Saturday, August 27, 2016

Back from the dead: Anders and PT-16

Yesterday Polish sources started to tease new armored fighting vehicle developments, today first footage of the two new developments has been released: the Anders and the PT-91 developments have been resurrected to serve as a base for the new vehicles. The PT-91 main battle tank (MBT) has lead to the new PT-16 MBT.

The Anders was originally developed as a family of vehicles, most prominently a light tank. The family of vehicles also included an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) version aswell as several other roles. The project was however terminated.
The Anders is a front-engined vehicle with steel tracks. It is made from welded steel with further applique composite armor added for enhanced survivability. 

The new Anders is fitted with Oto-Melara's HITFIST-30P turret (the same turret as used on the wheeled Rosomak IFV). In so far this is identical to the earlier Anders IFV prototype, however features and details have been altered. This configuration is meant to compete with the new Borsuk IFV, that is being developed for the Polish Army. The Hitfist turret is armed with a 30 mm Bushmaster II chain gun from Aliant Techsystems (ATK) and a coaxial machine gun. Furthermore new Spike-LR anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launchers have been added to the turret. One launcher holding one missile is located at each side of the turret. These launchers has been developed on behalf of the Polish Army for the Rosomak wheeled IFV. 
The Hitfist-30 turret can be armored up to STANAG 4569 level 4 (protection against 14.5 mm API all-round), but on the original version used on the Rosomak it was less protected. The addition of ceramic armor made by the Israeli company Rafael was necessary to reach level 4. 
The Anders' hull is designed with modular protection ranging from STANAG 4569 level 3 (protection against 7.62 mm NATO AP ammo with tungsten-carbide core) to level 5 (protection against 25 mm ammunition) or beyond. The vehicle is not amphibious.

The new tank is supposedly called PT-16, but it is not clear if this is the final name. It is mainly meant for export, as the backbone of the Polish tank force is meant to be the Leopard 2, which is in process of being upgraded to the new Leopard 2PL configuration in the near future. The new PT-16 tank is somewhat related to the PT-91 "Twardy", because it utilizes an upgraded version of the PT-91/T-72 hull.

However it seems to feature a new welded turret, which is armed with a 120 mm smoothbore gun manufactured by Huta Stalowa Wola (HSW). While Poland had started the development of a local copy of Rheinmetall's 120 mm smoothbore design, the gun of the  PT-91 is supposedly manufactured under licence; it has not been revealed whoo is responisble for the gun design and licencing; possibilities include companies from France, Germany, Ukraine or Switzerland. The gun is capable of firing Rheinmetall's latest 120 mm DM63 APFSDS and DM11 HE rounds. The new turret has to include a new autoloader to load the longer 120  x 570 mm unitary catridges for Rheinmetall's smoothbore gun design; how exactly this has been solved by the Polish engineers is unknown, but the Anders light tank and the Pl-01 concept tank utilized bustle mounted autoloaders.

The tank is protected by new modular composite armor. The turret armor is extremely thick and is reminiscent of the AMAP composite armor from the German company IBD Deisenroth as utilized on the Leopard 2 Evolution. IBD Deisenroth has supplied the armor package for the Rosomak-M variant and will deliver the armor for the new Leopard 2PL version. In so far it seems to be possible that IBD delivered the armor for the PT-16. It is understood that there will be some sort of local production of IBD's armor for the Leopard 2PL; if this is done under licence or with a local subsidairy is not clear at the moment. The hull front seems to be fitted with applique armor modules, but retains a number of classical T-72 features; the integrated hull armor might still be identical to that of the T-72M1/PT-91.

The tank is fitted with a 1,000 horsepower (hp) engine from a Serbian supplier. Supposedly it can deliver up to 1,100 hp, but has been only rated for 1,000 hp on the tank. The upper side of the hull is protected by applique composite armor panels, while the lower side is protected by rubber skirts.

The turret is fitted with a remote weapon station (RWS) and a new sensor system. The RWS is armed with a machine gun and might double-act as a commander's sight. The commander is at least not provided with a separate sight yet and there also appears to be no proper commander's cupola, but rather a few vision blocks integrated into the turret roof. The sensor system consists of at least two modules, one at each side of the frontal turret. Each module contains three sensor units. These units might be cameras or laser-warning sensors.

Further details on the PT-16 are expected to become public within the next days.

TARDEC on Mobile Protected Firepower

According to, the US Army is looking for a future mobile protected firepower (MPF) vehicle for the US Army's expeditionary forces. Supposedly the US Army informed about 200 industry representative from 59 companies about their initial intent.

The MPF vehicle is required due to the lackluster strategical and tactical mobility of heavier MBTs and IFVs such as the M1 Abrams and M2 Bradley. The MPF vehicle is supposed to sacrifice armor in favour of being able to travel through dense woodlands/jungles, tight city streets, low-capacity briges, mountains and soft soil. In such terrain heavy vehicles often suffer from a number of mobility-related issues like being to heavy for bridges or the soft soil, and being to large for traveling through tight city roads or jungles.
Possible adversaries of the United States and NATO, such as China, Iran and Russia have developed or imported modern anti-aircraft and area denial weaponry, so that airlift of larger forces with the larger aircraft such as a C-5 Galaxy or a C-17 Globemaster III might not be possible. Thus the MPF vehicle would be airlifted to capture larger airfields and too destroy enemy anti-aircraft positions.

General Dynamics' Flyer-72 vehicle
For the development of the MPF vehicle, the US Army has requested a $9.678 million budget for the fiscal year 2017. The MPF vehicle is to accompany the ground mobility vehicle (GMV) into operations and combat. The ground mobility vehicle (GMV) project looks for a light-weight, lightly armored or even unarmored transport vehicle for a nine-men infantry squad. General Dynamics Flyer-72 is one of the contenders for the GMV contract. For the GMV development and purchase, the US Army requested an initial $4.9 million budget in the FY 2017. 

At the annual symposium of the US Army (AUSA) 2015, BAE presented the old M8 Armored Gun System (AGS) light tank partly upgraded to modern standards and declared it available when needed. The M8 AGS was developed beginning in late 1992 until being type-classified in 1995. However it's procurement was canceled in 1996 to save money for other air-mobile projects like the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle (IAV) and the canceled Future Combat Systems. The AGS is armed with a 105 mm rifled XM35 gun, which is automatically loaden by a 21 rounds autoloader. A further 9 rounds of main gun ammunition are stored within the hull. A main feature of the AGS was the modular armor, which could be increased depending on the desired protection level aswell as space and weight limitations. Protection ranged from being barely bullet proof to resist 30 mm AP ammunition and single-stage RPG warheads. A late prototype version of the AGS nicknamed "Thunderbolt" was armed with a 120 mm smoothbore gun; however this was not the M256 gun of the Abrams, but rather a prototype of the XM291 lightweight gun. The development of this specific gun was never finished, because it was canceled following the buget cuts made by the US Congress. 
This means that if BAE wanted to propose a modern version of the M8 AGS, it has to either be armed with a 105 mm gun or utilize another lightweight 120 mm smoothbore gun; candidates for this option are RUAG's Compact Tank Gun (CTG), Rheinmetall's 120 mm L/47 LLR (light, low recoil) gun, Oto-Melara's 120 mm L/45 gun aswell as the US XM360 gun developed for the Future Combat System (albeit the development of this gun might still be under way).
The upgraded M8 presented at AUSA featured modern explosive reactive armor (ERA), rubber-band tracks, a situational awareness camera system and modern optronics. The rear section was protected by modern perforated armor. BAE calls it the "Expeditionary Light Tank". Unfortunately this prototype was still fitted with an old 105 mm rifled gun.

The article published by speaks of a set of basic requirements for the MPF vehicle. As for protection, the requirement is to resist at least 0.50 cal (12.7 mm) ammunition all-around. Firepower has to be sufficient to destroy heavy bunkers and heavy (main battle) tanks. Each light infnatry brigade should be equipped with a company of 14 MPFs. According to Col. Will Nuckols, the Army's Chief of Staff is giving protection a very high priority. Wether the MPF vehicle can be air-dropped has yet to be determined by the US Army.
One issue with the MPF vehicle is, that it shouldn't become overly specialized for just one job. Making it air-deployable via parachute is great for airborne infantry, the rest of the US infantry units will however then suffer from being given a less protected vehicle, as the weight limit imposed for being air-droppable might result in reduction of armor protection.

The US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC), NCOs from the 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Divison, aswell as industry representatives, designers and automotive engineers developed a number of designs on a workshop forum.
The official YouTube channel of the TARDEC has uploaded three videos presenting some of the ideas of the workshop. It appears that the three presentations are from different workshop groups, but unfortunately this is not confirmed by either the TARDEC videos or news articles about the workshop. On a side note, the designers seem to be interested in designing vehicles mainly suited for science-fiction movies.

The first presentation from the workshop came to the conclusion that demanding firepower equal to the M1 Abrams MBT as suggested by Col. Will Nuckols was the wrong approach and instead the ideal armament for the MPF vehicle consists of a 50 mm autocannon as main gun and a coaxial machine gun. The 50 mm gun is supposedly able to take on all targets up to a T-72 main battle tank (MBT). Furthermore the vehicle should be armed with an independent secondary weapon, which is essentially a pinhole for a M2 heavy machine gun (HMG) or a Mk 19 grenade launcher located at the turret. The vehicle should be rear-engined in order to reduce casaulities from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) triggered by thermal signatures, which seems to be a very odd reason to choose such a design, because IEDs triggered by thermal signatures appear to be rather sophisticated and hence extremely rare.
To deal with heavier armor at least two anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) are carried in a launcher on the vehicle, according to the soldier most likely the Javelin fire-and-forget missile system would be chosen. Despite this rather heavy armament, the MPF vehicle is not meant to go head-to-head with a MBT; instead the MPF vehicle is meant to be a fast, tracked vehicle that is very agile. It should be protected against 14.5 mm anti-materiel (most likely armor piercing incendiary) ammunition from all sides. It should fit inside a C-130 for easy air-transportability.

Another soldier presented a similiar concept, but as previously stated, this might be a different suggestion for the MPF vehicle. Like the previous presentation, a 50 mm autocannon serves as main armament. Unlike the other proposal, the vehicle is meant to be tracked or wheeled - the drawings from the designers imply even an option to convert the vehicle from tracked to wheeled if desired. It features an open turret, which is not ideal to encounter armored vehicles, but suited for other operations. As far as dimensions are concerned, the vehicle should be 8 feet tall overall, with a six feet hull height.
According to a further soldier, the characteristics of the MPF vehicle have the following priorities: mobility is meant to be the primary concern, lethality is secondary. Protection is the least important feature for the MPF vehicle. This soldier claimed that it's main task is supposed to be engaging heavily armored IFVs.

The 50 mm gun is an interesting point to start designing a vehicle. Currently nobody is using this calibre and there are two different (but very similar) options. The original 50 x 330 mm supershot, a version of the 35 mm anti-aircraft calibre, which has been upscaled to the chamber diameter. This calibre was originally developed by the German company Rheinmetall with their electrical-driven Rh 503 35/50 mm gun designed for the late 1980s Marder 2 IFV. The basic Rh 503 had a calibre of only 35 mm, but by exchanging the barrel the gun could be converted to a 50 mm gun. After the Marder 2 was canceled and most costumers of Rheinmetall prefered gas-operated weapons, the Rh 503 concept was abandoned by Rheinmetall. The US company Aliant Techsystem (ATK) revived the concept for the 30 mm Bushmaster II (can be used for Super 40 ammunition after barrel exchange) and the 35 mm Bushmaster III chain guns. According to Anthony Williams from Jane's IHS, the 50 mm calibre provides about 20% higher muzzle energy than current 40 mm Bofors ammunition.

Another alternative is the 50 mm Extended Area Protection and Survivability (EAPS) gun, which has been designed for C-RAM (counter rocket, artillery, and mortar) and anti-aircraft use. Here the 50 mm calibre was chosen for it's greater payload. The EAPS gun is actually a modified Bushmaster III gun, but the shape of the catridge has been altered; instead of being a bore-up 35 mm catridge (with no neck), the EAPS gun was designed to fire a round with shorter catridge but neck. It appears that both rounds hold essentially the same amount of propellant and thus should have the same ballistical performance.
A 50 mm gun obviously provides a lot less firepower per shot than an Abrams tank, but has a higher rate of fire. The prototypes for the EAPS gun managed to sustain a rate of fire (RoF) of 112 rounds per minute (RPM), but it will be improved to sustain a RoF of 200 RPM. The smaller calibre allows the stowage of more ammunition, so that more different targets can be engaged.
The armament choice however should still be questioned, just as the whole MPF vehicle concept. The MPF vehicle and the GMV are also meant to be operated by airborne forces behind enemy lines without the options of calling in CAS (close air support) or heavier forces (equipped with tanks and IFVs). Being probably outnumbered, the qualities and performance of the equipment is a major factor for success.
According to the TARDEC workshop, the 50 mm gun would be the optimal armament for defeating anything up to the T-72 tank. Based on available data and penetration values for other calibres, it seems unlikely that a 50 mm APFSDS is capable of penetrating the frontal armor of a T-54 tank at ranges greater than 1,000 - 1,500 metres. This means, that the MPF vehicle has to get into the effective range of the T-54 tank, where it is more likely of being spotted and destroyed. Defeating a T-62 or an upgraded T-55 might not be possible with the 50 mm calibre. This is critical, because the best option for a lightly armored vehicle to defeat heavier armor would be to out-range it. Unless the US wants to design a completely new 50 mm gun packing a lot more punch than the 50 x 330 mm supershot, out-ranging even a T-54 seems impossible.

The Armata is fitted with hard- and soft-kill active protection systems
The Javelin ATGM also seems to be a somewhat questionable suggestion. While the Javelin ATGM in 2013 in a live-firing test from a turret mount managed to achieve a range of 4,750 metres, this is understood to be the result of not flying in the lofted trajectory of the normal top-attack mode; the effective range using the top-attack mode is designed to be only 2,500 metres. Here missiles such as the Israeli Spike-LR and the French MMP, both being designed for a range of 4,000 metres in top-attack mode, seem to be a better choice. But in general ATGMs should not be considered to be the only source of armor-piercing capabilities for air-droppable units nowadays. The current and future APCs, tanks and IFVs will heavily rely on active protection systems (APS). The Armata has the Afganit hard-kill APS, the Type 99 has a soft-kill APS, while upgrades for older tanks have been proposed. Roof-mounted ERA is common in the Russian tank designs of the last decades.
This is why a tank gun as used on the Expeditionary Light Tank seems to be a lot better suited for operating behind enemy lines: when you cannot call in support, you should at least be able to defeat the opposing armor. Modern APFSDS ammunition is much harder to counter than a missile.

As stated by one of the soldiers at TARDEC's workshop, the main goal of the mobile protected firepower vehicle should be to defeat heavily armored IFVs. This might explain why the Javelin is being considered as anti-armor option, despite it's flaws compared to a modern APFSDS round fired from a 120 mm smoothbore gun. But is the concept of the mobile protected firepower suited to defeat heavily armored IFVs? The 50 mm gun might be more than enough to penetrate them, but the armor of the MPF vehicle as suggested doesn't provide enough protection. The 50 mm APFSDS will do the same to the enemy IFVs that a 30 mm AP(FS)DS from one of them will do to the MPF vehicle. There is no advantage for the MPF vehicle in a match up against an IFV, unless it has superior optics and combat occurs on a longer range. Meanwhile it is reasonable to assume that a small force operating behind the enemy lines with MPF vehicles and GMVs will be outnumbered. How does the US Army want to negate this fact, when the mobile protected firepower vehicle is in terms of "lethaliy vs protection" only on par with the enemy it is meant to fight?
The Expeditionary Light Tank (M8 AGS) was designed with a modular protection approach, that included a layer of reactive armor to resist 30 mm ammunition (although not APFSDS ammunition, most likely full-calibre 30 mm AP). With two decades worth of advancements in armor technology, one would rather expect a higher level of protection for the MPF vehicle. Interesstingly Lt. Col. Kevin Parker said in an earlier interview with, that the MPF vehicle is meant to be an infantry support vehicle, which would defeat infantry in cover (inside of structures, bunkers, etc.) and lightly armored vehicles. In such a case, the MPF vehicle's armament and protection options would be sufficient. It is confusing to see three different soldiers from the US Army wanting the MPF vehicle to do three different things: destroy tanks, destroy IFVs or support the infantry.

While claiming that NATO is not developing air-transportable and amphibious combat vehicles would be a lie, China and Russia seem to have an edge when it comes to developing such vehicles. They have light-weight air-deployable IFVs and light tanks/tank destroyers at the same time! The Russian BMD-4M can be fitted with applique composite armor to meet at least STANAG 4569 level 4, it can be dropped via parachute and can also carry infantry. Thanks to the relatively heavy armament consisting out of a 100 mm gun, a 30 mm autocannon and anti-tank guided missiles, the BMD-4M seems to be one of the best air-deployable vehicles for light infantry units.
The Russian Sprut-SD tank destroyer/light tank seems to be currently better than BAE Systems old Expeditionary Light Tank, mainly due to having a modern high-power smoothbore gun.

An interesting alternative to the MPF would be to buy or modify an exisiting vehicle. Panhard's 8 metric tons heavy CRAB (Combat Reconnaissance Armoured Buggy) might be a good strarting point. While designed with different armament and slightly less armor (only STANAG 4569 level 3 ballistic protection against 7.62 x 51 mm AP rounds with tungsten-carbide core), the vehicle is lightweight and designed with a 30 mm gun in an unmanned turret. With a maximum gross vehicle mass of only 10 tonnes, the CRAB's design would require further modifications to meet the protection and armament suggestions from the TARDEC workshop.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

LAND 400 updates and thoughts

Early in August, Australia announced that the DoD had chosen to shortlist the Boxer CRV and the AMV 35 CRV for the LAND 400 Phase 2 project to replace the outdated ASLAV wheeled fighting vehicle as "Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle" (CRV) of the Australian Army. This effectively eliminated the LAV (CRV) and Sentinel II (Terrex 3 with Elbit MT-30 turret) from the tender. 225 Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles are expected to be purchased by Australia.

The Boxer CRV from Rheinmetall/ARTEC is the high-end solution. It supports the largest gross vehicle weight and is the only vehicle meeting the higher protection level demanded by the Australian Army (STANAG 4569 level 6/6+). It was one of only two candidates offered with an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher and an active protection system (APS). Compared to the Sentinel II, it's missile launcher is dampened, so that a long-term storage of the missile inside the launcher is possible. It is also the only vehicle that has been fitted with an remote weapon station (RWS) ontop of the turret. The Boxer's Lance turret can be equipped with either a 30 mm or 35 mm autocannon, offering a greater versatility than all other offerings.
The US company Northrop Grumman is responsible for integrating their C4ISR equipment into the Boxer CRV. C4ISR stands for command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. The British Supacat will assure that the Boxer CRV meets the AIC requirements and will help Rheinmetall set up the corresponding facilities in Australia. The Australian industry capability (AIC) requirements for LAND 400 demand local facilities for development, manufacturing and support of the vehicles with a long-term impact on the capabilities of Australia's industry.

The Patria AMV 35 CRV is offered by Patria in cooperation with BAE System. It mounts the E35 turret (from the CV9035) ontop of a Patria AMV chassis. Compared to all offerings it is the most proven solution, combining a combat proven chassis with a combat proven turret. On the downside however the currently known prototypes of the AMV 35 CRV happen to have the least amount of advanced features compared to all other original contenders for LAND 400 Phase 2. It currently has no APS, albeit Rheinmetall's ADS has been fitted to some AMVs for international defence exhibitions. The Ukranian Zaslon APS was proposed in a special lightweight version for the Polish Rosomak (a version of the Patria AMV with the HITFIST turret from Oto Melara). Currently there is not a single type of ATGM launcher available for the E35 turret, the development of such a launcher has to be funded by the Australian Army. The current prototypes seem to lack an remote weapon station. Bofors Lemur RWS was offered on the CV9035 for the Canadian Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) project, but this combination has not been adopted by another country. While different versions of the Combat Vehicle 90 have been fitted with Kongsberg's Protector RWS, this has not been installed on a CV9035 with E35 turret yet.
The biggest benefit of the Patria AMV is that it is supposedly a lot cheaper than the Boxer. Polish-made AMVs have been sold for as low as $1.1 million per vehicle to Slovakia. Meanwhile the Lithuanian Boxer IFVs costs more than €4.4 milion per piece (although the contract probably includes development and support costs).

The Patria AMV 35 CRVshould be considered a cheap, but less capable option compared to the Boxer. The Boxer CRV is the "we put everything possible in the vehicle" solution, while the AMV 35 CRV seems to be based on a more reasonable cost-to-benefit ratio. However, aside of lower armor and lack of advanced features, there are a few more aspects about the proposal from Patria and BAE that are not so ideal. Not offering the latest configuration of the AMVXP, but an older chassis with only 30 metric tons of payload (still three more than the original 8x8 AMV could handle) is sub-optimal for a vehicle meant to stay in service for several decades to come. The commander's indepent optronics are integrated into the cupola, making hunter-killer options possible, but more cumbersome than utilizing a proper panoramic sight like the Boxer CRV or the Sentinel II. 

Some people are wondering why General Dynamics didn't offer the newer Piranha 5 vehicle instead of the LAV (CRV), which is based on the LAV 6.0 upgrade for the Canadian Army. The LAV 6.0 is based on the old LAV-III fitted with current upgrades including a new suspension.

However supposedly one of the main points of criticism of General Dynamics LAV (CRV) was the unmanned turret: the LAV (CRV) was fitted with the Kongsberg's Protector Medium Calibre Turret 30 (MCT-30), the only pure unmanned turret offered for the LAND 400 Phase 2. An unmanned turret offers reduced situational awareness and lower ergonomics compared to a manned two-men turret. This is very important, because the Protector MCT-30 is the same turret used on most Piranha 5 infantry fighting/scout vehicle prototypes to this day.
In so far there is reason to assume that a hypothetical Piranha 5 CRV also would have been fitted with the MCT-30, when offered to Australia for the LAND 400 Phase 2. So it would have been disliked by the Australian Army aswell. The MCT-30 turret can only be armored up to STANAG 4569 level 4, thus this most likely Piranha 5 CRV configuration still fails to meet the protection level required for the LAND 400 Phase 2.
In general the MCT-30 turret also provides less features than the options offered by Rheinmetall and Elbit/ST Kinetics. While the unmanned turret has been presented on a number of different defence expositions fitted with a single Javelin ATGM without dedicated launcher unit, this is understood to be a mere mock-up and no ready-for-production feature. Furthermore the SAAB LEDS hardkill active protection system has been fitted on soome Piranha 5 prototypes with MCT-30 turret. This APS provides some advantages over the Iron Fist LC system fitted to the Sentinel II (in particular it has three times as much countermeasures in the launchers ready-to-fire), but also comes with it's own unique disadvantages. The launchers are very tall which impacts the ability to travel under bridges and in tunnels, while they also reduce situational awareness by blocking parts of the field of view of turret-mounted sights.

The only manned turret that has been fitted to the Piranha 5 is Rheinmetall's LANCE modular turret system on a prototype for the Canadian Close Combat Vehicle program. This program penultimately resulted in the creation of the LAV 6.0, after the budget for purchasing new vehicles was cut. While there is no actual proof for this, it seems possible to assume that Rheinmetall won't be interested in cooperating with General Dynamics and won't let GD use the Lance turret.

The Steyr SP-30 turret
General Dynamics itself is not producing many turrets suited for the Piranha. While there is the old Delco turret (developed by GM Defence, a company acquired by General Dynamics) used on existing vehicles of the LAV family, this turret is outdated, undergunned and barely protected compared to the Australian requirements. Hence this turret is not suited for LAND 400. Aside of the Declo turret, GM Defence developed a number of other turrets before being acquired by General Dynamics, but none of them ended up being used on a series vehicle.
The only medium calibre manned turret that General Dynamics currently has on offer is the Steyr SP-30 turret of the ASCOD infantry fighting vehicle (IFV). This turret is armed with a 30 mm autocannon (just like the Kongsberg MCT-30 turret) and can be fitted with ceramic armor for protection against 30 mm AP(FS)DS from 1,000 metres (essentially STANAG 4569 level 6 protection, however this standard didn't exist at the time of the SP-30's development). The base turret offers only protection against 14.5 mm API ammunition. However there is a major problem within GD's decision making that rendered this option pretty much impossible: by favoring marketing the existing Piranha family - even the older models - instead of also pushing the slightly more modern Pandur II family of vehicles, together with General Dynamics strategy to encourage local licence-production of the Pandur II (probably done in order to evade the higher wages and taxes in Austria), General Dynamics started the downfall of the Vienna-based Steyr-Daimler-Puch company. With little to no design and manufacturing capabilities for Steyr turrets left (the adoption of the Lance turret for the Scout-SV Ajax says a lot), General Dynamics seems to have pretty much lost capabilities to produce an IFV or CRV based on military-off-the-shelf (MOTS) components on it's own. 
Even if a version of SP-30 was an option for LAND 400, General Dynamics still would suffer from a prominent lack of certain key technologies: the turret has only been fitted with Rheinmetall's MK 30-2 autocannon, which is a gas-powered weapon system - unlike the electrical-driven Mk. 44 Bushmaster II chain gun from Aliant Techsystems. Thus if Rheinmetall decided to not cooperate with General Dynamics, there would be issues as the externally-powered Bushmaster II will require more internal volume. Also the fire control system of the Ulan (the Austrian ASCOD version) relied on thermal imagers supplied by the Israeli company Elbit, which teamed up with ST Kinetics to offer the Sentinel II to Australia. Another blocking options for the competition.

Depending on source the Piranha 5 has a maximum gross vehicle weight of 32 or 33 metric tons, although the original press release from the reveal of this vehicle speaks only of a maximum 30 metric tons. It seems that the higher maximum weight is the result of further improvments to drivetrain and suspension. Back when the Piranha 5 was chosen as the winning bid for the wheeled plattform of the British Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) project, the Piranha 5 version with the IOC (inital operational capability) demanded by the British Army was expected to have a combat weight of 26 metric tons. As the protection requirements of the British Army were less strict and their Piranha 5 version was expected to have a machine-gun-armed RWS instead of a medium calibre turret, it seems overall unlikely that the Piranha 5 chassis can accept STANAG 4569 level 6 armor with a manned turret. The heavier (and newer) Sentinel II wasn't able to meet the demanded STANAG 4569 level 6 protection at a gross vehicle weight of 35 metric tons.

In so far, even if General Dynamics had offered the Piranha 5 chassis and this was considered to be compatible with the MOTS requirements of the Australian Army, it most likely still wouldn't have been chosen. It offers less than the Boxer CRV (protection, firepower, payload, features), but is more expensive and less proven than the AMV 35 CRV. The main difference between a Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (emphasis on the combat) and a normal scout vehicle is being able to combat enemy units and arm or. Thisrequires protection and a turret armed with a gun capable of punching through opposing forces' armor. If the turret doesn't work as intended or does it's job badly - which apparently was the result of the Australian evaluation of the LAV (CRV)'s MCT-30 turret - the CRV concept will fail.
If a CRV is a concept of sense and reason is another topic, that won't be discussed here yet.

The Sentinel II was also rejected, despite being the second heaviest option after the Boxer CRV. It consisted of a MT30 turret mounted ontop of a Terrex 3, which itself is a Terrex 2 with increased payload. The Terrex 3 chassis  from ST Kinetics and the MT30 turret from Elbit Systems have revealed a number of unique and common shortcomings. Most importantly they are completely unproven at the time of the Australian down-selection, but it also suffers from relatively low protection (not being better armored than the five tonnes lighter Patria AMV with 35 mm gun turret). While the hull's armor can be improved by converting the turret into an unmanned configuration (with reduced protection), it still fails to meet the original LAND 400 Phase 2 requirements for protection. The supposedly poor reception of the Kongsberg MCT-30 unmanned turret also might imply a general dislike of unmanned turrets. This would mean that the Sentinel II was restricted to STANAG 4569 level 4 protection at best. The huge physical size of the Sentinel II, a result of it's Terrex-2 ancesty, meant that more surface needs to be armored, hence the gained protection per added is a bit smaller than on some of the other contenders.
The Sentinel II was meant to be an high-end offering, just like the Boxer CRV. The LAV (CRV) and AMV 35 CRV appear to be more budget oriented offerings, lacking some of the more advanced components for a lower price. Australia's choice of the AMV and Boxer seems to combine the better high-end vehicle with the better budget oriented vehicle, so that the changes to the budget still while deliver a good vehicle; if only the two bidders with the more expensive vehicles had been shortlisted, budget cuts could result in the end of the LAND 400 Phase 2 program. This way however, the most capable vehicle options remain open.
Aside of the aforementioned protection, the Sentinel II suffers from a number of minor and major drawbacks compared to the Boxer CRV, which is why it shouldn't be considerred the better high-end offer. The Sentinel II has no RWS options integrated into the vehicle. It also has only a non-dampened launcher for the Spike ATGMs. A non-dampened launcher does not stop the vibrations of the vehicle from being transported onto the missiles. Such vibrations can damage the the internal guidance electronics and thus prevent longer storage of the missiles in the launcher. Instead the missiles can only be loaden before a mission or during a mission. 
A further issue might be the Iron Fist LC's launcher configuration. The Iron Fist Light Configuration (LC) active protection system is located ontop of the turret and hence increases overall vehicle height, reducing the ability to travel through tunnels and under bridges. This apparently has been a concern for the LAND 400 program, at least Rheinmetall made sure that the commander's sight could be retracted and the RWS folded down, so that the vehicle height when traveling is barely affected by these components. A bigger drawback of Iron Fist LC is however the amount of ready-to-fire countermeasures and launchers. The system has only two launchers, each having two barrels for countermeasures. This means the APS can engage at most two threats at the same time (a simple solution for insurgents and soldiers would be to overpower the APS by attacking with three RPGs or ATGMs at the same time) and has to be reloaden after four engaged RPGs/ATGMs. While at least some versions of Rheinmetall's ADS can defeat EFPs, Iron Fist LC is incapable of doing so.

As reported by Jane's IHS, the Australian Department of Defence (DoD) is giving the two remaining bidders the flexibility to modify their proposals and utilize technology from further companies. The marketing manager of Rafael's land systems division, Yiftach Kleinman, claimed that the DoD might select sub-systems not chosen by any bidder and is confident about Rafael's products having a good chance of being accepted: in particular the Samson Mk. 2 remotely operated turret, the Trophy active protection system and the Spike ATGM would be of Australia's interest.
The Spike ATGM is understood to be favoured by the Australian Army and has already been integrated on both of the CRV prototypes fitted with ATGMs. However it seems extremely unlikely that the other systems from Rafael will be adopted. Trophy does not offer any performance advantages over Rheinmetall's ADS, SAAB's LEDS or the Iron Fist LC system from IMI - in fact the nature of Trophy's countermeasures (using multi-EFP warheads) and the launcher design (one single-countermeasure launcher per vehicle side; a launcher can only rotate by ~200° in the horizontal plane) make it appear considerable worse than all other menionted active protection systems.
The Samson Mark 2 RWS has been chosen by the Lithuanian Army for integration into their future Boxers. With Samson Mk 2 RWS the vehicle is called "Vilkas", Lithuanian for "wolf". However aside of having the same "unmanned" issues as found by the Australians on the LAV (CRV) with the Kongsberg Protector MCT-30 turret, the Samson Mark 2 RWS also suffers from poor armor protection and lower features compared to pretty much all other mentioned products. It is understood that the Lithuanian choice of the Samson Mk.2 RWS was the result of reducing the price of the vehicle, as they previously had tested the more expensive (and more capable) Boxer IFV with Puma turret. The Samson Mk. 2 turret can be at most armored up to STANAG 4569 level 4 and thus fails to meet the Australian requirements. It has the same type of non-dampened launcher as installed in Elbit's MT30 turret, but lacks it's laser warning system. There are no smoke grenade dischargers and there is no option for a MG armed RWS ontop of the turret. No APS has been integrated on the Samson Mark 2 turret.

Monday, August 22, 2016

First footage of the Karrar MBT

The Iran is working on a new main battle tank (MBT), which has been nick-named the Karrar MBT. While most details are unknown, first footage of the new MBT has been released on state-owned TV and found it's way onto the internet. According to the Iranian TV, the tank is supposed to be completely built and designed in Iran.

The tank appears to be very similar to the Russian T-90MS tank in terms of shape and layout; it features a welded hull and turret, which is protected by explosive reactive armor (ERA) and on the rear sections by slat armor. In fact the vehicles appear so similar, that the Karrar tank should be either a licence-made version of the T-90MS or an intentional attempt to copy it. Claims about the Karrar being a locally developed tank might be propaganda or be result of a planned licence-assembly (Iran already manufactured a number of T-72S tanks under licence.)
The tank has six roadwheels partially covered by the side skirts. These skirts have the same wave-pattern found on the T-90MS' side skirts, but currently found on no other Russian, Chinese or Ukrainian tank. Ontop of the side-skirts are two rows of flat ERA tiles, the engine compartment is protected by slat armor only.
The welded turret has a rhombus shape with a noticeable rear-extension, which in case of the T-90MS acts as external storage and is not accessable from the internal. The frontal arc of the tank is protected by very flush aligned ERA tiles, which in case of the T-90MS is the latest Relikt ERA and not the older Kontakt-5. The rear side section of the turret is protected by a flat layer of spaced composite armor, while the rear is only protected by slat armor.

There are a few differences between the Karrar and the T-90MS noticeable even in the low quality footage. The remote weapon stations (RWS) appears to be of a different type and is equipped with a larger machine gun (most likely a 12.7 mm or 14.5 mm HMG). It might not only replace the original RWS, but also the commander's independent sight, unless the placement of the latter was altered. There is also a new distinctive polygonial sleeve at the base of the gun barrel. This feature is not found on any T-90MS prototype.
Another apparent difference is the lack of additional fuel barrels at the rear of the hull. While this certainly could be a result of different doctrines (or the fuel barrels have been disconnected from the tank, after they were empty), this also could be another reason to assume that this tank is a copy of the T-90MS rather than the original.

Zulfiqar 3 tank
While using different technology, the Iranian Zulfiqar 3 tank (actully Zolfaqar would be a more correct name, but the tank has become known as Zulfiqar in the English-speaking internet) is known for intentionally resembling the US M1 Abrams tank.
This is supposed to be result of two different aspects: some sources claim that this way the Zulfiqar 3 tanks should be spared from US airstrikes (being mistaken for Abrams tanks by the pilots) or the US should suffer from higher amounts of friendly-fire incidents in case of attacking Iran. Other sources claim that the design similarities to the Abrams are the result of the Iran lacking knowledge in tank production and simply trying to copy the Abrams with the available technology, because it proved to be hugely successful against Iraqi tanks.

T-72 Khorramshahr
Regardless of being a copy or a licence-built variant, the main armament of the Karrar MBT is most likely a 125 mm smoothbore gun. The T-90MS is fitted with the improved 2A46M-5 tank gun; this is designed for enhanced barrel life and greater accuracy. Unlike the 2A46M, the gun has an internal chrome-plating, which increases the barrel life by the factor 1.7. The gun assembly includes two additional elements with rollers to take up some of the play. Together with other modficiations, this is claimed to reduce dispersion by 15% and thus increases the accuracy and range.
If the Karrar MBT is not a T-90MS, but an elaborate attempt to copy one, it most likely would be armed with the slightly worse 2A46M-2 gun, which has been used on the T-72S Shilden MBT. This gun is a bit less accurate and durable than the 2A46M-5. In terms of penetration power, both of these guns are build for an increased maximum chamber pressure of 650 MPa, compared to the 510 MPa of the earlier 2A46 and 2A46M tank guns used on the T-72M and T-72M1 (and encountered by the US military during Gulf War and Operation Iraq Freedom). Iran is known to produce the 3BM-42 "Mango" APFSDS, which is currently the most advanced APFSDS exported by Russia (despite being introduced in Soviet service in 1986). It uses a two-piece tungsten penetrator in a steel sheat to penetrate on average about 470-500 milimetres of steel armor at 2,000 metres distance. 
While the Mango APFSDS does fit into the T-72S and T-90MS - thus most likely also in the Karrar MBT - using longer APFSDS for increased armor penetration is only possible in the upgraded autoloader of the T-90MS.

T-72S Shilden
If the Karrar is in fact just a local designation for the T-90MS, it will result in a major upgrade to the capabilities of the Iranian Army and Revolutionary Guards. In some aspects the T-90MS tank is ahead of the current M1A2 SEP, in others at least on par and in some still worse. With modern ammunition and skilled crews, this tank could pose a serious threat even to current NATO MBTs.
If the Karrar is just a copy made to resemble the T-90MS however, the tank will probably be a failure. Not only is the Iranian industry still lacking behind in terms of capabilities compared to the current Russian, Chinese and NATO tanks, the production capacities are also too limited to produce a larger amount of tanks. Supposedly the amount of produced Zulfiqar tanks is highly limited, some sources claim that less than hundred Zulfiqars have been made. No version of the Zulfiqar is protected by ERA, while only the later versions have composite armor. In so far, the T-72S is probably the backbone of the tank force operated by the Iranian Army and Iranian Revolutionary Guards. Still large amounts of T-55/Type 59 tanks, Pattons and Chieftains have remained in service - some of them have been upgraded to Type-72Z Safirs, Mobarez tanks or to the Sabalan and Tiam configurations.

Until the Karrar MBT is ready, the most advanced tank in Iranian service might still be the T-72 Khorramshahr, a rare upgraded version of the T-72, featuring an Ukranian welded turret with Kontakt-5 ERA and a more modern fire control system than the T-72S. It is however a very rare tank, the numbers of T-72 tanks converted to T-72 Khorramshahr might be smaller than the production of the latest Zulfiqar 3 tank.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Challenger 2 upgrade proposals have been submitted

As reported by Jane's IHS, MilTechMag and, the offers for the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP) have been submitted by the industry to the British Army. The Challenger 2 LEP aims at upgrading the Challenger 2 main battle tank (MBT) to a more modern standard, so that it is competitive in the year 2025 and beyond (currently the CR2 is expected to remain in service until at least 2035). The official name for this project is "Armour (MBT) 2025". Meanwhile Germany and France are developing a next generation tank with a 130 mm tank gun and keep upgrading their existing Leopard 2 and Leclerc MBTs.
Originally a total of seven major American and European defence companies have answered the British request for upgrade proposals for the CR2. However the US-based General Dynamics (the manufacturer of the current M1 Abrams MBT) has decided to join the Team Challenger 2 lead by BAE Systems. BAE Systems acquired Vickers Defence Systems, the manufacturer of the Challenger 2 tank. The British MoD is planning to shortlist two bidders in 2016. On request of one unnamed bidder, the deadline for submitting the proposal has been moved by one month and the program was thus delayed. With the delay, the tender response date was moved the 11th August, after this the two most promising bids will be selected in the next weeks. Two contracts of £19 million (€22 million) are expected to be signed with the favoured bidders by end of October. In total the contract for upgrading of up to 227 CR2 tanks is expected to have a worth of up to £624 million (currently €722 million).

In a different contract the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has decided to let QinetiQ evaluate the German MUSS softkill active protection system (APS) for integration into the Challenger 2 tank and other British fighting vehicles. A decision to adopt a softkill APS on the Challenger 2 is scheduled for April 2018.

The German company Rheinmetall has made a few aspects of their initial upgrade proposal known in a press release. The company suggest not only replacing outdated components, but also enhance the tank's capabilities further. Upgrades to mobility and protection are further options. Rheinmetall has partnered with the British companies Supacat, Thales UK and BMT.

Seoss sight of the MBT Advanced Technology Demonstrator
The press release included a rendering of an upgraded Challenger 2 tank. The commander's main sight has been replaced by the Seoss stabilized electro-optical sighting system from Rheinmetall. This stabilized optronics include a dual-axis stabilized sensor head with a third generation SAPHIR thermal imager, a laser-rangefinder and a high resolution CCD camera. It is also fitted with an integrated fire control system. The Seoss sight enables a high accuracy even when the tank is moving against static and moving targets. The same sight system has been used on the MBT Revolution/Advanced Technology Demonstrator and on the Boxer CRV. It can be fitted with the Main Sensor Slaved Armament (MSSA) remote weapon station.
It is not clear if the gunner's primary sight has also been replaced with a version of the Seoss sight or the original Gunner's Primary Sight (GPS) from Pilkington Optronics (nowadays part of Thales UK) has been kept. The rendering still shows a distinctive box ontop of the gun mantlet, which used to house the Thermal Observation and Gunnery Sight 2 (TOGS-2) on the original Challenger 2. This might imply that the TOGS-2 thermal sight was kept or upgraded, instead of being replaced by a single sight unit with integrated thermal imager. The rendering however does not show a flap in the armored box; it is not known wether this is result of the 3D model being poor or the TOGS-2 was actually replaced. 

A SAS module below a ROSY smoke grenade discharger
One single unit of Rheinmetall's Situational Awareness System (SAS) can be seen ontop of the turret. Most likely there are two or more SAS units, enough to provide a full 360° sensor coverage. Each unit contains three high definition sights (either day sight CCD cameras or uncooled thermal imagers), each set at 45° angle apart of eachother. Two SAS modules are required to provide a full 360° coverage of the surroundings either at day or night, four for a 360° sensor coverage with cameras and thermal imagers at the same time. The system is designed for easy integration in existing system thanks to an open architecture. It also features an automated warning system, which can be triggered by moving objects when enabled. Optional features of the SAS include automated mission recording, tracking and tracing, a sniper warning system (not installed in the rendering), laser warners (apparently installed) and the integration of SAS into existing fire control and battlefield management systems.  
Rheinmetall also offers the replacement of the outdated rifled Royal Ordnance L30 gun with it's current L/55 smoothbore gun with enhanced armor penetration. This gun would also enable the tank to fire programmable ammunition. 

Elbit Systems' COAPS commander's sight
Lockheed Martin UK has partnered with the Israeli company Elbit Systems for the Challenger 2 LEP. According to DefenseNews, this partnership was established just 24 hours before the deadline for the industry proposals. This is probably the result of Lockheed Martin's partner for upgrading the Warrior MICV, Thales UK, partnering with Rheinmetall. Given that Lockheed Martin's own technological portfolio, as previously noted, is the smallest of all bidding companies, they were forced to find a new partner.
Most likely the proposal from LM and Elbit will include the replacement of the sights with new models made by Elbit Systems. Most likely the commander's sight will be replaced by the Commander Open Architecture Panoramic Sight (COAPS) sight used on the Sentinel II and the TAM upgrade. This dual-axis stabilized sight includes a day sight CCD camera, a laser rangefinder and a latest generation thermal imager. The Pilkington Optronics Gunner's Primary Sight might be replaced with a similar device from Elbit Systems, possibly incorporating a thermal imager and thus allowing the removal of the gun-mounted TOGS-2 sight. Possible upgrade options include the Knight FCS (Elbit's FCS developed for the Merkava tanks) aswell as the Thermal Imaging Fire Control System (TIFCS), which Elbit developed as an upgrade option for existing vehicles.
Laser warning system from Elbit
Given that the last two international land vehicle projects from Elbit Systems included the adoption of a laser warning system, the Challenger 2 LEP proposal from Lockheed Martin UK and Elbit might aswell include the adoption of this system.

Earlier already CMI Defence announced their cooperation with the British company Ricardo UK. While CMI has experience with the manufacturing and upgrading of turret systems, Ricardo is one of the leading British companies in automotive and systems engineering. It is understood that this results in a separation of tasks: CMI Defence is responsible for upgrading the turret, while the hull is being upgraded by Ricardo UK. The latter company has been working with the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) of the British Ministry of Defence on optimizing the drive- and powertrain of the Challenger 2 as part of obsolecence management studies. Ricardo has developed a tool set for accessing the effectiveness and costs of upgrades.
Not much details about CMI Defence's and Ricardo's proposal are known. It might include the adoption of the RUAG-designed Compact Tank Gun (CTG), for which CMI Defence has acquired a licence; however exact details on this licence are unkown and RUAG may be the only company offering said gun for the CR2 upgrade. CMI press releases for earlier products speak of a 120 mm smoothbore Cockerill high-pressure gun; if this is the name for the licence-made CTG or refering to another product has to be clarified.
Most likely the two companies will suggest replacing the sights and electronics, while also adding a new APU or upgrading the powerpack or drivetrain of the tank. CMI Defence has used optronics from different companies for their medium and large calibre turrets, but some of their latest products utilize sights from French manufacturer Safran. However Safran is cooperating with BAE Systems.

General Dynamics and BAE Systems have formed Team Challenger 2, while RUAG announced to cooperate with a group of UK-based industrial partners. The German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), the Leopard 2 manufacturer, has released no details of their upgrade proposal to the public yet, but it appears likely that KMW will rely on optronics supplied by Airbus Defence and Space (formerly Cassidian), which were also used on the current iterations of the Leopard 2 MBT and the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV).

Pound Sterling loosing worth, image by Stratfor
Given the BREXIT, there still should be a big question mark wether the Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme will be futile. The negative impact on the UK economy is currently undeniable, despite the actual BREXIT still being a problem for the future. The British Army is already running other expensive modernization programs such as the procurement of the Scout SV (including the turreted AJAX variant), which is heavily relying on technology and components supplied by EU-based companies, and is also looking to acquire an 8x8 wheeled mechanized infantry vehicle (MIV). Pretty much all candidates rumored for the MIV are European products, which will be more likely affected by the BREXIT than other military procurements.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Israel presents new Eitan APC

The Eitan armored personnel carrier (APC) is a future addition to the inventory of the Israeli Defence Force (IDF). The Eitan is a wheeled 8x8 vehicle designed to replace the old US-made M113 APC as the main armored transport vehicle of the infantry. The development of the Eitan was announced in 2015.

The first prototype that was revealed is armed with two machine guns: a 12.7 mm M2 heavy machine gun (HMG) in a remote weapon station (RWS) behind the driver's hatch aswell a pinte-mounted FN MAG machine gun at the commander's hatch. It is powered by a 750 horsepower engine and can reach speeds up to 90 kilometres per hour, which is quite a bit less than average (Patria AMV, Boxer, VBCI, Terrex etc. usually reach above 100 kmph). Two banks of six smoke grenade dischargers each allow the Eitan to hide in dangerous situations. The Eitan will be fitted with the Trophy active protection system (APS) to defeat anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and RPGs - however the current prototype is not fittet with an APS yet. The Eitan carries up to twelve soldiers, including the commander, driver and the gunner. It can be fitted with different weapon stations and medium calibre turrets with armament up to 30-40 mm autocannons.

According to sources from the Eitan's announcement in 2015, the vehicle will be weighing less than 35 metric tons when fitted with an "advanced turret" of unknown nature. Current video interviews suggest a weight in the 30 to 35 tons range. This implies a lower weight and probably also lower protection level than the current Terrex 3/Sentinel II prototype or the latest version of the Boxer; it appears possible that it reaches ballistic protection in accordance with STANAG 4569 level 4 or 5. STANAG level 4 requires full armor protection against 14.5 mm API ammunition from close ranges, while level 5 requires additional protection against 25 mm APDS along the frontal arc.
The side of the Eitan's hull is protected by rather thin applique plates, which appear to be some sort of metal fitted with thin bolts. Ceramic armor is usually thicker and held by fewer, but larger bolts. This armor design is very reminiscient of the VBCI's armor, which consists of steel or titanium plates fitted with thin bolts onto the vehicle's aluminium hull. This again might imply a protection level comparable to STANAG 4569 level 4. The Eitan is expected to have a high level of mine and IED protection.

(Eitan video from SNAFU Solomon's blog)

The Eitan is meant to supplement the Namer, Merkava and the future Carmel vehicle. It is designed for lower costs than a Namer, and thus sacrifies some performance for being affordable. Supposedly it will cost only half as much as a Namer APC, although this is not fully confirmed. Series production is expected to start by 2020.
The Carmel is Israel's next generation tank still in development. It is being developed instead of a heavier Merkava Mark 5 tank and is meant to rely on active protection systems rather than passive armor. The expected weight of the Carmel is about 32 tons according to an earlier interview. The Merkava 4 tank will remain in production until at least 2020, when the Carmel and Eitan might be ready.