When speed, safety and supplies are at stake on land.
Nowadays, special forces operations are more characterised by the type of mission they have to conduct rather than the distance from their base. Therefore some of the requirements that were high on the priority list in the past, such as the availability of air-transportability for specific vehicles, are now partly played down in favour of protection, as entire operations now tend to be carried out solely on land, without air insertion by rotary or fixed wing aircraft. This does not mean that light air-transportable vehicles will disappear from special forces inventories, but only that new and heavier vehicles are becoming the daily working tool for such units.
Moving in Iraq and Afghanistan is a dangerous business due to the numerous roadside bombs used by the insurgents to deny mobility to coalition forces. Thus, special forces on mounted reconnaissance missions now tend to use protected vehicles rather than light, highly-mobile ones. However, it appears that an adequate balance between protection, mobility and situational awareness still needs to be found. Indeed, new versions of existing highly protected open vehicles are becoming available, but this clearly indicates a softer emphasis on protection in favour of situational awareness--not to mention firepower, which is maximised by the fact that all team members will not only be able to better observe but also open fire with their individual weapons (in a closed vehicle only the machine gun operator can return fire). Hence the current tendency for producers of once unprotected vehicles to add armour to meet the new requirements.
While the Humvee in its latest iteration remains one of the most widely used vehicle amongst the American special forces, they have recently been joined by a number of Thales Australia Bushmasters and some 40 BAE Systems South Africa RG-33 that offer a much higher level of protection. With its 15-tonne gross weight and 2.5-tonne payload the Bushmaster certainly provides optimal protection, as does the RG33 with its gross weight of over 17 tonnes and a 3.7-tonne payload capacity. While these vehicles are suited to open terrain, their weight and bulk quickly show their limits when operational detachments are called to counter Taliban forces in mountainous terrain.
With a view to overcoming this problem the US Special Operations Command has acquired the Utah-made Specialized Reconnaissance Assault Transport System (Srats)--a high-mobility four-wheel-drive platform developed with Darpa funding. The Srats adopts designs used in recreational vehicles that allows them to climb up extremely steep gradients, but still enables it to hit the 150 km/h mark on a road. Its curb weight is three tonnes and, quite extraordinarily, it offers a payload of 1.8 tonnes, including four passengers (six more can be carried on the outriggers). A Level 1 armour package provided by BAE Systems ensures some protection against small arms fire, and quite sensibly given the nature of the vehicle, it features rollover protection which doubles as a medium calibre machine gun platform. Power is provided by an AM General turbo diesel engine with 300 hp on tap, driving the wheels through a Humvee transmission, which all goes to minimise logistic issues. Thanks to its exceedingly high mobility capabilities the Srats is suitable for missions such as stealth reconnaissance, personnel recovery, off-road convoy escort and high-speed chase. A version that can fit into the CV-22 tilt-rotor aircraft has also been developed. Known as Srats ITV (Internally Transportable Vehicle) it is smaller, lighter and can be armed with a remotely operated 12.7-mm machine gun. An armoured version of the Srats known as Elsorv (Enhanced Logistics Support Off-Road Vehicle), with a curb weight of 3.85 tonnes and a payload of 1.3 tonnes, has also been developed and is being acquired mostly for logistic missions.
The British Special Air Service (SAS) also has bought the Bushmaster--24 of them--but these are seldom used in Afghanistan as the elite service prefers to rely on the mobility, speed, off-road capability, lower profile afforded by vehicles such as the Jackal; as its agility is not impaired by heavy protection. Based on the Supacat HMT 400 series chassis, it is powered by a 195-hp Cummins diesel engine and has a 2.3-tonne payload capacity for a gross weight of seven tonnes. Crew boils down to driver, vehicle commander and machine gunner with the latter operating a pintle-mounted 12.7-mm machine gun or a 40-mm automatic grenade launcher installed in the rear. With such a small crew, part of the payload capacity is used to store ammunition, water and equipment, but most of it is absorbed by floor and side composite armour plates. Its reduced width, 1.97 metres, allows it to be carried inside a Chinook helicopter.
A follow-on model in the form of the Jackal 2 has been developed to offer a fourth seat and improved manoeuvrability, while the weapon is moved forward. The type has been ordered by the British Army but it is unclear if it will equip special forces units. The same applies to the Jackal 3, based on the HMT 600 6 x 6 chassis and shown last June at DVD, which has the possibility to be transformed in a closed vehicle with ballistic protection up to Level 2. Currently Patrol Platoons belonging to the British Special Forces Support Group deploy the Jackal alongside Wmik-equipped Land Rovers and armed 4 x 4 Pinzgauers. The Wmik--an acronym for Weapons Mounted Installation Kit--was developed by Ricardo, a British company that specialises amongst other things in the modification of military vehicles such as the Land Rover Defender and the Pinzgauer. In the SAS ranks, the Wmik Land Rover replaced the 'Pink Panther' Land Rovers. Nevertheless, the Jackal adopts numerous Wmik solutions, Wmik-modified vehicles normally feature a principal defence weapon in the form of a 40-mm automatic grenade launcher or a 12.7mm machine gun, with a secondary 7.62-mm machine gun for the vehicle commander. Interestingly, the 1.4-tonne payload Pinzgauer 712 6 x 6 has also been adopted by Malaysia, New Zealand and US Special Forces units. At least 13 such vehicles are in service with New Zealand's Special Air Service regiment, while the US Special Operations Command signed a contract in April 2007 for an unspecified number of platforms to be used by Joint Special Operations units and the 75th Ranger Regiment.
At least two companies have developed special forces-dedicated platforms based on light armoured vehicles. Renault Trucks, for example, is marketing the Sherpa 3 Forces Speciales based on the Sherpa 34 x 4 vehicle. With a gross weight of 9.5 tonnes and a payload capacity of three tonnes, it is powered by a 215-hp diesel giving it a top road speed of 120 km/h and a range of over 1000 km at a cruise speed of 70 km/h. The Sherpa 3 FS can accommodate five men, two in the front and three in the rear; the operator in the rear centre seat mans the pintle-mounted weapon, which again can be a medium-calibre machine gun or an automatic grenade launcher. The weapon is fixed to the tubular roll-bar which protects the whole crew.
Panhard, for its part, developed the Vehicule Patrouille SAS, or VPS, based on the Mercedes G chassis and ordered by the French DGA in 2005. A four tonner with a 1.2-tonne payload, it is powered by a 157-hp engine and has a cruising range of 800 km. Currently 51 VPS have been provided to French special forces units operating under the COS (Commandement des Operations Speciales). Normally used in the open top configuration, it features a robust roll-bar which holds the pintle carrying the self-defence weapon, but it can also be covered with a canvas if needed. This is not, however, the only special forces vehicle developed by Panhard as a new development, based on the PVP (Petit Vehicule Protege), was recently unveiled. Compared to the standard PVP, the SF version has an open top although it maintains full side-protection, that tends to slope towards the rear; not many details were provided, but according to pictures the vehicle can host four operators and carry three automatic weapons (two small-calibre machine guns, one looking forward available to the vehicle commander and one looking to the rear, with a medium-calibre or automatic grenade launcher mounted in the centre and covering 360[degrees]. The vehicle has a gross weight of five tonnes and a payload capacity of one, with a maximum speed of 120 km/h and a cruising range of 800 km.
The ballistic protection level is still unknown, but should remain a Level 2, like the PVP. Thanks to its reduced width, 1.97 metres, the PVP SF should be transportable in a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, like the VPS which is even narrower at only 1.86 metres.
Italian Special Forces operating in Afghanistan within Task Force 45 have for some time been using the Iveco DV Light Multirole vehicle (LMV), known in Italy as Lince (Lynx). The vehicle has proven to be effective against roadside bombs and only minor injuries were suffered by its travelling after an attack. Iveco has developed a dedicated version of the vehicle and its decision was corroborated by the request of some special force units whose operational requirements were close to the vehicle design. The 'cabriolet' version of the LMV features a stripped armoured cab which maintains only the front armoured glass while the remaining 270[degrees] protection is limited to the waistline downwards. Removal of the roof and side glass reduces the vehicle weight to 4.2 tonnes and thereby increases the payload to three tonnes to the benefit of increased ballistic and mine protection. The vehicle is offered with a roll-bar supporting a weapon ring for small and medium-calibre machine guns and automatic grenade launchers. The central roll-bar is fixed, however, a version with a foldable roll-bar is under consideration to further ease air transportability, since the armoured windscreen is already foldable. In the reduced-width configuration (2.05 metres) the LMV SF would thus become transportable inside a CH-47. Iveco maintains maximum design flexibility for seat layout and optional equipment such as additional fuel and/or water tanks and so forth.
In the early 2000s Rheinmetall developed a special operations vehicle based on the Mercedes G 280 CDI chassis, which was able to carry a crew of four soldiers and their equipment and could be air transported by CH-47, CH-53, V-22, C-160, C-130 and A400M. Known as the Serval, it has a 1.5-tonne payload capacity and is able to withstand the explosion of two DM 51 anti-personnel mines. The limited width of 1.84 metres and height of 1.87 metres (weapon station folded) enables the Serval to roll into a CH-47 or a CH-53.The 135-kW engine allows the 4.8 tonne vehicle to reach 120 km/h on flat terrain. As many other vehicles of similar class it is equipped with a main weapon station, normally an RSL 609 K with electric traverse system, capable of accommodating various weapons up to 12.7 mm or a 40-mm AGL. An MG3 is available for the vehicle commander, while smoke grenade launchers are offered on option--six at the front and four at the rear. Other options include a ballistic protected windscreen, run-flat tyres, a semiautomatic central tyre inflation system and an additional fuel tank (+54 litres) to stretch range to over 800 km on road. The Serval has been in service with German special forces (which acquired 21 vehicles in 2003) and another undisclosed European country since 2006.
The Bin Jabr Group has developed an open-top version of its Nimr multi-mission vehicle specifically aimed at special forces and 57 such vehicles have already been ordered by Libya for its elite units. With 250 hp under the loud pedal, the Cummins turbo diesel engine can thrust the 8.25-tonne vehicle to the 135 km/h mark, cruising range being 700 km on a 175-litre fuel tank. The Nimr SF can seat up to four people and is equipped with a weapon mounting over its roll-bar.
Apart from the Srats all the vehicles described here do not really fit into the fast attack vehicle category, one that tended to retain greater consideration in the past, although recent special forces equipment exhibitions proved that these are still very much part of the proposed portfolio.
The Flyer has been around for quite some time and is currently produced by Flyer Defense (a subsidiary of Marvin Engineering) in California. This set of wheels is based on a tubular spaceframe chassis with a four-wheel independent suspension and is able to move at a maximum speed of about 105 km/h. This one-to-six-seater is powered by a rear-mounted, 115-hp, turbocharged intercooled diesel engine that drives a three-speed powershift transmission. The base vehicle curb weight is 1.45 tonnes with a payload of 1.36 tonnes. The standard 144-litre fuel tank provides a range of 725 km, however an optional tank increases fuel capacity to 265 litres, stretching range to over 1600 km. The initial Flyers were designed for transport in a CH-47 helicopter, but the advent of the CV-22 brought about a second version known as Flyer ITV, with smaller dimensions in order to fit inside the new tilt-rotor aircraft. The width was therefore reduced from 2 to 1.57 metres, while the height with roll-bars folded was decreased to 1.6 metres. One Flyer can fit into the V-22 while two others can be transported externally, while the CH-53E and CH-47D can transport two vehicles inside the aircraft and three more under-slung. Smaller helicopters such as the CH-46 Sea Knight can transport only one Flyer, either internally or externally, while the UH-60 Blackhawk can transport a single Flyer under a sling.
A special ramp allows to stack two vehicles and to drive them into the bay of a C-130, allowing a Hercules to transport up to six Flyers; this system can also be used to transport two Flyers in a 20-ft ISO container. The Flyer can also be dropped by parachute, using two G-ll cargo parachutes. The Flyer ITV is in service with US Special Operations units as well as with the Singaporean Army, which in the late '90s ordered 79. Following the increased roadside bomb threats an armoured version of the Flyer was developed with the cab based on the ceramic armour Flexkit developed by Ceradyne. The vehicle curb weight thus grew to 1.81 tonnes but the new 150-hp engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission also increased the top speed to over 135 km/h. The size of the vehicle remains mostly the same and thus retains its CV-22 transportability. The only characteristic that is lost in the armoured version, known as Armored Light Strike Vehicle, is the ability to stack two vehicles.
Quite similar to the Flyer is the Spider Light Strike Vehicle manufactured by ST Kinetics of Singapore (which also produces the Flyer under license). This is also based on a tubular frame chassis and has a curb weight of 1.6 tonnes and a payload of 1.2. Powered by a 130-hp, 2.8-litre turbo diesel engine through a semi-automatic transmission, it can seat three to six soldiers. Compared to the Flyer ITV the Spider is larger (over two metres wide and 1.9 metres over the roll-cage) and thus not suited for restricted holds such as in the CV-22. Fitted with all-round independent suspensions, double wishbone with single shock absorber at the front and trailing arms with dual shock absorbers at the rear, the Spider can reach 120 km/h on-road and 80 km/h off, and has a range of 600 km. It can be armed with medium-calibre machine guns and 40 mm AGLs, but better still, it can accommodate the Super Rapid Advanced Mortar System (Srams). Also an ST Kinetics design, this 120-mm low-recoil mortar is equipped with an automatic fire control system with a firing rate of ten rounds per minute. An Srams team would be made of two Spiders, one with a crew of two and the mortar and the other manned by a single driver to carry the ammunition. The Spider can be equipped with a ballistic protected capsule able to withstand 7.62-mm rounds, but is also offered with a Mogen (Motor Generator) power system--a hybrid diesel-electric package that allows it to move silently when in contact with the enemy. Such a solution was also studied for the Flyer years ago but has apparently been abandoned.
Back to the United States, the off-road division of USA Dar Corporation, specialising in off-road racing technology, developed the Vyper V1, a 4 x 4 high-mobility vehicle with over 60-cm-stroke suspensions and a petrol engine developing more than 650 hp, which gives it a maximum speed in excess of 240 km/h. A diesel engine is offered as an option, which would be better suited for the battlefield even if this might bring a slight increase in the 1270-kg curb weight of the vehicle. Explosion resistant underbelly and seats are also offered, as well as an automatic transmission to replace the four-speed manual racing transmission installed. Racing technologies are used to reduce the powerpack replacing time to less than one hour and to allow easy repair or replacement of most components. With the V1 experience feather in its cap, the company is developing the V2 Fast Attack Vehicle, which features an enclosed front cabin for three soldiers with the steering wheel facing the central seat. The central section of the vehicle is empty, which allows the installation of a three-[metre.sup.3] module. The vehicle is equipped with A-frame front suspensions and a V-hull to withstand under-belly explosions while its 230-litre fuel tank offers a range of 970 km. The pod is an integral part of the vehicle and its pay-load capacity is 900 kg for the lightweight version and 2700 kg for the heavy-duty type. A number of dedicated modules have been designed, ranging from cargo transport to medical, troop transport (four people), weapons (up to 20-mm chain gun), rescue/breaching, tactical operations centre, fuel or water container (both with a 2700-litre capacity) and holding cell, but the company is ready to build new modules according to customer requirements.
Another company is proposing a two-seat special forces/rescue vehicle: Wide Open Industries recently showed an off-road vehicle with a curb weight of 1680 kg, a 540-kg payload (wet), with dual A-arm and coil over independent suspensions. Various engine and transmission solutions are offered ranging from petrol Subaru 2.5-litre atmospheric or turbocharged engines to a Volkswagen 2.5-1 turbo diesel. The latter provides 180 hp and can be coupled either to a manual or an automatic transmission. The former offers a top speed of 165 km/h and a range at patrol speed of 480 km, while the autoshifter decreases this to 148 km/h and 430 km. Safety is provided by a self-sealing fuel tank and a ballistic protected battery enclosure. Two spare tyres are available, as are attachment points for additional ballistic protection. Front and rear weapon mounts are available as option, as well as a fording kit and a run-flat tire system. An electric winch can be quickly installed either at the front or at the rear. The Wide Open vehicle is air transportable in CH-47 and CH-53 helicopters.
Remaining in the mobility field, small and light high-mobility vehicles are widely used by special forces units to provide operational detachments with a fast-moving capability in very rough terrain (where normal vehicles would encounter problems due to their dimensions), as well as some degree of logistic support when deployed for long periods.
Enhanced Protection Systems in Britain has sold at least 75 Springer high mobility vehicles to the Ministry of Defence. This 850-kg dry weight dune buggy carries two soldiers in an open cabin with side-protection, plus a rear 1.4-tonne payload compartment, which makes it highly suitable for delivering vital supplies to frontline special forces detachments.
ATV (a Phoenix International company) developed the Prowler in the early 2000s; a 4 x 4 Light Tactical All Terrain Vehicle (LTATV) currently in service with American special forces units. Designed from scratch for military use, the first version known as the Prowler ITV (Internally Transportable Vehicle) entered service in 2002 and had a single front seat; it is based on a tubular steel structure with a roll-over protection system and has a front and a rear cargo rack. In 2005 a new version with two forward-looking seats was unveiled. Known as the Prowler II it maintains the concept of its predecessor. A further enhancement was unveiled in the fall of 2008, which mainly introduced a 30% power increase. The current Prowler is powered by a 750-cc, liquid-cooled, DFI, four-valve, 90[degrees] V-twin with automatic transmission giving a maximum speed of 80 km/h. Both front and rear suspensions are based on independent double wishbone A arms with adjustable preload gas-charged shock absorbers, allowing the suspensions to be adjusted to the load and to the type of terrain. The Prowler's dry weight is 567 kg, while its payload is higher at 635 kg. It can tow a trailer of up to 1.15 tonnes. Its overall width of only 1.48 metres allows it to be transported internally in most helicopters and aircraft equipped with a rear ramp like the V-22 Osprey and the NH90.
Another company fully involved in all-terrain vehicles is Polaris, which was contracted in 2004 by the US Special Operations Command to provide 700 4 x 4 and 6 x 6 vehicles, mostly MV700s. The most recent versions of these are offered with a spark-ignited, direct injection-equipped, 760-cc engine which can also run on JP8 fuel. With a dry weight of 472 kg, a front rack capacity of 90 kg and a rear capacity of 181 kg, the MV700 can reach a maximum speed of over 90 km/h and tow a trailer with an overall weight of 680 kg. Polaris also developed a series of 4 x 4 and 6 x 6 ultra-light vehicles with automotive style controls, known as the Ranger, which features a two-seat side-by-side arrangement at the front and a cargo platform at the rear. Respective payloads are 680 kg and 800 kg while their 40-hp 760-cc EFI twins give them a maximum speed of about 80 km/h. These vehicles have been constantly improved with the Ranger RZR, the RZR-S models, joined in 2009 by the RZR-SW. This features a reinforced frame, heavy-duty suspension, improved braking, winch with dashboard-mounted and wire remote controls, lighting blackout function, updated seating for easier egress and more operator room, mounting for four-point seatbelts, single front-rear tyre size, reinforced steel rims, 225-kg rear box capacity, rear differential, keyless ignition and two 12 V outlets. With an overall length of 2.85 metres, a 1.5-metre width and 186-cm height, the RZR-SW has a dry weight of 504 kg and can speed up to 109 km/h. Polaris started to market this new model last summer and aims at special operations and search-and-rescue units. Polaris products are already in service not only in the US but also with numerous other nations such as Israel, Egypt, Norway, Sweden, central and southern American countries as well as various Eastern Europe nations.
Last June (2009) Kawasaki UV Country, based in Texas, won a contract to supply 1625 Teryx 4 x 4 vehicles to the US Special Operations forces. Powered by a 750-cc FI engine, this 4 x 4 cots vehicle has side-by-side seating with a foldable rollover bar, all-round independent suspension and a tilting cargo bed with a 225-kg payload capacity. This order brings the number of all-terrain and similar vehicles ordered by the US forces since the beginning of this decade to over 6000 units, showing how such highly mobile light vehicles are becoming of importance in the military, and more specifically in the special forces community. What remains a problem is the fuel type; currently this category of vehicles is powered by petrol (gasoline), which requires a dedicated logistic chain as most other vehicles run on diesel. Currently the only company that seems to be pushing for a dieselisation of this type of machines is Revolve Technologies in Britain, which developed prototypes based on Polaris and Arctic Cat machines. While Polaris seems to consider that diesel propulsion for such kind of vehicle is not yet mature, Arctic Cat is now proposing its 700 Diesel ATV which can run on six different diesel fuels, DF1, DF2, DF A Arctic, JP5, JP8 and up to 20% bio-diesel. Not only the diesel powerpack uses the standard fuel available in the military, but the 700-cc, two-cylinder, supercharged diesel engine used on the Arctic Cat ATV provides 50% more range.
Not many new weapons have appeared of recent; the FN Herstal Scar remains the weapon of choice of special forces units. The Scar comes in two variants, the 5.56-mm-calibre Mk 16 and the 7.62-mm Mk 17, and the US Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC)--Crane Division is focusing its efforts on developing new cartridges for both calibres in order to optimise the use of the new weapon. In the smaller calibre, the Mk 318 Mod 0 cartridge, ball, carbine, barrier was developed, while the larger calibre is the Mk 319 Mod 0 cartridge ball, rifle and barrier. Both ammo result from a long series of studies aimed at improving the effectiveness of standard calibre rounds, especially in close quarter battle, thus for short-barrelled rifles, but numerous solutions adopted in law enforcement ammunition were also considered. Known as Enhanced ammunition the 5.56-mm features a 62-grain (4.02 gram) bullet which has a speed of 892 m/s at a 4.6-metre distance from the muzzle, while the 7.62-mm Enhanced has a 130-grain (8.42 gram) bullet that has the same velocity--the former using an Mk 16 Scar with a 355-mm barrel (short), the latter using a 410 mm barrel (the velocity drops to 830 m/s with the 330-mm CQB barrel). Both bullets are designed to defeat intermediate barriers, something that the standard 5.56-mm round is unable to do in most cases. While the 5.56-mm version maintains the same weight as the SS109/M855 ball, the 7.62 mm round uses a lighter ball compared to the 146.6 grains (9.5 grams) of the Nato standard ammo. A new propellant was also developed. Not only was this optimised for short-barrel use, it is also temperature independent to ensure consistent results and also contains flash-reducing additives.
Developed within the American special forces community, the 6.8 x 43 mm SPC (Special Purpose Cartridge) has been industrialised by Remington and aims at providing the best combination of combat accuracy, reliability and terminal performance for up to 500-metre engagements. It is also more suitable in close-quarter battle situations as its much higher energy, better barrier penetration and incapacitation effect compared to current 5.56 mm rounds ensures a more efficient terminal effect. Until now the only military weapon available for this calibre was the Barrett Firearms Rec7, however numerous manufacturers are considering this new calibre for their newly developed weapons, although it remains unclear if and when this ammunition will become a standard and how many services will be willing to shift to a new calibre. If green armies might remain faithful to the current calibre, special forces units might decide to shift to the new ammo considering its advantages and the limited reduction, from 30 to 25, in the number of rounds contained by a Stanag 4179 magazine.
If the Scar will soon replace the M4 in US special forces units, another weapon has been acquired by Socom and by similar units in a number of other countries: the Heckler & Koch HK416, which is essentially an improved Colt M4 carbine using a refined rotating-bolt head with multiple locking lugs which improves the weapon's reliability. Another assault rifle used by some SF units, notably those of Israel, India, Colombia, Georgia and Portugal, is the Tavor 21 manufactured by Israel Military Industries, now Israel Weapon Industries. All these rifles can be equipped with a single-shot 40 mm grenade launcher that attaches under the barrel, while the Scar will receive the Mk 13 Mod 0 Enhanced Grenade Launcher Module, also known as the EGLM, which features a polymer receiver and a 244-mm-long aluminium barrel. Fully ambidextrous, the barrel swivels to the right or to the left for loading and unloading, while the double-action firing mechanism allows quick-action repeating in case of misfire. The launcher is so designed that it brings its trigger exactly under the Scar trigger, making it accessible without changing hand position on the pistol grip. The launcher was also designed to fire medium-velocity grenades in addition to the low-velocity types.
Following the near-full development of an innovative grenade system by Metal Storm (an Americano-Australian company) the term * single-shot * for under-barrel grenade launchers might become obsolescent in the near future, as Metal Storm has developed a system known as 'stacked grenade', in which more than one grenade can be stacked in line and fired using an electric ignition system located on the side of the grenade. This would give a multiple-shot capability to the single soldier, who will thus be able to mix different types of rounds to launch, for example, a door buster round followed by two HE rounds to clear a room. Metal Storm is developing a whole range of munitions, including high-explosive, airburst, thermobaric and less-than-lethal rounds. The weight of a 3GL is comparable with that of an M203, while the 40-mm grenade performances are similar in range and velocity to those of low-velocity 40-mm grenades. Metal Storm has also developed the Maul (Multi-shot Accessory Underbarrel Launcher), a lightweight 12-gauge gun system that attaches to the barrel like a 40-mm grenade launcher and uses the same stacked round technology. The four shots in the chamber can be fired in rapid succession by pulling the trigger as quickly as possible. Made of carbon fibre, the Maul only adds 1.25 kg to the weapon, giving to the soldier the combination of an assault rifle and a shotgun.
The future of communications will certainly include the capability of long-range on-the-move communications, which will therefore include satcom-on-the-move capabilities. Currently special forces set up their satcom links as soon as their vehicles come to a halt to establish a secure link with their home base, although urban and deep valleys in high mountainous areas often pose a challenge. Many companies around the world (including Thales) are working on this issue, but in the United States this is being addressed by a US Army programme called Win-T (Warfighter Information Network-Tactical). This is headed by General Dynamics C4 Systems, but also involves Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Harris, L-3 Communications, Juniper Networks, Sisco Systems and many others. It will thus not be too long before we see special forces vehicles featuring new kinds of aerials, most probably roof-mounted to ensure the best possible visibility towards the sky. Integrating such aerials on vehicles without creating mechanical and electronic interferences with roof-mounted support weapon stations will certainly not be an easy task as systems currently offered on the market are way too big. Within a group equipped with Humvee-class vehicles for example, a satcom-on-the-move system would require a fully dedicated vehicle. Although miniaturisation is capable of wonders, it still is difficult to define when a system for integration into a fast-attack vehicle will become available. But things are moving: General Dynamics C4S received a contract in 2007 to develop a Warrior Model 20-20 antenna system for verification and testing, operating in Ku-band and capable of transmitting and receiving data at speeds up to 1.54 Mbps.
Also, in June 2009 Northrop Grumman delivered the first example of its EHF Solid State Power Amplifier, a key component in the effort to reduce size and weight of future on-the-move satcom systems. The system is capable of attaining high power outputs in a small form factor, and Northrop Grumman also showed how the design is scalable to higher power levels.
In February 2009, Swe-Dish (now part of Rockwell Collins) unveiled an on-the-move satcom system combining the company's satellite communication terminal technology with a Saab stabilised platform. Designed for land and naval applications, its coverage is close to worldwide as it provides access to almost any commercial Ku-band satellite currently in service, with 1.0 Mbps throughput.
According to military sources, the Afghan campaign which involves numerous Nato special task forces under the banner of the Socce (Special Operations Coordination and Command Element), has brought a change of focus in the use of drones by special forces. While in the past the effort was aimed at providing special force detachments with micro/ mini drones that allowed them to monitor the situation at short or very-short ranges, experience proved that the endurance of those systems was too short to provide a thorough appreciation of the tactical situation, causing those forces to shift their gaze to Predator-class systems. With a view to providing real-time imagery generated by such systems, General Atomics, which had earlier developed a system known as the Rover (Remotely Operated Video Enhanced Receiver), came up with the Rover 2, which was used by special forces in Afghanistan to despatch video footage from the Predator. Conventional forces were then also equipped with such systems. The Rover 3 was then developed by L-3 Communications CSW; thanks to its multi-band receiver in the Ku and C bands digital and C and L bands analogue, the Rover 3 now can acquire the videos broadcasted by the Predator and other systems such as various other drones and, for example, the Litening II and III and the Sniper XR aircraft targeting pods. The simple receiver weighs about five kilos, including batteries (which then needs at least the omnidirectional C/L and Ku bands), and about 22 kg when linked to a ruggedised laptop to accommodate the C-band directional as an option. Then came the 3.63-kg Rover 4, also from L-3, which became a transceiver and added an S analogue band and a new decoder for video formats.
A considerable step forward was made by L-3 with the Rover 5 Handheld, based on a rugged software-defined radio. It features KU, C, L and S-band reception and transmission capacity, as well as UHF allowing voice communications with pilots. Its data rates range from 200 kbps to over 40 Mbps, but the main advantage for special force operators is that its weight is less than 1.6 kg. A further boost to imagery distribution at the lower levels is L-3 Communications' Soldier ISR multi-band receiver in UHF, C, L, S and Ku bands, with data rates up to ten Mbps. At a weight of less than 0.3 kg for the modem and 0.14 kg for the antenna, this is designed to operate in conjunction with any computer, display and power source currently in operation.
For troops who might operate in isolation for long periods of time, power generation is one of the major issues, along with water supplies. If the latter problem cannot yet be solved by technology, and probably never will be, the former should be solved in the short-to-mid term with various technologies, fuel cells being apparently one of the most promising. Numerous other solutions are however being proposed. Powerfilm in Ames, Indiana, is offering a series of solar chargers. Its AA Foldable Solar Charger, which weighs less than 100 grams, recharges two AA batteries in four hours in full sunshine or four batteries in eight hours. Its USB + AA Solar Charger weighs 140 grams and recharges two AA batteries or small USB devices. Folded dimensions are 83 x 140 x 35 mm while unfolded it covers a 620 x 140 mm area. The AA system generates 3.6 V at 0.4 A, while USB devices recharge at five volts. Larger solar chargers are also available, in five different power ratings; 5, 10, 20, 30, and 60 W, weighing between 0.22 and 1.45 kg, while folded dimensions for the larger types are 279 x 241 x 51 mm. They all operate at 15.4 V with operating currents between 0.3 and 3.6 Amps. Originally produced for the US Army Natick Soldier Center, Power Film Solar Field Shelters are available in three different types, Quadrant (190 W), Temper Fly (750 W) and Powershade (two kW) and are designed to reduce dependence on fuel-fired generators.
Developed by Stork Aerospace for the Dutch Voss future soldier programme, the E-Lighter is a small power generator that uses diesel or JP8 fuel and provides a 15 W, 15 V DC output. Fully fuelled it weighs 1.8 kg for a 50% weight reduction compared to spare batteries as it can provide 400 Wh/kg during 48 hours of operation.
Ultracell is under contract with the US Department of Defense to provide its XX25 fuel cell that weighs 1.24 kg (without cartridge) for a dimension of 230 x 150 x 43 mm. According to the company it allows a 70% weight savings compared with normal batteries on a 72-hour mission. It operates at 12/24 V (selectable) and provides a maximum output power of 25 W. The weight of the cartridges varies according to the capacity: the standard one weighs 345 grams with a 180 Wh capacity, the XRT-75 weighs 1.2 kg for a 900 Watt-hour capacity, the XRT-200 3.6 kg and 2500 Wh, and the XRT-1000 18 kg and 12,500 Wh. A scaled version, the XX55, has recently been unveiled, which has a weight of 1.6 kg and 272 x 208 x 81 mm (without battery pack); it provides a 50 W output and works at 12 or 30 V. The XX55 is designed for operating as battery recharging system and uses the same cartridges as the XX25, although with half the runtime since output power is doubled. These are only a few examples of different types of recharging systems that are becoming available to special forces; but ones that will most probably become common items relatively soon.
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|Article Type:||Company overview|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2009|
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