Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The market for wheeled 8x8 is not saturated (yet)

There are multiple ongoing procurement programs in Asia and Europe regarding the adoption of modern 8x8 wheeled vehicles for use as ambulance vehicles, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, mortar carriers and other roles. While Australia and supposedly also Japan are looking for a new 8x8 vehicle, Germany is upgrading the Boxer MRAV and adopting further variants. The British Army is requiring the largest number of new 8x8 vehicles, but various Eastern European countries including Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia are also interested in new wheeled combat vehicles. This means that vehicles such as the Advanced Modular Vehicle (AMV) from Patria, Artec's Boxer MRAV (multi-role armored vehicle), the Pandur II and Piranha V from General Dynamics European Land Systems, and "underdogs" on the international market such as the Terrex 3 and the French VBCI might be adopted in larger numbers by the militaries of multiple countries in the near future. The US-based company Textron and a Turkish company are also bidding in some tenders.

The Boxer CRV and AMV-35 are being evaluated during the LAND 400 program
A key factor for the developments on the global 8x8 vehicle market might be the decision of the Australian military in the LAND 400 program, which is expected to be made in early 2018. The phase 2 of LAND 400 included four of the most advanced current 8x8 vehicles - variants of the Boxer, the Patria AMV, the LAV 6.0 and the Sentinel (Terrex 3) - i.e. vehicles that are relevant for any military considering to buy a new eight-wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC), infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), or Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (CRV). Various other vehicles such as the VBCI 2 were initially also offered to the Australian military, but the bids were withdrawn when it became clear that a solution based on military of the shelf (MOTS) components was favored.
Currently only the Boxer CRV and AMV-35 remain in the competition. Based on the prototypes being tested in Australia, it appears that both consortia are betting on very different strategies. While Rheinmetall showcases the Boxer CRV as a very customizable high-end offering including all of the latest gadgets (including active protection system, remotely operated weapon station, anti-tank guided missile launcher, accoustic sniper detection system, laser warners, situational awareness system, etc.), the BAE-Patria joint-venture focuses with the AMV-35 on a more affordable offering, presumably trying to impress with a higher cost effectiveness compared to the Boxer.

The VBCI was already tested in the UK during the FRES project
The British military is considering to buy the Boxer MRAV for the Mechanized Infantry Vehicle (MIV) program, as mentioned by various news sources over the last year. The number of vehicles to be purchased within the £3 billion project is varying by source from just 300 up to 900. While there are several options offered by the arms industry to the UK, the British Army has not yet decided wether it wants an open tender or prefers a direct government-to-government (G2G) deal with Germany for buying Boxers. The advantage of open competition is that the best solution can be found, be it the overall cheapest solution, the most capable vehicle or the jack of all trades. On the other hand the budget of the British Army has shrunken dramatically - and is expected to shrink further thanks to the Brexit - so that English newspapers suggest that an open evaluation of multiple contenders might be too expensive (and with Brexit potentially resulting in additional tolls to be paid also too time consuming). A decision wether to buy the Boxer MRAV or have an open competition is expected at the end of 2017.

By painting a Boxer in the Union Jack pattern, Rheinmetall reminds the UK of the British participation in its development
If the Boxer CRV is chosen by the Australian Army over the AMV-35, this could have positive effects on its chances in the United Kingdom according to German speculations. First of all, there would be greater interoperability between the ground forces of two commonwealth nations, something that is assumed to be desirable. Furthermore the British Army could argue that the Australian tests already have proven the superiority of said vehicle, circumventing open competition in order to rush a vehicle in service. While this in general would also work with the Patria AMV, there are no news reports on the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) thinking about purchasing the AMV instead of having an open tender.

The Boxer RCH 155 mounts an AGM instead of a mission module
Supposedly the UK is also looking for a self-propelled artillery gun (SPG) variant of the vehicle purchased under the MIV program. The Boxer MRAV is the only modern 8x8 wheeled solution that has been showcased with a 155 mm gun, i.e. the artillery gun module (AGM) from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) mounted instead of a mission module. The long L/52 gun barrel of the AGM and the high level of protection provided by the Boxer's drive module makes this solution in some aspects better than the current tracked AS-90 self-propelled gun.
At the DSEI 2017, various manufacturer's presented their potential offers for the MIV program including the Piranha 5 from General Dynamics, the Patria AMV XP, the VBCI from Nexter, and  two different Boxer variants from Artec. Rheinmetall painted one Boxer with the Union Jack, while KMW focused on showcasing the modularity of the vehicle with an IFV variant. Aside of the benefits that the modular design enables, the German companies also mention that the UK would have full intellectual property of the Boxer due to its history (being designed in a multi-national project that used to include the UK), allowing them to create and sell their own vehicle variants without any interference from the Germany.

The Japanese military has presented a prototype of their indigenous 8x8 APC
Supposedly Japan is also interested in adopting a more modern 8x8 vehicle compared to its old and lightly protected Type 96 armored personnel carrier. Mitsubishi has already created and showcased a prototype vehicle based on components from the Type 16 Maneuver Combat Vehicle (MCV). However Japan is known to have a somewhat deep military cooperation with Australia, which is why the country of islands is observing the decisions LAND 400 program - apparently some sources suggest that the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF) might be interested in having a certain degree of interoperability with the Australian Army.
According to the German website hartpunkt.de, defence industry insider sources claim that the Japanese military requested informations on the performance of the Boxer MRAV, specifically regarding its armor protection and modularity. It is worth mentioning that in July 2017 Germany and Japan signed an agreement for cooperation in the arms industry/technology sector. Back then it was reported that Japan was primarily interested in German protection technology, i.e. technologies regarding special armor and potentially also active protection systems. The Japanese news service Asahi Shimbun specifically mentioned that this technology was meant for a "troop transport carrier" (i.e. an APC or IFV). Negotiations regarding the agreement started already in 2015; both countries agreed to not disclose the exact content of the contract. In September 2017 a German-Japanese military technology forum was held in Tokio, which included more than thirty German defence companies.

The Boxer A1 saw combat in Afghanistan
The Bundeswehr recently decided to upgrade all current Boxers to the new A2 configuration, which features changes to both the drive module and the mission module, such as installing a new satellite communication system, fitting an improved driver vision systems, adopting a new storage arrangement, making changes to the cooling and exhaust system of the vehicle, improved protection and adding a secondary control panel for the FLW 200 remote weapon station. A contract for the upgrade of 124 armored personnel carriers, 72 ambulance vehicles, 38 command post vehicles and 12 driver training vehicles was announced in July 2017. All new Boxers that have been and will be ordered by the German Army will also be delivered as Boxer A2 or in a follow-up configuration.

According to the German website hartpunkt.de, the German Army plans to use the Boxer as base for a heavy vehicle for the joint fire support team (JFST) units. This Boxer JFST variant would be equipped with a high quality sensor package, probably the mast-mounted BAA II surveillance and reconnaissance platform from Hensoldt Optronics, that is already being used on the light JFST vehicle on the Fennek 4x4. Rheinmetall as member of Artec also offers a number of sensor platforms for ground vehicles, such as Vingtaqs II system that is operational with the Norwegian and Malaysian militaries. Alternatively the greater payload and internal volume of the Boxer could be used for a larger sensor package, which could in theory also include a larger ground surveillance radar unit. A Fennek can carry only the equipment for either ground-to-ground coordination or ground-to-air coordination, each Fennek JFST vehicle is hence specialized on either role. The Boxer has enough room to hypothetically carry the equipment for both tasks, although it hasn't been decided if a single Boxer should be used for both roles. The Boxer was chosen over a competiting design based on the PMMC G5. Unlike current JSFT solutions from the UK and the United States, the Boxer is not expected to be fitted with a direct fire gun or anti-tank missiles. There is a requirement for about 20 to 30 Boxer heavy JFST vehicles.

JFST vehicle based on the Fennek 4x4
Currently there are also plans for a fire support variant of the Boxer for the Jäger units, according to Inspector of the Army Jörg Vollmer, who is in charge of the German Army. The plans see the fifth (heavy) company of each battalion receiving Boxers with direct fire guns.
The exact type of armament has not been specified, but given earlier reports it seems likely that the interest is focused around the 30 x 173 mm calibre, i.e. the same MK 30-2/ABM main gun as used on the German Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). The vehicle might as well be fitted with a launcher for the Spike-LR anti-tank guided missile (ATGM).

A so called "PuBo" - Boxer with RCT 30 (Puma turret)
Currently the German military is said to consider different turret options and still has to decide wether a manned or an unmanned system is favored. It is understood that the choice - if the informations regarding a 30 mm calibre are correct - is limited to KMW's Remote Controlled Turret 30 (RCT 30; essentially a Puma turret) and the Lance Modular Turret System from Rheinmetall. Both these turrets have their own unique advantages and drawbacks. The RCT 30 is already in service with the German military and hence provides advantages in regards to training, logistics and spare parts. Furthermore it appears to be more heavily armored than the Lance turret, as it is can be fitted with additional roof armor against shaped charge bomblets; while Rheinmetall manufactures similar armor, there hasn't been a prototype of the Lance turret featuring such improved roof armor. The unmanned nature of the turret makes it smaller and lighter. However unmanned turrets have worse situational awarness than their manned counterparts.

A Boxer with Lance turret being demonstrated at a Rheinmetall facility in Germany
The Lance turret on the other hand is available in either unmanned or manned configuration, but it seems likely that only the latter is being considered, as this was already installed on several Boxer prototypes including the Boxer CRV. It is larger than a Puma turret and also heavier, when fitted with a similar armor package; however in theory it can also adopt larger calibre guns such as the 35 x 228 mm Wotan 35 chain gun. The Lance turret suffers from being fitted with several Rheinmetall-made components, which have not been adopted yet by the German military, albeit the modular construction might allow to change them. For example the turret is fitted with either one or two stabilized electro-optical sensor systems (SEOSS); one for the gunner (and one for the commander respectively), but the German Army relies on optics from Hensoldt Optronics for the Puma and several other combat vehicles.

The Belgian Army operates several Piranha DF90 fire support vehicles with 90 mm gun
In theory the German military could choose a lighter or heavier weapon station from various manufacturers. Just looking at the offerings from the two companies involved with producing the Boxer MRAV shows a wide variety of possible alternative armament options. Krauss-Maffei Wegmann showcased the FLW 200+ on the Boxer a few years ago, which is an enhanced variant of the currently used FLW 200 remote weapon station (RWS),  that can accept the 20 mm Rh 202 autocannon with 100 rounds of ammunition. The 500 kilograms heavy FLW 500 RWS can accept 30 mm autocannons such as the M230LF chain gun from ATK, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun and an optional missile launcher. Rheinmetall has developed the Oerlikon Fieldranger 20 RWS, which is armed with a 20 mm Oerlikon KAE autocannon; however this is not chambered in the 20 x 139 mm calibre as the Rh 202, for which the German Army should still have lots of ammunition - instead it uses the slightly less powerful 20 x 128 mm calibre.
Given that the new Boxer variant is meant as a fire support vehicle, one could wonder why the armament choice is supposedly focused on the 30 mm calibre, when other vehicles of the same type are often fitted with larger guns. E.g. the Belgian Army has adopted a number of Piranha IIICs with a 90 mm Cockerill gun for direct fire support, while a Rosomak prototype was fitted with the Cockerill 3105 turret. The Boxer with a much higher maximum gross vehicle weight - the latest available variant can support up to 38.5 metric tons and can be fitted with a 800 horsepower engine - should have no issues accepting a low-profile turret with a 120 mm smoothbore gun (such as the 120 mm L/47 LLR from Rheinmetall).

Aside of the exact turret choice, a number of other questions remain. A key question revolves around the role of the Jäger (light mechanized/motorized infantry) compared to the Panzergenadiere (mechanized infantry). Traditionally only the Panzergrenadiere are making use of infantry fighting vehicles, while the Jäger are limited to "battle taxi" style vehicles, which also affects the doctrines of these units. However putting a gun on an armored personnel carrier (APC) doesn't mean that it has to be employed like an IFV. Another decision yet to be made is focused on wether the Boxer fire support variant will carry a dismount squad or not. If a dismount squad is carried, it needs to be smaller in order to compensate for the ammunition storage, the gun operator(s) and the turret basket (in case a manned turret is chosen). Regardless of the decision, a contractt is not expected to be made before 2019. Then the Boxer fire support vehicles could enter service in 2021. A total of about 100 vehicles is required based on the current amount of German Boxer APCs.

The Vilkas is a Boxer IFV variant with the Samson Mk 2 RWS
The Bulgarian military is planning to purchase about 600 new 8x8 vehicles in several different variants for three new battlegroups. Among the demanded variants are also a mortar carrier and an infantry fighting vehicle. Supposedly the bidding process for this military procurement started already in May, with six vehicles being offered to win contract worth more than €500 million Euro. Artec is offering the Boxer, despite the fact that currently no operator has ordered a mortar carrier variant and not a single prototype of this is known to exist - the modular design however would enable a fast creation of such. It is also not known which turret will be offered for the IFV variant.
While the Boxer MRAV is extremely expensive compared to other solutions - in Lithuania the initial offer was claimed to be more than twice as costly as the Stryker ICV proposed by General Dynamics - the vehicle's superior performance (specifically the higher level of protection) resulted in the Lithuanian Army opting for it. The military prefered the Boxer MRAV, the politicans wanted a cheaper solution. In the end the Vilkas variant of the Boxer, mounting the cheaper and slightly less capable Samson Mk 2 RWS instead of the Puma's RCT 30 turret, was chosen.
General Dynamics European Land Systems (GDELS) offers the Piranha V vehicle family. An IFV variant of the Piranha V fitted with Rafael's Samson Mk 2 RWS was demonstrated on the 27. April at the Military Poligon Tylbleto in Bulgaria. The demonstration lasted three days and included live firing tests with the 30 x 173 mm Mk 44 Bushmaster II gun. The Samson Mk 2 RWS features two separate set of sights, a 30 mm autocannon, a coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun and a pop-up launcher for two Spike-LR missiles. It was also fitted to various IFV prototypes provided to the Czech Republic.
 
Patria AMV with 120 mm NEMO mortar system
While KMW as part of Artec is suggesting the Boxer to Bulgaria, the French company Nexter - a joint-partner of KMW - is offering an unknown configuration of the VBCI or VBCI 2. While not produced yet, Nexter already showcased scale models of a mortar carrier variant of the VBCI back in 2013. These models featured a large roof hatch with a two-piece door atop of the rear compartment. Inside the rear compartment an unspecified semi-automatic 120 mm mortar - similar to RUAG's Cobra mortar and the MO 120 mm R2RM from TDA Armaments - is mounted. As IFV the VBCI 2 can be fitted with a 25 mm autocannon in a one-man turret or with a two-man turret mounting a 40 mm CTAS gun. In theory unmanned turrets and other calibres are also available, but they have not been fitted to known prototypes of the VBCI 2.
Patria is offering versions of the Armored Modular Vehicle (AMV), although more details have yet to emerge. The wide userbase of the AMV has resulted in various different variants, so often multiple AMV versions are available for the same role. I.e. there are infantry fighting vehicles based on the AMV mounting the Hitfist turret from Leonardo (after acquiring Oto-Melara), the LCT30 turret from Denel Land Systems, and the BMP-3 turret, while prototypes were equipped with the unmanned MCT-30 turret from Kongsberg, the E35 turret from BAE Systems and the new 40 mm CTAS-armed turret of the Warrior WLIP upgrade. Likewise there are multiple 120 mm mortar variants with the Polish Rak mortar, the NEMO turret and the AMOS turret, while South-Africa has ordered a 60 mm breech-loaded mortar turret for some of its AMVs. 
Supposedly two further competitors are interested in getting a deal for equipping the new Bulgarian battlegroups: Textron and an unnamed Turkish company. There is some confusion regarding Textron here: Textron is not known for offering 8x8 vehicles, although it is not directly specified that a 8x8 vehicle is required. The US company was contracted to deliver about 17 M1117 Guardian armored security vehicles (ASVs) to the East European country in 2014; a further batch of ten vehicles was ordered in mid-2017. According to the Bulgarian news website dnevnik.bg, Textron and Rheinmetall have partnered to offer an unknown 6x6 vehicle for local production in Bulgaria.
As for the Turkish contender, this most likely is either FNSS offering a variant of the Pars or Otokar offering a variant of the Arma. Given the recent political tensions between various European countries and Turkey, it seems unlikely that a Turkish contractor would be chosen - the Czech Republic rejected all Turkish tracked IFVs due to the instable political relations.

The Scipio IFV
Two years ago in 2015, the Slovakian Army ordered about 30 Rosomaks (a Polish variant of the Patria AMV) fitted with the locally made Turra 30 turret from EVPÚ. Apparently the contract was scrapped according to different reports, which is why Slovakia has shown interest in buying a total of about 100 - some sources mention a lower number of only 81 - new 8x8 vehicles. Furthermore a total of 404 modern 4x4 vehicles are required by the army. The official requirements for the procurement project are not known, but they include a larger number of contenders. Deliveries of the first vehicles are expected to start in 2018 and last until 2029; it is however possible that the earlier date is only valid for the 4x4 armored cars.

The Corsac 8x8 is an IFV based on the Pandur II
General Dynamics European Land Systems is understood to offer a variant of the Pandur II. The Pandur II is an evolution of the Austrian-designed Pandur I, that is currently only manufactured in other countries. The militaries of the Czech Republic, Indonesia and Portugal operate various versions of the Pandur II. Due to its relatively low weight - the currently procuded models have a combat weight of only 24 metric tons - the overall level of armor protection is rather limited. While fitting applique armor allowed to meet the STANAG 4569 level 4 requirement for ballistic protection, i.e. all-round protectiton against 14.5 mm AP ammo fired from close range, the protection against mines was rather limited. Only in October 2017, the Czech military annonced that the latest 20 Pandur IIs in the mobile command post variant have managed the qualification for STANAG 4569 level 4b mine protection, after being fitted with the new BOG-AMS-V seats.
Last year GDELS presented a variant of the Pandur II co-developed with the Slovakian MSM Group, which is known as Corsac and features the same Turra 30 turret as the Scipio, mounting a 30 x 165 mm 2A42 autocannon, a coaxial MG and two 9M113 Konkurs (AT-5 Spandrel) ATGMs. However this armament can be replaced by Western alternatives such as the 30 x 173 mm Mk 44 Bushmaster II gun from Aliant Techsystems and Rafael's Spike-LR ATGM.
The Corsac IFV is powered by a 450 hp Cummins ISLe HPCR diesel engine and has a combat weight of only 19.8 metric tons, which is apparently related to the armor package fitted to the prototype. Top speed is quoted as 115 kilometres per hour on roads, but the vehicle is amphibious and can swim at a speed of up to 10 kilometres per hours. The basic ballistic protection reaches only STANAG 4569 level 2, but applique armor kits for level 3 and level 4 are available - the vehicle was never presented without bolted-on add-on armor. The Corsac has room for six dismounts and a crew of two or three. It seems likely that GDELS could offer the same enhancments as found on the Czech Pandur IIs to reach a STANAG 4569 level 4 mine protection.
One of the other two known offers supposedly made to Slovakia includes the Patria AMV, possibly in the same configuration as originally ordered with the Scipio. If these vehicles will also be made in Poland (like the Rosomak and Scipio) or be made in Sweden is currently not known. Artec is offering the Boxer MRAV to the Slovakian Army - again it is unknown which exact variant is offered.

Meanwhile Slovenia is said to intend purchasing about 50 wheeled IFVs for its military. Previously the military of Slovenia ordered a total of 135 AMV vehicles in different variants. The AMV is locally known as Svarun. The order however was halted in 2012, after issues with the funding aswell as other political issues arose, which resulted in only thirty already delivered AMVs becoming operational with the Slovenian Army. Given this fact and that the southern neighbour Croatia is already operating the AMV in larger numbers, it seems likely that the Patria AMV has an advantage over potential competitors. Potentially Artec, General Dynamics, Nexter and ST Kinetics might be interested in competing for the contract.

The Piranha 5 has already been purchased by Denmark and Spain
The Romanian Army will adopt General Dynamics' Piranha 5. In October 2017 the company announced that an initial batch of 227 vehicles will be manufactured by the Bucharest Mechanical Factory, which is owned by the Romanian state's Romarm Group. For handling the production of the Piranhas, GDELS will create a joint-venture in Romania. The military of the Eastern European country already ordered 43 older Piranha IIICs in five small batches starting in 2008.
It is not known what effect this decision will have on the development of the Agilis, a 8x8 wheeled vehicle to be locally manufactured in Romania. It is/was developed by a joint venture of the Romanian Ministry of Economy and the German company Rheinmetall. A total of 7 variants was to be made, while 80% of the work was planned to be done locally - only the engine and other drivetrain components would be imported. Hundred percent of the intellectual property of the Agilis would belong to the state of Romania, allowing easy export and local upgrades. The plans saw a total of 628 Agilis vehicles - 161 amphibious APCs, 192 heavier armored non-amphibious APCs, 24 medevac/ambulance vehicles, 90 CBRN reconnaisance vehicles, 40 mobile command posts, 75 mortar carriers and 46 recovery vehicles - to be made between 2020 and 2035, with further 4x4 and 6x6 options possible. 

The BTR-4MV1 feautres bolt-on armor modules
The state-owned Ukrainian company UkrOboronProm has presented a new version of the BTR-4 8x8 wheeled vehicle known as BTR-4MV1, which has been developed to NATO standards. This vehicle is designed and manufactured by the Kharkiv Morozov Machine Building Design Bureau and features improved armor protection over its predecessor. The BTR-4MV1 uses modular bolt-on armor that allows the vehicle to reach the STANAG 4569 level 4 and 5 (if desired) - this means the armor can provide allround protection against 14.5 mm AP ammunition and protection against 25 mm rounds along the frontal arc. The new system also allows fitting explosive reactive armor (ERA) to the vehicle in order to resist shaped charge weapons such as the HEAT warheads of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). The modular nature of the armor elements allows replacing damaged ones, thus reducing the time and costs required to repair a damaged vehicle.

The BTR-4MV1 is armed with a 30 mm autocannon
The weight of the BTR-4MV1 is claimed to have only increased by 2 to 3 metric tons, thus the vehicle would 23-24 metric tons with some more growth potential left. In terms of mobility nothing has changed, the vehicle uses the same suspension, the same German Deutz diesel engine and an Allison transimisison just like the original BTR-4. Due to the usage of low density/high volume armor in some sections of the vehicle, the BTR-4MV1 retains the amphibious capabilties of the original design, reaching a top speed of about 10 km/h in water and 110 km/h on land.
A key difference compared to the BTR-4 can be seen at the vehicle's front. The large windscreens have been eliminated in favor of better armor protection. Commander and driver can now only see the exterior through a number of vision blocks. A number of cameras mounted along the vehicle's surface however provide the crew with a 360° situational awareness. The BTR-4MV1 retains the same weapon station as used on some of the earlier models, including a 30 x 165 mm autocannon, a dual launcher for missiles and a machine gun. There is only one set of optic on the weapon station, therefore the vehicle cannot be used for hunter-killer operations.

4 comments:

  1. How can the British Army equipment budget shrink 'due to Brexit'. They have spent years before thinking about it, long before 'Brexit' so there is no certainty in the budget amount. The UK luckily wasnt saddled with the Euro currency so was able to control its own economic progress so had superior growth for over 5 years that those Euro nations. No real reason to believe getting out of Europes restrictive trade bloc will be any different to the similar decision to avoid using Euro many years back

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    1. The pound has had a severe decline post vote, and the UK buys a lot of equipment in Dollars...hence the declining budget....a bad budget situation has become worse.

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  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  3. Maybe if the Tatra co-built Nexter Titus works out for us, next time we could help build an 8x8 like the VBCI 2 under better conditions. The two general issues I see with IFVs are:

    1) The turret - RCWSs ofter carry a lot of expensive tech and too little armour.

    2) Amphibiousness - tendering for it, then having to add armour for policing missions and losing it without improving the engine or being able to go all out, let's say 35T.

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