 2004. Faced by escalating casualties in Iraq US defence leaders directed that only armoured Hummers would be used for operational missions in Iraq and Afghanistan and launched a crash effort to fit add-on armour in theatre.

While add-on armour kits developed for the Hummer, the G-Wagon and other types have reduced casualties, they nevertheless do not provide the same level of protection as purpose-built armoured vehicles. The weight of armour can reduce payload by up to half and significantly reduce the vehicle's service life. The need to provide protection to vehicle gunners who initially operated machine guns and automatic grenade launchers from unprotected hatches has added further weight. Most light utility vehicles operated by American and allied forces in the war on terror are now fitted with some form of gunner's shield or turret and small numbers are fitted with overhead weapon stations (OWS) which are operated from within the protection of the vehicle. The cost of armour protection can exceed that of the basic vehicle and this is certainly true of a sophisticated OWS, which can include a surveillance and target acquisition system. Even with armour protection the threat from IEDs has forced American, Canadian, British and other forces to restrict their employment of light utility vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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The US Department of Defense launched the joint service Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (Mrap) armoured vehicle programme under the leadership of the US Marine Corps in January 2007. The generic Mrap design incorporates a V-shaped hull to deflect the blast away from the crew compartment. The initial Mrap I vehicles, with almost 7000 on order from seven...

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