It is said that vehicles, like humans, gain weight as they get older. This is certainly the case for Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs). This appellation becomes less and less relevant with the latest models of ‘light’ armoured fighting vehicles, as this article will explain.
Platforms ostensibly designated as Light Armoured Vehicles by the defence media and by their manufacturers tip the scales at relatively high weights, such as the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann/Rheinmetall Boxer which, according to publicly available figures, weighs 36500 kilograms/kg (80300 pounds/lb) when carrying its full combat load, while Patria’s Armoured Modular Vehicle (AMV), its manufacturer states, has a fully-loaded weight of 27000kg (59400lb). Even previously-fielded LAVs have been given upgrades which have increased their combat weight. For example, the Canadian Army’s General Dynamics Land Systems’ (GDLS) LAV-III eight-wheel drive family has a combat weight of 16958kg (37307kg) according to the force. It is therefore valid to ask what are the characteristics of today’s LAVs? A review of some current ‘lighter’ armoured fighting vehicle programmes offers some insights into where things are and what we might anticipate in the near future, and this article will focus on the evolution of ‘light’ Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) armament and lethality.
For the most part LAVs have been synonymous with ‘light’ weapons. The heavy machine gun being the typical armament, there are exceptions to this rule, such as the Daimler-Benz Spähpanzer Luchs eight-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle which was equipped with Rheinmetall’s MK-20 Rh.202 20mm autocannon. The US Marine Corps broke the rules regarding the adoption of heavy machine guns on their AFVs by using the Alliant Techsystems/Orbital ATK M-242 Bushmaster 25mm autocannon on their GDLS LAV-25 eight-wheel drive AFV. Other designs followed suit including the Iveco/Leonardo Freccia with its Oerlikon/Rheinmetall KBA 25mm autocannon. However, the US Army’s selection in 2002 of the Kongsberg Protector remote weapon station for its GDLS M-1126 Stryker eight-wheel drive Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs), equipped with the General Dynamics/US Ordnance M2 Browning 12.7mm machine gun, has demonstrated that calibres such as 12.7mm were still generally viewed as adequate.
US Army Stryker
Despite the selection of the Kongsberg Protector-M2 combination, the US Army’s acceleration of its 2016 programme to up-gun the M-1126 vehicles of 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment, based Vilseck, southeast Germany, is indicative of the push to increase lethality and the challenge of doing so within the design parameters of an existing platform. A GDLS Stryker team spokesperson told Armada that their selection process was driven by “must have” requirements from the US Army. Foremost was greater range and maintaining the eight-troop capacity of the vehicles. The Kongsberg MCT-30 30mm Medium-Calibre Remote Weapon Station (MCRWS) was chosen to replace the existing Kongsberg Protector-M2 combination. Using the Mk.44 Bushmaster-II 30mm autocannon provided significantly increased armour penetration with its fin-stabilised AP (armour-piercing) ammunition, compared to the erstwhile turret.
However, of perhaps as great an advantage are the capabilities provided by the M.44 Bushmaster-II’s programmable multi-purpose round. As explained to Armada by Orbital ATK, the General Dynamics/Orbital ATK PGU-32U Semi-Armour Piercing High Explosive Incendiary-Trace ammunition has three modes; Point Detonation (PD), Delayed Detonation (PD-Delay), and Air Burst. PD is typical of most projectiles. PD-Delay detonation allows the projectile to penetrate light armour, a bunker or a wall before bursting. Air burst explodes before or above the target spraying fragments on to the target and is well suited for engaging personnel, crew-served weapons, and targets behind walls. The gunner selects the mode prior to firing and their selection is automatically programmed as the round enters the chamber. The MCT-30 has the advantage of the crew accessing the turret through a hatch inside the vehicle, allowing them to reload ammunition and service the guns without leaving the vehicle. The US Army plans to outfit between 61 and 81 (sources differ) M-1126s with the MCT-30, with the first fielding expected in mid-2018, according to media reports.
Comparatively heavy armament calibres furnish Patria’s AMV family which has had a string of successes having been selected by seven armies since its production debut in its APC configuration with the Maavoimat (Finnish Army) in 2003. Polish license production followed in 2004 of the APC and Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) variants, with the family locally designated as the KTO Rosomak (Wolverine). The IFV variant is equipped with the OTO Melara/Leonardo Hitfist-30P turret which contains the Mk.44 Bushmaster-II autocannon. During the 2016 Eurosatory exhibition held in Paris, the Iveco/Leonardo consortium which produces the Freccia showcased its Italian Army variant equipped with the Hitfist-Plus turret outfitted with the KBA autocannon and Rafael Advanced Defence Systems’ Spike-LR optically-guided Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSMs), with the Italian government ordering the Freecia as of 2006.
The Koninklijke Landmacht (Dutch Army) uses the Boxer family (see below). This AMV concept uses a common chassis which is fitted with various mission modules, according to the vehicles’ tasks. The Dutch have fielded 200 Boxers in a number of versions with the last in 2015. The Heer (German Army) also has it in service but neither the Dutch nor German Boxers have a weapon beyond the Protector RWS. During the 2014 Eurosatory exhibition, Rheinmetall unveiled a version of the Boxer equipped with the firm’s Lance turret which employs the Bushmaster-III 35mm autocannon. In December 2015, the Lithuanian government selected the Boxer outfitted with Rafael’s Samson Mk.2 remote weapons station, equipped with a 30mm weapon, and launchers for the Spike-LR SSM. According to media reports, the deal is worth $440.7 million, and the first deliveries of these vehicles are expected by late 2017, with deliveries concluding in 2019.
Bigger is better?
Dan Lindell the platform manager for BAE Systems’ CV-90 tracked armoured vehicle family told Armada that: “the Swedish Army customer believes the 40mm (calibre) has advantages with the size of the round offering explosive power, added range and versatility of ammunition and fusing including programmable rounds.” The Swedish CV-90 (locally designated as the Strf-9040) can carry 24 40mm rounds in the magazine, 32 ready and 232 stowed, according to publicly available information. In contrast, when equipped with a 30mm gun the vehicle has 160 rounds ready and 400 stowed, this information continues.
Indeed 40mm autocannons could potentially equip other customers. The 40 CTAS autocannon is the result of a joint project by BAE Systems and Nexter which are working together on the initiative in a consortium called CTA International. The 40 CTAS utilises telescoped ammunition which has the projectile enclosed in the propellant base, resulting in a shorter round, which allows more to be carried in the vehicle. Secondly, the design uses a unique rotating breach allowing mounting on lighter combat vehicles and smaller turret stations. As Craig Fennel, CTA managing director explained to Armada: “Together these allow for minimising the intrusion inside the turret and contribute to a lower overall weight. This permits a more compact station yet we are able to provide the power and effectiveness of the 40mm calibre.”
The 40 CTAS’ APFSDS-T (Armour-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot-Tracer) ammunition, the company notes, can penetrate over 140mm of steel armour at a range of 1.5 kilometres/km (0.9 miles). Its General Purpose Round Point Detonating-Tracer ammunition is designed to punch through walls and light armour giving high interior fragmentation. The GPR-AB-T, meanwhile, is a programmable high explosive munition allowing detonation after a selected time delay to a maximum range of 2.5km (1.6 miles). Finally, there is the A3B (Anti Aerial Airburst) which is particularly effective against unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters and low speed aircraft, the firm notes.
The 40 CTAS, and the turrets for two different vehicles, were developed in concert. Nexter’s Jaguar six-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicle is replacing the Armée de Terre (French Army’s) GIAT/Nexter AMX-10RC six-wheel drive reconnaissance vehicles and Panhard/Nexter ERC-90 Sagaie six-wheel drive armoured vehicles, uses a two-person turret built around the 40 CTAS. Deliveries of the first Jaguar vehicles are expected by 2020, according to reports in May 2016, with a total of 248 planned for delivery. The other vehicle which the 40 CTAS will equip is the British Army’s BAE Systems FV-510/511 Warrior IFV as part of an upgrade being conducted by Lockheed Martin as part of the ongoing Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme. Commencing in 2011, this initiative is intended to extend the vehicle’s service life beyond 2040, according to the prime contractor. As well as outfitting the FV-510/511, the 40 CTAS is equipping the British Army’s forthcoming General Dynamics’ European Land Systems’ (GDELS) Ajax tracked AFV family, the deliveries of which are due to commence from 2017, according to the UK Ministry of Defence (MOD). In the Spring of 2016 the first Ajax prototypes were unveiled and began testing. The MOD has also stated that up to 245 Ajax vehicles will be delivered with the 40 CTAS weapon.
The Australia Department of Defence’s (DOD) Land-400 programme is, according to the DOD, replacing the Australian Army’s armoured vehicle fleet. It includes a component which will provide the army with a “new mounted close combat capability,” according to the DOD’s website. In August 2016, the DOD announced that it had selected two candidates to enter the risk mitigation phase of the programme, notably BAE Systems and Rheinmetall which are offering the AMV-35 and Boxer eight wheel drive AFVs. Reports state that the Boxer is being offered with Rheinmetall’s Lance 30mm autocannon turret, with BAE Systems offering a turret equipped with a Mk.44 Bushmaster-II 30mm autocannon. Phase 4 of the Land-400 initiative will see the procurement of a new IFV to replace the Australian Army’s United Defence/BAE Systems M-113AS3/4 tracked APCs. The Australian DOD has yet to announce when this phase of the Land-400 initiative will commence, the potential value of the contract, and how many vehicles will be procured. Potential candidates for this initiative include the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann/Rheinmetall Puma tracked IFV, potentially also outfitted with the Lance turret discussed above, BAE Systems’ CV-9035 equipped with the Mk.44 Bushmaster-II turret, GDEL’s ASCOD-2 which might be offered with the Lockheed-Martin turret outfitted with either the 40 CTAS or Mk.44 Bushmaster-II autocannon and Rheinmetall’s Lynx with the firm’s Lance 30mm turret. All of these designs are tracked IFVs, and their line-up suggests that 30mm and 35mm calibres may be becoming the new standard armament for AFVs in Western forces.
Russia’s armament choices for their AFVs seem to be mirroring those of the Western designs discussed above. For example, the Kurganmashzavod Kurganets-25 family of tracked AFVs uses the KBP Bumerang-BM turret outfitted with a 30mm autocannon, according to available reports. The same turret, open reports suggest, is also available on the Russian Army’s new Bumerang family of eight-wheel drive AFVs, with two versions; the K-16 APC equipped with a 12.7mm machine gun turret, and the K-17 IFV, the latter of which is equipped with the Bumerang-BM turret. Meanwhile, reports have noted that the Peoples Republic of China Type-86 tracked AFV family, itself a development of the Russian Kurganmashzavod BMP-1 amphibious AFV family, experienced an upgrade in 2011 that substituted a 25mm autocannon turret.
As this article has illustrated, the differences between various ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ AFVs are narrowing. In no case is this more clearly illustrated than in the armament that they are being equipped with. Either through upgrades or in new designs larger calibres with significantly improved range and at-target performance are being introduced. The maturing of remote weapon system designs and advances in optronics, allow the gunner to remain inside the vehicle, rather than placing them in the turret. Improvements in ammunition effectiveness, particularly in projectiles/warheads, have also provided increases in lethality. The combination of tactical and operational desires by militaries for enhanced capabilities, and the realisation of technologies that allow for these to be achieved indicate that weaponry may no longer be a defining aspect for the classification of various AFVs.