Current Ground combat vehicles, especially main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), are the mainstay of technologically superior armies. The combination of firepower, mobility and survivability allows such vehicles to dominate ground military operations. Military planners expect GCVs to fight in relatively open terrain, where threats come from the front. Therefore, engineers optimize the survivability for most GCVs to defend against frontal attacks.
Now militaries are realizing much of the fighting in future conflicts will take place in cities. Whether Russia in the Caucasus, Israel in Gaza and southern Lebanon, or the United States and its allies in Iraq, many sophisticated armies have experienced urban warfare over the past two decades. Urban assault has many unique challenges.
The likelihood is high that the Army won’t get to pick the time and place of its choosing for the next battle, said Gen. Robert Abrams. But it’s likely that the next battle will take place in a megacity, said Abrams, commander of U.S. Army Forces Command. He spoke, Nov. 30, here during the Future Ground Combat Vehicles Summit. “The chance of fighting in a megacity is going to go through the roof,” he said, pointing out that there are currently 25 megacities across the world. A megacity is defined as a city of 25 million or more inhabitants. By 2035, the number of megacities is projected to double.
Since the mid-1990s, Russia has deployed troops to urban areas in Chechnya, Dagestan, Georgia, Ukraine, and Syria for conventional offensive operations, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism missions. Therefore Russian government, its military, and its people are well familiar with the heavy toll urban warfare exerts in manpower, resources, and political capital.
During the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan in the 2000s, U.S. ground forces found themselves in a similar position to the U.S. military aircraft community during the Vietnam conflict in Southeast Asia. The warfighters operated in a threat environment using vehicles not specifically designed to survive in that particular environment, resulting in high levels of vehicle kills and occupant casualties.
Urban terrain generally favours the defender, who can prepare defences, utilise deception, install traps and explosive charges, and monitor the attacker from a myriad of hard-to-detect locations. Even boulevards are narrow compared to open terrain, constricting mobility and channelling attackers into urban canyons overwatched by enemy snipers, ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missiles) and RPGs (Rocket-Propelled Grenades). The presence of civilians as human shields inhibits offensive operations (at least by those armed forces which place a premium on international law and human rights); lack of intelligence regarding opposition force dispositions is another serious threat multiplier.
The recent conflicts in the Middle East amply demonstrate the increased complication of GCV survivability due to urban operations. Dense, urban terrain diminishes the effectiveness of fighting vehicles, which are impacted by obstacles, large civilian populations, and confined spaces. The close confines of an urban environment, coupled with multiple avenues of ambush and attack, allow enemies to attack a GCV from any direction, which significantly complicates the survivability equation for the vehicle. The close confines of an urban environment, coupled with multiple avenues of ambush and attack, allow enemies to attack a GCV from any direction, which significantly complicates the survivability equation for the vehicle. In such confined spaces, enemy dismounts are better able to isolate individual vehicles at close range, and employ anti-armor fire and IEDs of all types.
Optimising offensive urban operations therefore requires careful preparation, preferably adjusting the force and equipment mix to the specific conditions being faced. Urban assault operations require a combined arms approach including aerial reconnaissance and ground support, engineering support, signals intelligence, armoured forces, and a strong infantry component for house-to-house combat and clearing operations.
Militaries are now researching and developing next generation vehicles that can operate in dense urban terrain. One of the features of these combat vehicles is enhanced autonomy that can deliver solutions that are too dangerous for current formations. Autonomous systems and remote systems can excel in is explosive device clearing. The military is looking to driverless vehicles advancement in auto industry and migrating this capability to military doamin. AI / ML can also rapidly develop an common operating picture by fusing a constellation of sensors working together to greatly enhance survivability and force capabilities.
Israel’s next generation armored fighting vehicle
The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) has focused on improving its urban combat capabilities – with a special focus on force protection – since losing 67 troops (at least 13 of them killed while riding in armoured vehicles) during the 2014 incursion into Gaza. The IDF is currently upgrading its NAMER IFV specifically to meet the urban warfare challenge. The NAMER, introduced in 2008 and produced by Israeli Military Industries (IMI), is basically a MERKAVA MBT on which the 120mm gun turret has been replaced by a weapon station mounting machine guns. Removal of the turret allows the MERKAVA chassis to be reconfigured to carry a nine-person infantry squad in addition to the vehicle crew.
Beginning in 2017, the NAMER is receiving an unmanned remotely operated turret mounting a 30mm chaingun. This will permit the vehicle crew to provide more effective firepower for the dismounted squad. The Raphael TROPHY Active Protective System (APS) mounted on the turret will augment the already considerable armour protection of the MERKAVA chassis. Israel took the step of introducing and then upgunning the NAMER specifically to enhance its urban operations capabilities. “An APC equipped with a turret and cannon gives it an advantage during urban warfare,” said Brig.-Gen. Baruch Matzliach, head of the Tank Program Administration, when the upgrade was introduced in 2017. “The shortened cannon makes it more manoeuvrable, and [gives it] the ability to provide firepower to infantry soldiers.”
Israels’s MAFAT is trying to predict the future battlefield, both in terms of threat and technologically,” Brig.-Gen. (res.) Dr. Danny Gold, head of the Defense Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure (MAFAT), said Gold outlined several systems expected to be used by the IDF, a new armored fighting vehicle. Drawing lessons from 2014’s Operation Protective Edge, where IDF soldiers fought in narrow streets and alleys in the Gaza Strip, the 35-ton, tracked AVF is designed to be simple to operate, relatively inexpensive, agile and lethal with firepower designed for close and urban combat.
The AFV, called Carmel (a Hebrew acronym for Advanced Ground Combat Vehicle), is under development by MAFAT and the Defense Ministry’s Merkava Tank Administration and will “constitute a quantum leap” in the field of armored vehicles, Gold said.
For the same reason, the IDF is also outfitting its new EITAN 8×8 Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) with a 30mm cannon (range: 2,500 meters) and ATGMs, as well as the TROPHY APS. The weapons turret is remote controlled, eliminating the need for soldiers to expose themselves to enemy fire.
As part of the multi-year project, breakthrough technologies are being developed for the Carmel, including modular transparent armor, next-generation cooperative active protection, an IED alert and neutralization system, and a hybrid engine. While MAFAT expects the development and demonstration testing of the Carmel to extend over the coming decade or more, the first stage of the development plan is proof of its feasibility, Gold said.
Israeli defense contractor Rafael is proposing its future armored vehicle, the NGCV-S (Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Suite), to the South Korean Army as part of a project to make the military well equipped to fight opponents deploying next generation systems, according to a report. The report noted that Rafael is probably the only or one of the very few companies that can offer a protection solution that includes active, passive and reactive system. “Our Trophy is a combat proven solution (with the IDF), and following a weight and size reduction it can now be fitted from 6×6 to Main Battle Tanks,” the marketing director said. Rafael has won orders for the active protection system from customers such as the US Army. The Haifa-based company was a pioneer in reactive armor elements and is still improving its reactive and passive armor packages, reducing weight and increasing protection, which is now said to be over Level 6. Underbelly kits for improving protection against mines and IEDs are also part of Rafael’s portfolio.
“In the lethality segment we propose our Samson family of turrets, of which we sold over 6,000 pieces in the last three decades,” Udi N. said, underlining that most of the customers belong to NATO. Light to medium caliber solutions are available, with the possibility of integrating the Spike 5th generation missile system, a solution already available on the Samson 30 RCWS, usually armed with the Northrop Grumman Mk44 Bushmaster II 30 mm chain gun. Beside the mid- to long-range versions of its Spike, which give the vehicle a considerable lethal range, Rafael is also proposing its Spike Firefly, the 3 kg MTOW rotary wing loitering munition with a 30 minutes endurance capable to provide real-time situational awareness at distance before diving onto the target to destroy it.
Edrmagazine.eu emphasized that while adding those systems would certainly improve South Korean combat vehicle capabilities, the true force multiplier is the Battle Management System, which includes a number of solutions derived from those developed for the Israeli Carmel 8×8 program. The work done by the company on digitized 3D scenarios and the digitization of all sensors and effectors has led to the development of different systems, a key one being the Fire Weaver combat system that allows simultaneous connection of all sensors and shooters, in a fully GPS-independent environment as exact position is established by pixel correlation with the digital scenario.
Russian AI-Enabled Combat
Russian defense sector is actually working on an unmanned ground vehicle designed specifically to withstand tough urban combat conditions. The project called Shturm (Storm) is based on the T-72 tank chassis and features specific defensive technologies and offensive armaments for a city fight. Moreover, the smaller Nerehta unmanned vehicle under development is supposedly a test-bed for military AI applications.
The Russian military expects that in future wars, unmanned ground combat vehicles will accompany regular forces. To prepare for this, the Russian military revealed in May 2018 that it had tested the Uran-9 – an armored unmanned ground vehicle the size of a small tank. But only a month later, defense officials publicly acknowledged that this vehicle failed in its first “near-urban combat” mission in Syria.
It also acknowledged that Uran-9’s operator had trouble understanding the battlefield situation via sensor data generated by the vehicle. Such conclusions point to the need for a “smart” system capable of independent combat analysis and orientation in a difficult environment — perhaps something that a limited AI application can do. Russian military is now infusing AI and autonomous capabilities into Russian armed drones and unmanned ground vehicles.
Combat robot with over-the-horizon control put through its paces in live-fire exercise
At a recent live-fire exercise in Tapa, Estonia, the latest version of Milrem Robotics and ST Engineering’s ground combat robot showed off its ability to operate under Beyond Line Of Sight (BLVOS) control. In the April 2019 tests, the THeMIS Unmanned Ground Vehicle (UGV) equipped with the ADDER DM Remote Weapon Station was armed with a 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher and a 12.7mm Heavy Machine Gun.
The latest iteration boasts a wireless BLVOS control system that allows an operator equipped with a tablet-like, ergonomically-designed mobile or stationary control unit to both steer and fire it at ranges of up to 1,000 m (3,300 ft) in built-up areas and 2,500 m (8,200 ft) in open ground. According to the makers, its intuitive graphical user interface makes it easier to operate with less user fatigue and better combat performance. Secure firing control is provided by a dedicated Fire Control UHF-Band data-link embedded Fire Control System.
In addition, the THeMIS is armored to NATO STANAG (STANdardization AGreement) 4569 level 3, meaning that it can withstand 7.62×51mm armor-piercing rounds, anti-tank mines, and the detonation of a 155mm High Explosive round at a distance of 60 m (200 ft). With its top speed of 20 km/h (12 mph) it can deal with 60-degree grades and water up to 61 cm (24 in) deep. Meanwhile, its diesel-electric drive provides for 15 hours of operation.
“Our joint combat UGV is one of the first armored UGVs in the world that’s especially well suited for urban conflict areas,” says Jüri Pajuste, Director of the Defence Programs Department in Milrem Robotics.
US Army Next Generation Combat Vehicle, or NGCV
US army has three primary classes of ground combat vehicle in the current fleet, some of which have been in service for decades, include the
M113 armored personnel carrier, Bradley M2 infantry fighting vehicle, and Abrams M1 main battle tank. Over the years, the Army has upgraded these vehicles with additional technologies, including new communications systems, heavier armor, and more powerful engines. The original systems were designed with a margin for additional space, weight, and power to accommodate such upgrades. However, the accumulation of past upgrades has consumed much of this margin and the fleet of Army ground combat vehicles faces increasing constraints on its ability to upgrade, due to lack of available vehicle space, weight, and power.
In response to the limited ability to upgrade the vehicles in the current ground combat fleet and the need for additional capabilities, the Army has begun to take steps to develop the NGCV portfolio to replace and extend this fleet. The vehicles currently in the portfolio include the
• Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), replacement for the M113: AMPV is scheduled to enter full-rate production in March 2022.
• Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF), a light tank to support infantry;
• Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV), replacement for Bradley with additional capabilities; and
• Robotic Combat Vehicle (RCV), a new capability to supplement existing vehicles
The United States army has been taking urban warfare requirements into consideration when developing upgrades to armoured combat vehicles. For the US and other NATO forces this is all the more relevant since any potential war in Europe is likely to include significant urban combat as well as field combat.
The ABRAMS M1A1 MBT is being outfitted with new reactive armour to provide added protection against ATGMs and RPGs. The ABRAMS Reactive Armour Tile was installed on US Army MBTs stationed in Europe in 2017. The tiles can be mounted at an angle, depending on the mission environment. For urban environments, where adversaries are expected to attack from second or third stories or rooftops, the tiles can be angled so that their blast would push out and upwards toward the threat. The US Army is also actively working to equip the M1 with the TROPHY APS, while seeking viable APS solutions for the services’ other armoured vehicles.
The ABRAM’s offensive capabilities are also being bolstered through introduction of the Advanced Multi-Purpose (AMP) round. The AMP, developed by Orbital ATK is replacing the four specialized 120mm shells fielded on the ABRAMS. It has a programmable fuse which allows the gunner to select the shell’s performance on target after the round is chambered. The parameters are entered via an ammunition data link developed by Northrop Grumman. Point Detonation mode and Airburst mode have the greatest relevance to urban warfare. The former can destroy vehicles or defilades on impact or breach walls to open access routes for friendly infantry. The round provides added capability to breach reinforced walls, with the ability to penetrate 20 centimetre thick walls of reinforced concrete. The fuse can be set to detonate on impact or with a delay, in order to maximise effects inside the targeted building. The Airburst mode can detonate the round above but near entrenched enemy fighters including sniper, artillery and missile personnel in defilade or on rooftops. It can also be aimed to enter an open window and kill enemy fighters inside a specific room.
The CFT has decided to focus on two lines of effort, Lesperance told a small group of reporters in a March 15 phone call. The first line is to build a robotic combat vehicle, “which is an optimally unmanned close combat platform;” the second is the NGCV, an optionally manned vehicle that will get soldiers to a point of lethal advantage in close combat, he said. “We are looking at an NGCV that really gives us leap-ahead capability from that which we have now. We are looking at critical-enabling and potentially disruptive capability,” he said. That includes a deep dive at reducing weight and shifting the size-weight-power paradigm.
For the robotic combat vehicle, the Army will take lessons learned from aerial manned-unmanned teaming, which is a capability that has been fielded for several years to fill the armed aerial reconnaissance role left open when the service retired its Kiowa Warrior helicopters. Teaming a manned and robotic vehicle “opens up a lot of possibilities for different tactics, techniques and procedures,” Lesperance said. Making contact with the enemy first using a robotic vehicle gives a unit leader the time to make better battlefield decisions, he said.
Another key consideration in the design of the NGCV is that the vehicle must contribute to a reduced logistics tail, or supply line, Abrams said. Reducing the logistics tail will enable the maneuver force to move more quickly and with greater agility. The general offered several ways this could be accomplished. If the NGCV were to employ hybrid energy systems, for instance, that could reduce the need for fuel resupply convoys. Other ways to reduce sustainment requirements include such things as speed diagnostics that support field maintenance and component ruggedness and life extension, he said.
Other capabilities of the NGCV might include: Reactive armor, Active protection systems, Artificial intelligence, Autonomy and/or teaming, Advanced target sensors, Lasers, Precision, extreme-range lethality, and Potential to accommodate future upgrades
“We are focusing on the Next Gen Combat Vehicle. As you know they are progressing with two different platforms – the optionally-manned vehicle and the robotic combat vehicle. How do we have AI-aided threat recognition? We have to be aware of how robotic and manned vehicles share information to conduct operations,” Col. Doug Matty, Army AI Task Force Deputy Director said. “We are developing an AI stack regarding how we pull together the sensors, computing layer and analytics to manage the data,” Matty explained.
AI is also changing the readiness equation, Matty explained, by virtue of accelerating condition-based maintenance on board certain large platforms such as Strykers and Black Hawk helicopters. “We are working to refine the analytics and machine learning to not only increase the specificity but also improve the time horizon to predict when maintenance needs will occur. We can get to the granular level of specificity, not just for the fleet but eventually for tail numbers,” Matty said.
Another challenge, he pointed out, is balancing the age-old tradeoff of survivability with weight, agility and lethality. “Ideally, we would be able to trade weight for protection other than armor,” he said, explaining that will require advances in material science, along with innovations in active and passive defenses. Whatever the outcome, the end product must be able to dominate peer enemies that have fielded their own version of a next-generation vehicle, he said.
Light Armoured Vehicles for Urban Assault
Heavy armoured vehicles need to be supported by lighter, agile protected vehicles capable of getting infantry within striking distance of the enemy. Wheeled armoured vehicles, while field capable, are usually well suited for urban operations. Three new developments in this area are Protolab’s 6×6 Protected Multi-Purpose Vehicle (PMPV), Rheinmetall’s 4×4 Armoured Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV) and Rheinmetall’s SURVIVOR R Multirole Protected Vehicle.
The Finnish armed forces are currently testing the PMPV prototypes. “We designed the Protolab PMPV 6×6 to meet the requirements of today’s soldier and today’s asymmetric battlefield,” Juha Moisio, Protolab Oy Business Development Director said upon presentation of the prototypes. The PMPV is certified to satisfy NATO STANAG mine and ballistic protection level 2a/b (with possible upgrades to STANAG 4), and is capable of accepting an armoured external weapons mount. The 14-tonne vehicle carries a crew of two plus ten combat-equipped soldiers. At 2.55 metres width the PMPV is narrower than most armoured combat vehicles, enhancing mobility in urban settings.
Rheinmetall and co-developer Krauss-Maffei-Wegman presented the AMPV prototype to the German armed forces in 2009, and subsequently offered the vehicle to the Polish armed forces. At 2.24 metres width, 5.34 metres length and 2.14 metres height, the highly agile AMPV can access any place that an SUV can go. The turning circle is 15 metres. The vehicle can accept a choice of remote-controlled weapons stations mounting up to a 12.7mm machine gun or a 40mm grenade weapon, plus a day/night sensor system including a laser rangefinder and a sniper detection sensor. The weapon can be elevated up to 70 degrees, making it ideal for urban operations; depending on armament choice, effective range can be up to 2,000 metres.
The SURVIVOR R protected vehicle is also optimised for urban operations, and can be configured for either military or police requirements. The vehicle is a joint development of Rheinmetall and Achleitner. The vehicle is based on an MAN 4×4 truck chassis, with an armoured crew compartment and state-of-the-art vectronics by Rheinmetall. The gas-tight monocoque seats ten combat-ready soldiers including the driver. Additional armour and a rooftop weapon station are optional, as are searchlights, non-lethal effectors such as smoke systems, protective grids for windows, and a dozer blade. The 2,7-metre-high chassis is 2.5 metres wide (2.9 metres counting rear-view mirrors).
The global armored vehicles market size was valued at USD 15.96 Billion in 2018 and is projected to reach USD 21.97 Billion by 2026, registering a CAGR of 4.2% from 2019 to 2026. The military armored vehicles and counter-IED vehicles market is segmented by Product (Infantry fighting vehicle (IFV), Armoured personnel carrier (APC), Main battle tank (MBT), Self-propelled howitzer (SPH), and Others) and Geography (APAC, North America, MEA, Europe, and South America).
The introduction of unmanned fighting vehicles and the development of modular armored vehicles are expected to play a major role in the growth of Armored vehicle market size. The market has seen significant growth due to a growing emphasis on protecting soldiers from external and internal threats. Increasing awareness about commercial safety is also expected to drive the growth of Armored vehicle market size during the forecast period. Surge in militarization of law enforcement agencies, are expected to increase the Armored Vehicles Market size. Increased militarization encourages the use of military tactics and military equipment, which in turn stimulates market growth for the armored vehicles.
Rising demand for bulletproof vehicles is expected to boost the armored vehicle market size. The rising security challenges originating from growing insurgent activity and crime rate are driving the demand for civilian armored vehicles. Additionally, with the number of public figures, and elite groups are adopting armored passenger vehicles for a greater sense of security, armored vehicles are gaining popularity.
The development and deployment of unmanned armored vehicles offer remarkable potential for military operations since it can operate in a wide variety of high-risk situations. This widespread adoption for military operations is expected to increase the armored vehicles market size during the forecast period
The introduction of unmanned fighting vehicles and the development of modular armored vehicles are expected to play a major role in the growth of Armored vehicle market size. The infantry fighting vehicle market segment will account for the highest global military armored vehicles and counter-IED vehicles market share during the forecast period because of the high demand for IFVs. Factors such as the growing demand for equipment such as armored and counter-IED vehicles from military forces of different countries will significantly drive military armored vehicles and counter-IED vehicles market growth in this region over the forecast period.
Market growth in this region will be faster than the growth of the market in other regions. Asia-Pacific is expected to witness the largest growth during the forecast period. Market growth in this region can be attributed to rising numbers of terrorist activities in this region and increasing expenditure on defense operations by emerging economies.China and India are the key markets for military armored vehicles and counter-IED vehicles in APAC.
Factors such as the introduction of information-based weapon systems that are capable of providing effective firepower and knowledge base for combat personnel will transform military tactics and procedures. The adoption of networked technologies will provide customers with automated remote area target monitoring. Additionally, it aids in enhancing surveillance by providing units the ability to detect and recognize personnel. Advanced economies have already started adopting electronic warfare and are involved in R&D to enhance military efficiency. With the growing of countries towards adopting modern technologies, the demand for modern warfare vehicles will increase in the coming years.
Some of the key market vendors, include BAE Systems Plc, Denel Dynamics, General Dynamics Corp., Hyundai Motor Co., Lockheed Martin Corp., Navistar International Corp., Oshkosh Corp., Renault SA, Rheinmetall AG, and Rostec State Corp.
References and Resources also include: