Networked and adaptive: Vehicles to match the foe

That rumble you hear in the distance is the sound of truck and armoured vehicle manufacturers gearing up for a battle over $4 billion in procurement contracts.

In the quiet of the summer, the government announced plans for what it calls the next generation of land combat vehicles, four projects that include the acquisition of close combat vehicles (CCV), tactical armoured patrol vehicles (TAPV), and force mobility enhancement (FME) vehicles, as well as a $1 billion upgrade to the current fleet of Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV) III.

A letter of interest (LOI) was expected to be issued for the TAPV in mid-September, David “Jake” Jacobson, Chief of Staff, ADM MAT, told an audience at DEFSEC Atlantic in Halifax, and solicitations of interest qualification (SOIQ) are anticipated for the CCV later this fall. In fact, requests for proposal (RFP) for all three projects could be posted later this year. The government’s intent is to have the first wave of vehicles in service by 2012 and the full fleet operational by 2015.

The project is part of a larger Family of Land Combat Systems (FLCS) that includes not only future vehicles, but also direct and indirect fire capability, service support systems, autonomous systems, soldier systems and network capability.

It is also firmly embedded within the Army’s near-term planning doctrine, Land Operations 2021, and its force employment concept of the Army of Tomorrow. As a result, though the context of the Afghan mission looms large, the vehicles are intended for a future conflict against an adversary the Army predicts will be more adaptive and pose threats more varied than it is facing today.

So what sort of requirements will be in those RFPs? A look into the past might help forecasters.

In a concept paper prepared in 2006 for Toward Land Operations 2021, the Army’s concept designers argued for a family of vehicles “capable of supporting full-spectrum engagement through integration and connectivity with the digital network, protection and lethality that can be easily adapted to changing operating environments,…high on/off road mobility, reduced deployability and sustainability costs and…a balance between affordability and state-of-the-art solutions.”

Moreover, the vehicles must be easily integrated with other manned and unmanned air and land “effects.”

And while information technology has taken off in recent years, similar dramatic changes have not been seen in the basic performance and characteristics of most vehicle systems. The authors note that while propulsion systems and other mechanical components may one day catch up, the most significant increases in vehicle effectiveness for now lie in IT – situational awareness, targeting, surveillance, precision and rapid computation.

Consequently, they argue for leveraging IT to gain strategic and tactical advantage with the new vehicles. That means that while there has been a demand for up-armoured vehicles in operational theatres to counter IEDs, this new fleet might not require heavyweight protection. “Advances in material design and manufacture and information technology will be leveraged to enhance the protection of lighter weight forces,” the authors write, suggesting a mix of medium and lightweight force capabilities.

Though the Integrated Soldier System Program is not part of the FFCV program, the concept is “founded on the synergistic integration of the soldier, the manned vehicle and the unmanned system.” So the networked systems of systems, with the soldier at its core, is integral to function of this vehicle fleet.

Canada’s quest for the ideal mix of vehicles is not taking place in a vacuum, of course. Allies have been assessing their respective fleets with an eye to the future. The U.S. Army’s Future Combat System (FCS) is a modernization program integrating a mix of manned and unmanned systems connected to a common network. In the U.K., the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) program, now well underway, is intended to provide a family of medium-weight, network enabled, air-deployable armoured vehicles to respond to a range of battlespace roles. And in Australia, the Land 400 program is intended to identify an integrated future combat vehicle system to enhance the survivability and effectiveness of ground forces in close combat.

The government has indicated it will partner with General Dynamics Land Systems Canada on the LAV III upgrade. But whatever solution it ultimately selects for the CCV, TAPV and FME projects will have to offer a highly networked and well-protected platform. They wont be your father’s trucks or tanks.

Author: Chris Thatcher from the Sept/Oct 2009 issue published

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