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28 January 2015

IAV XV 2015 - NDIA SO/LIC 2015: Special Operations Forces (SOF) Vehicles

These are interesting times in the evolution of SOF vehicles. Although the fundamental platform has not changed much since the UK’s WWII SAS used Willys JEEP, they have evolved significantly…right?

The key to current and future SOF vehicle programmes is the ability to quickly load up an air asset with troops and a rapid reaction mobility capability for speedy manoeuvrability onto target, as well as swift extraction when needed, especially under fire.

SOF vehicles are best described as platforms used to support unique, unconventional operations as conducted by Special Forces troops with much emphasis placed on mobility and air transportability. This trend is expected to maintain its position as the main driving force for future procurements, it appears. Media reports coming out of the UK in November 2014 described UK Special Forces (UKSF) force elements targeting Islamic State (IS) combatants with sniper rifles from the back of quad bikes. The UK’s MoD refused to comment on the news but this is nothing particularly new in the SOF community.

NATO Special Forces have routinely used quad bikes over recent campaigns in logistical support roles and more latterly, as mobile platforms capable of carrying heavy weaponry, supplies and ammunition, not to mention an operator. Australian SOF teams operating as part of the Special Operations Task Group in Uruzgan Province, Afghanistan, have also utilised such equipment to great effect so it is no surprise to hear of their popularity in the contemporary operational environment.
Similar to quad bikes has been the use of “outriders” on board cross-country motorbikes, generally used as scouting vehicles ahead of larger columns of armed vehicles, a tactic popular in desert environments, as well as the security of temporary landing sites in hazardous terrain. Again, a stalwart of the SOF community, this tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) appears sure to remain in the near to medium term.

Other SOF options that have gathered momentum in recent years include the All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) such as the Polaris buggies and more recently, Internally Transportable Vehicles (ITVs) such as General Dynamics’ family of FLYER vehicles, specifically designed to be carried on board CH-47 helicopters- a requirement particularly specified by the USSOCOM; or ST Kinetics’ SPIDER New Gen LSV.

Similarly, US Navy SEALs have routinely operated with Desert Patrol Vehicles (DPVs) over recent years with each ‘dune buggy’ capable of carrying SATCOM radomes and medium machine guns over harsh terrain. A US Navy source told MT: “Special operations units are characterised by the use of small units with unique ability to conduct military actions that are beyond the capability of conventional military forces.” This variety of SOF vehicles merely provides a means to an end to conduct and successfully complete a mission.

Rapid Reaction Mobility Capability in the Air as well as on Land

And therein lies the key to current and future SOF vehicle programmes: The ability to quickly load up an air asset (CH-47, C-130, CV-22) with troops and a rapid reaction mobility capability for speedy manoeuvrability onto target, as well as swift extraction when needed, especially under fire.

According to Sean Ridley, Programme Director for ITVs at General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GDOTS), SOF vehicles must support the very ‘unique’ mission sets covered by operators. “They are a very niche group, very small in numbers and with a very unique set of missions. In order for them to accomplish those and keep the operators safe, I think you need a different system compared to what conventional armies use. It’s not necessarily a different vehicle but a different set of mission capability sets, depending on the mission,” he explained to MT.

Referring to CSAR tactical vehicles as an example, Ridley explained how SOF operators required a vehicle to infill tactically and exfill quickly back onto a CH-47, potentially under fire and with combat patients on board. The future of SOF vehicles and ongoing requirements for ITV variants, Ridley confirmed, would be critical. “Those guys are not operating in very large groups and they need to get in and out to get their mission done. I think that [ITV] capability is necessary for what they’re trying to do,” he explained.

To this end, GDOTS’s FLYER 60 is currently a Program of Record with USSOCOM. The platform is capable of being transported on the back of the CV-22 OSPREY, as operated by the USAF Special Operations Command.

GDOTS’s FLYER 72 has also been selected for USSOCOM’s $562 million Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV) 1.1 programme, despite protests from competitor AM General. This requirement called for internal and external transportability by CH-47 helicopter, again illustrating principal requirements from SOF units. An undisclosed NATO SOF unit has also received a demonstration platform for evaluation.

In line with comments regarding the support of particular SOF mission sets, Ridley described how in late October, GDOTS conducted a live fire exercise with the US Army at Ft Benning, GA, to demonstrate a static engagement using a remotely operated M230 chain gun. It is expected that this weapon system will replace the in-service .50-cal heavy machine gun currently employed by USSOCOM and other nations around the globe, providing a significant shift in firepower.

Previous iterations of the FLYER have also proven firing tests with anti-tank guided munitions including Rafael’s SPIKE system and Ridley confirmed that the FLYER series of vehicles would be “open” to such a capability.

Finally, SOF vehicles also require modularity in order to best equip them for particular mission sets. As is the case with the FLYER series, current and future SOF vehicles have the capability to mount or dismount modular armour kits to make the platform as heavy or light as required. Such configurations are unlikely to change in the near future, with heavily armoured platforms lacking the mobility required for SOF units.

Issue #2 of MT will consider all aspects of SOF vehicle procurement, TTPs and payloads as this particular vehicle type gathers more and more experience on operations.
Andrew White

NDIA SO/LIC 2015: A Look at USSOCOM’s Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) Programme

Always at the forefront of evolving equipment spirals, the Special Operations Forces (SOF) community is witnessing an interesting dichotomy in the development of future protection systems. The past decade of operations has seen SOF operators utilised for a wide range of tasks ranging from direct action raids in complex urban and rural environments in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, to more cerebral support and influence/surveillance and reconnaissance missions working out of embassies and other governmental/non-governmental organisations. It is no surprise that the amount of equipment required for such a diverse range of activities is broad to say the least. However, arguably the most interesting and ongoing development involves a USSOCOM effort, initiated in 2013 by former Commander Adm. Bill McRaven, who became frustrated at hearing of casualties and fatalities taken in the ‘fatal funnel’ stage of a breach of a target building.

Maritime Special Operations Forces prepare for a mission during a training exercise aboard the NIMITZ-class aircraft carrier USS GEORGE WASHINGTON (CVN 73). (Photos: Mönch Archive)

The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) Programme

Current tactics, techniques and procedures (TTPs) see operators ‘stacking up’ outside an entry point before gaining entry and dominating a hallway, room or corridor. However, such choke points have left assaulting troops almost helplessly exposed to small arms fire from opposing forces, sometimes deeply entrenched in the building or compound.

McRaven’s idea was to provide an all-encompassing protective suit to almost guarantee a SOF operator the ability to gain entry into a building without the risk of injury or even death.

Known as the Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS) programme - SOCOM dislikes any comparison to the Iron Man suit made famous in recent Hollywood films - it aims to provide ballistic protection and C4ISTAR capabilities alongside environmental systems to enable a soldier to operate for long periods of time in a fully-encapsulated suit.

As it stands, the programme encompasses a five-year effort and should a workable solution be presented to the then SOCOM leadership in 2018, the effects on equipment scales for SOF units worldwide could be huge.

The past decade of operations has seen a definitive shift to reduce the size and weight of protection systems, not to mention other equipment including weapons and munitions, as well as increases in power consumption for C4ISTAR systems.

Sources close to USSOCOM revealed to MT that working models of a ‘Gen-1’ TALOS solution had been delivered to the organisation ahead of trials at the US Marines Special Operations Command (MARSOC), at Camp Lejeune, NC, where 10 operators will trial the system over an assault course.
One source added: “This will enable SOCOM to make decisions on where to go for Year 2 [of the programme].”

Special Operations Task Group soldiers and their partners from the Provincial Response Company - Uruzgan (PRC-U) arrive back at Multi National Base - Tarin Kot after conducting a PRC-U led security operation in Uruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan. 

One company already involved in the TALOS effort is Revision Military. Director for Programme Management, Brian Dowling, confirmed the two ongoing and future trends in protection to MT: “One trend is the usual reduction in weight by reducing coverage area, but what’s come out from the last ten years of combat is that even though you reduce weight and coverage area and increase mobility, you are still seeing those gunshot wounds and higher incidents of wound mapping throughout the soldier’s body. So the TALOS programme looked at a different approach to increase the amount of coverage of protection and then augment that weight or manage that weight through things like human augmentation, through things like load distribution.”

One such solution offered up by Revision is its Vertical Load Offset System (VLOS), which takes the form of a curved bracket which connects the top of a ballistic helmet to the shoulders of a robotic exoskeleton worn by the same operator, meaning ‘zero weight’ of the helmet is carried by the operator. “It also allows full articulation and range of motion but floats on top of the head and you don’t have that mental drain of a 7lb thing on your head anymore,” Dowling added.

It is a common thought across the SOF community that by decreasing the size and weight of protective systems, and thereby improving the mobility of an operator, a soldier will be safer when conducting kinetic operations.

However, Dowling warned: “That is one course but some of the quantitative medical results that have come out from USSOCOM have shown just because a guy is mobile, doesn’t mean he has less injuries. He also has to have some level of protection, so if you increase that coverage area, you increase weight so let’s figure out how to manage it versus continuing to reduce it.”

Protection of the Neck and Facial Areas 

According to USSOCOM figures and gunshot wound maps obtained by MT, 36% of injuries inflicted upon SOF operators are likely to wound the neck and facial areas. So, another option which is gaining traction in the community is that of maxillofacial protection, whose additional weight could be offset by systems similar to Revision’s VLOS.

This protection incorporates a variety of face guards ranging from Roman Legionnaire-type cheek protectors through to variants resembling wrap-around motorcycle helmets for a 360° protection of the head and neck.

Things like modular maxillofacial protection will allow an operator to conduct a breach and throw it off at breach point when it is no longer required. So you’re still getting that protection,” Dowling urged.

Readers of MT will be familiar with the ‘cutaway’ or ‘skater-boy’ helmets now being adopted by SOF units worldwide, a trend which has been adopted by every major ballistic helmet manufacturers worldwide including Gentex and OpsCore. The helmets have done away with the ear cups to protect the side of the head (most SOF units have now integrated Peltor ear defence and communications headphones covering the ears) and covered the helmet in Picatinny rails for the addition of torches, IR and coloured lights, cameras and IFF sensors, amongst other things.

Another company which continues to evolve such a design is 3M, which launched its latest variant AUSA 2014. Speaking to MT, a company spokesperson confirmed it was the company’s goal to lighten the weight of the helmet. “We hear it from SOCOM that to them, weight reduction means survivability, more than increased protection. So we are developing helmets that are extremely light weight.”

The company’s latest variant is the Ballistic Bump Ultra Lightweight (BB ULW) helmet, which is designed as a hybrid to allow an operator to carry a single helmet in theatre, as opposed to carrying separate ballistic and bump helmets. A ballistic helmet provides protection against small arms projectiles (traditionally 9mm and 5.56mm) while a bump helmet does not but can be used for less threatening missions including maritime counter-terrorism operations.

Up until now, people looked at the bump helmet as a really lightweight solution without ballistic protection but if they needed ballistic protection, they had to take on a weight that’s three times that of the bump helmet,” the spokesperson continued. “This option combines the two helmets. A Bump helmet is normally used for 90% of operations but an operator will need access to a ballistic helmet as well as and when required. So we have pushed the weight down to a combined helmet, meaning an operator doesn’t have to take off a ballistic helmet because it is too heavy and wear their carbon bump helmet alternative.”

3M’s BB ULW helmet provides 17-Grain (V50) protection against NATO sub-sonic rounds travelling up to 670m per second, which includes the standard 9mm round. “That is not bad. We are talking about picking up maybe a third of the weight more than a standard bump helmet weight but which offers ballistic protection. For a further 60g, you are getting into a legitimate, full protection helmet as used by current SOF operators. This meets similar requirements to the current [FAST Ballistic] maritime [as manufactured by Ops-Core] helmet as worn by US Navy SEALs.”

However, it is important to note that the Ops-Core helmet provides additional protection up to 2-Grain (V50) and rounds travelling up to 1,242m per second.

Referring back to USSOCOM’s TALOS programme, 3M admitted it was not actively involved and warned that they currently viewed the initiative as a “pipedream.”

However, one executive explained: “We can put together all these features and make something that looks like a motorcycle helmet. But, with a motorcycle helmet, it will have air circulation and you do not wear it for 20 hours a day. On top of that, you have got a lot of soft support in there without hard protection and you can do that and make it bigger because it is a thin lightweight shell on the outside. You ca not do that with a ballistic helmet. If you grow it that big it is going to be very heavy. So, from that perspective, it is not there. It is not something an operator can wear for 15-20 hours. Furthermore, if you give an operator mandible protection and visors, and put all that together in a helmet system, and start running in it, eventually [operators] will throw it away because it will start fogging up and will get very hot. USSOCOM wants it to look like that but you can’t operate it in the same manner as a motorcycle helmet.”

Current serving operators in the NATO SOF community have expressed concerns with a ‘motorcycle-type’ helmet system, warning of restricted situation awareness and tunnel vision. “What happens if your battery runs out, or if any of the integrated sensors fail to function?” one asked.

Special Operations Task Group soldiers and their partners from the Provincial Response Company - Uruzgan (PRC-U) arrive back at Multi National Base - Tarin Kot after conducting a PRC-U led security operation in Uruzgan Province, Southern Afghanistan.

SOF Operator Body Armour Developments

There has also been much movement in body armour as worn by SOF operators, again with substantial moves to reduce size and weight in order to increase mobility. Ballistic plates have gradually evolved into thinner and thinner variants with innovative techniques used to disrupt and fragment incoming rounds.

While conventional units operating in Afghanistan and Iraq were forced to wear large chest, back and side plates, not to mention groin, shoulder and neck protection systems, SOF operators have generally veered to lighter carriage systems for smaller and thinner chest and back plates. Additionally, the latter contain minimal soft armour components to counter blunt force trauma inflicted by incoming rounds.

Again, the idea here is for people who just want to wear the vital protection plate in a minimalist state. There’s not a lot of weight and more manoeuvrability, that’s what this is all about,” 3M officials continued.

Interestingly, the plate carrier has also been reduced in size and weight with companies like S&S Precision, based in North Carolina, offering up a ‘skeletal’ Plate Frame carrier to hold ceramic protection plates.

A spokesperson for the company, informed MT, “Plate Frame's lightweight, semi-rigid plastic design provides a rigid mounting platform and gives the operator the capability to scale their load up or down to meet operational requirements. It allows for easy attachment of accessory pouches and will accommodate standard MOLLE pouches. Weighing in at 1lb 6oz (without ballistic plates), the maritime inspired Plate Frame does not retain any water due to the use of non hygroscopic materials and welded seams.”

This is what the user is looking for. Weight reduction and performance to stay the same or get even better,” a 3M Ceradyne official said. “We are trying to reduce weight, whether they be contracts through US Army NATICK partners or through the Soldier Protection Systems programme. But the intent is to reduce weight from the systems as much as possible.”

Describing how such weight gains could be achieved, he described how the ceramic on the front of the ballistic plate was designed to ‘break up projectiles’ while backing materials (traditionally made from Kevlar or Polyurethane) were designed to ‘catch it’ before fragments of the projectile penetrated the plate. “So the idea is to reduce the weight in the system while making improvements in the ceramic and backing materials.”

Referring once more to the next-generation TALOS system, 3M Ceradyne executives added: “All these programmes are basically looking for the same thing. They are looking for weight reduction in plates, carriers, head protection and any other type of protection such as goggles and glasses. It is hard to say what the future holds. We think there will probably be a variant of TALOS, which may not be a fully protected , enclosed helmet but a lot will depend on the user. He may be issued it but he may not want to use it. It may be mission sensitive. From an overall perspective, TALOS looks good and is heading in right direction to protect the warfighter but potentially there could be variations that have to happen as it goes forward.”

It may well be the case that SOF units elect, funding dependent, to pursue both the all-up protection offered up by TALOS, as well as the lighter weight variations currently on the market. But, whatever happens, the face of the next-generation SOF operator is likely to change markedly over the next decade of operations.

1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, popularly known as Delta Force, is a US Army component of Joint Special Operations Command.

Andrew White started reporting in the defence industry over a decade ago and has, concurrently, completed multiple tours of duty with the British Army in the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan providing a unique insight into the contemporary operating environment. He is a regular contributor to MT. 


As the world SOF eyes are always on USSOCOM, below is a list of USSOCOM’s wish list of what it is interested in receiving from industry, academia, individuals, and government laboratories capable of providing the design, construction, and testing of SOF related technologies. The intent is to accelerate the delivery of innovative capabilities.


C4 solutions that USSOCOM is acquiring include antenna designs combining broad banded and performance, such as 1.5 or lower Standing Wave Ratio 30MHz–5.8GHz that have dismounted (lightweight and ruggedised), mounted, and fixed site applicability, but are visually difficult or impossible to distinguish from their mounted platform. Furthermore the capability to conduct secure, low probability of intercept communications in Line-of-Site (LOS), Beyond LOS (BLOS), and Over-the-Horizon (OTH) scenarios. Modular, configurable electronic devices that maximise common interfaces are also sought. Enabling technologies such as advances in semiconductors, field programmable gate arrays, and microcomputers with multiple devices collapsed into a single platform/enclosure that would allow SOF operators to plug and play their modules for varying missions without having to jump between multiple interfaces.

Comprehensive Signature Management

Multispectral signature reduction for the individual soldier and his equipment including materials or technologies that reduce the likelihood of detection/identification/targeting of SOF operators and vehicles. These include Airburst/counter defilade capability and advanced sniper rifle barrel technologies, i.e. applicability of hot hard alloys (e.g., H-11,H14, H19) to cold hammer forged barrel making technology and cryocooling to create longer life sniper grade barrels in 7.62mm NATO, 300 Winchester Magnum, and/or .338 Lapua Magnum. The rifling of interest is 5R and/or 6 land and groove with 1 in 9.5in twist in .338 and 1-in-10in twist in 300WM. As well as, Match grade 7.62mm and .338 caliber rhenium and/or rhenium alloy lined rifle barrels, and, other advanced sniper barrel concepts, designs, materials and/or processes that significantly enhance barrel life and maintain accuracy are also sought.

Other areas of interest are: Advanced propellants for assessment in standard military calibres that have a higher energy density (12%-20%), temperature stable pressure/velocities from -40F to 160F, and standard deviation velocities of <10ft/sec; modernised lightweight (<9lbs) 40mm RPG launchers or trainers with enhanced fire control that can safely, reliably, and accurately fire US and allied produced RPG-7 family of ammunition; a M4A1 belt feed kit enabling the operator to convert the M4A1 from magazine fed to a belt fed lightweight machine gun; as well as a Concealable/Take Down Urban Sniper Rifle (CUSR) - a small and light sniper rifle that can be rapidly dissembled for concealed carry and rapidly reassembled by the operator to engage target; desired characteristics include accurate (1 minute of angle at 300m), lightweight (12lbs threshold, 8lbs objective), fit in small case (12x20in threshold, 12x16in objective), and compatible with current suppressor or include suppressed barrel.

The Personnel Defence Weapon (PDW) is significantly smaller and lighter than the M4A1 with capabilities beyond any pistol. There are two types of interest, those based on an operator/unit armour modification to a M4A1 carbine and those based on a unique weapon design, both of which must fire standard 5.56X45mm NATO ammunition. PDW desired characteristics include lightweight (6lbs threshold, 5lbs objective), concealable (18in threshold, 16in objective), effectively fired in its collapsed configuration, semi/full automatic, and rapidly employed from concealed carry. .338 Lapua Magnum anti-materiel ammunition that would be fired from the Precision Sniper Rifle at ranges from 500-1,500m with desired characteristics including armour piercing capability to penetrate Level IV body armour (500m threshold, 800m objective), cinder block greater than 12in, 10% Gel, and stop vehicle/small boat engines.

Other areas include technologies that can stop/disable individuals for an extended duration, remain less lethal, and be useable on combatant and non-combatant individuals, as well as technologies that use less lethal payloads to prevent combatant and non-combatant individuals from entering a specific area for a specified period of time.

Of interest are also small unit organic munitions capable of delivering highly accurate kinetic effects on stationary, moving, soft targets, or the interior of hardened targets at ranges beyond crew served weapons effective range. Potential material approaches may include guided 40mm tube launched grenades; self-propelled, precision-guided, handheld grenades; guided 84mm CARL GUSTAF munitions; and handheld guided kinetically armed UAS.

Human Protection

The USSOCOM wish list includes:

  • Lightweight body armour (<5.5lbs per square feet) able to defeat the following rounds with less than 44 millimeters of backface deformation: One round of 7.62x54R API; and three rounds of 7.62x39 API at 2.5in inch.
  • Lightweight helmet (<2.0lbs per square feet) able to defeat 7.62x39mm rifle rounds with the following backface deformations:<25.4mm on the front and back of the helmet, and <16.0mm on the crown, left and right sides of the helmet. 
  • Thin, lightweight concealable body armour (<0.2in thick) that protects against 7.62x39mm mild steel core (MSC) rounds.

Mobility Small UAS

UAS system improvements include reduced acoustics and visual signature technologies, external/internal bay payload solutions, increased endurance, advanced fuel cell/battery propulsion, kinetic engagement, advanced integrated day/night fire control, increased electronic attack capabilities, a common ground control station and digital data link, and improved ISR and Exploitation capabilities.

Power and Energy/Lighten the Load 

Lighten the load for the dismounted SOF operator to the extent that he is safe and unencumbered while executing the mission, without adversely impacting his survivability and ability to communicate, move, and shoot. Reduce the mass and volume of carried equipment. Decrease the overall carried equipment mass and/or volume for the dismounted SOF operator (i.e. objective is fighting load plus mission load total less than 45% of operator body weight) with no decrease in current capability (i.e., reduce size and/ or weight for all non-powered and powered equipment to the extent possible, which includes intelligent, efficient power & distribution management).

Design solutions that incorporate the dismounted operator as a system, with his powered and non-powered equipment (e.g., navigation system, radios, antennas, computers, visual augmentation systems, displays, NVGs, combat ID systems, armour, etc.) as subsystems. Design solutions that incorporate advanced power technologies and provide centrally wearable power on dismount; intelligent and highly efficient power and distribution management; automatic power charging/recharging capability; seamless integration for all powered subsystems; and novel power systems.

The award of each selected proposal will depend on the methodology and the technical approach to be pursued by the selected offeror. Proposals identified for negotiation may result in a procurement contract and/or other transaction. USSOCOM notionally expects to have $18 million of available funds for approximately 10 total awards from this wish list.

IAV XV 2015: Afghanistan Officials Call for Increased Armour Capabilities

Senior government representatives from Afghanistan have highlighted the critical role being played by armoured vehicles in sustaining security but announced their intention to extend their current capability of two Mobile Strike Forces (MSFs) yet further, it emerged today.

Addressing delegates at the International Armoured Vehicles conference in London on 28 January, Maj.Gen. Payenda Mohammad Nazim, Inspector General, Afghan Ministry of Defence (MoD) described how armoured vehicles constituted a “major complement” to the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) and specifically the Afghan National Army (ANA) becoming an optimised force.

We are currently in a high combat readiness and armoured vehicles provide fire power, bigger communications and networks, flexibility and mobility for conventional and unconventional warfare,” Nazim explained.

However, he warned: “Unfortunately the ANA lacks such [armoured vehicle] capability presenting a huge challenge for the armed forces. This lack of armoured vehicles has resulted in high numbers of fatalities with 80% caused by IEDs. Armoured vehicles can dramatically reduce this. In addition to other requirements, armoured vehicles remain top of our list of priorities and we seek to acquire this important capability in line with our coalition allies.

Currently, the ANA possesses two MSF units based out of Kabul and Kandahar, which operate Textron’s COMMAND protected vehicle or Mobile Strike Force Vehicle (MSFV). A total of 600 vehicles were delivered under a US Foreign Military Sales programme to Afghanistan with deliveries having been completed in March 2014.

The Mobile Strike Force Vehicle (MSFV) is a new 4x4 armoured vehicle developed by Textron Marine & Land Systems for the Afghanistan National Army (ANA), under the US Army's MSFV programme.

Describing ongoing efforts by the government of Afghanistan to improve the tactical capabilities of the ANA, Nazim said: “The ANA currently comprises 195,000 troops who maintain remarkable operational and tactical capabilities thanks to the sustained efforts of the international community. The ANA has enjoyed increased capabilities over time in terms of quality, quantity and force structure in order to enhance combat effectiveness but it requires sustained help to maintain these capabilities and maintain the ANA as an effective force capable of executing combined arms operations.”

He also highlighted the recent achievement of ANSF in assuming responsibility for overall security in the country as well as providing security during last years presidential election, explaining: “The ANA remains fully committed to supporting rule of law, human rights as well as the creation of a just and transparent military institution. The ANSF exceeded everybody's expectations but the planned force drawdown of 150,000 multinational troops from Afghanistan created a whole new task for the ANA and ANSF at large with threats continuing to be posed by the Taliban and insurgent drawing support from outside the border of the country.”

Meanwhile, Brig.Gen. Imam Nazar, Commander of the ANA’s 2nd Armoured Mobile Strike Force, outlined the “importance and significance” of armoured vehicles in maintaining security across the country.

The end of [NATO’s] International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] has left a big space and gap in the military and armoured force,” he explained. "In Afghanistan, there is war and trouble in many provinces but especially in the South and Southwest in Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces where the threat is serious or significant."

“These provinces have a long stretch of border with Pakistan and Iran and on both sides of the border there are different tribes making it obviously very difficult to control access and there are only two brigades replacing coalition forces who are armed with armoured vehicles,” he said while describing how the Kabul-based brigade supported the 201st, 203rd and 209th Corps in the South, Southeast and North of the country; while the second brigade based in Kandahar, supported 205th, 215th and 207th Corps in the South, Southwest and West of the country. “We have conducted a lot of training in order to professionalise our troops in regards to armoured vehicles and in 2013/4, we conducted driving, sniper, health and safety, command and signals and leadership lessons. Now, management lessons are being conducted.”

Current ANA TTPs see the MSFV deploy on the ground with commander and driver, dedicated sniper and between four and seven dismounted troops. An additional variant is being used for casualty evacuation and is capable of carrying two casualties- signalling another capability gap following the drawdown of NATO and coalition forces.

The MSFV vehicle is very suitable for the terrain and current situation in Afghanistan,” Nazar explained. “Weaponry of this type is very effective against the enemy and also provides extremely strong protection against mines and RPGs. But the challenges we face relates to spare parts and ammunition.” Textron is contracted to supply spare parts to the MSFV fleet until the end of 2015.

However, referring to the wider support of ANA units around the country, Nazar warned: “Because ANA is equipped with Ranger vehicles and small arms, every unit requests Strike Force Brigade support and sometimes these requests are higher than our abilities.”

Finally, speaking to MT, sources within Textron admitted that they were awaiting an additional FMS decision which could see the company supplying an additional 60 MSFVs to the ANA later this year.
Andrew White

IAV XV 2015: France Reveals Armoured Lessons from African Ops

The French Army has reinforced the utility of wheeled armoured and artillery vehicles on expeditionary operations with a review of lessons learned from tasks in Africa, a senior service official has revealed. According to Brig.Gen. Charles Beaudouin, Director of the French Army technical and operational department, platforms including the VBCI infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and CAESAR artillery system performed admirably in Mali and the Central African Republic (CAR), as well as Afghanistan.

The VBCI was deployed to Mali and CAR in 2013 with Beaudouin stressing how the choice of wheeled armoured vehicles had “immediately paid off.” He described how VBCIs had driven 2,700km from Dakar, Senegal to Gau in Mali with a mounted combat team on board. The transition took seven days, including three days in a rest area.

Furthermore, he described how each VBCI had achieved 8,000km in the first two months of the deployment, with the wheeled armoured option better adapting to the fighting tempo in large, open areas.

The 8x8 configuration worked well in both sand and rocky terrain,” he explained while describing how the vehicles provided exceptional mobility in open terrain with its automatic inflated tyre system; comfort and reliability in temperatures over 55C; mission duration up to 10 days; long range mobility; and weapons systems capable of engaging targets up to 2km away. He also stated how thermal imaging technology had provided a “huge advantage” over enemy combatants during night time engagements.

Support echelons were often left at long ranges behind the VBCIs which were able to observe all threats in theatre. But it was essential to keep line of sight between armoured vehicle and dismounted rifleman,” he continued.

In urban environments, Beaudouin described how the power of the 25mm gun had proven its worth against buildings and insurgent combatants at medium and short ranges down to 30m. He also highlighted the use of short bursts of explosive 25mm shells in order to clear rooms as well as VBCI’s speed, mobility and protection when operating in built-up areas.

The height of VBCI provided better observation capabilities, better fire range and a climbing capability as well as protecting forces against enemy fires and direct attacks, whether mounted or dismounted,” he said.

Shifting to describe operations in CAR, Beaudouin praised the vehicle’s air conditioning, accuracy and efficiency of the 25mm cannon and reduced collateral damage, mobility and tyre inflating system, digitised situation awareness and reliability. He also highlighted the psychological impact the vehicle had on enemy forces.

Also deployed in Lebanon, the French Army has deployed a total of 549 VBCI platforms with an overall fleet availability of 90 per cent. “Minimum downtime, maximum use,” Beaudouin proclaimed.

Referring to operation of CAESAR artillery systems in the same areas of operation, he described how the platform had proven a capability to travel more than 500km without refuelling while highlighting how the weapon system had worked in tandem with airborne strike assets as a joint fires solution for French forces operating in Mali.

The precision of this fires capability was high and the right weapon for French operations which adapted to the high operational tempo and was hugely useful for operations in Mali due to the huge size of the area of operation,” Beaudouin said.

"Both VBCI and CAESAR fully satisfied overseas operations and in line with the Army’s Scorpion modernisation strategy for 2020, we have a full fleet of modernised armoured vehicles suited for wide spectrum of engagement. The French Army has engaged in operations on a permanent basis and we want our armoured vehicles to be able to be used very often and anywhere," he said. "Operations since the first Gulf War have been very different gulf so we are always likely to be surprised by future roles. I think we will always have air supremacy in asymmetric wars, allowing us to identify and target enemy forces before they can approach our vehicles."

“So the major threat for me will be the permanent IED threats and capability of ambush by insurgents with very powerful accuracy weapons. i think we will have in front of us, men with accurate and tremendous effect arms even against helicopters so we have to be very careful with that,” Beaudouin explained.

Referring to the French Army’s Scorpion modernisation programme, French Army officials confirmed that in 2015, the entire fleet of 630 VBCI vehicles will compete upgrades from a 30t to 32t platform.

Beyond this, Beaudouin confirmed that 110 JAGUAR and 780 GRIFFON vehicles will be delivered to the French Army by 2025. Developed by Nexter, Renault Trucks Defense and Thales, these new platforms are scheduled to replace in-service VBCI platforms.

However, he said this would not hinder shorter term upgrades of VBCI in the future, explaining how these were scheduled to include new information and communication systems; enhanced optronics and vectronics systems; night driving camera, supervision and 360° vision system.

Furthermore, he described the integration of long distance air burst and limited lethality munitions, development of a 3D imaging and rangefinder capability (to optimise air burst ammunition capabilities) and integration of an anti-tank guided munition capability on board the 25mm turret.

Currently, the 25mm turret comprises a 7.62mm machine gun which is capable of firing up to 200 rounds per minute in single shot, burst of 3 and 5 rounds and full automatic with target practice, armour piercing, high explosive and air burst ammunition. It also contains 12 GALIX 13 smoke grenade launchers.
Andrew White 

IAV XV 2015: UK MoD Identifies Dual Role for SCOUT SV

The UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD) SCOUT SV armoured platform will satisfy capability gaps identified on recent operations to conduct both combat and peacekeeping missions, a senior army official has stated.

SCOUT SV (Graphic: GDUK)

According to Maj.Gen. Robert Talbot-Rice, head of armoured vehicle programmes at Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S), the SCOUT vehicle programme is actively responding to these capability gaps identified from operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.

We found a requirement to operate against different threats through a vehicle’s lifetime and Scout aims to significantly improve on what we’ve been able to achieve until today with our medium weight tracked vehicles,” Talbot-Rice explained while referring to CV90 and WARRIOR platforms, amongst others.

In September, the UK MoD awarded General Dynamics UK a contract to supply 589 SCOUT vehicles, comprising 6 base platforms performing 9 different roles. This includes 245 reconnaissance; 50 equipment repair; 93 reconnaissance support; 38 equipment recovery; 112 command and control; and 51 engineering reconnaissance variants, all due to be delivered between 2017 and 2024.

It is envisaged that SCOUT SV will be capable of supporting Major Combat Operations (MCO) as well as Peace Support Operations (PSO) with the former comprising a baseline primary sight and CT40 cannon and armour fit while the latter includes a self-defence weapon, reduced armour fit and integrated electronic countermeasure equipment.

Where possible, software configurations have been minimised so the vehicles can be switched between MCO and PSO roles,” Talbot-Rice explained.

GVA is an evolving standard and has changed overtime,” he continued while explaining how the Foxhound protected patrol vehicle- the first UK MoD vehicle to be dubbed as GVA-compliant- not longer met current electronic architecture standards. “There are certain aspects of GVA that haven't yet be defined. Scout’s electronic architecture may well be the predecessor to a fully-compliant GVA because in some respects, it goes beyond GVA standards. Scout is as compliant as it can be so we get the benefits so we strongly believe in GVA and believe that GDUK does as well.”

Considering the wider impact of the SCOUT vehicle on the British Army, Talbot-Rice described how it would make a “significant contribution” to transformations due to be delivered by the Army’s Future Force 2020 concept.

The [SCOUT] programme is on track and the MoD now has a firm price contract for delivery of 589 vehicles and the award of a production contract that has allowed the supply chain to commit to long lead items early and take long term investment decisions in plant, machinery and people, derisking our plans for delivery,” he continued.

Looking ahead to potential future development options, Talbot-Rice expressed his interest in a long-range missile capability, similar to those deployed by France’s VBCI platform. “There are terrific opportunities and this is an exciting prospect but not currently funded for the Scout programme,” he said.

The SCOUT programme is currently continuing its demonstration phase with the first Reconnaissance Support variant having been displayed at the NATO Summit in Wales last September. The first turreted SCOUT platforms are due to be delivered to the Army early in 2017 when reliability growth and qualification trials will begin.

Beyond these trials, the first 55 vehicles will be delivered to the army for the commencement of training in 2019 with a first armoured cavalry squadron expected to reach an initial operating capability by Q2 2020.

Talbot-Rice highlighted SCOUT’s surveillance and survivability capabilities, praising the platform’s ability to identify targets at range, record, process and transmit large quantities of information. Regarding survivability efforts, he highlighted the vehicle’s low signature and “high levels of protection against IED, blast and chemical threats,” as well as highly capable CT40 cannon with armour piercing and air burst rounds.

The baseline SCOUT vehicle has a gross vehicle weight of 42 tons and maximum range of 500km. A total of 10,000km of accelerated life testing was recently completed in December, GDUK confirmed.
Andrew White

For more information on the JLTV, its contenders, and the programme, please see issue #1/2015 of MILITARY TECHNOLOGY available at the show. 

IAV XV 2015: JLTV Update

The US Department of Defense (DoD) is expecting responses from companies competing for its Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) programme within the next two weeks, according to US Army officials.

Lockheed Martin's contender for the US DoD's JLTV programme. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

Speaking to MT, US Army Col. John Cavedo, JLTV Joint Program Office Manager, described how the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are currently in the final stages of officially responding to the Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Request for Proposals (RfP), which was initially released on 12 December. OEMs expected to respond to the tender include AM General, Lockheed Martin, and Oshkosh Defense.

Once responses have been received by the Program Office, Cavedo said it would take approximately five months to conduct a source selection board with a down-selected winner expected to be announced in July.

This will be followed by three years of LRIP and a further five years of FRP manufacturing with the first US Army infantry brigade and US Marine Corps battalion expecting to receive the first tranche of JLTV platforms  by the end of 2018. The contract will then be up for competition again in 2022 for the next increment of JLTV.

In total, the Army is seeking to procure some 50,000 vehicles with the marine corps expected to take just 5,500 platforms.

The vehicles will be made available in two- and four-men configurations, with the former variant comprising utility and general purpose applications and the latter being used as a close combat weapon carrier.

Cavedo also reiterated the DoD’s intention to make the winning solution available for Foreign Military Sales (FMS), saying it would be compatible with legacy trailers and generators, albeit with a small degradation in mobility of the JLTV.

FMS has been planned for JLTV since the technology demonstrator (TD) phase. There is no state-of-the-art technology in this programme and a lot of commercial-off-the-shelf systems meaning it is easier to export,” Cavedo explained.  “We did partner with Australia in the TD phase and have included some right hand operation (RHO) and European standard exterior market lighting but there is no RHO requirement within the EMD phase but all vendors have indicated their variants can be produced in this configuration.”

It is understood that a single JLTV platform will cost over U$250,000, disregarding maintenance and logistical costs.
Andrew White

For more information on the JLTV, its contenders, and the programme, please see issue #1/2015 of MILITARY TECHNOLOGY available at the show.