Incorporating lessons learned into battlefield strategy and adapting equipment and tactics to the less conventional methods of warfare seen in recent times will be critical to reducing casualties in future conflicts.

Looking back on the allied military contingents in Afghanistan, there is no doubt that in terms of firepower, mobility, protection and C4ISR, NATO and other forces had overwhelming superiority. Still, the casualty figures tell a grim story of the vulnerability of modern armies to improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which are becoming increasingly sophisticated.

The Canadian Forces casualties in Afghanistan are a case in point. Of the 158 Canadian personnel lost, 97 were killed by explosives. This figure does not include the 615 soldiers who were wounded in action. It is probably reasonable to extrapolate that the cause of injury for hundreds of the wounded was also explosives or IEDs.

The IED problem is clearly a function of the asymmetrical warfare experienced in Afghanistan. The Taliban do not have artillery, aircraft, tanks and armoured vehicles. But what they do have is light weapons, the ubiquitous AK-47s, rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and, it would appear, a virtually limitless supply of various types of explosives.

Further, the profusion of cell phones has given them excellent communications channels, which when properly rigged, can also trigger explosive devices. And their cell phones can capture images of exploding vehicles, which are then posted on YouTube within hours if not minutes.

So how to solve the IED problem? Better detection is one method, with emerging technologies such as new types of ground penetrating radar. However, building better armoured vehicles offers one of the more obvious solutions. While the LAV III performed exceptionally well, it was never designed to take the explosive impact it received in Afghanistan.

Although the upgraded LAVs will offer considerably more protection in a heavier frame, the decision of the Canadian Army, supported by the government, to pursue the Close Combat Vehicle program suggests something more is need.

Under the CCV program, the government will buy 108 of these vehicles (with an option for 30 more) to accompany the army’s main battle tank, the Leopard 2, into a combat zone. For soldiers, these new vehicles are the next generation of infantry fighting vehicles, providing higher levels of protection with the latest battlefield communications technology, firepower and mobility.

So who are the contenders? One is the French company Nexter and its Véhicule Blindé de Combat d’Infanterie (VBCI). The vehicle entered service with the French Army in 2008 and has seen action in Afghanistan, Lebanon and more recently Mali. As an 8 X 8 wheeled vehicle, it is most probably less expensive to buy and operate than a tracked competitor. Its 25 mm gun fires 400 rounds per minute and it has a 750 km range and can hit speeds of 100 kilometers per hour.

Another strong contender is the Swedish CV9035 MKIII, designed by Hagglunds and currently built by BAE Systems. The first deliveries of the CV-90 were in 1993, and since then, more than 1,000 have entered service in countries like Denmark, Norway, Finland and the Netherlands, as well as Sweden. As a tracked vehicle, the CV-90 has some distinct mobility advantages, matching the Leopard 2 over varied terrain. But that does come with a cost. For the CCV program, the CV9035 will have a powerful 35 mm Bushmaster cannon. In its more modern versions, BAE has increased the vehicle’s operational range and speed with a high torque V8 diesel engine which can reach speeds of 70 kilometres per hour and travel up to 900 km. The stronger engine has ensured that the power-to-weight ratio remains largely the same, despite an increase from 23 to 35 tonnes due to greater protection.

The wild card in the competition might be the General Dynamics European Land Systems Piranha 5. Designed by the Swiss, this 8×8 wheeled vehicle will have a 30 mm Lance modular turret system from Rheinmetall Canada. Like the VBCI, it would be less expensive to buy and operate. Unlike its competitors, the Piranha 5 has not yet been purchased by any country’s armed forces. As the makers of the LAV III, however, the GDLS–Canada brand does carry a lot of clout with the Canadian government. This could be a moot point since all three manufacturers plan to build their vehicles in Canada. The Piranha 5 has a range of 550 kilometres and can hits speeds of 100 kilometers per hour with a 580 horse power diesel engine.

So, a wheeled or a tracked vehicle? A decision on the CCV program is expected in the coming months.


Technology transfer
Canada stands to benefit from a range of new technological skills should the DEW Engineering and Development and BAE Systems team win in its bid to build and service the Close Combat Vehicle program.

“This program is a natural evolution for us to build on skills we developed in the past, to introduce us to new technology and new skills, and to prepare our Canadian team for challenges ahead,” said Ian Marsh, president of Ottawa-based DEW, in reference to the lengthy historical partnership between the two companies.

DEW would do final assembly of BAE Systems’ CV9035 MkIII, as well as integration and testing, including the highly sophisticated turret system. DEW would also provide in-service support for the platform. Some of the CV90 component manufacturing and welding would be conducted at DEW’s Ottawa facility, but the turret installation would take place at its plant in Mirimichi, New Brunswick. The program would also involve additional Canadian companies.

According to DEW’s operations manager, Mike Harris, who tested the vehicle in Europe, “this is a proven, low-risk program and we have already started to benefit from the knowledge transfer and expertise of BAE Systems and its business partners.”

DEW has completed several projects for the Canadian Army, including repair and refit work on the Army’s light armoured vehicle fleet and major upgrade tasks on the Leopard 1C2 tanks, as well as a multi-year life extension program for the M113 family of vehicles.