In 2005 children’s toys were being used by American soldiers on the front lines, to help them look for roadside bombs. It would appear that someone took notice, because there has since been a flurry of activity on the robotic explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) front. The Man Transportable Robotic System program took off, and its military ground robots began making a difference long before protected MRAP vehicles began to arrive in numbers.
The Academy-award winning movie “The Hurt Locker” made bomb disposal famous, but the reality of it involves far more robots, and far fewer wearable bomb suits. MTRS robots are the larger, heavy duty options for Explosives Ordnance Disposal technicians, though smaller options are also in service. So, what exactly is the MTRS program?
After some bad experiences with its up-armored Mercedes “Gelendevagen” in Afghanistan, Norway decided that they needed patrol vehicles with better protection. In 2006, therefore, they placed an order for 25 blast-resistant Iveco MLV/LMV vehicles, which are called Lynx by the Italians and Panther by the UK.
Deliveries began in 2006, and the vehicle’s performance in Afghanistan has led to additional orders over the years. A 2013 buy brings Norway’s order total to 170.
When reading about modern body armor one often hears about small arms protective inserts (SAPI) or Enhanced SAPI (ESAPI) ceramic plate inserts. While these inserts are more fragile than past generations of inserts, they offer a significant improvement over their 1990s predecessors in terms of both weight and protection. After episodic issues with production ramp-up and quality control, this gear is widely fielded with the US Army and several allied militaries. The US Marines replaced it with the MTV. The Army itself has introduced the Improved OTV. Privately developed body armors like Blackwater Gear were also present in theater. All of these designs rely on a “vest and plates” approach that uses a similar set of inserts to give the vests most of their bullet-stopping power.
This DID spotlight article covers the USA’s purchases in this area from mid-2004 to the end of 2012.
General Dynamics is one of the biggest suppliers of land equipment to the US Army and Marines, alongside firms like BAE and Oshkosh. As IED land mines became an unmistakable trend in modern warfare, however, the company had nothing of its own to respond with. To fix that, they fell back on a focused partnership with BAE and the Canadian government, and created another limited partnership with newcomer Force Protection. Those kinds of partnerships can be preludes to an acquisition, and that was true in this case as well. In late 2011, the firm bought Force Protection, bringing all of its vehicles, technologies, and experience in house.
General Dynamics Land Systems is now a legitimate player in the global marketplace for blast-resistant vehicles. The long-term question involves competitiveness, as both the RG-31 (BAE) and Cougar (Force Protection) faded in the face of newer MRAP competitors. GDLS will reap maintenance and upgrade contracts for the RG-31s and Cougar in the US fleet, and consolidating accountability may strengthen their position if the Army decides to rationalize its MRAPs. That cash flow buys time; beyond, exports beckon. The Cougar family has a strong customer in Britain, where General Dynamics is supplanting BAE as a major land forces supplier, and it is used by several NATO and Middle Eastern countries. The Buffalo heavy mine-disposal vehicle has a unique niche, and offerings like the Ocelot and Jamma light patrol vehicles may yet pick up. Will it be enough?
Latest updates: Up to $228M in contracts, FY 2012-2015.
Low-velocity parachutes are so named because they’re used for cargo airdrops made below about 1,200 feet, with the cargo aircraft flying at low speed as parachute-rigged containers roll out the rear ramp. US Army Soldier Systems Natick developed them in 2006, aiming to offer a lower-cost low altitude system that did not require specialized parachute manufacturers. US Army PM FSS engineer Bruce Bonaceto’s designs hit those targets, and low velocity parachutes have been doing the same on the front lines. They’re generally used to deliver basic supplies such as gas, ammunition and food to troops in rough terrain and isolated locations, without having to use a more expensive high-altitude GPS-guided parachute system like JPADS, or a more expensive standard parachute like the G-12.
As one might imagine, demand is high in Afghanistan, and some of the small business contract recipients are an interesting set of stories in and of themselves…
On July 25/06 Al-Anbar commander and U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Zilmer submitted an MNF-W priority 1 request. It pointed to the hazards inherent in American supply lines, and noted that many of the supply convoys on Iraq’s roads (up to 70%, by some reports) were carrying fuel. Much of that fuel wasn’t even for vehicles, but for diesel generators used to generate power at US bases. That is still true, and Afghanistan has even more daunting logistics. By some estimates, shipping each gallon of fuel to Afghanistan requires 7 gallons of fuel for transport.
“During Operation Mountain Lion I found myself praying for bad weather, the first time in my military career I was actually begging for a cold front to come through. I knew my soldiers could handle it and the enemy couldn’t. ECWCS allowed my men to outlast the enemy on their own terrain. When the enemy was forced out of the mountains due to the bitter cold to take shelter, that’s when we got them.”
— LTC Christopher Cavoli, US Army 10th Mountain Division, Afghanistan
This third generation of the Extended Cold Weather Clothing System (ECWCS-III) is a radical re-design of the cold weather clothing system for the U.S. Army. So, exactly what’s in the ECWCS-III?
The ACH replaces the old PASGT helmet in the Army, and offers a number of improvements including exposed ears to improve hearing, a set mount for night vision gear, better protection against bullets in covered areas, and a system of internal pads that improve protection against blasts and their accompanying potential for brain trauma. That padding has been a source of controversy, as the US Marines’ Light Weight Helmets (LWH) have been criticized for lacking this feature.
In May 2009, the Army recalled helmets from Gentex. Now, on May 13/10, they have issued a recall notice for 44,000 ArmorSource helmets in the field…
While high-tech weapons items get a lot of billing, the Global War on Terror is very much an infantry war. Firepower overmatch matters in those situations, which explains the corresponding popularity of 40mm grenade systems on the modern battlefield. Enter, then, the US Marine Corps’ M-32 six-shot 40mm grenade launcher.
During an annual symposium several years ago, Marine gunners decided that they needed an option that was more powerful than the ubiquitous M203 one-shot launchers that mount under their M4 or M16 rifles. The M-32 won out as an experimental weapon for each marine battalion – and now a variant appears to have won a larger formal competition.
Close air support remains an especially live issue on the modern battlefield, and it is once again affecting procurement discussions in Britain. “Field Report: British British GR7 Harrier IIs in Afghanistan” addressed the positive benefits of Britain’s Harrier force in theater. A 2006 controversy over their performance in the wake of a soldier’s email deserves equal attention, and has broader implications. In September 2006, newspaper reports described a leaked email from a British Major serving in Afghanistan, who created a tempest when he said that:
“Twice I have had Harriers in support when c/s on the ground have been in heavy contact, on one occasion trying to break clean. A female harrier pilot ‘couldn’t identify the target’, fired 2 phosphorous rockets that just missed our own compound so that we thought they were incoming RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades), and then strafed our perimeter missing the enemy by 200 metres.”
Nor is that all. He reportedly added that “the US air force had been fantastic”, and “I would take an A-10 over Eurofighter any day.” The UK MoD responded at the time. Now, it seems that the controversy described back in 2006 is influencing procurement recommendations from the very top…