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Hit the Ground Running, but On Wheels.

The growth of special forces throughout the world during the last two decades has almost exactly matched the introduction and proliferation of the special attack vehicle, also called the fast attack vehicle, special operations vehicle, or several other similar indicators. Special forces and these new vehicles have developed together. What was once the leisure activity dune buggy of America's West Coast is now an established battlefield platform for high speed reconnaissance and raiding.

Two distinct design approaches to the special attack vehicle have emerged. One is the modification of existing vehicles, such as the ubiquitous Land Rover, for the role, and the other the development of light, tubular space frames into which an engine and drive train can be placed. For either type the basic requirements are the same. Priority has to be given to lightness, and thus cross country speed and agility, combined with the ability to carry a small squad together with their personal kit and weapons, plus communications and special equipment as required. Equally important is the ability to carry sufficient on-board fuel, food and water supplies to maintain the vehicle and its occupants in the field for several days.

Developing a special attack vehicle is not easy. The speed and agility requirements clash with the need to carry a useful payload of passengers and equipment. Experience with the early two-passenger vehicles demonstrated that the crew was insufficient to be viable over other than short time periods. In addition to the mission involved, the demands of keeping watch, maintaining the vehicle, resting and domestic chores mean that at least three are necessary during long missions and four would be even better. Exactly how so many are to be carried in reasonable comfort on a small vehicle, while maintaining the capability to aim and fire mounted or personal weapons when necessary, is at the heart of the design problem.

All-wheel drive is not always considered a necessity but the ability to retain traction by keeping as many drive wheels as possible in contact with the ground surface at all times most certainly is. Independent suspensions are therefore mandatory, as is the unrelated requirement for air transport, including inside or slung under helicopters.

Special attack vehicles are attractive items, so much so that their shortcomings are often overlooked. One of these is that they have to operate on the battlefield with no more protection for the vehicle and crew other than their speed and agility performance, and those qualities may be restricted over some types of terrain. They are therefore highly vulnerable to incoming fire of any description, to say nothing of the effects of land mines. Some models are capable of assuming add-on armour kits but the weight of these could detract from their usable payloads. Any weapons carried also have to remain light, the heaviest currently under consideration being automatic grenade launchers and, in a few cases, 20 mm cannon, so retaliatory ranges against attacking fire may be restricted. There is also the problem that, being lightly constructed, some vehicles may lack durability over long periods. Manufacturers may maintain that their products have the inherent strength required but, considering the many types of tough terrain over which these light vehicles may have to operate, some doubts remain. Wading depths are often limited to shallows so water obstacles could be a problem with some designs, unless the crew want to get wet.

To prevent special attack vehicles from having to carry excessive self-supply weights and bulk, many special forces have adopted the `Mother Hen' approach for long range missions. For this a central logistics vehicle, still with a fair measure of cross country capability (such as the French ACMAT VLRA 4 x 4), is used to carry the main burdens ready for a `clutch' of attack vehicles to come and go for replenishments as needed. The danger of this approach is that should the Mother Hen be rendered unserviceable for any reason then the entire clutch is in trouble.

But the special attack vehicle is here to stay. Typical of several of the latest generation of these vehicles is the Flyer from Singapore Technologies Kinetics who now own the rights to the design. In common with many other vehicles in its category, the Flyer has had an international prior career. Starting in the USA, licence production in Australia, (now apparently completed) led to production in Singapore where the Flyer is now manufactured for the local defence forces. It is one of the space frame vehicles with the tubular frame, as with other vehicles of this type, providing roll cage crew protection onto which weapon mountings can be attached. Seats are provided for four, with power served up by a 110 hp diesel at the rear. The engine is coupled to a semi-automatic transmission providing all-wheel drive.

The light weight of the Flyer, 1.25 tonnes, means it can carry a useful payload weighing one tonne. Speed on roads can be up to 110 km/hr.

Another approach to the special forces vehicle can be seen with the Israeli Automotive Industries (AIL) Desert Raider. This is quite unlike other vehicles in its class by being a 6 x 6 vehicle and there are several other unusual features. One is that the driver is seated centrally at the front with two further seats behind. A load-carrying area at the rear, over the Chrysler 2.4-litre 150 hp petrol engine, could be used to carry a further two passengers but is more often used for supplies; total payload is 1.2 tonnes.

One of the main features of the Desert Raider is the tandem rear suspension arrangement. On each side the chain-driven wheels pivot around a central point that results in a total suspension stroke length of 600 mm. This feature goes far to sustain the claim that the Desert Raider can move with just one of its six wheels in contact with the ground. Under road conditions the Desert Raider can reach 110 km/hr and the operational range is 500 km.

Special attack vehicles using the Land Rover chassis are several, being the modern counterparts of the UK Special Air Service's famous Pink Panthers. Britain's Land Rover offers its Special Operations Vehicle (SOV) based on the Defender 110 chassis and liberally supplied with a roll-over cage frame and numerous weapon mounting points. US Army Rangers acquired 90 of these diesel-engined vehicles during the early 1990s and they are no doubt still around. The Land Rover Rapid Deployment Vehicle (RDV) is similar to the SOV but is based on the shorter wheel-base Defender 90.

High speed weapon platform vehicles similar to the RDV are available on Land Rover Defender 110 and 130 chassis and the main features of the RDV's overhead roll cage and weapon mounting can be supplied to upgrade any soft-topped Land Rover Defender XD 110 vehicle for special forces applications.

The Land Rover Defender 110 was also taken by the Jordanian King Abdullah Design & Development Bureau as the basis for their AB5. Ordered for Jordanian special forces, the AB5 has a completely new, roll frame body with a mounting for a heavy machine gun on top; there is another machine gun mounting at the front. Ample space is provided for the crew of two or three, together with their kit, extra fuel and water containers, and other essentials.

A similar conversion of an existing vehicle chassis is the Italian Aris Vat (Veicolo Aris Tactico). Here the chassis is taken from the Swiss Bucher Duro 4 x 4S truck so the Vat has an available payload of 2.5 tonnes. Aris has made numerous modifications to the Duro bodywork, mainly centred around lowering the overall height and introducing a modular feature so that a variety of body types can be installed, along with a central tyre inflation system to help the vehicle traverse areas of soft ground, such as sand.

Numerous other special attack vehicles could be mentioned, the most widespread of them being the Chenowth series. They were heavily involved in the early development of the dune buggy into a military vehicle and their early models were used operationally by US special forces during Operation Desert Storm. One of their latest offerings is the Advanced Light Strike Vehicle (ALSV), an extremely high performance attack vehicle with seating for up to four and numerous supply stowage and weapon mounting points.

One of the very latest vehicles in the special forces category is the Alvis Shadow from the UK. Developed with local special force requirements very much in mind, the Shadow is in fact something of a hybrid. It is based on the US AM General High-Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, the HMMWV, and the M1113 expanded capacity vehicle variant in particular. Many would consider that the HMMWV series could serve as special forces vehicles in their own right but one UK requirement was for two Shadows to fit inside a CH-47 Chinook helicopter and three in a C-130 Hercules, something the original HMMWV cannot accomplish. The HMMWV chassis was therefore shortened and narrowed by Alvis and a steel roll cage with a roof weapon mounting was added. New seats were installed and numerous equipment tie-down points provided. A typical special forces addition is a rear area tailgate that can be demounted for use as a workbench or even as an emergency casualty stretcher.

The Shadow retains the HMMWV's 6.5 litre V-8 turbo-diesel engine and automatic four-speed transmission so there is plenty of power to carry a 1.2-tonne payload or tow a 1.5-tonne trailer. The HMMWV independent suspension is also retained.

Another recent special vehicle is the Vickers OMC Wasp from South Africa, one of four contenders for a local selection contest, part of the `Ambition' programme to replace many existing in-service vehicles. The 4 x 4 Wasp is intended to fill the Ambition 1A slot for a replacement for the SANDF's current Bat special purpose and Jakkals (Jackal) airborne forces vehicles. Other contenders include Mechem with their Bat Mk 2 based on the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen components, the Taurus which makes use of Land Rover components, and the New Zealand Wormald.

It is intended that the selected vehicle will fulfil several roles, from a highly mobile platform for weapons up to mortars and 20 mm cannon, to reconnaissance and command vehicles. There is also a rapid deployment logistic vehicle requirement. To meet all the many demanding specifications, including stowage inside transport aircraft, the Wasp is only 3.15 m long and weighs 2.1 tonnes but can carry a 1.5 tonne payload; a 1.3 tonne towed load is an alternative.

The Wasp has several `South African' features. One is the provision for under-belly armour to protect the occupants against grenades and antipersonnel mines and the front and side bonnet plates stand proof against up to 7.62 mm armour-piercing projectiles. Another interesting feature is the provision of an integral drinking water supply along with the fuel tank, both of 60-litre capacity. Power is provided by a liquid-cooled 2.5-1itre diesel.

For some reason, the old Eastern Bloc does not seem to have embraced the special forces vehicle concept, although Romania's Turbomecanica has offered a special forces vehicle with the winsome name of Hamster; it apparently remains in prototype form. Gepfet of Hungary also developed a special forces vehicle known as the Szocske but little has been heard of it of late.

The only known Russian vehicle which could conceivably fall into this category, apart from stripped-down vehicles in the UAZ-469B series, is the Gaz-3937 high mobility vehicle. Based around components from other Gaz trucks already in production, the Gaz-3937 is an unarmoured version of a special security vehicle originally meant to carry bullion between banks. It has a payload of 2.5 tonnes, but if personnel were carried they would have to endure rather uncomfortable conditions, especially as it is understood that up to nine are expected to cram into the rear cargo area, and there are no access hatches other than clambering over the sides. On the more positive side, the 4 x 4 Gaz-3937 is amphibious and it could act as a high mobility weapons platform.

An Ear to the Ground

The Rembass-II remotely monitored battlefield sensor from L-3 Communications will most definitely put a few vehicle drivers on their guard. The system detects, classifies and determines the direction of movement of intruding personnel and vehicles, working in all environments, day/night and all-weather and reporting early warning and target detection to the base monitor. A fully-militarised system, the Rembass-II is easily transported and, most importantly, the sensors are concealed simply and securely. Features include: seismic/ acoustic detection of tracked vehicles from 0 to 750 m, wheeled from 0 to 500 m and personnel anywhere between 0 and 75 m, and passive infrared and magnetic sensor detection also have their respective zone radii. The full kit contains the base unit, 1/4 wave whip antenna, a microphone/geophone assembly and remote cabling with ground plane.
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Copyright 2001, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:Armada International
Date:Feb 1, 2001
Previous Article:Airborne Options for Special Forces.
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