General Dynamics’ wheeled LAV A2 family is the US Marine Corps’ backbone armored personnel carrier, and the LAV-AT (anti-tank) is one of the most interesting sub-types. A pop-up M901 Emerson turret rises out of the vehicle like the head of a robot, tracks opponents using visual and thermal imaging, and fires up to 2 BGM-71 TOW(Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire guided) anti-armor missiles, before dropping back inside to re-load under armored protection. The result is a more mobile tank-killer that can strike from long-range, and remains effective even under heavy artillery shelling. It’s also handy for fire support against enemy strongpoints, serving in the same role as an assault gun.
Unfortunately for the Marines, their LAV-ATs are facing 2 separate threats to their long-term viability. Hence the USMC’s ACAT-III Light Armored Vehicle Anti-Tank Modernization Program.
The Cougar family of medium-sized blast-protected vehicles is produced in both 4-wheel (formerly Cougar H) and 6-wheel (formerly Cougar HE) layouts. Eventually, the wisdom of using survivable vehicles in a theater where land mines were the #1 threat became clearer, and these vehicles have gradually shifted from dedicated engineer and Explosives Ordnance Disposal (EOD) roles to patrol and route-proving/ convoy lead functions as well. Related variants and blast-resistant designs are also produced in response to country-specific requirements (Wolfhound, Mastiff, Ridgeback, ILAV Badger) and other designs cover different operational needs (Buffalo mine-clearance, Cheetah, Ocelot, and JAMMA patrol vehicles). To date, the firm has received orders from Britain, Canada, France, Hungary, Italy, Iraq, and Yemen; and Poland operates some on loan from the USA. Front line testimonials offer evidence of their effectiveness.
Cougar orders predate the USA’s MRAP program to rush mine-resistant vehicles to the front lines; indeed, the performance of Force Protection’s vehicles on the front lines was probably the #1 trigger for the MRAP program’s existence. This FOCUS article describes Force Protection’s vehicles and corporate performance, which became an issue in recent years. It also covers key events and procurements around the world related to Force Protection’s Cougar (MRAP CAT I & II), Buffalo (MRAP CAT III), and related blast-resistant vehicle families.
Latest updates[?]: The USMC is to receive upgrades to their Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAV) as their replacement, the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), will not be operational until the 2020s. 392 AAV7A1s are to receive an extensive survivability upgrade in a $194 million contract. The USMC has found that AAVs have been vulnerable to improvised explosive devices (IED) and other weapons when operating in Iraq and elsewhere. Improvements to be made include flat-sided buoyant ceramic armor panels, new shock-mitigation seats, replacing benches in older AAVs, and a new transmission, increasing the vehicle's top speed.
AAV7 to LHD 2
The USMC needs to keep its 40+ year old AAV Amtracs in service, after destroying the EFV amphibious armored personnel carrier replacement program in 2011 with over-ambitious requirements. Iraq taught the USMC that the Amtracs didn’t offer enough protection, and so the latest refurbishment effort plans to improve the AAVP-7A1 personnel carrier’s protection levels. Deliveries are expected to take place between 2018 – 2023…
Latest updates[?]: Raytheon has been denied a request that would have stopped the Air Force re-evaluate bids for the 3D Expeditionary Long-Range Radar (3DELRR) system. The program has seen several legal challenges by the three competitors - Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin - with Raytheon lodging an appeal in May against a federal judge's decision to allow the Air Force to re-evaluate bids. The dispute centers on the Air Force's decision to allow the recovery of internal research and development costs, with the service failing to notify Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin of this detail, allowing Raytheon to lower its bid price and win the competition.
The US Air Force’s AN/TPS-75 radar has been in service since 1968. Threats have evolved, and they want to replace it as their main long-range, ground-based radar for detecting, identifying and tracking aircraft and missiles, then reporting them through the Ground Theater Air Control System. The US Marines are considering a similar move, to replace their own AN/TPS-59s. Hence the USA’s Three-Dimensional Expeditionary Long-Range Radar (3DELRR, pron. “Three Dealer”).
3DELRR is intended to provide up to 35 radars for long-range surveillance, air traffic control, and theater ballistic missile detection. It will correct AN/TPS-75 shortfalls by being easier to maintain, thanks to AESA technology, and by detecting and reporting highly maneuverable and/or stealthy targets. Its improved resolution may even allow it to classify and determine the type of non-cooperative aircraft that cannot or do not identify themselves – a trait that allows faster engagement of hostile planes, and reduces the odds of friendly fire incidents. As long as the program itself can avoid friendly fire from the USA’s budget wars.
Latest updates[?]: Boeing is expected to market a set of F-15 modifications capable of equipping the jet with sixteen air-to-air missiles at the Air Force Association conference in Maryland next week. The plans are yet to be outlined fully by the company, which would double the carrying capacity of the F-15 from the current eight missiles and allow the aging design to remain operational potent, given the potential pairing of the AIM-120D medium-range missile with the aircraft's Active Electronically Scanned Array radar system.
B-52H: to 2030?
The current US Air Force fleet, whose planes are more than 26 years old on average, is the oldest in USAF history. It won’t keep that title for very long. Many transport aircraft and aerial refueling tankers are more than 40 years old – and under current plans, some may be as many as 70-80 years old before they retire. Since the price for next-generation planes has risen faster than inflation, average aircraft age will climb even if the US military gets every plane it asks for in its future plans. Nor is the USA the only country facing this problem.
As this dynamic plays out and average age continues to rise, addressing the issues related to aging aircraft becomes more and more important in order to maintain acceptable force numbers, readiness levels, and aircraft maintainability; avoid squeezing out recapitalization budgets; handle personnel turnover that becomes more and more damaging; and keep maintenance costs in line, despite new technical problems that will present unforeseen difficulties. Like F-15 fighters that are under flight restrictions due to structural fatigue concerns – or grounded entirely.
The biggest contracts aren’t always the ones deserving of the most attention. Enter the USA’s Joint Council on Aging Aircraft (JCAA), and initiatives like the Navy’s ASLS. Enter, too, DID’s Spotlight article. It seeks to place the situation and its effects in perspective, via background, contracts, and a research trove of articles that tap the expertise and observations of outside parties and senior sources within the US military.
Special Forces has had an abiding interest in silenced motorcycles as stealthy and quick insertion/extraction vehicles – and, not just from having viewed Chuck Norris’s 1986 cheesy Delta Force movie, where his trusty motorcycle was portrayed as a Batmobile-like source of plot moving tricks. Air force combat controller teams (CCTs) have been shoving dirt bikes out of airplanes at least since 2010. A 2012 Marine Corp report cited motorcycle use by MARSOC operators, and the Marines have been conducting dirt bike training by third party vendors contracted as early as February 2012. But the airdrop and landing can cause temporary fuel system issues at precisely the wrong moment.
Special Forces toyed with the electric Zero MMX concept a couple years ago, but ditched it due to battery concerns. That vehicle found a home at the LAPD a year later. The electric bike’s charge lasted for only a couple hours.
DARPA gave a grant to Logos Technologies around that time to develop a hybrid bike that could run on several fuels and also support an electric motor with about 50 miles of range. That grant was only $150,000. Things appear to have advanced adequately to have earned a second grant. A Logos representative contacted this morning indicated the new grant was for $1 million.
The bike, called now the Silent Hawk (not to be confused with the silenced SOF helicopters revealed in the aftermath of the 2011 Bin Laden operation), is based on an electric racing bike frame made by Alta Motors. The hybrid engine is Logos Technologies’ development, reportedly from one they developed for a secret drone project.
An example of the sound profile of current electric racing cycles can be seen in the video below. The bike used in the video is a Redshift model, the one employed by Logos for the first Darpa grant’s testing (although with a different engine than the one featured below):
The Westpac Express fast ferry ship has been instrumental in changing the way the US Navy approaches sealift in the Western Pacific. It’s fast enough to substitute for airlift in many cases, and large enough to move a Marine battalion with its gear. Early trials went very well, and the innovative designs and performance of Australian shipbuilders Austal and Incat laid a foundation of manufacturing experience and customer comfort that led to the innovative GD/Austal trimaran design for the new Independence Class “Flight 0” Littoral Combat Ship, while spawning a major acquisition program in the Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV).
HSV Westpac Express isn’t a Navy-owned ship; technically, it’s a chartered vessel. In July 2005, we noted an 18-month extension to its charter. In 2006, that service period was extended still further via a new charter, lasting up to 5 years. During that charter’s period, a bankruptcy in Hawaii created an opportunity to buy the Austal-built catamaran Superferry MV Huakai, which will replace Westpac Express in the Pacific. Until then, the USMC needs one more contract extension.
The Ship to Shore Connector (SSC) hovercraft program aims to build on the USA’s LCAC hovercraft experience, and retain the US Navy’s unparalleled transport options from ship to shore and beyond. LCACs launch from inside the well deck of an amphibious warship, then travel the waves at high speed, run right through the surf zone near the beach, and stop at a suitable place on land. Their cargo walks or rolls off. The LCAC(Landing Craft, Air Cushion) returns to the surf to pick up more. Rinse. Agitate. Repeat.
These air-cushioned landing craft are much more capable than the conventional flat-bottomed landing boats used by other countries, but that capability comes at a price. LCACs were expensive to buy, suffered from corrosion and maintenance issues, and remain quite expensive to operate and maintain after many years in service. The other problem is that tanks and other vehicles have gotten heavier, so carrying equipment like the Marines’ latest M1 Abrams can push current LCACs to their capacity limits.
Countries like France are designing fast catamaran landing craft for over-the-horizon delivery at a lower price point, and modern hovercraft offer new options of their own. The US Navy looked at the possibilities, then decided to ask for an upgraded version of the current LCACs. SSC was born, and in 2012 it finally moved into system development.
The dilemma for airdropping supplies has always been a stark one. High-altitude airdrops often go badly astray and become useless or even counter-productive. Low-level paradrops face significant dangers from enemy fire, and reduce delivery range. Can this dilemma be broken?
The US military believed that modern technologies could allow them to break the dilemma. The idea? Use the same GPS-guidance that enables precision strikes from JDAM bombs, coupled with software that acts as a flight control system for parachutes. JPADS (the Joint Precision Air-Drop System) has been combat-tested successfully in Iraq and Afghanistan, after moving beyond the test stage in the USA… and elsewhere.
You can live for weeks without food. A week without water will leave you dead, especially if you’re exerting yourself in unfriendly conditions. More bad news: water is heavy to carry, which means it takes a lot of resources to transport. There are all kinds of very clever single-soldier solutions for purifying water, but bases and outposts will need options that can scale and produce a steady supply. The US Marines are looking for expeditionary solutions, and TerraGroup’s TECWAR will be selling them some.