The demand for reliable logistics support has always played a key role in warfare, and the militaries of today are no exception. There are a huge variety of wheeled logistics vehicles in operation, but some themes can be discerned: a demand for flexibility, adaptability, and enhanced security.
The term ‘logistics vehicle’ covers a wide range of platforms that carry out a diverse number of roles, from transporting tanks to carrying troops and cargo. The demands being placed on these vehicles as a group have changed in recent years, says John Bryant, senior vice president for defence programmes at Oshkosh Defence, a US manufacturer of a wide range of vehicles in a number of roles, including logistics. The experiences of the US military and its allies during recent interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the battlefield, and the security environment in general, are changing, he says, with the line between the front and rear areas becoming increasingly blurred. “The traditional frontlines have disappeared, so now our warfighting customer faces a wide variety of threats throughout the depth of the battlefield,” such as homemade bombs, he explained.
This helped inform the development of the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle which Oshkosh is manufacturing to part-replace the US Army and Marine Corps’ fleet of AM General High Mobility Multi-Purpose Wheeled Vehicles, better known as ‘Humvees’. The JLTV was designed to carry out several missions, Mr Bryant explained, while providing the protected mobility of Oshkosh’s M-ATV family of vehicles, in a smaller package.
Bill Mooney, regional vice president for the Middle East and North Africa at Oshkosh Defence, adds that there is an increasing demand for scalable protection from customers around the world. This has been exemplified, he explains, by the US Army’s Long-Term Armour Strategy, which enables a vehicle to scale-up its protection levels depending on the environment in which it is operated. All of Oshkosh’s vehicles are designed with a Long-Term Armour Strategy-compliant cab, Mr. Mooney states. “That makes it very easy for the customer to apply an armour kit and take it off when not required, without (original equipment manufacturer) support. And so it provides the flexibility to them that is more suited to the future battlefield, where there’s not necessarily a front line.” Mr. Mooney said that he expects customers to increasingly invest in military trucks that “have that capability for scalable protection, as required by the mission.”
Oshkosh produces a wide range of tactical wheeled vehicles, many of which carry out varying levels of logistics support roles. These range in size from the Heavy Equipment Transporter, designed to haul a Main Battle Tank (MBT), the eight-wheel drive Heavy Expanded Military Tactical Truck, to the MATV and the JLTV, among others. Mr. Bryant said that the company’s tactical wheeled vehicles are available in a wide array of variants, capable of carrying out a number of different missions. However, there are a number of similarities across the range. Perhaps, most notably, the experiences of Iraq and Afghanistan have heightened the safety demands being made by customers like the US military. “One of the common themes we’ve seen, particularly in the last ten years, is that for all of our tactical wheeled vehicles, our customer has placed a premium not only on the ability to carry out those logistics missions, but also to provide protection and safety for the occupant,” he said. “So essentially all of our tactical wheeled vehicles now come with tremendous survivability packages to be able to survive those unpredictable threats. That’s one of the common themes that have evolved over recent years.”
Other players in the global logistic vehicles market point to a similar trend. Renault Trucks Defence, which is part of the Volvo Group, has been a longstanding supplier of military logistics trucks to a number of markets worldwide. It has a number of logistics trucks, such as the Kerax. A spokesman for the company echoed the comments from Oshkosh, identifying “protection against mines and homemade bombs” as one of the key areas of design change over the last decade. A second common theme across logistics vehicles is the need for adaptability and flexibility as such vehicles must be able to carry out a wide range of roles. Likewise, they must be capable of doing so in different environments, adds Mr. Bryant. “Every Oshkosh tactical wheeled vehicle is designed to operate in the full range of (environments) that are required by the US Army and Marine Corps, so that covers everything from Arctic conditions to desert conditions, from extreme heat to extreme cold,” he told Armada.
However, the company can provide kits that increase these capabilities beyond standard US requirements, should a customer need this. “For example, we can provide Arctic kits that allow the vehicle to start quicker and behave better in an Arctic environment. If our customer places extremely high heat demands based on the terrain he travels we can provide modifications to a cooling package, to allow it to optimise and attune that vehicle for the particular environment that the customer desires.”
BAE Systems produces logistics vehicles through several of its subsidiaries and Joint Ventures (JVs). One of these is FNSS Savunma Sistemleri, a JV in Turkey in which the UK-based company has a 49 percent holding, with the remainder owned by Nurol Holding. Nail Kurt, the chief executive officer of FNSS, highlighted the need to reduce costs for customers. This could be achieved by developing vehicles based on a common chassis, he said, “in order to reduce acquisition, training and support costs.” In the logistics domain, FNSS manufactures the Tracked Logistics Carrier variant of the firm’s ACV-19 infantry fighting vehicle, designed to transport ammunition and general cargo in support of mechanised infantry and armoured regiments. The JV also highlighted the ACV-15, which is available in a recovery and maintenance configuration, as well as the PARS eight-wheel drive armoured combat vehicle, which can also be acquired in logistics-related configurations. The latter vehicle is in service in Malaysia (where it is known as the AV-8), with logistics variants being part of the country’s broader AV-8 family of vehicles.
BAE’s Swedish subsidiary, BAE Systems Hägglunds, is also a supplier of logistics vehicles, namely the BvS10 and the BvS10 Beowulf tracked vehicle families. The latter is the latest entry to the BvS10 family. “Beowulf has been created to meet the challenges of any role or environment that requires a highly-mobile, amphibious vehicle system,” said Tore Akser, platform manager for the BvS10 Beowulf. “This not only applies to military roles, but also to the civilian and other government markets, where such vehicles are in demand for emergency response, mining, logging support, exploration, and many other applications that require the unique capability that our articulated all-terrain vehicle can deliver.” A spokesperson for the company said the BvS10 Beowulf would complete trials in mid-2017, and that BAE Systems intends to be in a position to commence serial production by the end of next year. “(The) rate of build will entirely depend upon customer interest and orders,” the spokesperson added.
Staying in Europe, another major supplier in the logistics vehicles space is Italy-based Iveco Defence Vehicles, which supplies platforms across the range of sizes. The company has a range of military-focused logistics trucks, such as the military variants of its Trakker range, the latest iteration of which is equipped with Euro 6 engine technology and is expected to be unveiled at the Eurosatory exhibition in Paris this June. The company is particularly active in its major European markets of France, Germany, Italy and Spain, though it is also seeking to strengthen its presence in foreign markets, particularly South America, and is working to develop sales in the Asia-Pacific. As with other companies in the sector, Iveco Defence Vehicles has been working to adapt its trucks to new safety demands, many of which were in the past more associated with frontline vehicles. For example, the Italian company has identified the need to adopt heavy protected cabs against ballistic and blast threats, and has sought to upgrade the front suspensions and steering systems of its vehicles to meet this challenge.
The demand for military equipment is clearly influenced by the intensity of operational demands. According to Mr. Bryant, the drawdown from Afghanistan and Iraq has led to a cooling in demand for spare parts, although this remains robust overall due to continuing requirements from vehicle operators worldwide. However, he points to the JLTV programme as an example of a US programme that was not directly connected to the wars, unlike the M-ATV vehicle, thousands of which were produced to meet US requirements for mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles in the Afghan theatre. “The JLTV has undergone a much more deliberate development and ramp-up to production, so that the JLTV programme hasn’t really been affected much by the conflict in Afghanistan or Iraq,” he said.
Of course, there are numerous conflicts ongoing worldwide, even if the US and its allies have largely withdrawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. Mr. Mooney highlighted a range of conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa, from Libya to Yemen. “Those are creating other demands from our customers that now are required to respond to those threats and are looking for that same level of high performance out of their vehicles,” he said.
The Middle East and North Africa is Oshkosh’s second-largest regional base, after the US. It supplies vehicles to more than a dozen customers in the area, including the United Arab Emirates, and sees these regions as having strong growth potential in the future. “We have seen strong demand growth and realised many of those opportunities, and we continue to see additional opportunities in the years ahead … they’re investing across their own spectrum of capabilities to address those threats, and they’re having to do so mindful of adaptive enemies that are now employing asymmetric threats, such as (homemade bombs).”
Looking forward, there is a high degree of focus on the potential of autonomous technology, which could serve to make logistics vehicles much safer to operate. At a time when the front and rear areas are increasingly overlapping, this has obvious appeal. Oshkosh’s TerraMax is a modular system, designed to be integrated onto any military vehicle, and allowing it to act as essentially an unmanned ground vehicle. “Picture a logistics convoy moving down an unimproved road,” said Mr. Bryant: “Picture that convoy from the eyes of an enemy seeking to employ a bomb. You see fifty vehicles going down the road, but actually maybe only one out of every five of those vehicles even has a human operator at all. You can’t tell by looking at those vehicles which ones have human operators and which ones don’t.” Utilising such unmanned technology “places the enemy on the horns of a dilemma in trying to employ such explosives, and it also truly reduces the exposure of friendly troops,” Mr. Bryant added. He said that the work had seen a significant amount of interest in the US, particularly for vehicles in dangerous positions in convoys. “I can see that those vehicles probably won’t have human operators in the future,” he added.
Mr. Mooney says that automation had advantages beyond force protection, particularly as it could provide significant force multiplication. “Many of the Middle Eastern countries lack the personnel for all of their logistics systems and to move the required amounts of material and equipment and personnel across the battlefield,” he explained. “So TerraMax and autonomy in general provides a force multiplication effect, where they’re able to accomplish more with less.” Likewise, the Renault spokesperson identified “hybrid technology for mobility systems” as a promising area for advances, while the BAE Systems spokesperson pointed to mobility and continued developments in dual or multi-purpose uses for logistics vehicles.
The Oshkosh executives see a range of other areas in which technological progress could be made, including demands for higher levels of fuel economy to increased modularity and scalability. Mr. Bryant said that a key trend has been a demand to include heightened protection and off-road mobility in smaller vehicles. “They want ever-increasing amounts of protection and mobility in ever-smaller packages,” he said. “I see that trend continuing.” He also pointed to an increasing demand to include more command and control capability into every vehicle, something the company has sought to incorporate into the JLTV. “The level of capability that we now offer in a light tactical vehicle previously had only been seen in dedicated command and control vehicles,” said Bryant. “I see that only increasing in the future.”
by Gerrard Cowan