Since the Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) rolled into service 14 years ago, it has been the backbone of the Canadian Army’s vehicle fleet. Over the better part of a decade in Afghanistan, the fleet sustained countless strikes from small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and improvised explosives (IEDs). Over 350 were damaged during the mission, almost three dozen beyond repair.
In a future operating concept of adaptive dispersed operations, in which all vehicles are important nodes in a digitized network, the LAV remains the core piece of the army’s fleet.
But the modernized version rolling into service over the next five years is a far cry from the LAV III that returned battered and bruised from Afghanistan. Built on the lessons of that campaign, the Balkans, and domestic operations, the LAV UP, or LAV 6.0 as it is being called, is predicated on what Major Pierre Larrivee, the program director for the Director of Land Requirements, calls the “perfect triangle” of protection, mobility and lethality.
Upgrade might be a misnomer. Although every attempt has been made to reuse components –25mm gun, turret drive, heater, automatic fire suppression system – much of the vehicle is new, from the larger Michelin tires to added protection in the hull. What remains the same are many of the core design elements that have proven successful. The result is a vehicle so improved that the government has used its enhanced protection as one reason to cancel the Close Combat Vehicle program.
The modernization program was based on more than 1,600 lessons learned since the vehicle was first fielded in 1999. According to Larrivee, who has been the driving force behind the current project, the team gathered technical reports from the past 12 years and interviewed 300 operators – crew commanders, gunners and drivers – and technicians before developing the vehicle requirements.
“We did due diligence and looked at the lessons learned,” he said. “We looked not only at the technical aspects but also the TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures), the way the vehicle was being used. We also looked at what was being developed on newer vehicles.”
The end result was 700 “deficiencies,” areas of improvement that ran the gamut from the overly optimistic, such as a Teflon coating to make the vehicle easier to clean, to the practical, “a quick disconnect drive shaft for the technician.”
Those 700 were distilled down to high level mandatory requirements, but overarching all of those was the army’s principal requirement: protection.
That created a challenge. Protection means weight, but the army wanted a vehicle that could match the mobility of the original LAV.
Before the LAV III was deployed to Afghanistan, its baseline weight was about 36,000 pounds; with add-on armour, payload and personnel, it topped 42,000. Following the LAV Operation Requirement Integration Task (LORIT) program in 2009 to address the threat of IEDs, which included new belly and side armour, an enhanced weapon station and attenuating seats, the vehicle weighed in at a top-heavy 52,000 once personnel and kit were piled on.
The LAV 6.0 begins at a baseline weight of 45,000 pounds and climbs to 55,000 once it is fully kitted. With the full combat package of protection and ammunition, it reaches 63,000.
“Mobility is also protection,” Larrivee noted. “If you go fast, you are better protected. So we asked General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada, give us at 55,000 pounds the same performance of a baseline LAV at 36,000. That was the challenge.”
In October 2011, General Dynamics Land Systems-Canada was awarded a $1.064 billion contract to upgrade 550 of the LAV III vehicles in four variants, an infantry section carrier, a command post, an observation post and an engineer vehicle. That contract was modified in September 2012 to include 66 more for reconnaissance, valued at $151 million.
Meeting the pillars of that perfect triangle was no small task. “The army had to add weight to get the survivability they needed, they had to carry the gear to fight the war they were fighting, and then they lost mobility. For us, it was: get the survivability where it needed to be and get the mobility back,” acknowledged Andrew Service, program manager for the LAV 6.0.
“We upgraded the hull for the survivability, but then we had to upgrade the drive train because of the weight,” explained Matt Labord, head of production projects.
In a sprawling 300,000 square-foot facility in London, Ontario, the new hull and drive train are being assembled in a series of dedicated work stations. (The final assembly of the vehicles are performed at the GDLS-C facility in Edmonton.) As he walks the London shop floor that is also producing the U.S. Army Stryker, an 8×8 wheeled vehicle derived from the Canadian LAV, Labord points out the fabrication process that welds together the major subcomponents of the lower double V hull – the floor section, lower fenders, nose and rear walls. It’s a primarily manual operation that is increasingly incorporating robotic welding at the component level.
The double V hull is one of the most notable differences to the LAV 6.0. During the definition phase of the project, the army explored a number of options to enhance survivability. When GDLS-C suggested the double V, the army conducted both performance and cost analysis to determine the suitability, said Garth Ray, DND project manager for the LAV UP. “The Americans were interested in that similar type of protection; after doing our analysis it looked like a pretty good solution.”
In addition to the new drive line and engine, a Caterpillar 450 horsepower diesel, the modernized 6.0 also features key additions to that third pillar, lethality.
For its primary weapon, the LAV retains the 25mm M242 Bushmaster automatic cannon, capable of firing the NATO standard 25mm round, and two four-tube smoke grenade launchers. “The vehicle has a good gun, a good calibre, so we [did not] touch it,” Larrivee said, though how ammunition is loaded was reconfigured to allow a more efficient and safer switch from the primary to secondary ammo bins. (Much of the turret also remains, although blast attenuating seats were incorporated to better protect the gunner and commander.)
The enhancements can be found in new optics and sensors, dramatically enhancing the vehicle’s sensor to shooter capability. Both the gunner sight and fire control system were upgraded to improve target DRI (detection, recognition, identification) to the maximum range of the Bushmaster. “It is much better not only for lethality but also for surveillance,” Larrivee said. “You can see a man at 1.2 kilometres. And on the range at night during testing at one kilometre, you can see the flies beside the moose.”
With automated fire control, “now you can point, laze, get a distance, and push a button, and you have a ballistic solution a bit like a tank. That takes a lot of pressure off the gunner…and [increases] the probability of hit.”
That is also assisted by the upgraded navigation system, a Precision Lightweight GPS Receiver that can aid with “what we call the far target location of the vehicle. Now we are much more precise: when you point at something and laze, you get the location. The ability to look, to identify, but also to get back a more precise grid that you can send for direct fire, UAV, aircraft – it’s all linked together.”
The LAV 6.0 will also be the first vehicle in the army’s fleet to receive the Land Command Support System Life Extension, which will include a new battlefield management system, part of an ongoing effort to digitize the force. Although the original plan called for full vetronics throughout the vehicle, the cost of networking every aspect of the LAV was prohibitive. The compromise was digitization of key components such as the turret and powerpack while configuring the vehicle to readily accept upgrades as they develop.
“A lot of the system is networked control,” explained Service of GDLS-C. “Almost all of the powerpack and new drive train is controlled electronically through a network, which makes it a lot more simple for diagnostics and more flexible for future upgrades. We also have a comparable system running in the turret, so they can both talk to each other.”
“There were two factors to not going full vetronics at this time,” Ray explained. “One was cost and the other was the state of development. It was new to light armoured vehicles, so there was a significant risk to go full bore. I think we have done the smart thing: build in the capability to add on to it.”
While it might have been easier and faster to start with a fresh design and a new production line, this approach to modernizing a vital fleet will allow the army to upgrade vehicles – approximately 10 a month – while keeping the fleet in service in each division across the country. The reuse of proven components also means less cost.
The army is currently conducting initial production tests, and will begin technician and crew training early this year. The end result should be a vehicle that can meet the demands of adaptive dispersed operations through the next two decades.