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MILITARY TECHNOLOGY (MILTECH) is the world's leading international tri-service defence monthly magazine in the English language. MILITARY TECHNOLOGY is "Required Reading for Defence Professionals". Follow us on Twitter: MILTECH1

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

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