A Modern Tracked Alternative for Infantry Mobility
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.
Boxer 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.
Original 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.
Hagglunds 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.
British 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, 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.
Upgraded 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(P) 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(P) 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(P) 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(P) 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(P) 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(P), 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.
BvS 10 Beowolf – The next generation ATTV
A protected ATTV with tracks for the MRV(P) 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(P) 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?
ST 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, 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.
BvS10 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.
The 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(P) 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(P) 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.
Royal Marines Bvs10 being carried by RAF CH-47 Chinook.