As special forces remain focused on clandestine and discreet operations at extended ranges, these remote deployments continue to mould requirements for special operations vehicles (SOVs).
Market trends continue to be shaped by some of the most mature as well as some of the newest, emerging special operations units globally, as commanders seek the best means of securing and maintaining tactical overmatch over increasingly capable adversaries.
As defence sources associated with the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) suggested to Armada International, major trends include an increasing appetite for SOVs capable of blending in with civilian populations in operational environments; as well as Internally Transportable Vehicles (ITVs) capable of being carried in the cargo holds of tactical fixed and rotary wing air frames to support ‘fly and drive’ missions.
Ukraine’s Special Operations Command
One of the most recent examples of such trends include the evaluation of ITV technology by Ukraine’s Special Operations Command, one of the newest special operations components which stood-up in 2015 to support anti-terrorism operations at home.
On 8 December 2018, Ukrainian special forces evaluated a 4×4 prototype ITV, understood to be designed by Azov Engineering Group to offer special operations units improved mobility, lethality, and rapid reaction capabilities.
The evaluation programme, which was conducted at a training area near Stare, Ukraine, saw a prototype vehicle participating in mobility tests while carrying a crew of five operators and fitted with armaments including a .50-cal DShk-M heavy machine gun. According to defence sources familiar with the evaluation, the vehicle can also be fitted with an automatic grenade launcher; 120mm mortar system; or anti-tank guided munitions, dependent upon customer preference and mission parameters.
Defence sources described to Armada how the as yet un-named prototype SOV boasts a gross vehicle weight of 1,600kg with capacity to carry an additional payload of 1,000kg. The SOV also comprises a maximum speed of 145 kilometres per hour (km/h) and maximum operating range of 500km. The employment of such an ITV by Ukrainian special forces represents a significant capability advance for the command which continues to develop in line with ongoing counter-insurgency missions at home.
Also continuing its exploration into ITV technology is the USSOCOM, whose SOV selections continue to have global ramifications across the wider, international special operations community.
Speaking to Armada, service officials within USSOCOM’s Program Executive Office (PEO) SOF Warrior described how the organisation continues to enhance its existing fleet of ITV SOVs which includes Polaris Government and Defense’s MRZR family of vehicles; as well as General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems’ (GDOTS’) GMV 1.1. The 4×4 GMV1.1 programme is due to enter full rate production in March 2019, according to a GDOTS spokesperson.
According to programme manager for USSOCOM’s Family of SOVs at PEO SOF Warrior, Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Atkinson, key areas of interest currently being explored by USSOCOM and industry partners include developments in lighter weight armour; enhanced payload capacity; as well as reductions in gross vehicle weights of SOVs. PEO SOF Warrior is also considering hybrid power solutions for GMV 1.1 and MRZR platforms.
With these specific operational requirements in mind, PEO SOF Warrior is pursuing its ‘Follow On’ Light Tactical All Terrain Vehicle (LTATV) concept which has been designed to provide force components with an ITV falling somewhere between the capabilities of MRZR and the GMV 1.1 platforms.
According to Atkinson, USSOCOM is seeking a “more robust” ITV which could be “purpose built” to support operational requirements arising out of the various USSOCOM theatre component commands.
PEO SOF Warrior published a request for information on 8 August demanding “market research and acquisition strategy” to support the design and development of an ITV capable of being carried in the cargo hold of the Boeing V-22 tiltrotor Osprey aircraft.
“There is not a lot of money for these development efforts but our users are also very interested in that capability. We want something beefier than MRZR with more performance and additional life,” Atkinson urged.
Two- and four-seat configurations are desired as well as options for diesel and hybrid electric vehicle drives, he added. Additional specifications for the Follow-On LTATV include a top speed of 96km/h (60mph); collapsible roll over protection system allowing for carriage inside the V-22; gross vehicle weight of 1,360kg for a four-seat configuration (1,133kg for two-seat); and maximum operating range of 320km (nearly 200 miles).
Finally, any selected vehicle must be certified for low velocity and joint precision air drop systems as well as drive-by-wire capabilities for autonomous operation, USSOCOM’s RFI described.
Industry participants expected to collaborate in the USSOCOM programme include GDOTS and Polaris Government and Defense. Indeed, Polaris vice president Jed Leonard, confirmed the company is “monitoring and remains actively engaged in ongoing efforts surrounding USSOCOM and the USMC’s ultralight vehicle requirements, including ITV [also known as the Follow-On LTATV programme]”.
According to comments made at an LTATV Industry Day, held at USSOCOM’s headquarters at MacDill Air Force Base, Tampa, Florida on 14 November, the Follow-On LTATV programme provide small unit teams with “tactical movement, reduced signature and cross-country speed and mobility over rough terrain”.
Service officials suggested a total of 814 LTATVs could be procured over a five year period, with a total contract award worth anywhere between $4.2 million and $7.62m a year. A request for proposals is due to be published in March 2019, Atkinson suggested, with testing conducted before the end of the year ahead of a potential contract award in December 2019.
Feeding off lessons learned by USSOCOM, international special operations partners continue to benefit from legacy LTATV technology currently employed by US Army Operational Detachment Alpha teams as well as US Navy SEAL Teams.
In Portugal, SOF personnel from the country’s Special Operations Troops Centre (CTOE) are set to receive additional SOVs from Polaris Government and Defense. The news follows an initial contract with the US-based company which centred around the delivery of nine MV850 quad bikes and pair of MRZR-2 LTATVs, confirmed in February 2017. SOVs were delivered to the CTOE by the end of September 2017, with platforms currently operational with Portuguese SOF in support of the full spectrum of special operations.
The latest delivery of SOVs from Polaris to the CTOE, announced on 12 December 2018, will see the additional delivery of six diesel MRZR D4 and MRZR D2 LTATVs as well as another MV850 platform. Defence sources associated with the CTOE, explained to Armada how Portuguese SOF are also employing SOVs as forward-deployed C4ISTAR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance) nodes.
Upgraded SOVs continue to be equipped with special mission suites including dismounted C2 and battle management systems; BGAN satellite antennas; software defined radios; end user devices; and mast-mounted electro-optical cameras, industry sources informed Armada.
Latvia’s Special Operations Unit
Elsewhere, Latvia’s Special Operations Unit has received its first tranche of MRZR-2 SOVs from Polaris following a contract award agreed in January 2018. Announced on 19 October by the Latvian National Armed Forces, a initial tranche of 18 SOVs was delivered with an additional 26 understood to have been received by the armed forces by the end of 2018.
The agreement comprises a wider requirement by the Latvian armed forces to buy 130 SOVs from Polaris, including additional models such as the MRZR-4 and MV850, as part of a $7.8 million (€6.8m) contract.
Elsewhere, the international SOF market continues to witness operational demand for SOV technology capable of better blending into urban and suburban environments, to support discreet and clandestine operations.
Examples include USSOCOM’s Non Standard Commercial Vehicle (NSCV) programme which is being supported by Battelle Military following a 2017 contract award. A five year award, worth up to a total of USD170m, could see force components supplied with nearly 600 NSCVs based on the Toyota Land Cruiser Model 76 and 79 chassis models.
As defence sources explained to Armada, NSCVs are routinely utilised throughout the Middle East, North Africa and South Central Asia by small unit teams reliant upon them to support special reconnaissance, direct action and military assistance operations.
According to Atkinson, the NSVC comprises a commercial vehicle which has been designed from the ground up in a ‘military fashion’, allowing USSOCOM to reset every five years and extend the lifecycle of the platform in a longer term when compared to other SOV types.
According to PEO SOF Warrior sources, USSOCOM’s NSCV programme is aimed at identifying “cost effective solutions for reduced logistics or to allow vehicles that are commercial in appearance to be reset at the end of the lifecycle instead of disposed of and re-procured”.
“Vehicles are anticipated to be designed to mimic late model vehicles typically found in central Asia, [including] Toyota Hilux, Toyota Land Cruiser 200 and Toyota Surf [chassis designs],” sources continued to add before referencing requirement for armour to protect against ballistic threats; 4 wheel drive capability with heavy duty brakes and suspension to accommodate gross vehicle weight; full skid plates and running boards; diesel engines; and left hand drive configurations.
Additionally, PEO SOF Warrior is interested in developments in electric or hybrid drive trains to upgrade existing NSCV platforms; as well as extensions in the availability of tyre and wheel types to reduce logistic footprints across more expeditionary and remote operating environments.
Discussing how USSOCOM had successfully completed its initial operational test and evaluation of Battelle’s NSCV earlier in 2018, Atkinson confirmed how initial deliveries to US SOF components had begun in the third and fourth quarters of 2018 in response to ‘high demand’ from operational theatres.
However, Atkinson warned: “When we armoured the [NSCV] up, it basically put the vehicle at its maximum gross weight. So anything [industry] can do to help us lighten that and give some payload back would be very, very helpful”.
According to Battelle’s Chief Scientist, Mike Kuhlman, the company is also in the process of future-proofing the NSCV concept with research and development resources directed towards the integration of specialist C4ISTAR, Electronic Warfare and Cyber Warfare technology on board the platform.
Speaking to Armada, Kuhlman described Battelle’s ‘R&D Challenge’ to “…work with the operator; provide updates; and make necessary adjustments as technology matures into a useful solution”.
“We want to hear directly from operators in the field on very specific problems they are facing and apply our expertise in ways we can solve it, whether it’s communications, electronics, cyber or tactical gear,” he concluded.
Similar non-standard SOV solutions were also presented to the market by Navistar at the Association of the US Army (AUSA) exhibition in Washington, DC on 8 October 2018.
According to a company spokesperson, the ‘latest generation platform’ of the Special Operations Tactical Vehicle has been designed to mimic other Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) sports utility vehicles employed by civilians, indigenous security forces and international special forces across many of the aforementioned operational environments.
However, company sources explained to Armada how this third-generation and purpose-built, armoured SOV has been designed to optimise five-year interval resets allowing the vehicle to maintain currency across the evolving COE while also providing operators with a 15 year lifecycle.
The latest variant, a company spokesperson confirmed, comprises a gross vehicle weight of 5,670kg, making it suitable to carry a series of armaments, C4ISTAR mission suites and other specialist equipment.
As the COE continues to demand growing requirements of special operations forces, SOV technology will remain at the forefront of capabilities allowing small unit teams to maintain tactical overmatch over enemy forces in terms of mobility, lethality, survivability and connectivity.
However, as defence sources highlighted to Armada, any capability injections must be carefully supported by up-to-date concepts of operation, tactics, techniques and procedures.
by Andrew White