German and Dutch Light Forces Join Light Vehicle Trend

Caracal in full camo.
Caracal in full camo.

The recent mid-July announcement of a 1.9 Billion Euro (US$2 Billion) contact award to Rheinmetall calls for the delivery up to 3,508 Caracal air assault vehicles for the German and Dutch armies.

This procurement is the latest in the trend to provide light and special forces with enhanced ground mobility essential to their effective tactical employment and even survival on the current and future battlefield.

The compact and lightweight Caracal 4×4 is based on the proven G-Class wagon from Mercedes-Benz with a lightweight, modular superstructure by ACS Armoured Car Systems. It’s modular design allows its configuration for many roles. These include troop carrier, weapons platform, reconnaissance, command, combat engineer, and ambulance. In addition, it can be provided with optional ballistic and mine protection. Reflecting its specialized application with airborne and special operations forces the Caracal can be externally sling carried by helicopter or internally with two per CH-47F or CH-53.

The initial contract valued at 870 million euros (US$959 million) is already in place providing 1,508 platforms. The first vehicles will begin to be delivered in the beginning of 2024 with the balance arriving in 2025. Ultimately, 2,054 systems will be delivered to German forces and 1,004 to Dutch. Production assembly will be shared.

Rheinmetall Landsysteme Managing Director Dr. Björn Bernhard indicated, “Final assembly of all German and Dutch vehicles will take place at our plant in Ede in the Netherlands and at VDL Special Vehicles B.V. in Eindhoven, our designated partner company.” He further explained, “Having two assembly locations will let us quickly scale up production while simultaneously contributing to sustained value added in the Netherlands.”

Caracal outfitted.

The Caracal’s are destined for issue and use by both airborne and special operations units of both countries. Turning to specially designed light and ultra-light tactical vehicles to facilitate the employment of light ground forces is being explored by many militaries. These moves are in response to the increased range, precision and lethality seen on today’s battlefields. Utilizing mobility is seen as one answer. However, although air mobile forces have exceptional operational mobility by being air transported, once on the ground they have been traditionally a foot-mobile force. Introducing ground vehicles which can be inserted with them is seen as a way to change this allowing them to move more rapidly on the ground.

The US Army has introduced the GM Defense Infantry Squad Vehicle which is based on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. The British Royal Marines and Canadian Army are similarly exploring the use of light vehicles with both fielding versions of the Polaris Defense MRZR. The Polish Airborne Brigade also introduced the AERO 4×4 a locally designed and produced ultra-light vehicle in 2022. Military forces of the Peoples Republic of China have also been observed employing both light 4x4s and ARGO 8×8 ATVs with light infantry in exercises. Given the continued need to have such light but more readily deployed forces available initiatives to assure their tactical relevance, such as light vehicles, can be expected to continue.

by Stephen W. Miller