The operational advantage of airborne forces is their ability to be loaded into fixed-wing freighters, be moved across significant distances and then be dropped by parachute or air-landed at a friendly airfield. They are often viewed as the most readily-available option to respond to a distant situation requiring troops on the ground.
Being traditionally primarily light infantry, large numbers of airborne soldiers can be inserted relatively rapidly with few aircraft. However, once landed they are, for the most part, limited to moving by foot. This can put them at a significant disadvantage particularly when faced by the increasing tempo of ground combat operations and the widespread use of light commercial vehicles (the ‘technical’) by insurgent and irregular opponents, which has become as ubiquitous to such forces as the Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle. There is also the possibility that Drop Zones (DZs) suitable for large-scale parachute assaults may well be some distance from objectives thus entailing a considerable and arduous movement.
Some militaries have and are seeking to draw on advances in light vehicle design and materials to address this challenge. The concept is to provide the airborne and light infantry with vehicles that can be carried by freighters and delivered with the assault. These vehicles might be parachute delivered or air-landed using Low-Altitude Parachute-Extraction Systems (LAPES), which literally pulls a palletized load from a freighter using parachute retardation, or even landed on rough airstrips. Once on the ground airborne units would use these vehicles to enhance their tactical manoeuvre and speed. Though these types of vehicles have previously been adopted by special forces for many years, current initiatives are underway to introduce similar mobility to airborne forces.
Light vehicles have been used with airborne units in the past but have been generally limited to reconnaissance and carrying of direct support weapons like anti-tank guided missiles. During the Second World War one of the main rationales for the use of the glider was that it allowed delivery of jeeps and light guns to airborne forces. Indeed the use of jeeps, dune-buggy like light strike vehicles and even recreational ATVs (All-Terrain Vehicles) have been employed by airborne units for reconnaissance, raids and to seize key objectives in advance of the main ground combat element. In many ways these vehicles and their employment mirrored the use of these vehicles by special forces. The German and Russian airborne have even fielded tracked armoured vehicles specifically designed for airborne forces with both the Volgograd Tractor Plant BMD tracked vehicle family and the Rheinmetall Weasel 1 AWC (Armoured Weapons Carrier) being used by such Russian and German units.
The US Army, in particular, has highlighted as a priority its Ground Mobility Vehicle (GMV). The GMV’s primary purpose is providing mobility to the army’s light infantry rifle squad. As promoted by the Ground Manoeuvre Centre of Excellence (GMCOE) at Fort Benning, it envisions “providing the ground combat element movement and manoeuvre capabilities for scouts and infantry squads that can be inserted by parachute and helicopter,” the GMCOE has stated. Originally envisioned as two separate vehicles, the Ultra Light Combat Vehicle (ULCV) and the Light Reconnaissance Vehicle, it appears the two are being combined into the GMV.
The GMV requirement, presented in the March 2016 Request for Information issued by the Department of Defence, seeks a vehicle with a curb weight of 2227 kilograms/kgs (4900 pounds/lbs) capable of carrying nine soldiers and equipment equating to 1455kgs (3200lbs). Its mission profile is to “operate 70 percent off road, accelerate to 48 kilometres-per-hour (30 miles-per-hour) in six to eight seconds, and be both carried in and LAPES dropped from a Lockheed Martin C130J turboprop freighter, fitted inside the Boeing CH-47F heavylift helicopter and to be externally lifted by the Sikorsky UH-60L Blackhawk medium-lift utility helicopter.” The key differences between the earlier requirements and even other currently-fielded similar light vehicles, many of which are being used by the USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) and other armies, is the nine soldiers the vehicle can carry. This is the equivalent of the current US Army light infantry rifle squad plus their equipment. This clearly reflects the driving rationale for transporting the basic tactical infantry element.
The ULCV and Light Reconnaissance Vehicle (LRV) requirements laid out at the GMCOE Warfighter’s Conference held in August 2014 showed remarkable similarities to the resulting GMV specification discussed above, the principal differences being the number of soldiers carried (nine for the ULCV and six for the LRV), protection (against small arms for the LRV but none for the ULCV), and mounted weapons (medium calibre on the LRV but only organic (the squad’s light machineguns) for the ULCV. Organisationally the ULCV would not be part of the infantry unit but rather provided as needed. This would keep the infantry unit table of organisation and equipment ‘light’ but does present questions regarding assuring the level of training for those that may be assigned to employ them for a mission, and how these vehicles will be maintained to assure their readiness. It has been widely recognised by maintenance officers that equipment in ‘pools’ that do not have an ‘owner’ are too often not given the preventive maintenance attention needed to ensure that they are in top condition when called upon.
At least, five available Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) candidates have been offered to meet the GMV’s requirements including carrying the full squad. Industry was invited several times since 2014 by the army to demonstrate suitable vehicles. Companies that responded included General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GDOTS) with variants of its Flyer 72 that has already been fielded by the USSOCOM, and Boeing, working with the racing car innovator MSI, with its Phantom Badger originally also designed to be transported in the Bell-Boeing CV/MV-22A Osprey tilt-rotor. The Polaris DAGOR (Deployable Advanced Ground Off-road) also draws from a USSOCOM requirement as well as operational experience by the 10th Mountain and 82nd Airborne divisions’ trials of its ATV line. Hendricks Dynamics is offering the Commando, a much improved and somewhat militarized version of the Jeep Wrangler civilian four-wheel drive ATV. Plus, the small company Vyper Adamas is proposing its Vyper V4 which it states as a new design built around a state-of-the art off-road vehicle using COTS components. In addition, Lockheed Martin working with Jackal had initially shown interest offering the HMT-400 High Versatility Tactical Vehicle, a design drawing from the latter firm’s Supracat, but reports are that it appears to have decided not to continue.
General Dynamics is emphasising both the proven field track record of its Flyer and the army’s potential to accelerate the GMV fielding and save money by leveraging testing already completed and the logistics in place following the fielding of this vehicle with USSOCOM. Mike Iaccobucci, business development director for lightweight tactical vehicles at the company told AMR that for the USSOCOM GMV1.1 requirement, “the Flyer already has three, five and seven person configurations that we’re providing to (USSOCOM). The Flyer-72 based design doesn’t have to be redesigned or re-developed; you simply add or subtract kit requirements like the nine-person seating.” He continued, “we already have a vehicle with a government/military validated 95 percent reliability rating that meets or exceeds all performance parameters. This includes mobility, lethality, range, speed, acceleration … in over 38616km (24000 miles) of testing.”
The Flyer-72, the basis for the GD GMV offering, is essentially the same system being used by USSOCOM and has a substantial 2500kg (5512lb) payload. This capability easily allows the Flyer-72 to accommodate the nine battle-ready solders while still leaving another 1062kgs (2336lbs) for additional supplies. The GD Team’s previous military user exposure is evident in the design. For example, rather than providing a chassis seat for the ‘ninth’ occupant, they are positioned in a secured gunner’s seat to operate whichever machinegun is inevitably selected for the GMV. The vehicle is also available in a narrower 1500mm version known as the Flyer 60, which fits inside the CV/MV-22A and can also be externally lifted by the UH-60L. Both the Flyer-72 and the Flyer-60 share components with the AM General HMMWV (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle). GD-OTS, working with Tencate, has also already demonstrated an armouring kit for the Flyer that provides 7.62mm ball ballistic protection without compromising airlift or performance.
Boeing’s GMV candidate successfully addressed the challenges of loading into the tight quarters of the CV/MV-22A as a primary design consideration. This has resulted in a highly compact and lightweight vehicle. The Phantom Badger has participated in several US Army demonstrations held since 2014, but Deborah Van Nierop, the Boeing Phantom Works spokesperson, told AMR that “no decisions have been made by Boeing in regard to the US Army GMV competition”. The vehicle features a customisable rear section that can support a wide range of missions. It uses a proprietary suspension to assure ride comfort and stability. With a current curb weight of 2045kg (4500lbs) and 1587kgs (3350lbs) payload the Phantom Badger offers room for some modifications to meet the current GMV requirements. Its use of four-wheel drive steering gives a tight 7.47 metre (25 feet) turning cycle that is well suited to traversing urban environments, forests, and rough, rocky terrain.
Boeing has developed additional variants of the Phantom Badger beyond the infantry carrier. These include an indirect fire support model that carries and can quickly deploy a 120mm heavy mortar. Coupled with a specially designed off-road ammunition trailer the system offers responsive fire support that can accompany airborne and forces. In addition, they have prepared and demonstrated medical evacuation and logistics versions of the vehicle. The Phantom Badger is already fielded by the US Marines and Air Force Special Operations segment of USSOCOM, both avid CV/MV-22A users.
The DAGOR is a new development by Polaris Defence. According to Jed Leonard, the firm’s senior manager, “the design went from concept to testing hardware in only nine months … Much of the design is influenced by input from the special forces community and the company’s experience with more than 20 countries that have our ultra-light military vehicles.” The DAGOR is already in service with the USSOCOM and also meets the Army GMV requirements for air and helicopter lift. The DAGOR takes advantage of the rear open bed, used in the SOCOM vehicles to carry additional supplies for extended operations, to accommodate the additional soldiers enquired in the GMV squad carrier. Polaris also offers a smaller MRZ4 which can carry four (or six with optional rear-facing seats) and has a collapsible roll-cage making it CV/MV-22A internally transportable. This 867kg (1912lb) curb weight vehicle can carry up to 680kgs (1500lbs) of payload. The US Special Operations Command announced in March that it is making a sole-source purchase of 2000 vehicles from Polaris. The contract, to be awarded in June, includes 1750 of the MRZR-4 and 300 of its smaller MRZR-2 vehicles.
The Jeep Wrangler is looked upon by many as the civil version of the JEEP workhorse of the Second World War. Hendricks Dynamics has taken this proven core and applied technology to offer what it sees as a worthy successor suited for today’s military challenges. The Commando model being offered for the GMV requirement takes advantage of the commercial Wrangler Unlimited model production and support service, as well as applying this model’s proven performance and safety features. One of these is the Jeep’s electronic stability control system. To further address military conditions significant reinforcement of the body has been done including directly connecting the bed to the frame that permits a 1500kgs (3300lbs) payload. Drawing as it does from the commercial production line, the Commando has not only COTS components but permits use of an extensive in-place service network.
Finally, the Vyper V4 is being custom-configured for the GMV requirement by drawing on the earlier V3 Python Fast Attack Vehicles and other Tactical Ultra Light Vehicles designed by the company. Vyper Adamas’ chief executive officer Nicholas Chapman told AMR that “Vyper will utilise the most advanced technologies available in its GMV candidate to achieve the best weight, ride and operational performance possible.” He added, “we have the unique attributes of a small company to offer a vehicle that does more for less.” The company particularly emphasises its use of mission-patented “Modular Pod”. These can be installed on any base chassis to convert the vehicle to different applications. Mr. Chapman described to AMR an operational concept that would permit various “pods” to be positioned at a forward operating base from which a commander could “choose pods for a specific mission”. Versions of the pods developed by the company include logistics/cargo, weapons, tactical operations centre and medical. Pods can be switched out without the need for material handling systems. Vyper Adamas’ recent teaming with Spartan Chassis goes a long way in addressing concerns over the candidate vehicle meeting the aggressive production schedules demanded by the army.
The US Army is reportedly reviewing some of their key GMV requirements. Two aspects in particular being considered are the need to carry the entire nine soldier squad on a single vehicle, the need for, at least, the option to be able to fit some ballistic protection. Both are linked to the tactical employment concept for the GMV mounted infantry units and directly influence the configuration of the vehicles that can, and will, be offered by industry. It remains unclear how this review will turn out and what if any changes may result in the requirements that industry needs to meet. In fact, several of the companies which AMR spoke to indicated that their proposed vehicles were already capable of being reconfigured for other passenger sizes and to provide protection. Both the General Dynamics Flyer and Polaris DAGOR have advertised that they have the ‘extra’ payload and flexibility to provide these capabilities without compromising air transportability.
The US Army has included a request for funding in its 2017 budget with the objective of releasing a Request for Proposals the end of 2016 for an open competition that would include the evaluation and test of candidate vehicles. However, as yet the Required Operational Capability (ROC) statement, normally the first step in the acquisition process, has not been formally approved. Still the stated intent is to select a vehicle and award a single fixed price contract that would provide initial low rate production as early as late 2017, and full production later in 2019. The final numbers of vehicles is not yet set, but somewhere around 300 has been mentioned. It has also been suggested that there should be sufficient vehicles to support three airborne battalions. Thus far the only mission version mentioned has been the infantry carrier sans the reconnaissance version. In addition, though offered by several of the GMV competitors, there has been to date no indication of army intentions to acquire and field any of these versions. The army’s primary objective seems to be to get the GMV fielded quickly. If they achieve the stated 2019 initial operational capability goal they will have certainly have achieved that.