Protected mobility


Byline: Gordon Arthur / Hong Kong

Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan descended into a counterinsurgency quagmire that has profoundly influenced tactical vehicles. The change is most obvious today in the US Army and US Marine Corps, with incumbent vehicles like the standard HMMWV proving totally inadequate for such asymmetric warfare. Such unarmoured vehicles are just too susceptible to small-arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, mines and improvised explosive devices (IED). The USA was totally unprepared for the past decade but it rapidly responded in two ways. The first was to up-armour existing vehicle types, and the second way was to introduce a new class of specially designed armoured vehicles.

The Asia-Pacific region has been influenced only slightly by American experience, and many Asian countries have done little to modify their tactical-vehicle fleets. On the other hand, some countries are making faltering steps towards indigenous design and production as a cost-effective way of protecting their soldiers. Thailand has made significant progress with a new vehicle entrant, but perhaps the region’s best success story is the Bushmaster from Thales Australia. With few Asia-Pacific countries encountering full-blown counterinsurgencies at home, or deploying troops into violent peacekeeping zones overseas, it is perhaps understandable that protected-mobility vehicles are not the priority for most regional militaries. The following article offers a roundup of developments and the current status of this particular vehicle class.

US experience
When the HMMWV entered service in 1984, some variants featured thin supplemental armour. Combat in Somalia in 1993 showed up its weakness, and this eventually led to the heavier-chassis M1114 HMMWV being fielded in 1996. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003, it considered 1,000 M1114s would be sufficient…but bloody guerrilla warfare belied this assumption. Crews in Iraq were so desperate that they fitted piecemeal steel plates to vehicles. A series of armoured demountable kits were soon created, but the US Army was losing an average of 125 HMMWVs per month in Iraq. Such kits also increased a vehicle’s weight by some 68%, causing the suspension to wear out and the chassis to crack.

The dire situation triggered development of a new generation of HMMWVs that possessed integral armour and the capacity to install modular add-on armour kits. Production of M1151, M1152, M1165 and M1167 variants commenced in 2005. HMMWVs are also fitted with rooftop protective gunner shield kits and some with remote weapon stations (RWS). Production of HMMWVs for the US Army concluded in January 2011 in the lead-up to induction of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV), but to keep the fleet on the road, more than 50,000 Humvees underwent a recapitalisation programme. Today the US Army operates 141,000 HMMWVs, of which 30,000 are armoured.

About 70% of casualties in Iraq stemmed from IEDs, so the use of even new up-armoured Humvees was still restricted in high-threat areas. As its second track, the US has embarked on a massive procurement of more-survivable and more-heavily armoured Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles since 2007. Main MRAP types include the Navistar MaxxPro family, Stewart & Stevenson Caiman, BAE Systems RG-31 and RG-33, and Force Protection Industries Cougar and Buffalo.

With its withdrawal from Iraq, the US military had a surfeit of armoured tactical vehicles. Many have found their way into regionally based units such as the 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea and III Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa, Japan. On a recent visit to South Korea, the author was impressed by the large number of new vehicles deployed on the Korean Peninsular. The latest Humvees, as well as up-armoured 2.5-ton LMTV, 5-ton FMTV and 10-ton HEMTT logistics trucks, are now more commonplace than their unarmoured counterparts within the 2nd Infantry Division. The division is also fielding MRAPs for the first time, with some 78 examples recently arriving in-country for proof-of-principle assessments. “The question is what types we want, so we’re going to be doing some tests to determine what will be the best fit for the terrain,” Major General Edward Cardon, the divisional commander, told Defence Review Asia.

As at 1 October 2012, the Pentagon revealed seven manufacturers in the USA had produced 27,740 MRAPs. Some 870 had been sold to foreign militaries, and 12,726 were serving in Afghanistan. Despite the tremendous progress attained by the USA, it is curious to note that little of this technology has brushed off on Asia-Pacific nations in terms of new acquisitions. Singapore is the only regional country to have bought an American MRAP design so far. As the USA prepares to pull out of Afghanistan, the US Army revealed some 60% (12,000 vehicles) of its MRAP inventory will go into storage. This raises the interesting possibility of some countries finding reasonable deals on the US second-hand MRAP market.

East Asia
Although Japan has plenty of indigenously designed and built armoured vehicles, it only has one protected-mobility vehicle. Known as the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV), it is built by Komatsu. Since its 2001 introduction, some 1,600 LAV examples have entered service with the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF). The 4.5-tonne LAV was conceived in an era when the Cold War threat of a Soviet invasion had subsided, and where lighter and more mobile forces were needed to counter potential terrorists and enemy intrusions. A number of LAVs were deployed to Iraq from 2004-06. However, the LAV is now a twelve-year-old design and it has not been modified to incorporate advances in technology.

South Korea used the Doosan DST Barracuda in Iraq whilst it had troops deployed there from 2003-08. The 12.5-ton Barracuda is based on a Mercedes-Benz Unimog chassis, and Iraq and Indonesia also adopted it. Kia Motors, the Republic of Korea Army’s (ROKA) primary supplier of vehicles, exhibited a 5,000kg Light Tactical Vehicle prototype at the Seoul Air Show in 2011. It is similar in size to a HMMWV, and if production proceeds, it would provide a vehicle class that is currently non-existent in the ROKA inventory. Kia Motors is also developing an armoured version of the 6×6 Medium Tactical Vehicle, but this truck design is still experimental.

Surprisingly, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in China does not yet boast protected-mobility vehicles. However, things could change. At both IDEAS in Karachi and Airshow China in November, China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC) displayed its new CS/VP3 4×4 vehicle with a V-shaped hull. It is designed in the MRAP mould, and CSGC suggests the CS/VP3 is suitable for battlefield transportation, ambulance, anti-riot, antiterrorism and peacekeeping roles. It accommodates twelve soldiers and features two roof hatches where machine guns can be fitted. A company spokesman acknowledged the PLA does not currently have a requirement for such a mine-resistant vehicle, although it could be suitable for international peacekeeping missions. Being cheaper than Western solutions, CSGC is vigorously pursuing CS/VP3 export sales in places like Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Competitor Norinco is also internationally marketing the smaller VN4 4×4 vehicle with a 9-ton weight. This multirole vehicle can accommodate ten passengers and a machine gun may be fitted on the roof. Another design is the ZFB05 4×4 armoured vehicle from Shaanxi Baoji Special Vehicles Manufacturing Co. Ltd. Weighing in at 4,800kg, it is powered by a Chinese-built Cummins diesel engine. Four vehicles of the type have been spotted in service with the Wa State in Myanmar. It is used by PLA peacekeeping forces, as well as the People’s Armed Police (PAP).

Southeast Asia
The Singapore Army is very well equipped with indigenously produced armoured vehicles, but for Afghanistan service the army acquired 15 sand-coloured MaxxPro Dash 4×4 MRAPs in 2010. In Singapore the vehicle is known as the Multi-Purpose Tactical Vehicle (MPTV), and it is armed with an RWS mounting a 12.7mm CIS 50MG heavy machine gun. The biggest export success for local company ST Kinetics to date is the USD215 million sale in 2008 of 115 Warthog tracked vehicles to the British Army for use in Afghanistan. This is an up-armoured version of the articulated Bronco All-Terrain Tracked Carrier (ATTC). As well as being in widespread Singapore Army use, the Bronco was also procured by Thailand.

While MRAPs are extremely practical and have doubtlessly saved many soldiers’ lives in combat, they come at a price…literally. These top-of-the-line vehicles are expensive to procure. This fact has led to limited indigenous production in the region, with Thailand being a prime example. Chaiseri Metal & Rubber Co. Ltd. developed the First Win 4×4 Multipurpose Vehicle that retails for around US $500,000. Weighing 10,800kg, it carries eleven personnel. It entered the inventory of the Royal Thai Army (RTA) in July 2012 and so far three have been ordered for the RTA and 18 for the Department of Special Investigation. Its principal function is to operate in the country’s insurgency-plagued southern provinces. Over the years, Chaiseri has expanded from overhauling military trucks and jeeps to attaining the ability to design and manufacture an armoured vehicle, and it is now trying to tempt Middle East and African countries with its product.

Indonesia is venturing into the protected mobility domain through Government-owned Pindad vehicles, such as the Panser Komodo 4×4 series. In addition, at the 2012 Indo Defence exhibition in Jakarta, Pt. Sentra Surya Ekajaya (SSE) had on display the P2COMMANDO and its lighter brother the P2APC – both of which are 4x4s with NATO Standard Level III ballistic protection.

South Asia
India and Pakistan are two countries facing their fair share of violent extremism. Both have indigenously built armoured vehicles for internal-security use. India inducted the Takshak Striker, a product of Metaltech Motor Bodies, although it is sufficient only for low-intensity conflicts. Based on Mazda mechanicals, vehicles are often fitted with a 7.62mm 1B machine gun. India has more than one million paramilitary personnel under arms, so this market is potentially a significant one for armoured-vehicle manufacturers. BAE Systems teamed up with Mahindra & Mahindra to offer the 6×6 Mine Protected Vehicle India (MPVI) to the Indian Army. The 14-tonne vehicle leverages technology from the RG-31 and it is able to carry 18 personnel (a complete platoon). It has already been taken up by a regional police force.

Ashok Leyland developed the 4×4 Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) that touches the scales at 9,900kg. The same company offers a low-cost kit to up-armour the basic Stallion 4×4 truck, of which 55,000 are in army service. Competitor Tata Motors also offers its own 4×4 Mine Protected Vehicle. This is in addition to the LPA 713 Light Armoured Troop Carrier that is already in army service.

Heavy Industries Taxila (HIT) in Pakistan created the Mohafiz 4×4 armoured vehicle family that has achieved export sales in Bangladesh, Iraq and Sri Lanka. The Mohafiz I uses steel armour while the II employs aluminium. The newest version is the Mohafiz III, which uses a hybrid system of steel and aluminium armour plates. It weighs 3,200kg and is fitted with an RWS turret. Based on a Toyota Land Cruiser chassis, it can achieve speeds of 120km/h on roads. In Pakistan, the police, rangers (a paramilitary force) and army use the Mohafiz.

As mentioned earlier, one of the regional success stories has been the Australian Bushmaster, in production at the Thales facility in Bendigo. After a long and painful genesis, the 12 tonne 4×4 vehicles have proven their worth in Afghanistan and have been credited with saving dozens of lives because of their extremely robust construction. Indeed, not a single soldier has yet to lose their life inside a Bushmaster, despite numerous IED attacks that have destroyed the vehicle itself. So far more than 1,000 Bushmasters have been produced or ordered – mostly for the Australian Army but also with modest orders from Britain and the Netherlands.

The vehicles can carry up to 10 fully armed troops and can be equipped with a remote weapon station. It has several variants, including as a mobile command centre and also as an ambulance. It has an on-road maximum speed in excess of 100kph. The only thing in the way of further export sales appears to be the highly parochial nature of the global vehicle market, with most countries preferring a local solution over an imported product.

The only protected-mobility vehicle in the New Zealand Army is the Pinzgauer 6×6 Light Operational Vehicle (LOV) available in both Armoured Command and Control (x23) and Armoured Weapon Carrier (x37) variants. Ten were deployed in Timor-Leste for use by the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) of the International Stabilisation Force (ISF). Fortunately they were not used in earnest, although they would have been ideal for a riot control type of mission. However, they do not offer enough protection for Afghanistan threat levels, and Kiwis in Bamyan Province have instead been leasing armoured HMMWVs from the USA. Incidentally, New Zealand has fitted auxiliary power units to its armoured LOVs because running the air-conditioning on these heavier variants strained their diesel engines.


An armoured M1151A1 HMMWV belonging to the US Army’s 2nd Infantry Division in South Korea. Note the LRAS3 surveillance device on the roof. (Gordon Arthur)

The LAV is built by Japanese firm Komatsu and more than 1,600 are presently in service with the JGSDF. This one is fitted with a 5.56mm machine gun. (Gordon Arthur)

A Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle fitted with Self Protection Adaptive Roller Kit (SPARK) during a mission to clear roads of improvised explosive devices in northern Tarin Kot district, Uruzgan province.

Credit: CoA / Andrew Dakin


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