Amalthea was not at Idex 2001.
While the keen visitor could find new items or developments in a wide field of disciplines, there were two fairly common subjects of discussion amongst the exhibitors. Indeed, many found that the number of visiting delegations did not meet their expectations and that, whilst the charge per square metre of exhibiting space was not the dearest in the world, the cost of their presence in Abu Dhabi definitely made Idex one of the most expensive exhibitions at which to be present. In this respect, the most repeated grief regarded what was termed `the hotel rip-off' whereby not only tariffs inflated with a severe mark-up for the show, but also rooms could only be available for the entire week whether one stayed only one night or the four days of the show. Also, one may wonder whether other companies were subjected to the same racket treatment as Armada, whose forwarder was denied access to the grounds to deliver their two pallets of magazines and subsequently charged $ 1500 to have them transported from the front gate to the stand 200 yards away by the only `official' handlers. This context may also explain the exhibitors' growing propensity to display models rather than full-scale vehicles.
The above being said, the three new vehicles detailed below could only be shown as models, as their prototypes are presently being built for their respective roll-out in a few months. Projects from Giat and Mowag were known for a while, although kept relatively quiet, while the Singapore development came as something of a novelty.
Singapore Technologies Kinetics 8 x 8 AIFV: A company-funded project, this eight- wheel AIFV is intended to provide room for a crew of 14 in its personnel carrier configuration and fits into a C-130. Since the same company had recently brought the tracked Bionix to the market, Armada asked Singapore Technologies Kinetics Marketing Vice President why there was such an interest in a wheeled vehicle, particularly when one knows that the project is company funded. "We looked at the market and there is a requirement for both tracks and wheels, particularly with [regards to] peace keeping operations but also because nations like Africa and Australia need them. So we are preparing ourselves to meet the market requirement". However, he explained that "there were a lot of people" doing the same thing and therefore the Singaporean firm decided to offer `something different' with a definite bias on payload and the possibility of eventually adapting a hybrid propulsion. An interesting feature is also the integration of a `field interchangeable top plate' that would enable the vehicle to be quickly converted from, for example, a mortar carrier with two half swinging doors into a fighting vehicle mounting a remote-controlled turret. The design is certainly ambitious, particularly if one considers that the vehicle would be able to carry a 105 mm gun. The AIFV, it almost goes without saying, would be C-130 compatible. The design is based on an armoured steel hull, simple enough for licence production with low logistic support demands if it wants to be competitive with the Lay IV.
Satory MV: This is the name of a new company jointly created by Giat Industries and Renault VI to manage the VBCI programme for which the French Army awarded a contract in November 2000. In other words, Satory MV will act as the main contractor while Giat and Renault will be the latter's main subcontractors. Interestingly, Louis Cazaubon, from Giat Industries, emphasised that the venture was still open to "co-operation partnership". Very roughly as things stand now, Giat would be in charge of the hull and systems while Renault would handle the entire power chain, from engine to wheels. It must be noted, however, that Satory MV is now also in charge of the Vabs and the AMX 10s and any other future vehicle.
Regarding the November contract mentioned above, Satory MV was very keen to underline that the deal included a firm order for the manufacture of a first batch of 65 vehicles, in addition to development, industrialisation and support. The entire French programme per se involves the purchase of 700 vehicles, of which 150 would be command and control versions.
The VBCI will have an aluminium structure with modular add-on armour that will enable the vehicle to remain at a reasonable 26-tonne all-up combat weight whilst allowing the user to tailor armour to the needs of the moment or mission.
The basic version, designated VCI, seats nine infantrymen plus driver and gunner, the latter being in charge of handling the 25 mm Dragar turret complete with fire control system, laser range finder and thermal camera. It goes almost without saying for a vehicle in which the Leclerc's manufacturer has a stake that the VCI will also be fitted with a Giat Sit information system terminal.
Technical features include a commercial Volvo-Renault lorry-derived engine coupled to an autobox from ZF and a cooling system designed for tropical climates. Power is punched into the second axle and distributed up and downstream from there to the 22-inch rim wheels. The latter are on double-wishbones damped by hydropneumatic suspension affording a stroke of about 400 mm. Steering is of course provided by the front two axles but complemented, as on the Vextra demonstrator, by differential braking/acceleration (as on a tank).
Mowag Piranha IV: Of the trio examined here, the Piranha IV is the most advanced in terms of timescale, as the firm started cutting metal twelve months ago; the first prototype should gets its treads into the dirt shortly after this article is published. In terms of size, the 'IV stands between the Asian AIFV and the VBCI, but oddly enough Mowag provides more conservative figures than STK regarding performance -- a matter of experience perhaps. For example, the `Swiss' vehicle weighs 13.5 tonnes empty, has 544 hp (400 kW) on tap but is given with a top speed of 100 km/h (instead of 120). Similarly, and in spite of a heavier empty weight, maximum all-up weight is not 26 tonnes but 24. In terms of running gear, the new Piranha is offered straightaway with the most sophisticated suspension -- experience drawn from the III series -- in other words; hydropneumatic with independent height ride control on each wheel.
It was quite obvious from the outset that the Piranha IV was lurking about the French VBCI programme, just in case the French authorities would not be happy with either the Giat-driven or the Panhardled offers. Apart from other markets that need such types of vehicles, like South Africa, the `IV (like the VBCI now) would still remain an attractive proposition as an alternative to the GTK/MRAV since there are some persistent rumours according to which the eventual end users feel that they are being "set upon", as Jerome K Jerome would have worded it. In any event, and looking back at Mowag's history, there are few reasons to worry about the Piranha IV's future. By the way, Oman should begin receiving a second batch of Alvis-built Piranha II 8 x 8s next year (they were ordered in late 2000).
KBP turret: Another first public showing included a modified Russian BTR-90 APC with a new KBP turret carrying a 100 mm 2A70 rifled gun as normally used on the BMP-3 IFV. The added firepower provided by this gun transplants the BTR-90 from the APC category into that of the IFV, for in addition to the driver, gunner and commander, the BTR-90 is still able to carry seven troops.
As the BTR-90 is amphibious (propelled by water jets at the rear) the appearance of a variant carrying a 100 mm gun with a range of 5500 metres could transform many amphibious or river-crossing tactical scenarios. The gun, controlled by a laser-based fire control system and stabilised sights, can fire a laser-guided projectile with a tandem war head capable of defeating armour behind active armour. In addition, the BTR-90 turret also carries a 30 mm cannon and a 7.62 mm machine gun, so the combination is not lacking in firepower.
A number of `heavies' displayed at Idex needed not travel long distances to be at the show. The Leclerc displayed on Giat's stand naturally came from `round the corner, it being a United Arab Emirate's unit; the same concerned the M-109 guarding the entrance to the South African pavilion.
M-109: The presence of this particular example was justified by the fact that it was recently the object of a substantial update conducted by Denel, SW (now Ruag Land Systems) and RDM. All UAE M-109s are to be thus upgraded. The gun is similar to the ones SW had fitted to the Swiss Army's howitzer with a chrome plated barrel, semi-autoloader and breech modification and remote-controlled travel lock system. As originally delivered by the United States, the M-109 was fitted with a bare optical sight and no navigation system -- very much a sitting duck by today's standards. Denel's involvement is almost naturally connected with expertise gleaned from the G6, in other words a muzzle velocity radar, an auxiliary power unit enabling the howitzer to be operated at outside temperatures of 50 [degrees] C, a ring laser gyro for navigation and laying (with an accuracy of under sixteen metres) and a GPS system that cuts the previous figure to ten metres. Inside, the turret also sees a redesign of the ammunition storage and an automatic fire extinguishing system similar to that used in the Liw G6.
STK 155 mm: Another innovation from ST Kinetics, the 155 mm Light Weight Self Propelled Howitzer combines firepower with mobility to suit the current shoot-and-scoot tactics that enhance battlefield survival, especially for rapid deployment and special forces where the weight of just seven tonnes would be a definite advantage. The howitzer can be carried in or under a CH-47 or CH-53 helicopter, yet once in action its 39-calibre barrel is able to deliver fire to a range of 30 kilometres.
Believed to be the first self-propelled howitzer built on a spaceframe chassis (hence the light weight), it can travel at 80 km/hr, with a cruising range of 600 km. A 170 hp diesel provides power to the four wheels. Supported in action by short trail legs at the rear, time in and out of action is less than one minute.
Minotor 2T Stalker: Another Idex armour innovation was the 2T Stalker from the Minotor-Service Unitary Enterprise of Minsk, Belarus. Very sleek and described simply as a combat vehicle, it demonstrates the way future armoured vehicle may take once the current crop of heavy tanks has passed away.
The overall outline of the 2T is such that it presents low radar, infrared and optical signatures, all attributes adding to battlefield survival.
The turret size, normally occupied by the commander and gunner, means there is space for one retractable arm each side, each carrying two anti-tank or air defence missiles. Each arm pops out and up to augment the main gun armament, a 30 mm cannon with a co-axial 7.62 mm machine gun. An unusual armament innovation for such a vehicle is a 30 mm automatic grenade launcher.
The 2T's missiles and guns are controlled using an advanced multi-channel optronic suite with optical and laser rangefinding plus both day and night target acquisition, tracking and automatic discrimination. Another indication of the way armoured warfare is progressing is that all 2T fire control and surveillance data can be automatically relayed to a central command post.
KADDB AB9B1: This one was transported all the way from Jordan. Upgraded by the King Abdullah Design and Development Bureau (liberally referred to as `Cadbee'), the venerable M60A1 serving as base platform sees its fire power substantially rejuvenated by being fitted with a Swiss SW 120mm Compact Gun with a Textron stabilising suite and a Raytheon integrated fire control suite comprising the following: a gunner's primary sight subsystem (GPSS), a Losp line-of-sight-platform, a Hire thermal sensor (for both the gunner and the driver), an Elite II eye-safe laser rangefinder, a digital ballistic computer, a digital DFCC fire control computer and related control panel (which the commander can override), a vertical sensing unit and a cross wind sensor. Thus equipped the tank has a shoot-on-the-move capability. A Raytheon 218S laser warning receiver is an option being considered. Oddly enough, the AB9B1 retains the original M60 hydraulic drives; according to a Raytheon spokesman who briefed the author inside the tank, a change to electric drives would have meant severe tampering with the basic hull and would have not been cost-effective.
Looking like a prop for a science fiction film along one of the aisles in the American display area, the Terrain Commander appeared as if it was guarding the entrance to Textron Systems' display. Well, it could actually have been on guard duty as the Terrain Commander is a pretty smart surveillance system that is connected to a laptop-like monitor and control unit via a satellite link. The number of potential applications for this device is only limited by one's imagination. The platform combines a number of acoustic, seismic and magnetic sensors (one cannot avoid thinking that much of this technology was derived from Textron's work in smart munitions like the Hornet) topped by an electro-optical infrared `head' that swivels on a post to provide the operator a full 360-degree view after his mind was brought to attention by one of the other sensors, for example, since the system is able to analyse and differentiate the various `intrusions' (the system will automatically capture images in the direction of the threat and provide a mini-film of the last three pictures received which can really facilitate the development of an otherwise unclear event). A single monitor can handle up to ten units -- in fact the limit here is human.
Simlas 01: Oerlikon Contraves (the Swiss company, since 1999 a part of the Rheinmetall DeTec group) gave, through its Simlas 01, a good view of how infantry training systems could one day become totally invisible. Compared with the earlier Simlas system, the infrared sensors are much smaller and one may wonder how long it will be before they are totally integrated in the fibre of a soldier's web (the system is based on a harness, the sensors of which will pick up the beam of a coded laser transmitter mounted on an `enemy' gun, simulating the latter's fire) and through redundancy become a truly reliable IFF device. One key advantage of the much smaller detectors is that many more can be attached to the harness and therefore provide a much finer definition of the hit (light wound, severe wound or lethal wound). Straps containing additional sensors can be added to the basic harness to cover arms and legs. The soldier carries an input/output device which is now small enough to be worn on one's wrist like a watch. This device immediately informs him of his physical condition and can be reset by an umpire or even a `paramedic'.
In doing so, the umpire's resetting gun also records the parameters of the soldier via an infrared link, which can subsequently be downloaded into a computer for a complete replay of the exercise. An interesting feature of the simlas 01 is that, according to Oerlikon Contraves, the gun-mounted laser beam is now narrow enough to nearly correspond to the dispersion of a gun, in other words a diameter of 39 mm at 100 metres or 64 at 200. As an ultimate refinement, the SimCity mode enables an urban warfare training range fitted with infrared transmitters and ultrasonic receivers to accurately track the displacement of a soldier inside a building, including at night, of course.
Sintro Electronics: This Swiss company specialises in tactical, crew and part task training and has been in the simulation business for 30 years with exports accounting for about 50 per cent of its business, and a strong bias in the Middle East. Sintro is now upgrading the BMP3 gun trainer it had sold to the United Arab Emirates as a consequence of the change of the main optical system on the actual Russian fighting vehicles. Other developments include the Eltam (ELectronic Tactical Simulator for Mechanised troops) in Switzerland under the main contractorship of STN Atlas and of an SE (now Ruag Electronics) M109 simulator with Van Halteren. Ruag now has a majority stake in Sintro.
This and That
Izar: The defence world now has to cope with yet another new name -- Izar -- and deplore once more the loss of a great name -- Bazan. In fact, Izar, which means 'raise' in Spanish, results from the Spanish Government's decision to merge its state-owned profit-making Bazan and loss-making Astilleros Espanoles in late 2000. At least the new name is short -- almost shiny -- not one of those indigestible acronyms. Izar now employs 11 000 people, runs eight yards and has four main divisions: the ship division, repair division, propulsion and energy division (three plants) and weapons and combat (1 plant). Izar is currently involved, inter alia, in the construction of four F100 frigates for Spain with an Aegis combat system. Izar is also involved in the DCN Scorpene programme for Chile, in the production of a second batch of Segura class minehunters for Spain and is in the project definition stage of a the new S-80 submarine for the Spanish Navy. It appears that it would use the Scorpene as a backbone and could have an air independent propulsion system.
STK Grenade: Singapore Technologies Kinetics (ST Kinetics) unveiled its 40 mm Air Bursting Munitions (ABM). Fired from a modified automatic grenade launcher, the 4 x 53 mm grenades utilise Oerlikon Contraves Pyrotec Ahead fuze technology to enable them to burst over a pre-selected target area. Fully integrated fire control equipment includes a laser range-finder that computes the time to target and permits each grenade fuze to be precisely time programmed as it passes through a coil assembly around the muzzle. The warhead is arranged to spread preformed fragments over its frontal arc on air burst detonation. Fragments and blast can then be directed downwards at targets normally hidden behind frontal cover. The ABM system could be readily retrofitted in kit form to many in-service 40mm automatic grenade launchers, including the Singapore 40 AGL and American MK19. Current plans are that the complete ABM system, including both the grenades and launcher modifications, will go into production in September 2002.
F2000: Since Armada's massive Complete Guide to Assault Rifles was published in December 2000, a potentially important rifle candidate has appeared, the Belgian FN Herstal F2000, which could go into production in 2002. The base of this 5.56 mm is a bullpup with smooth flowing lines, constructed using composite materials. It is easy to handle and nicely balanced and is the world's first truly ambidextrous rifle: to avoid being ejected into the face of a left-handed firer, spent cases are ejected forward from a port just behind the muzzle. The firing selector control is under the trigger and readily accessible by either hand, as is the oversize magazine catch designed to be operable when wearing bulky or NBC gloves. The magazine is a 30-round M16 pattern curved box. For everyday sighting a x1.6 optical sight is mounted on a MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail inside a housing over the receiver. The sight can be easily replaced by a night sight.
Should the tactical situation demand it, the forward handguard can be rapidly replaced in the field by a 40 mm low velocity grenade launcher module. For this, FN Herstal devised a simple laser-based fire control module that slots onto the sight rail. It not only accurately determines target range but indicates the appropriate super-elevation angle to the firer. Pressing a button on the pistol grip activates the laser and the range is indicated to the firer in the sight picture. Also displayed is a red/green light array that goes green when the required super-elevation angle is obtained (the lights are repeated in a well over the fire control module housing for when grenades are launched from waist level). More innovations are already in the F2000 pipeline, including an electronic fire control regulator to vary the cyclical fire rate to match the target range and thus enhance overall accuracy levels.
Hunter and Black Iris
Idex is always a good venue for all-terrain and fast attack vehicles and this year two examples among several caught the Armada eye. One was a local product, the H2A (also known as the Hunter) developed by Adcom of Abu Dhabi. Adcom was emphatic that their product is no dune buggy but a serious military vehicle. Powered by a quiet-running 5.9-1itre Cummins diesel coupled to an automatic transmission, the H2A has a top speed of 140 km/h and can accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h in 9.8 seconds. Speed is not the only protective factor for the H2A as the design is such that the exhaust is `buried' under the vehicle body to minimise the infrared signature. The chassis can be easily configured in numerous ways to accommodate various machine guns or missiles. Unloaded weight is just over two tonnes.
Compared to the H2A, the Jordanian KADDB AB3 Black Iris is lighter. Although it can function as an air-portable fast attack or reconnaissance platform, the 4 x 2 Black Iris is also intended to be an all-purpose utility vehicle in the Jeep mould and has already seen United Nations service in Sierra Leone. One special forces variant carries a light motor cycle on a rack at the rear while others sport various weapons up to a 106 mm recoilless rifle or Tow missile. Powered by a 2.8 litre diesel, the Black Iris has a lively all-terrain performance.
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|Date:||Jun 1, 2001|
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