Britain Orders Cargo Dune Buggies for Afghanistan
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) recent awarded Enhanced Protection Systems Ltd. (EPS) in Derbyshire a GBP 7 million ($10.3 million equivalent) contract for about 75 of their Springer vehicles. That works out to about GBP $93,300 per vehicle, or about $137,300. The government expects to receive them all by summer 2009.
The Springer is specifically designed for arid desert conditions, and their 1,000 kg/ 2,200 pound capacity far exceeds that of the Kawasaki ATVs recently ordered by US Special Forces. That’s because the Springers will fill a very different role for the British, who use much larger Jackal ATVs for all-terrain Special Forces mobility. Instead, the Springers will be specifically focused on moving combat supplies from helicopter landing sites into British forward operating bases.
From a public perspective, the program has 2 key issues.
The first issue is one of cost for this type of vehicle. At $137,000 each, the purchase has raised questions regarding the existence of far cheaper commercial alternatives. If a commercial alternative has a 1,000 pound cargo capacity, but costs 1/3 as much, is it a better choice?
The depends on the cheaper design’s relative mobility in Afghanistan’s difficult terrain when fully loaded, the difference in crew exposure to enemy fire in order to move standard loads, the relative amounts of servicing each design will require, and the expense of either flying service parts in, or flying damaged vehicles out. Depending on the answers given, the wise choice will change.
The second issue is the vehicle’s protection level. There are always tradeoffs to be made between protection, the resulting penalties to weight/ transportability and mobility, and cost. The job Britain has assigned this vehicle makes helicopter transportability a strong asset, though it could get by without that by convoying in. If the requirement for helicopter transportability is accepted, weight limits follow.
Fortunately, the Springers’ all terrain capability means that they will not be traveling on set roads or paths, and will be operating in well guarded, cleared areas. So long as that remains the case, they have less need for the kind of heavy armoring and v-hulls used on British mine-resistant vehicles, including the new Wolfhound supply vehicle.
On the other hand, even though Springers will generally be operating under cover of British weapons throughout their shuttling journeys, they will be operating in areas with the highest risk of enemy fire. Ballistic protection may become an issue if the design is successfully targeted. Adding defensive capabilities to the vehicle requires extra load-carrying capacity, which raises the required engine size and base structural strength, which raises weight again.
The corollary questions are twofold. Could the UK MoD buy an armored vehicle with all-terrain mobility for this role, for a similar price? Or should it spend rather more, and dedicate a larger vehicle to this task? If the second path is chosen, what are the tradeoffs of a larger vehicle in terms of complexity, maintainability, and transportability?
How do those procurement options balance against tactical options like using heavily-armed WMIK Land Rovers, Jackal heavy ATVs, and better-protected tracked light armored vehicles as a mobile screen for less-protected vehicles during cargo operations?
Defense buys are always complicated by the difficult conditions inherent in many military operations, and by an adaptive enemy on the front lines. These considerations force requirements tradeoffs, which can lead to engineering tradeoffs, tactical changes, or both.
Under those conditions, even seemingly-simple decisions aren’t necessarily so.
- UK MoD (Aug 13/09) – The Springer is heading to Helmand
- UK MoD (April 9/09) – Combat buggies ordered for Afghanistan. Given their intended use, the title is an unhelpful misnomer.
- Defence of the Realm (April 9/09) – For the front line… Thinks the order is a mistake.
- DID – UK Land Forces Order Cougar Family Vehicles. These wheeled, mine-resistant vehicles include the Mastiff 6×6, the smaller Ridgback 4×4 patrol vehicle, and the Wolfhound TSV 6×6 supply vehicle.
- DID – Navistar’s MXT Makes Breakthrough in Britain. The MXT/Husky TSV fits somewhere between Britain’s mine-resistant vehicles, and its Land Rovers. They cost over GBP 500,000 each, and deliveries are scheduled to begin in 2009.
- DID (Dec 2/08) – UK MoD Defends Its Snatch Land Rovers. Would FOB supply runs, away from Afghanistan’s more dangerous roads, be a good use of Land Rovers that can be given ballistic armor, but have little mine protection? It depends on whether their ground mobility is adequate to the task, and how often they’d break down.
- DID – Days of the Jackal: Supacat’s HMT Vehicles. A much larger wheeled all-terrain vehicle for use by Special Forces and reconnaissance elements, which will include a 6×6 cargo variant called the Coyote TSV. Like many special forces vehicles around the world, the Jackal is very lightly protected, relying instead on all-terrain mobility, very wide fields of view, and firepower overmatch from multiple guns.
- DID – Double-Jointed & Popular: The Bv Family of Infantry Support Vehicles (updated). Britain’s BvS10 and forthcoming ATTC Bronco/Warthog vehicles are more heavily armored all-terrain vehicles, which could be used in a swing patrol/cargo role at forward operating bases. They cost a great deal more than the Springers, of course, can be transported by heavy helicopters only, and would be far more expensive to operate. Under what circumstances would they become the right choice for this mission?