A Modern Tracked Alternative for Infantry Mobility

 In Land, Uncategorized, Forces & Capabilities

By Nicholas Drummond and Jed Cawthorne

In a world where wheeled armoured vehi­cles are becom­ing the pri­ma­ry equip­ment type for all NATO armies, this arti­cle explores the devel­op­ment and increas­ing impor­tance of the All-Terrain Transport Vehicle (ATTV) in pro­vid­ing mobil­i­ty when extreme ter­rains are encoun­tered.

Boxer can do most things, but not every­thing

The British Army is jus­ti­fi­ably excit­ed about the immi­nent arrival of the Boxer multi-role armoured vehi­cle. This will replace ageing and worn-out MRAPs as well as the FV432 APC, a vehi­cle approach­ing 60 years of ser­vice life. As other arti­cles make clear, Boxer will be a step-change in capa­bil­i­ty by com­bin­ing oper­a­tional mobil­i­ty with tac­ti­cal mobil­i­ty. (Operational mobil­i­ty is a vehicle’s abil­i­ty to travel from the the­atre entry point to the area of combat oper­a­tions; tac­ti­cal mobil­i­ty is a vehicle’s agili­ty within the area of combat oper­a­tions). Boxer offers these ben­e­fits thanks to its advanced 8×8 dri­v­e­line which gives it excel­lent off-road per­for­mance for a wheeled vehi­cle as well as a rapid on-road per­for­mance in excess of 100 kph for the self-deploy­ment of mech­a­nised infantry. In most sit­u­a­tions, Boxer will arrive long before tanks and other tracked AFVs. It will also go wher­ev­er MBTs and tracked IFVs go. However, wheeled units are likely to encounter extreme ter­rain that not only chal­lenges the Boxer’s off-road abil­i­ties, but even those of Challenger 2 and Warrior.

DEFENCE 01 TT 01.JPGBoxer being tested by DE&S (Image: UK Ministry of Defence)

With future combat oper­a­tions expect­ed to take place in built-up areas this may not matter. For fight­ing in the streets of megac­i­ties or sub­ur­ban areas, wheeled vehi­cles are prefer­able. They’re faster, qui­eter and easier to move. They also cause less damage to road sur­faces. Tracked AFVs are noisy and dif­fi­cult to manoeu­vre. Turning on their own axis can rip-up paved sur­faces or they can get stuck in narrow streets. For these rea­sons, many armies are moving to pre­dom­i­nant­ly wheeled fleets. But what about deploy­ments to areas with extreme ter­rain? Although extreme ter­rain sce­nar­ios are unlike­ly, they are not impos­si­ble and the Army must be resourced to oper­ate across a range of sce­nar­ios and cli­mat­ic con­di­tions. Fighting on NATO’s Northern flank in winter, in deep snow, is likely to be dif­fi­cult for wheeled plat­forms, if not impos­si­ble. Swamps and marsh­land will also present an obsta­cle as will other very soft soil con­di­tions. In arid deserts, fine sand may pre­vent a vehicle’s tyres from gain­ing trac­tion while the over­all weight of vehi­cle will pre­vent it from climb­ing steep inclines.

The Hagglunds Bandvagn family of ATTV vehi­cles

The Swedish vehi­cle man­u­fac­tur­er Hagglunds antic­i­pat­ed the extreme ter­rain mobil­i­ty prob­lem as long ago as the mid-1960s when it devel­oped the Bv 202 All-Terrain Transport Vehicle (ATTV). Originally acquired by the Swedish Army so that it could nego­ti­ate snow and marsh­land areas, the Bandvagn has been sub­se­quent­ly acquired by a vari­ety of NATO alliance mem­bers, includ­ing the UK. The Bv 202 was pri­mar­i­ly used as a logis­tics car­ri­er, but its poten­tial as a troop car­ri­er was soon realised and the plat­form was mod­i­fied.

Volvo Bv 202Original Volvo Bv 202

The orig­i­nal Bv 202 plat­form received an exten­sive re-design in 1980 when the Bv 206 was intro­duced. This built on the capa­bil­i­ties of its small­er, older broth­er by offer­ing increased pay­load and per­for­mance in a larger pack­age. In essence, the Bv 202 and Bv 206 evolved into all-ter­rain per­son­nel car­ri­ers with artic­u­lat­ed twin cabs. Weighing less than 7 tonnes they can be under­slung beneath a Chinook. They have an extreme­ly low ground pres­sure and are amphibi­ous making them ideal for mar­itime oper­a­tions. The Royal Marines acquired around 350. The only obvi­ous dis­ad­van­tage was lim­it­ed sur­viv­abil­i­ty due to a lack of pro­tec­tion.

Hagglund-BV206-ATVHagglunds Bv 206 – highly mobile, but no pro­tec­tion.

The Bv 206 ATTV was super­seded by a fur­ther improved vehi­cle, the BvS 10, in 2004. This was a col­lab­o­ra­tion between between Hagglunds (now owned by BAE Systems) and the UK Ministry of Defence; and was called Viking in UK ser­vice. The major improve­ments were the addi­tion of armoured pro­tec­tion, increased ground clear­ance, a more pow­er­ful dri­v­e­line, and increased speed on the ground and in water. The plat­form also became more mod­u­lar allow­ing it to incor­po­rate a vari­ety of mis­sion fits. The Royal Marines acquired 108 vehi­cles in four ver­sions: a Troop Carrying Variant (TCV); Command Variant (CV); Repair & Recovery Variant (RRV); and an Ambulance Variant (AV). The vehi­cle has 2 crew mem­bers in the for­ward cab and can carry 8 – 10 pas­sen­gers in the rear com­part­ment.

BA BVS 10 AfghanistanBritish Army BVS10 in Afghanistan circa 2006.

For use in Afghanistan, bar armour was added to the exte­ri­or. Although char­ac­terised by rough ter­rain, the vehi­cle saw ser­vice more as a reg­u­lar per­son­nel car­ri­er than an extreme off-road plat­form. There was just one prob­lem. Although the Viking was now pro­tect­ed, it did not have suf­fi­cient armour to cope with the bur­geon­ing IED threat. Several Vikings were destroyed by large IEDS cre­at­ing a crisis of con­fi­dence in the vehi­cle. Less than two years after being intro­duced into ser­vice, the UK Ministry of Defence was forced to sup­ple­ment the Viking fleet with ST Kinetics’ own ver­sion of the same type of plat­form, the Bronco All-Terrain Tracked Carrier. Dubbed Warthog in UK ser­vice, around 100 were acquired. Several sur­vived IED attacks, includ­ing one that was hit by a 50 kg device. While the Warthog offered increased pro­tec­tion, early ver­sions were not amphibi­ous. Moreover, being hur­ried­ly acquired through an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR) pur­chase, the plat­form proved to be less mechan­i­cal­ly reli­able than Viking, but this may have had some­thing to do with only lim­it­ed spare parts and sup­port ser­vices being pur­chased as part of the pack­age. After UK troops left Afghanistan, Warthog was retired and BAE received a con­tract to refur­bish exist­ing Viking Mark 1s to a Mark 2 stan­dard,[1] which includ­ed adding addi­tion­al armour. Thereafter, the fleet was returned to Royal Marine ser­vice with a few being retained by the Army for STA roles.

bvs10 snowUpgraded BvS10 with new Level 2 armour pack­age.

The Royal Marines are now con­sid­er­ing what should replace both the Bv 206 and BvS 10 via the Future All-Terrain Transport Vehicle (F‑ATTV) pro­gramme. Various options are being con­sid­ered. It is pre­sumed that a fur­ther devel­op­ment of the BvS 10, a Mark 3 ver­sion might be offered as well as the ST Kinetics Bronco 3, a new ver­sion of the plat­form used by the UK in Afghanistan. A fur­ther option could be some­thing like the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), which is based on the IVECO SuperAV. This is being acquired by the United States Marine Corps, but since it is an 8×8 plat­form, it is likely to suffer from the same mobil­i­ty issues as Boxer across extreme ter­rains. For this reason a tracked solu­tion may be prefer­able.

Could a new ver­sion of the BvS 10 / F‑ATTV also fulfil MRV℗ roles?

Beyond replac­ing the exist­ing BvS fleet, a new ATTV plat­form could offer wider util­i­ty across other pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty roles. The UK Ministry of Defence is con­cur­rent­ly run­ning three other vehi­cle acqui­si­tion ten­ders via the Multi-Role Vehicle (Protected) pro­gramme. This is divid­ed into three pack­ages. MRV℗ Package One is for a Command and Liaison Vehicle (CLV) and Tactical Support Vehicle (TSV) with a single vehi­cle type replac­ing Panther and Husky respec­tive­ly. MRV℗ Package Two is for a single vehi­cle type to per­form Battlefield Ambulance (BFA) and Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV) roles replac­ing the Land-Rover Ambulance and Mastiff MRAP respec­tive­ly. MRV℗ Package Three is a require­ment for a new Light Weight Recovery Vehicle (LWRV).

The key ques­tion is whether a new ver­sion of the BvS 10 could sup­ple­ment the MRV℗ fleet by ful­fill­ing require­ments across four roles?

  • Command and Liaison Vehicle (CLV)
  • Tactical Support Vehicle (TSV)
  • Troop Carrying Vehicle (TCV)
  • Light Weight Recovery Vehicle (LWRV)

If a new ver­sion of the BvS 10 were devel­oped for the above roles, it would need to com­bine increased pro­tec­tion (includ­ing a V‑shaped hull). However, the BvS 10 Mk 2 already meets the STANAG 4569 Level 2 stan­dard set for MRV℗, so it may be fit for pur­pose unchanged. It would also need the abil­i­ty to mount a vari­ety of weapons as well as an amphibi­ous capa­bil­i­ty that isn’t com­pro­mised by any armour upgrades. The mod­u­lar nature of the plat­form allows a vari­ety of sys­tems to be fitted. The Royal Marines have an 81 mm mortar ver­sion, while Patria has already pro­posed a BvS 10 with its NEMO 120 mm mortar system. A remote weapon sta­tions with a light cannon (e.g. the Northrop Grumman 30×113 mm M230LF chain gun) plus a Javelin ATGM launch­er would pro­vide a wel­come boost to plat­form lethal­i­ty.

BeowulfBvS 10 Beowolf – The next gen­er­a­tion ATTV

A pro­tect­ed ATTV with tracks for the MRV℗ role would likely be more expen­sive than a wheeled vehi­cle like Bushmaster, but would be much more flex­i­ble. The BvS 10 per­forms well in Norwegian snow, or when nego­ti­at­ing beech­es with wet sand, shin­gle or steep exits, but how good is it on tarmac? Since the MRV℗ fleet will spend most of its time on roads, a GP ATTV would need to be suit­able for long road deploy­ments car­ry­ing mech­a­nised infantry bat­tal­ions. Could an ATTV ever pro­vide oper­a­tional mobil­i­ty?

Bronco 3ST Kinetics Bronco 3 offers increased levels of pro­tec­tion with­out sac­ri­fic­ing an amphibi­ous capa­bil­i­ty or agili­ty. (Image: ST Kinetics)

The answer is “yes.” This is because both Viking and Bronco utilise Composite Rubber Tracks (CRT). Developed by Soucy Defense,[2] CRTs are con­tin­u­ous single-piece banded tracks with excep­tion­al strength and dura­bil­i­ty. They allow tracked vehi­cles to per­form well on-road and across rough ter­rain. Typical track life­cy­cles are above 5,000 km, which is vastly supe­ri­or to the metal link tracks used by most legacy AFVs. Composite Rubber Track (CRT) do not have rubber pads that need to be replaced, they don’t damage road sur­faces, and, if dam­aged, a bat­tle­field repair kit allows a break to be patched-up so that a vehi­cle can return to base under its own steam. The CRTs fitted to Viking and Bronco enable them to main­tain on-road speeds of above 60 km/h while having a range of 400 – 500 kilo­me­tres. They can cer­tain­ly cope with long road deploy­ments better than Ajax, Warrior or Challenger 2.

BvS 10 mark IIBvS10 Mark 2 with increased pro­tec­tion is an excel­lent plat­form that needs little fur­ther devel­op­ment to become a uni­ver­sal ATTV.

While the BvS 10 can per­form longer road march­es than many legacy tracked plat­forms, the ques­tion is whether its over­all spec­i­fi­ca­tions can be improved to enable 1,000 km road deploy­ments? To fur­ther enhance their on-road per­for­mance, Viking and Bronco would need rubber-rimmed road wheels and an improved sus­pen­sion system, to dampen noise and vibra­tion and increase ride com­fort. They would also need larger fuel tanks for extra range and a more pow­er­ful dri­v­e­line to enable higher road speeds and to cope with addi­tion­al weight. Increasing their capa­bil­i­ties is likely to raise gross vehi­cle weight. The need for low weight so that a vehi­cle is agile across rough ter­rain and with suf­fi­cient buoy­an­cy to remain amphibi­ous in high sea states, con­flicts direct­ly with the oppo­site require­ment for increased pro­tec­tion that adds mass. However, the advan­tage of an artic­u­lat­ed vehi­cle con­fig­u­ra­tion is that it dis­trib­utes total weight over two sets of tracks, off­set­ting weight gains rel­a­tive to con­ven­tion­al armoured vehi­cle con­fig­u­ra­tions.

A decade ago, ATTVs were a niche capa­bil­i­ty. Today, there have become a main­stream mil­i­tary vehi­cle type. The fol­low­ing fac­tors makes a new CRT-equipped ATTV viable and desir­able:

  • The BvS 10 Viking Mk2 is already in ser­vice and would be easy to upgrade fur­ther
  • The STK Bronco has also been in ser­vice with the UK, while the Bronco 3 is likely to meet many UK F‑ATTV require­ments
  • BvS 10 is in use with var­i­ous allies includ­ing France (with whom we have var­i­ous expe­di­tionary agree­ments) and the Netherlands (whose Marines work close­ly with ours)
  • Various allied nations have out­stand­ing require­ments for more, sim­i­lar vehi­cles, many to replace exist­ing fleets of soft skinned Bv 206, includ­ing the US Army which had a large number of Bv 206 vari­ants
  • Articulated ATTV’s by their design nature are highly mod­u­lar; this means many of the exist­ing com­po­nents used in both Viking and Bronco could be used in a future plat­form reduc­ing through-life sup­port costs
  • The BvS 10 family includes pro­tect­ed and un-pro­tect­ed (Beowolf) vari­ants
  • The Bronco family includes pro­tect­ed and un-pro­tect­ed (ExtremV) vari­ants

If a sub­stan­tial quan­ti­ty was pur­chased, poten­tial­ly through a shared multi-nation­al con­tract among sev­er­al NATO mem­bers, this could pro­vide attrac­tive economies of scale. The price dif­fer­en­tial between a tracked ATTV and a con­ven­tion­al wheeled plat­form could be reduced to the point where the ATTV would not be sig­nif­i­cant­ly more expen­sive.

Additional ben­e­fits of increas­ing the ATTV fleet size…

With 523 Boxers being acquired, this plat­form will only par­tial­ly replace the FV 432 family. Introduced in 1963, this diesel-pow­ered box on tracks has far exceed­ed its intend­ed ser­vice life. Although mod­est­ly updat­ed through­out its ser­vice life, it is now seri­ous­ly show­ing its age. Approximately 800 FV432 Mk2 Bulldog’s remain ser­vice, so unless more are acquired Fv432 will need to sol­dier on. While more Boxers is highly desir­able, an ATTV could also use­ful­ly sub­sti­tute the FV432.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ancient FV432 APC.

If 300 – 400 ATTVs were acquired, this would be enough to equip an entire rapid response high mobil­i­ty brigade and could reduce the need for wheeled Protected Mobility vehi­cles. While JLTV plus Bushmaster or Eagle would replace the MRAP fleet (Mastiff, Ridgeback and Wolfhound, Land-Rover Ambulance and Foxhound), like Boxer, they suffer from the same extreme ter­rain lim­i­ta­tions. So a larger ATTV fleet would com­ple­ment MRV℗ for units where mobil­i­ty was a pri­or­i­ty.

Additional ATTVs would be needed for CS and CSS roles. So an entire brigade could be resourced with 500 – 600 vehi­cles. Add the Royal Marine require­ment for 300 – 400 vehi­cles and the total require­ment could be over 1,000 vehi­cles. The com­mon­al­i­ty of spare parts, logis­tics, main­te­nance and oper­a­tional train­ing across Army and RM ver­sions could lead to worth­while economies of scale.

A sug­ges­tion for an afford­able approach to pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty

For MRV℗ Package 2, a large pur­chase of either the Bushmaster or Eagle, would meet the require­ments for larger num­bers of pro­tect­ed vehi­cles for many units. As dis­cussed else­where, recon­fig­ur­ing the exist­ing Jackal and Foxhound fleets could achieve the same effect at a lower cost. Beyond this lighter end of the pro­tec­tion spec­trum, we could either con­tin­ue with sep­a­rate heavy mech­a­nised forces with Ajax, Warrior 2 and even­tu­al­ly a Challenger 3; or we could replace Warrior with Boxer and sup­port our MBT’s with an all-wheeled AFV force like the French have done for a decade. Whatever we do, we will need a pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty solu­tion for deliv­er­ing infantry “mass.”

The Army, for bud­getary rea­sons, has been forced to organ­ise its brigades in pairs: two heavy tracked Armoured Brigades, and two mostly wheeled Strike (Mechanised) Brigades. If there were two Boxer-equipped Mechanised Infantry Battalions in each of the Armoured Brigades, and three Boxer bat­tal­ions in each of the Mechanised Brigades, that would pro­vide a total of 10 bat­tal­ions out of total of 31 reg­u­lar infantry bat­tal­ions with pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty. Notwithstanding per­son­nel con­straints, we should be able to gen­er­ate six fur­ther bat­tal­ions to create two Light (Protected Mobility) Infantry Brigades with each brigade having thee infantry bat­tal­ions. Equipping one of these brigades with an ATTV (either BVS10 Mk2 Viking or Bronco Mk3) would pro­vide a con­sid­er­able uplift in flex­i­ble pro­tect­ed mobil­i­ty plat­forms. Based on the UK LandPower arti­cle on a stan­dard­ised Infantry bat­tal­ion struc­ture based on a 36 person pla­toon, the cost might not be pro­hib­i­tive as only 3 (rather than 4) ATTV’s would be required to carry 36 troops. This could break down into three 12-sol­dier rifle sec­tions, each with two vehi­cle crew (driver and vehi­cle com­man­der / gunner per vehi­cle) and a 10-sol­dier sec­tion. Combat Support (CS) and Combat Service Support (CSS) units could be equipped with appro­pri­ate vari­ants, as would the sup­port­ing units of heavy tracked mech­a­nised brigades, replac­ing their FV432s.

ATTVs could be used by Parachute Regiment bat­tal­ions of 16 Air Assault Brigade, espe­cial­ly if they were air-drop­pable by A400M. Light, highly mobile, pro­tect­ed against mines, IEDs, small arms fire and shrap­nel, such vehi­cles would be ideal for use in places such as the Falkland Islands, moun­tain regions, remote areas with­out roads, arctic climes, bog­land, deserts, and other extreme envi­ron­ments. For these rea­sons, a pro­tect­ed ATTV fleet would pro­vide an extra string to the British Army’s bow, pro­vid­ing util­i­ty in the rare sit­u­a­tions where Boxer is not ideal, but sup­port­ing the wheeled fleet in all sit­u­a­tions.

RM BvS 10 and ChinookRoyal Marines Bvs10 being car­ried by RAF CH-47 Chinook.

[1] https://www.baesystems.com/en/article/bae-systems-to-carry-out-pound38m-royal-marines-bvs10-viking-regeneration

[2] http://www.soucy-defense.com/military-rubber-track-applications/military-rubber-track-application-vehicles-under-25-tonnes

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