Despite ongoing US procurement of M1151/M1152 Hummers, the retreat from Jeep-like vehicles is accelerating among Western militaries. Insufficiently protected against land mine threats in modern conflict zones, and insufficiently protectable due to inherent design limitations, conventional vehicles like G-Wagens, Land Rovers, and HMMWVs are being replaced in manufacturer lineups and military acquisitions by more protectable truck-based models, or by dedicated mine-resistant patrol vehicles. A wide array of countries are buying these vehicles for the first time. Meanwhile, nations that were ahead of the curve continue to add to their stocks.
ISAF, S. Afghanistan
Australia’s move to more than double its original order of 300 Thales-ADI’s Bushmaster IMVs, which have proven themselves with Australian forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, offers ample evidence of the seriousness with which they view the global trend toward IED land mines in conflict zones. First-time buyer The Netherlands has also adopted the Bushmaster, to strengthen its own Afghan force.
The Dutch move to field mine-resistant vehicles was concluded in close cooperation with 2 friendly foreign governments, and it has just placed its 6th order…
Alliant Techsystems (ATK) in Minneapolis, MN received an $86 million base-with-option contract to provide lightweight (LW) 30mm M789 High Explosive Dual Purpose (HEDP) tactical ammunition for the AH-64D Apache attack helicopter. The U.S. Army Contracting Command’s Rock Island Contracting Center in Rock Island, IL manages the contract. Alliant expects to begin production in December 2009 at the company’s facilities in Elk River, MN; Radford, VA; and Rocket Center, WV.
In a September 2008 letter justifying the use of ATK as the sole supplier of LW30mm M789 HEDP ammunition, the US Department of the Army said that the depletion of stocks from operations in Iraq and Afghanistan prompted the order. There are several reasons that this weapon has been so popular…
In August 2006, a $156 million DSCA request for the refurbishment/ sustainment of 1,000 M113A1 Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) to M113A2-Jordan configuration was one of a slew of DSCA announcements. The request included various upgraded conversion kits: diesel engines, transmission upgrades and overhaul, differential conversions, suspension upgrades, cooling system upgrades, and drive train upgrades; spare and repair parts; and support. The contractor is BAE Land Systems & Armaments in Santa Clara, CA. See full DSCA release [PDF format].
In March 2007, United Technologies subsidiary Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. in Stratford, CT received Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) contract for a program called “Sandblaster.”
Sandblaster? Being under a helicopter’s rotors can certainly feel like that, especially in sandy or dusty areas. That’s a problem in current operations, as “brownout” leaves helicopter pilots attempting to land blind – or unable to land at all. Since 1973, the US military says that there have been 21 MH-53 and 10 HH-60G brownout-related accidents within the combat search and rescue force alone. Future operations can also expect to encounter these conditions on a regular basis.
Advances in computer processing power and display technologies have led to the development of “synthetic vision systems” for commercial aircraft, and even for some ground vehicles. Could a set of sensors combine their data in a synthetic vision system that lets rotary-wing pilots see, even in total brownout conditions?
In the USA, a controversy erupted in early 2008 when USMC whistleblower Franz Gayl’s “The Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle Case Study” [PDF] blamed a slow military procurement system for delays in fielding mine-resistant vehicles. The USMC had actually been an early purchaser, but the vehicles had remained an tiny portion of the total US vehicle fleet in theater until the MRAP competition began in 2006 at the USMC’s urging – over 3 1/2 years into a war that had featured IED land mines as the primary threat since 2003.
Britain has its own long-running controversy around its vulnerable Land Rover Snatch 2 patrol vehicles, which feature even less armor than the USA’s M1114 Hummers. That controversy has now boiled over into a full-scale political row, after senior SAS commanders resigned over inadequate equipment that Maj. Morley of 23 SAS has termed “cavalier at best, criminal at worst.” The issue was recently revived, with a slightly different focus, by the death of Lt. Col. Rupert Thorneloe, the most senior British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan…
Land Rovers: Weaknesses and Responses
23 SAS, Cpl. Bryant, and Maj. Morley’s Resignation
Cpt. Jones & the Mayor in Karmah, Iraq (click for interview)
Twentynine Palms, CA has hosted one of the Marine Corps’ most unique assets: battlefield foreign language specialist role players. Iraqis who play D&D? No, Iraqis who can help the Corps simulate life and cultural norms in Iraq. In recent days, the Marines have handed out over $400 million in contracts to keep that capability running – and extend it to Camp Lejeune. Characteristically, Alaskan firms have won both awards, just as they have taken a significant share of Special Operations Command’s foreign language PsyOps support contracts.
These role player awards seems like large but inconsequential outlays, a sort of upside-down Disneyworld for Marines. In fact, they are more critical to current military effectiveness on the front lines than just about any piece of equipment DID covers. An example of how critical this work is can be found in journalist Michael Totten’s reports from the front lines. “Builders of Nations” noted the contrast between prior military training, and the civil administration work that characterizes current deployments to Fallujah. Totten writes:
ThalesRaytheon’s AN/TPQ-36 and AN/TPQ-37 Firefinder weapon-locating radars automatically detect, track and locate enemy mortars, artillery and rocket launchers allowing friendly forces to counterfire with pinpoint accuracy. The TPQ-36 radar is specifically designed to counter medium range enemy weapon systems out to a range of 24 kilometers, while the TPQ-37 can locate longer-range systems, and even surface launched missiles, out to 50 kilometers. Michael Yon, embedded with 1-24 (“Deuce Four”) in Mosul, offered a first hand description of counter-battery radars’ effect on enemy tactics in 2005.
Thales-Raytheon Systems Co. LLC in Fullerton, CA received a $39.7 million firm-fixed price contract for 16 AN/TPQ-46 antenna transceiver groups and 15 each Spare AN/TPQ-36 Antenna Array Assemblies for the FIREFINDER radar program. Work will be performed in Fullerton, CA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 30/10. There was one bid solicited on Aug 7/07, and 1 bid was received by the CECOM Acquisition Center in Fort Monmouth, NJ (W15P7T-06-D-T001).
The infantry soldier sits at the center of gravity of current wars. While institutional infatuation with larger projects often makes defense departments slow to adapt to this reality, improvements to the individual soldier’s equipment and firepower overmatch are generally where countries will find the most bang for their buck if they wish to make a difference on the ground.
While countries like the USA have been using 40mm grenade launchers as standard equipment for some time, and are even introducing new options like the terminator-style Milkor M-32, Britain has lagged behind. As the MoD article noted, “views coming back from the front line were that [.50 cal machine guns] needed some high explosive back-up to provide full force protection and security to airfields and forward operating bases.” To fix this problem, in November 2006 Britain bought 40 Heckler & Koch 40mm grenade machine guns for use in Afghanistan by the Royal Marines. The weapon is exactly what its name implies, firing up to 340 grenades per minute to burst around enemies up to 1.5 km away. Although the ammunition can be used against light armour, its main role is infantry suppression and overmatch against enemies with AK-type weapons, RPGs, etc. These are true crew-served weapons with a weight of at least 30kg/ 70 pounds, however, so many will be mounted on “Wimik” (weapons mount installation kit) Land Rovers.
In February 2006, “New Stryker Variants Gear Up for Testing” described the M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System, and the M1135 Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Reconnaissance Vehicle. The vehicles passed testing and have been fielded to Army units, but Military.com reports that the M1128 MGS is experiencing serious problems in the field. Comments like these are not what a manufacturer like General Dynamics, or a military, wants to hear:
“I wish [the enemy] would just blow mine up so I could be done with it,” said [4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment] Spec. Kyle Handrahan, 22, of Anaheim, Calif.”
The photo at the top of this article never fails to grab our readers’ attention. As it should. Taken on the front lines in Iraq, it depicts a v-hulled Force Protection Cougar (MRAP Class II) vehicle, shortly after a deeply buried land mine believed to contain over 200 pounds of explosives blew up under the vehicle. That’s a shocking big boom, and even MRAP vehicles do not guarantee protection against a blast that size. Indeed, US MRAP tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground are considered vicious because they use 30-50 pound charges – a test set that has failed at least 3 MRAP contenders. Amazingly, the Cougar in this picture did what it was designed to do, minimizing the impact of the blast by deflecting it to the smooth v-hull’s sides, rather than catching the full impact on a Hummer’s flat bottom and multiple “blast trap” niches. The engine was thrown over 100 feet from the vehicle – but the crew lived. The challenge then became removing the vehicle wreck, instead of finding enough crew remains to provide a burial.
This picture provides a certain level of perspective, as one contemplates the recent NY Times article “Hopes for Vehicle Questioned After Iraq Blast“. While Australia’s DoD has a standing “On the Record” section of the site that takes issue with media reports they believe to be misleading or flat out wrong, the US Department of Defense hasn’t quite caught up yet. It did issue a direct response in this case, however, and the contents are interesting…