Road Work: Selecting the Canadian Forces new medium support vehicle
The heaviest weight Canada’s new Medium Support Vehicle will ever carry may well be the expectations of the men and women who operate them, the leaders who send them into harm’s way, and the government that selects them. Military vehicles have always been judged on strength and reliability. Those criteria still apply, but today we know that the battle starts at the gate and logistics vehicles face the same array of threats as their fighting escorts.
Operator safety means armour but changing operational demands call for armour flexibility. Not all vehicles will need a full complement of armour all the time, but when needed, it must be available and mounted quickly. That has serious implications for air mobility because vehicles whose armour can be removed quickly in one location and reattached elsewhere are inherently more air transportable than vehicles with armour that is either fixed or more difficult to remove and mount. The demand for armour flexibility extends to domestic operations as well as overseas deployments. Some vehicles may go straight to combat environments while others may be used for basic operator training or never leave a low-threat environment, but the operators and maintainers of those vehicles must be completely familiar with installing and removing armour.
Military logistics vehicles must be able to operate at the extreme end of lengthy supply chains. Fuel efficiency numbers that appear similar at first glance may be significantly different when measured by years of service or by the cost of delivery in the field. What appears to be a small compromise during the assessment phase of procurement may well turn out to be a major cost by the end of the program.
There is also no reason for Canada to compromise on its air quality demands for Medium Support Vehicles. When vehicles like the MAN HX 77 prove themselves globally acceptable by meeting U.S. EPA and Euro-4 standards and by easily exceeding the province of Ontario’s emission standards, there is clearly no need to seek waivers or limit the scope of their operations.
The Afghanistan experience quickly taught us the vulnerability of thin-skinned vehicles. Expectations of today’s logistics vehicles now include levels of blast and ballistics resistance that were almost unheard of even five years ago. As threats evolve so rapidly and unexpectedly, so does the responsibility of the procurement organization. While the burden of expectations may fall upon the entire “truck community,” including vendors and operators alike, the heaviest responsibility of all may rest upon those who make the final decision.
Over the years, the Canadian Forces have come to realize the importance of comfort and convenience to vehicle crews. When drivers are increasingly expected to monitor and operate a variety of control and communications equipment, “rude and crude” no longer makes sense. In the context of demanding and dangerous environments, and measured over the life of the vehicle, crew comfort is a sound investment.
Is a “one size fits all” requirement, even with a split between MILCOTS and Standard Military Pattern vehicles, still the optimum solution? The Canadian Forces mission in Afghanistan has brought a series of one-off purchases, driven by the realities of a harsh new environment. There may be some middle ground between that kind of “acquisition under fire” and the more traditional truck procurement that is expected to hold up for decades.
Given the challenges of the Medium Support Vehicle procurement, there may simply be no correct answer. In a context of competing factors, known and unknown, success may well be a formula that can satisfy today’s requirements for air mobility, stringent environmental standards, armour protection and fuel efficiency with the flexibility to meet tomorrow’s threats, whatever they may be. For the safety of our men and women in uniform and for the success of their missions, the government of Canada can set high standards for the MSVS procurement with confidence that industry can meet them.
David Marcus is president and chief executive officer of MAN Military Vehicle Systems Canada.