7 things we discovered at International Armoured Vehicles this year
Last week, the International Armoured Vehicles conference and exhibition saw its 17th annual iteration. The event has become the world's premier forum dedicated to the armour community, seeing experiences shared between military and business leaders, with new platforms and equipment on display. Here, we round-up just a few of the most facinating takeaway points uncovered this year...
1 Rust is a bigger problem for militaries than you probably think
According to Liz Shivers, chief operating officer at military technology company MILSPRAY, the U.S. Department of Defense recently found that corrosion had been responsible for putting around 16% of military assets out of action per year – at an annual cost of $23 billion. Inefficient storage, protective paints and canvases are just a few of the shortfalls responsible for these losses. Research suggests that while aluminium is more resistant to corrosion than steel in damp conditions, the real problems occur where these metals meet and an electrolytic bridge is formed, creating the conditions for galvanic corrosion. This means more thought has had to be put into the materials used for components and ‘bolt-on’ equipment.
However, protective technologies are on the market and are proving to be making a difference. U.S. forces are also taking lessons from the approach the U.S. Marine Corps has been taking to OEMs when buying new assets, which includes considerations towards cost-savings if corrosion or other maintenance needs are required, from demanding warranties to complimentary repairs.
2 Scientists are growing insects to make ‘world-changing’ vehicle armour
Believe it or not, but creepy-crawlies will soon be saving lives.
Rather than conventional chemistry or physics, the world of biology is coming to the fore for protective systems. By this we mean synthetic biology, the process of engineering organisms to effectively make nature act in very specific ways. For defence scientists, work has already been underway on ‘growing’ bugs that are engineered to develop with ‘super-hard’ shells. These are then harvested to form the basis for armour plates that are enormously stronger than those that exist in current metal or ceramic solutions. This includes efforts to harness new forms of lightweight transparent armour – a product that normally requires large weight and size to work.
In recent months, the UK’s Centre for Defence Enterprise announced a request for proposal (RFP) as it plans to invest up to £750,000 into new ways of using synthetic biology to create transparent materials.
3 The UK is working on developments for over 5000 platforms…
According to Lt. Gen Paul Jacques, chief of land materiel at the UK MoD’s DE&S (Defence Equipment & Support), British Forces are currently undertaking work on over 5000 vehicles, all within the same five-year period. This includes upgrades and extension programmes on existing platforms to the development and delivery of all-new vehicles. The pressure to meet these deadlines – and in many cases to reduce them – has been immense, but Jacques stated that leaders are ‘much more confident that they were two years ago’ when it comes to hitting their targets.
Focus for future development is being placed on incremental upgrades and introductions of new vehicles, meaning off-the-shelf options have become a priority for DE&S. Among those in the works is the forthcoming MIV programme, details of which are currently the subject of much rumour and secrecy, but is said to be a key platform for the British STRIKE model which will deliver a ‘full suite of cost-effective and interoperable vehicles.’
4 …And the Brits are ‘almost definitely’ buying the JLTV
Speaking of rumours, one big speculation was laid to rest at IAVs in the announcement that the British Army will be acquiring around 750 of the Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) to fulfil part of its Multi-Role Vehicle Protected (MRV-P) requirement.
Major General Talbot Rice [pictured above], director of Land Equipment at DE&S, confirmed that a Foreign Military Sale (FMS) letter of request had been submitted to the United States and a response is expected within ‘the next few months’. Currently, over 55,000 JLTVs are set to be manufactured for the US Army and Marine Corps to replace their HMMWV fleets, having won an intensively contested competition last year.
Previously, the MoD had been open with the industry about its testing of the platform and the fact that the price point was considered very competitive. However, Group 2 of the MRV-P requirement, which seeks a larger 6x6 solution, will still see competition opened to the market.
5 The small UAV threat has taken militaries by surprise
A vast range of international commanders came to the podium and evaluated the threats that their land forces are likely to be facing within the coming months and years, particularly those that impacted vehicle fleets. Among those mentioned, there was universal agreement that small UAVs, available on the commercial market, present a new kind of threat – and one that very few had predicted until recently.
Major General Karl Engelbrektson, commander of the Army of Sweden, confessed to the audience that a number of innovative technologies are on the horizon for his forces but that he wished to aggressively bring the timeframes for development forward in order to ward off the startling velocity of technological development being fielded by both asymmetric and symmetric adversaries. In particular, the UAV had come as a surprise to many Armies, demanding that new protective measures are fitted to existing platforms, be that in the realm of kinetic weapon systems, jamming systems, or other solutions.
Likewise, it has not gone unnoticed by land force commanders that there is a huge amount of potential and concern arising from the growing prevalence of unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs) among the inventories of some nations. Leaders are stepping on the gas to form new technologies and tactics to manage this development.
6 The sun has not set on the tank
Every year, IAVs sees some debate over whether the faithful MBT has had its day. Rarely is modern warfare played out on marshy fields or across desert landscapes, with conflict instead shifting closer to urban environments and the littorals. But the tank refuses to disappear. This year’s event saw vocal support among several commanders and tacticians that the vehicle still has a significant role to play. A visiting scientist from the Indian DRDO's Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE) showcased the impressive work being undertaken on the Arjun MBT, a third-generation design scheduled to enter service in the 2020s, and boasting enhanced IED protection and an unmanned turret.
Meanwhile, Brigadier General Adnan Ahmad Alragad, commander of the Jordan Armed Forces’ 3rd Division, said that despite the fact that insurgents hiding in hard-to-reach places had ‘limited’ the tank’s conventional role in some scenarios, ‘the tank is absolutely still relevant and is fulfilling the role for which it was originally designed.’ Along with multiple life extension programmes being carried out on existing MBTs across the world, there is clearly still life in the old machine yet.
7 Technology is not the ultimate answer
Aside to the obvious discussions of new, exploitable technologies entering the armoured vehicles market, there was much to be said of the various other (vital) factors at play when it comes to warfighting. In short, equipment is important, but none of it can guarantee a definitive edge when put into practice.
According to comments made by General Robert White, who heads the US Army’s 1st Armored Division from Fort Bliss, ‘You have to be able to think faster than the enemy – it’s not all about technology.’
Many – including the Royal Marines’ Brigadier Richard Spencer and TRADOC’s General Perkins [pictured above] – put the factor of ‘adaptability’ as seemingly the number one pathway to success, with training for rapid and flexible response being the remit of the troops themselves, not of the hardware. Parallels were drawn from historical examples, such as the experiences of the Boer War, to verify this important lesson. So while IAVs will always present new insight into technology, it exists as but one aspect of the fascinating discussions to be had throughout the international series of events.
Interested in being a part of these discussions? Upcoming events in Defence IQ’s Armoured Vehicles series this year include Armoured Vehicles Middle East (Jordan, 25-26 April) and Armoured Vehicles Latin America (Peru, 30 June-31 July). Bookings can be made through firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling +44 (0) 20 7036 1300.