Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Hamza multi-role combat vehicle

The privately-owned Pakistani company Blitzkrieg Defense Solutions - and yes, that is the actual name - has developed a new 8x8 wheeled vehicle. Supposedly it is the first 8x8 vehicle developed in Pakistan. The new vehicle is known under the name "Hamza" and was officially presented at the International Defence Exhibition and Seminar (IDEAS) in 2016. It should not be confused with the Al-Hamza, a local version of the M113 fitted with a 25 mm gun in a one-man-turret.

The Hamza multi-role combat vehicle
The Hamza is described as the world's first 8x8 mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle or as hybrid between MRAP and armored personnel carrier (APC). Blitzkrieg Defense Solutions calls the vehicle a multi-role combat vehicle (MCV). In general all of these terms seem to be focused on marketing, as it is common for the heavier protected 8x8 APCs - such as the Patria AMV, the Artec Boxer and the ST Kinetics Terrex-3 - to feature a level of protection against mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) equal to or greater than a MRAP.

The interior of the Hamza
The Hamza is a rather unique design. While featuring an upper superstructure like a conventional truck or MRAP with front-mounted engine, the shape of the rest of the hull is very similar to a 8x8 APC such as the PARS from FNSS. The superstructure however means that the internal layout is nearly identical to a large MRAP: instead of the driver sitting next to the engine in a small niche, the crew and all passengers are located in a single large compartment.
The driver is located at the right of the vehicle, being located behind a large two-part windshield. One further window on each side of the vehicle front provide good vision along the frontal 180° arc. To the left of the driver another seat is located, either for the gunner or commander - most likely for the latter. This place includes a digital screen and input controls in front of the seat. Behind the driver a further forward facing seat is installed, probably for the gunner. The roof above the frontal two seats (for the driver and commander/gunner) includes two hatches. Two further hatches are located at the very rear of the vehicle. On the left and right sides of the superstructure, ten smaller windows (five per side) with firing ports below them are located. On current NATO and Russian combat vehicles, firing ports have been abandoned due to being a potential weakspot. Inside the middle and rear section of the vehicle's superstructure two rows of each five seats are located, facing towards each other. In the presented configuration, the Hamza MPC has a crew of three, consisting of driver, gunner and commander, while providing seating for up to 10 dismounts. A hydraulic rear ramp allows the dismounts to enter and exit the vehicle, while a door at the left of the frontal section allows the driver, gunner and commander to enter the vehicle. However the market material from Blitzkrieg Defense Solutions claims that the Hamza is capable to transport up to 14 people (including crew), probably in an APC configuration without dedicated gunner.

Note the height of the Hamza in relation to the two men at the right
The Hamza MCV vehicle seems to be one of the tallest wheeled vehilces currently on the market. The height of the Hamza seems to be above three metres (9.8 feet) when fitted with a low-profile unmanned turret. Without the turret, it should be taller than the average 8x8 wheeled APC (such as the Patria AMV, Boxer and Piranha) by half metre or more. The vehicle is powered by an engine of currently unknown type with an output of 600 horsepower.  The tires are made by Goodyear, but they appear to be bit small in relation to the vehicle size. This might be the result of the Hamza being taller than other vehicles though.

The Hamza features a rear ramp
The exact weight of the vehicle is currently unknown. In an interview a spokesperson from the manufacturer claimed that each of the four axles can support a weight of up to 13 metric tons; hence the maximum possible weight could be close to fifty metric tons. However the marketing material from the IDEAS 2016 claims that the vehicle has a power-to-weight ratio of more than 20, which would limit the vehicle weight - given that it is powered by a 600 hp engine - to less than 30 metric tons. Even more confusing in this regard is the claim of a maximum payload of 15 metric tons - unless the base vehicle weighs less than 15 tons, which seems nearly impossible given the large size and relatively high level of protection while mounting a 600 hp engine - the power-to-weight ratio is not based on the gross vehicle weight, but rather on the actual weight of the presented configuration. This would mean the claim of the vehicle having a power-to-weight ratio greater than 20 hp/ton is a marketing lie, because once the Hamza carries some payload this won't be achieved.

Hamza marketing material, showing a different turret and the vehicle's characteristics
It must be noted however that the axles itself are not the only factor for determining the maximum gross vehicle weight of a wheeled combat vehicle. The tires and suspension also need to be capable of handling as much weight, which might explain the discrepancy between the claimed weight (less than 30 metric tons plus a maximum of 15 metric tons payload) and the ability of the axles to support nearly 50 metric tons of weight.

The Hamza is claimed to be protected against ballistic and mine threats in accordance with the NATO standard STANAG 4569, supposedly meeting the requirements for level 4. In terms of ballistic protection this means the vehicle's armor is capable of stopping the 14.5 mm B32 armor-piercing round fired from a distance of 200 metres at all sides. While Blitzkrieg Defense's website currently is in a state of not being completed, the company (formerly known as Cavalier) is also offering bulletproof wests and body armor, making use of ceramic and aramid/kevlar layers. The Hamza is also claimed to utilize ceramic/kevlar composite armor, which seems likely, as other types of armor like IBD's MEXAS, AMAP-B and RUAG's SidePRO-KE/IED follow the same general layout: ceramic tiles with kevlar backing mounted ontop of the base armor.
While not confirmed yet, it is understood that the Hamza is based on a steel construction, like most other 8x8 wheeled vehicles in the same weight class. However unlike most other modern combat vehicles, the Hamza has a smooth external surface. This means that the armor is either integrated into the steel structure or further layer of steel or another material is used as cover; on most current generation combat vehicles, the armor consists of external modules bolted on the vehicle's exterior - this allows easier replacement of damaged armor modules and simplifies upgrading the armor compared to the solution that seems to have been chosen for the Hamza's armor integration.

The Hamza has a v-shaped hull for enhance mine protection
The vehicle must be capable of surviving the detonation of 10 kilogram TNT below the hull for meeting the required level of mine protection for the level 4B of STANAG 4569. This is apparently achieved by using a v-shaped hull belly - a common design for cheaper vehicles, but a double v-hull as used on the late Stryker ICV or a composite armor anti-mine plating as used on the Patria AMV and the GTK Boxer could have provided similar protection while not affecting the vehicle's height as much as a single v-shaped hull. Composite mine protection kits also can reduce the weight by 20 to 30% compared to conventional designs using only the hull shape for deflecting the blast.

Note the absence of sensors and optronics at the turret
The Hamza MCV presented at the IDEAS 2016 is fitted with a remotely controlled turret, which is armed with a 30 mm gun and a coaxial machine gun. The exact type of gun has not been disclosed yet. In general the turret of the Hamza prototype presented at IDEAS 2016 seems to be either a mock-up or a very early prototoype: it lacks any sort of proper optronics, has no smoke grenade dischargers and no sensors for providing the data required by the fire control system. Due to the large possible payload, the manufacturer claims that the Hamza also can accept turrets mounting 90 mm or even 105 mm rifled tank guns.

According to, the Hamza MCV might be aimed to satisfy two different requirements of the Pakistani Army: a requirement for a 8x8 wheeled vehicle as armored personnel carrier for rapid deployment of infantry was issued in 2014, while a separate requirement for a mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicle for counter-insurgency is also known since a few years. The Hamza might be capable of meeting both requirements as a single, locally made vehicle. This would be a major advantage by reducing costs and the logisitics. The Hamza MCV shows that the private industry - when given a proper motiviation - is capable of coming up with much better solutions than state-owned and corrupt organizations, which are unfortunately responsible for providing most armored vehicles to countries like in India and Pakistan. The Pakistani company HIT (Heavy Industries Taxila) for example mostly produces local copies of the M113 APC and licence-built Chinese export tanks that are not competitive against more modern designs.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Chile to upgrade Leopard 2 tanks

According to the Mönch Publishing Group, Chile is said to be looking for an upgrade of the Leopard 2A4 main battle tank (MBT) since 2013. Chile is operating the Leopard 2A4 since 2007, after purchasing an initial batch of 128 tanks for less than €1 million a piece - this low price is understood to be the result of political ties and separate contracts for refurbishment. Later the number of tanks has been increased to 140 and then to 172. The MBTs were modified to the Leopard 2A4CHL standard, which has a modified powerpack.

At low air pressure (a result of the high altitude in the Andean mountains) the turbocharger has to make more rotations per minute in an attempt to transport the same amount of air, which will still fail in most cases due to the air being extremely thin. Less air being delivered to the engine will reduce the efficiency of the fuel combustion and increase fuel consumption. As there is less air to transport the heat, several interal engine components and the fuel system will get hotter. The higher temperatures of the fuel system and the higher drive of the turbocharger will reduce the lifetime of said components. This is a common problem with all combustion engines being used at high altitudes.
On the Leopard 2A4CHL the German company MTU has installed a special "high altitude kit", which consists of a number of modified powerpack components to deal with the low air pressure and the higher temperatures. If the temperatures still rises above a certain threshold, the engine will slightly throttle in order to prevent overheating.

The aim of the upgrade is to reach a technological level comparable to the Leopard 2A5. The upgrade should include electric drives for gun and turret, which are less dangerous than the inflammable hydraulic drives and can offer increased performance. The armor protection should be improved by changing the base armor composition or by adding a modular armor package to the tank. It is also meant to receive upgraded optronics and an improved fire control system (FCS). Mönch writes about a program to digitize the vehicle, which most likely means adopting new digital radio units and a battlefield management system (BMS). Last but not least, the upgraded Leopard 2 tanks are mean to feature a remote weapon station (RWS).

The Chilean Army has negoatiated with the three companies KANT, Rheinmetall and RUAG. KANT (Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter) is a joint-venture of the German company KMW and the partially state-owned French company Nexter Systems. The company is also known as KNDS (KMW + Nexter Defense Systems), the name KANT is understood to have been only a preliminary naming suggestion. KMW is the original manufacturer of most Leopard 2 tanks and was the main contractor for the Leopard 2 program in Germany. Nexter (formerly GIAT) has manufacturered the French Leclerc MBT.

Leopard 2 Revolution
Rheinmetall has won contracts in Indonesia and Poland for the upgrade to the Leopard 2RI and Leopard 2PL configurations respectively. The Leopard 2PL upgrade includes new turret armor, new electric turret and gun drives, an auxiliary power unit (APU) and an improved fire control system, which features new optics and modifications to the gun, allowing the use of high-explosive air-burst ammunition such as the 120 mm DM11 round. The Leopard 2RI includes a better applique armor kit, which also covers the hull, aswell as an air-conditioning system, but lacks further upgrades to the fire control system (except a module to fire air-burst ammunition). Like the Leopard 2PL, it is fitted with electric gun and turret drives however. Rheinmetall is expected to make use of it's modular MBT Revolution upgrade package; a version of the Leopard 2 Revolution mounting all required components for the Leopard 2A4CHL upgrade will probably be offered.
The company was downselected for providing a prototype for the Challenger 2 Lifetime Extension Program (LEP), beating KMW and RUAG among other rival bidders. This might mean that Rheinmetall has an advantage in terms of price or technology compared to the other contenders.

KDNS is in theory capable of using it's complete product range and thus include technology used on the French Leclerc tank; however the production lines for the Leclerc have been retooled and the tank is out of production. Nexter will modernize the French Leclerc tanks to the new Renové standard for assymetric warfare, but it seems rather unlikely that KDNS will react to the Chilean tender in its whole entity. It seems more likely that only Krauss-Maffei Wegmann will propose an upgrade for the Leopard 2, offering system similar to the ones purchased by other nations. The main question is wether KMW will offer a Leopard 2A5 variant or an upgrade kit similar to the Leopard 2A4M? 
Offering an improved Leopard 2A5 (mounting the FLW-200 remote weapon station and a battlefield management system) seems to be a obvious offer to Chile, if the Chilean Army demands an upgrade of the tanks to the Leopard 2A5 level. However the Leopard 2A5 upgrade is a deep modernization, which requires cutting and welding of the original turret and hull structures. This makes the upgrade rather cumbersome and probably also expensive.

Leopard 2A4M CAN
The Canadian Army received a total of twenty Leopard 2A4M tanks. Unlike the Leopard 2A5, the base armor composition of these tanks remains unaltered - instead additional armor modules are installed at the tanks surface. At least Rheinmetall and RUAG claim that their applique armor kits reach a protection level equal or better than the original Leopard 2A5; it seems plausible that KMW can also offer an applique armor kit to boost the Leopard 2A4 protection level to an equal or higher level than provided by the Leopard 2A5's armor.
The Leopard 2A4M itself does not include all features wanted by the Chilean Army, but other KMW-made Leopard 2 variants feature a RWS, a BMS and improved optronics. KMW could simply combine the features from these tanks for an offer to Chile.

The Swiss company RUAG has been rather unsuccesful on the tank market. This might be the result of the company being a smaller player in the armored vehicle market, but might also be affiliated with the offerings of the company. RUAG modernized the Swiss Panzer 87 (Leopard 2A4 tanks) in cooperation with KMW to the new Panzer 87WE standard. While original plans saw the adoption of a mine-protection kit, a modular 360° armor package including anti-bomblet armor at the roof, a battlefield management system, improved optronics, a remote weapon station, an engine muffler, electric gun and turret drives aswell as a rear-drive camera, the final tank included only a fraction of these features due to bugdet constraints. At least one prototype of the Panzer 87WE also included the longer-barreled L/55 gun from Rheinmetall. RUAG also has won a contract for the modernization of Austrian and Belgian Pandur 6x6 wheeled vehicles, but it is not known if there were any other bidders involved. 

RUAG's Leopard 2 MLU
Currently RUAG is offering the Leopard 2 Midlife Upgrade (MLU). This modular upgrade concept appears to be similar to Rheinmetall's MBT Revolution concept. It includes enhanced survivability by using SidePRO-ATR armor and electric drive systems. The tanks internal systems are fully digital and includue a new battlefield management system. The MLU also includes a new commander's sight with integrated thermal imager.

Currently Chile has probably the best equipped land forces in South America, so it is a bit odd to see them pushing for even more upgrades. The neighbouring countries currently have noticably worse tank forces, even when compared to the very basic Leopard 2A4. Argentina only has light tanks and the Tanque Argentino Mediano (Argentinian medium tank; TAM). The TAM is currently in the process of being upgraded, but still lacks a lot of features to be considered superior to the Leopard 2A4 - the 105 mm main gun and the thin armor are in most cases not sufficient. Meanwhile Peru has been searching for a new MBT since a few years, but has yet to make a decision. While several options were considered - including buying the US Abrams tank, the Ukrainian T-84M or second hand Leopard 2 tanks from the Netherlands - the Chinese MBT-2000 (VT-1A) was selected by the Peruvian officials, the order was however canceled shortly after. Currently China is offering the VT-4 (MBT-3000) tank to Peru.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Challenger 2 LEP bidders downselected; tank to get new turret and new gun?

Two bidders for the life extension programme (LEP) of the British Challenger 2 main battle tank (MBT) have been shortlisted by the UK ministry of defence (MoD). The shortlisted companies will be contracted in the next few weeks for the production of two prototypes worth €25.8 million each. After a 24 month long assessment phase, the final production contract will be made with one of the downselected contenders. In case of unforseen issues, a further €7.8 million can be allocated by the British MoD. Originally the contracts were expected to be signed in October, but the project was apparently delayed, so that currently contracts are expected to be signed in December of 2016. The Challenger 2 LEP is part of the Armour (MBT) 2025 project, which is meant to ensure the Challenger 2 remaining competitive in the timeframe from 2025 to 2035.

After General Dynamics decided to join the Team Challenger 2 lead by BAE Systems, the original predictions from our overview -  suggesting that both BAE Systems and General Dynamics would be awarded separate contracts due to their ties and involvment with the British MoD and industry - were rendered obsolete. While the British MoD shortlisted Team Challenger 2, it also shortlisted the German defence company Rheinmetall. Rheinmetall has teamed up with Supacat, Thales UK and BMT; it is also cooperating with Supacat as part of the LAND 400 phase 2 proposal of the Boxer CRV for the Australian Army.
The British MoD choice effectively eliminated all other biding companies, which were the Belgian CMI Defence (in a team with Ricardo), the German company KMW (teamed up with Pearson Engineering), the Swiss company RUAG and Lockheed-Martin UK, which teamed with the Israeli company Elbit Systems for a last minute offer.

An important new detail about Rheinmetall's offer has been made public by the defence and industry news agency Jane's IHS. The upgrade concept offered by Rheinmetall includes the replacement of the old commander's sight with the Seoss stabilized electro-optical sighting system, which features a third-generation thermal imager, an eyesafe laser rangefinder and a daysight CCD camera. The Seoss is also used on the Boxer CRV and on the MBT Advanced Technology Demonstrator. The SAS 360° situational awareness system is installed on the turret roof, enabling the crew to better observe the tank's surroundings. In case of the renderings from Rheinmetall's Challenger 2 LEP proposal it includes an additional module to work as a laser warning system (LWS).

Rheinmetall's Challenger 2 LEP proposal

Not entierely sure is the status of the gunner's sight and the Pilkington Optronics TOGS-2 thermal imager. The renderings from Rheinmetall still include the armored box of the TOGS-2, which is located ontop of the gun mantlet. If the gunner's sight is replaced, why would the old box ontop of the gun mantlet be kept? On the other hand Rheinmetall's renderings show no opening at the front of the mantlet-mounted box, which makes it impossible to house any sort of optics inside of it. Also the original news article on Rheinmetall's proposal from Jane's IHS spoke of "optronics" (plural), which might imply that the TOGS-2 and gunner's sight will also be replaced. The Challenger 2 LEP proposal also includes the installation of a new fire control system with a modern electronic architecture. It seems very likely that new fully electric gun and turret drives are also part of the upgrade.

The base armor of the the Challenger 2 is not known to have received any upgrades since the tank originally entered service with the British Army in 1998. The canceled Challenger 2 Lethality Improvement Programme (CLIP) included planned upgrades to firepower, observation devices and survivability. It also included the installation and testing of the Rheinmetall L/55 smoothbore gun under the 120 mm Smoothbore Option Technical Demonstrator Programme (SO TDP). This lead to the creation of the Challenger 2 Hybrid Ordnance (CHORD), a gun combining parts of the L30A1 gun and Rheinmetall's L/55, which was meant to reduce logisitics and costs. Aside of the SO TDP, the gun and turret drives should be replaced, the optronics would have been upgraded and the survivability would be enhanced by either installing an active protection system (APS) or by upgrading the tank's armor. The CLIP however was canceled and became part of the Challenger 2 Capability Sustainment Programme (C2 CSP), which itself ended up being canceled due to a lack of funds.

The British Army even considered buying a completely new tank in response to the questionable lethality of the rifled 120 mm L30A1 tank gun against newer Russian tanks such as the T-14 Armata. The L/55 firing the German DM53 round with tungsten penetrator proved to be superior in penetrating different armor targets compared to the L27 CHARM-3 APFSDS of the Challenger 2's L30A1 gun, despite the latter featuring a depleted uranium penetrator. This is a strong advantage speaking together with the larger array of available ammunition - including the latest 120 mm DM11 programmable HE-ABM (high-explosive, air-burst mode) round - for choosing to adopt the L/55 gun without modifications or as CHORD variant.

CHORD smoothbore gun in Germany, 2005, used for static firing tests

Aside of the option to replace the L30A1 rifled gun with it's current 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun, the German company also offers to remodel or replace the Challenger 2 turret structure. If chosen by the British MoD, this option will also include a new modular armor system, which allows easier replacement of damaged armor modules and faster upgrading of the tank's armor composition and thickness. This step might be required to mount the L/55 smoothbore gun, as the old CLIP prototype was only able to hold six rounds of the larger 120 x 570 mm unitary ammunition used by the German smoothbore gun. The British Army considered remodelling the turret interior as part of the CLIP to be too expensive.
Challenger 2 turret structure being manufactured at the Vickers tank plant

What type of armor would be used on the Challenger 2, if the British MoD was willing to pay for the new turret structure from Rheinmetall, is not known. A subsidiary of the German company known as Rheinmetall Chempro is however manufacturing the AMAP composite armor designed by IBD Deisenroth. The AMAP brand includes a wide variety of armor designs, some of which have been used to upgrade the Leopard 2 tanks of Indonesia, Poland and Singapore. It is also used to protect light and medium weight vehicles, such as the Iveco LMV, the Puma IFV and Boxer.
The AMAP armor is offered either as modernization for existing platfroms or as protection for new vehicle designs. It consists of a wider variety of sub-variants, making use of nano-metric steel, nano-ceramics, composite fibre materials and is used as laminated, spaced and non-energetic/explosive reactive armor (NERA or NxRA), depending on application. It seems most likely that Rheinmetall will offer an upgrade of the Challenger 2 featuring AMAP armor.

The weight of the Challenger 2 TES(H) is about 74.95 metric tons

The Challenger 2 was fitted with a comprehensive applique armor kit as urgent operational requirement (UOR) for meeting the protection levels required for the assymetrical combat in Iraq. Being adopted as part of an UOR, the new armor kit was rushed in service. It was an already existing off-the-shelf product, which was available on the market (probably even already tested by the British MoD). The Challenger 2 did not receive a new proper, purpose-made armor kit, which might have been better adopted to the Challenger 2's design, while possibly being lighter and more efficient. As a result of the theater entry standard (TES) armor kits adopted as UOR, the weight of the Challenger 2 up-armored to the latest configuration, known as TES (Herrick) or TES(H), has grown to nearly 75 metric tons - this makes the Challenger 2 probably the heaviest tank currently in service! The Challenger 2 however still features only a 1,200 hp Perkins Condor CV12 engine. 

By using AMAP armor, it might be possible to reduce the weight of the Challenger 2 MBT to less than 70 or even less than 68 tons, while retaining a similar protection level. Nano-ceramics as featured in AMAP provide a weight reduction of more than 40% compared to conventional ceramic armor. The weight savings from nano-metric steel are not as drastic, but reducing the steel mass by 17% (when using nano-metric steel in combination with composite fibre spall liners) can also be impactful. The weight of a Leopard 2 Evolution tank - i.e. a Leopard 2A4 fitted with new AMAP modules - is about 60 metric tons, or about five metric tons more than the Leopard 2A4. The Leopard 2 Evolution upgrade includes a mine-protection kit, additional side armor modules and roof armor, while also featuring the option of using the ADS system to defeat incoming tank and anti-tank ammunition.

Side armor module of the Leopard 2 Evolution defeating a PG-7VLT with tandem warhead

In case of the Leopard 2 Evolution, the side armor of the tank was capable of resisting the PG-7VLT ammunition with tandem warhead, which can penetrate more than 500 mm of steel armor after defeating explosive reactive armor (ERA). In static tests, a similar thick array of AMAP was also capable of protecting against the PG-7VR round (fitted with the same warhead as used by the RPG-29 ammunition), which is capable of penetrating up to 750 mm steel armor (600 mm after ERA). It is not known if the Challenger 2's side-armor - consisting of ERA manufactured by the Israeli company Rafael mounted ontop of a thinner layer of passive armor - is capable of protecting against ammunition with tandem shaped charge warhead arrangements. However even if it is capable of doing so, the advantage of a passive/non-explosive system is a much greater multi-hit capability, leaving less exposed area after protecting against a RPG or an ATGM.
The integration of the German MUSS softkill active protection system (APS) into British combat vehicles is being tested by QinetiQ on behalf of the British MoD.

Given that the Rheinmetall L/55 gun was already adopted in 2001 and the MUSS APS was already successfully tested on the Leopard 2A5 in 2006 - the rather late adoption of the MUSS APS in the actual army service was the result of the delays in the Puma's development, most of which resulted in changed requirements - one has again to wonder about the sense in the Challenger 2 modernization. In the end the tank is meant to remain in service until at least 2035, while the original Challenger 2 configuration was meant to stay active until 2025. The series production of the Challenger 2 LEP is expected to not start before 2020, at this time the L/55 gun will be 19 years old... and it isn't even secured, that Rheinmetall's optional offer will be purchased by the UK MoD. The Team Challenger 2 has more ties to the British industry and government, a factor which never should be overlooked.

France has already decided to upgrade the Leclerc tank. Germany is about to adopt an upgraded version of the Leopard 2A7, which as announced by Rheinmetall will be the first tank to feature the upgraded L/55A1 tank gun, which will increase the performance (range/armor penetration) by 20%. This gun is not known to be offered as part of the Challenger 2 LEP proposal, but it would be a clear and rather simple upgrade path for the future. Both  Germany and France are currently co-developing a next generation tank armed with a 130 mm smoothbore gun called the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS). According to the German defence magazine ESUT, the British MoD has not yet shown any interest in this project.

Friday, November 18, 2016

SidePRO-RPG armor

The Swiss company RUAG is offering a wider array of add-on armor types for enhancing the protection of older combat vehicles. It offers three main families of protection products: under the SidePRO brand, armor protection systems for protection the vertical aspects of a vehicle (so the front, sides and rear) are offered, while the RoofPRO brand includes protection systems for the vehicle roof. Lastly the MinePRO brand contains protection solutions for wheeled and tracked vehicles against IEDs, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines.
Aside of SidePRO-KE/IED, which provides ballistic protection against armor-piercing ammunition, explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and fragments from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the SidePRO family of products also includes the SidePRO-Lasso anti-RPG net, the SidePRO-ATR armor modules for heavy vehicles and the SidePRO-RPG passive armor. SidePRO-KE/IED requires at least 7 milimetres of steel armor for backing and apparently consists of conventional ceramic armor or (spaced) metal armor depending on application.

The most interesting offer from RUAG's armor protection portfolio seems to be the SidePRO-RPG passive armor system; for all the other armor types there seem to be similar solutions offered by other manufacturers; for example the SidePRO-Lasso armor is nearly identical to AmSafe's Tarian RPG net, while SidePRO-ATR appears to be very similar to the heavy AMAP solution used on the Leopard 2 Evolution and other vehicles.

M113 APC fitted with SidePRO-RPG

The SidePRO-RPG armor modules are less than 250 mm thick; this is broadly comparable to other passive and reactive armor solutions against RPGs. For example the original Chobham armor package developed as upgrade to the Chieftain tank included 204 mm thick side armor modules consisting of spaced steel plates and plastics layers. The SidePRO-RPG armor provides protection against the RPG-7 firing the PG-7V, the PG-7VM or the PG-7VL ammunition. The PG-7VL is the most capable of the mentioned ammunition types, using a 93 mm diameter warhead to penetrate up to 500 mm of armor steel. However it should be noted that all of the RPG-7 rounds mentioned in the SidePRO-RPG marketing material by RUAG use single stage shaped charge warheads, not a single one is using a tandem warhead arrangment. This implies that the SidePRO-RPG armor is not capable of defeating RPGs with tandem shaped charge warheads. Given a thickness of less than 250 mm, the SidePRO-RPG armor reaches a thickness efficiency of up to 2 or more against RPGs with a single shaped charge warhead. This seems to be quite good performance, although not necessarily better than other passive (non-explosive) armor systems against RPGs.

The SidePRO-RPG armor has an areal density of only 45 kilograms per square-metre, which is equivalent to a 5.7 mm thick steel plate! Slat armor (also known as cage armor and bar armor) can be slightly lighter with a weight of only 25 kg/m² when using lightweight aluminium alloys, while flexbile net armor such as SidePRO-Lasso and the Tarian RPG-net can weigh less than 20 kg/m². However the latter two types of armor are known to fail on a regular basis and provide protection against RPGs in only between 50 to 65 percent of all cases. In the other cases the penetration of the RPG is nearly unaffected by the slat/net armor. The SidePRO-RPG armor seems to not suffer from the same issues due to a completely different design.

Defeating a RPG-7 firing a PG-7VL round with 500 mm penetration seems nearly impossible, when the weight of the armor equals to only 5.7 mm steel per metre. Essentially the armor has to provide about 88 times as much protection per weight then armor steel (if one ignores that the base armor might be required to absorb some leftover penetration capabilities of the liner fragments)... this is far beyond the capabilities of most explosive reactive armors (ERA), which usually reaches only about 20 times the protection of an equally heavy steel plate against shaped charges. Slat armor can reach a higher mass efficiency by cutting the fuze wires of a RPG and then crushing the warhead. SidePRO-RPG however is not working in the same manner. So how is this light-weight armor capable of stopping RPGs?

The answer to this question is given in a number of patents from RUAG. Apparently the SidePRO-RPG armor modules consists of an array of metal spikes, which are evenly spaced along the armor module and slightly less than 250 mm long. The distance between the spikes is smaller than the warhead diameter, so that multiple spikes are guaranteed to damage the RPG projectile. There are different options on how the spikes actually work; most likely they prevent the shaped charge jet to properly form, disturbing the metal liner when it collapses after the explosive filler detonates. In tests of similar armor concept against a shaped charge artillery submuntion, which was capable of penetrating 200 mm armor steel, a single thin rubber spike disturbing the jet fromation reduced the penetration to only 3 to 25 milimetres, depending on the spike location. Given that in case of SidePRO-RPG multiple spikes are expected to interfere with the jet fromation, the protection provided by it should be even higher. Armor based on this principle is used on the German Panzerhaubitze 2000 and the Puma IFV to protect the roof against artillery submunitions.
Alternatively the metal spikes might be capable of piercing through the metal liner, before the fuze is triggered. This would lead to a great reduction in penetration capability, a number of hardkill active protection systems rely on piercing the warhead/liner of RPGs (via metal fragments) in order to reduce their penetration performance to a minimum. However given that the metal spike length is limited to 250 mm and the in-built standoff of the PG-7VL at the center section of the warhead is more than that, this seems rather improbable.

Furthermore the armor module contains a crumple shield made of a polymer (i.e. plastic) and is covered by some sort of thin ballistic foil, metal or plastic. An optional layer of perforated armor can be installed inside of the module, which provides protection against heavy machine gun ammunitions or smaller medium calibre rounds, depending on the existing base armor.

RUAG's armor is an interesting concept for upgrading older vehicles, which can only support a limited amout of additional weight, without adopting slat or net armor. The armor has been tested on the M113 armored personnel carrier (APC) and has been showcased on the APC version of the French VBCI 8x8 vehicle. Both these vehicles have rather limited amounts of base armor.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Light/medium tanks gain popularity

The VT-5 light tank on display at Airshow China in Zhuhai
At the Airshow China event, a few new details on the Chinese tank VT-5 were released. The combat weight of the tank is claimed to be between 33 and 36 metric tons, depending on fitted armor package. Two different armor configurations for the VT-5 are currently being offered by Norinco, one optimized for conventional combat and one fitted with enhanced side armor protection.
The armament is confirmed to be a conventional 105 mm rifled gun, which is fitted with a thermal sleeve, a fume extractor and a bustle-mounted autoloader. Together with the computerized fire control system, the effective combat range is claimed to be 3,000 metres or more. The stabilized gun can be used stationary or fired from the move without affecting the accuracy of the VT-5. A remotely controlled weapon station (RWS) serves as secondary armament.

ERA and slat armor at the hull side of a VT-5 tank

In terms of size it is supposedly comparable to most normal MBTs, being 2.5 metres tall and 9.2 metres long, when the gun is facing forward. The width is depending on the armor configuration, when fitted with the ERA and slat armor combination seen at Zhuhai, the VT-5 is supposedly 3.3 metres wide. Thanks to a powerful engine with an output of 1,000 horsepowers, the VT-5 is believed to be extremely mobile. The power-to-weight ratio is between 27 and 30 hp/ton depending on the armor package.

Rendering of the MMWT proposal from FNSS and PT Pindad

The Turkish company FNSS and the Indonesian state-owned defence company PT Pindad are developing a light tank for the Indonesian Army's Modern Medium Weight Tank (MMWT) project. The winner of the Indonesian program is expected to deliver an inital order of 50 vehicle, on the long run order could be increased to 400 vehicles. FNSS is owned by 49% by the British defence company BAE Systems.
The MMWT is based on the FNSS-designed Kaplan infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) chassis, which seems to be the first proper own design; previously the company relied on licence-producing and modifying existing vehicles such as the M113 and the GPV Colonel (known as PARS in Turkey). The hull for the MMWT has however been redesigned - while the Kaplan has it's engine mounted in the front of the vehicle and the rear of the vehicle is used for a dismount compartment fitted with a rear ramp, the MMWT has a rear-mounted engine. 

The MMWT uses a modified Kaplan-20 hull

The turret for the MMWT is provided by the Belgian company CMI Defence, part of the CMI Groupe. The exact turret used on the MMWT is not being disclosed, but based on the model and 3D renderings, it seems to be a version of the modern Cockerill CT-CV 105HP turret fitted with a coaxial machine gun and a 105 mm gun.
Currently it is not known if a standard 105 mm rifled gun or CMI's Cockerill 105 mm high pressure gun. Aside of firing the standard range of NATO 105 mm ammunition, the latter is also capable of firing the Falarick anti-tank guided missile with 5,000 metres range, which has been co-developed by CMI and the Ukranian company Luch, aswell as the M1060CV APFSDS with increased chamber pressure, which is capable of perforate a 280 milimetres armor steel plate sloped at 60° (560 mm steel armor along the line of sight) at 2,000 metres distance.  The Falarick ATGM uses a shaped charge warhead with more than 550 milimetres penetration into steel armor.

Rear view of the MMWT: note the engine vents at the rear hull

The MMWT is fitted with a currently unknown type of engine, which according to a FNSS spokesperson at Indodefence 2016 gives the vehicle a power-to-weight ratio of about 20 hp/ton - this would imply a maximum output between 640 and 700 horsepower, given the projected weight of the MMWT being between 32 and 35 metric tons. Six pairs of roadwheels connected to a torsion-bar suspension are used to distribute the weight along the ground. The road range of the vehicle is 450 kilometres and top speed is 70 kph.
The medium tank is 2.7 metres tall, about 7 metres long and has a width of 3.2 metres when fitted with the hull armor modules.

Protection is provided by the steel construction and further applique composite armor modules, which are mounted at the front and at the sides of the vehicle. Neither the protection levels of the MMWT nor of the Kaplan IFV has been disclosed yet, but a ballistic protection meeting the STANAG 4569 level 4 or the level 5 standard seems likely. This would mean all-round protection against 14.5 mm AP ammunitions or frontal protection against 25 mm medium calibre rounds. The MMWT is also fitted with a mine protection kit of unknown protection level.

Rheinmetall is offering a new version of the Marder medium tank. The first model of a modern Marder-based tank was presented at Eurosatory 2012 (nicknamed "Marder Medium MBT") and was a more comprehensive upgrade of the Marder, featuring the Oto-Melara HITFACT turret with a 105 mm rifled gun, thick AMAP composite armor modules for protection against RPGs and EFPs, a mine protection kit and an uprated engine. The vehicle is however too heavy for the Indonesian tank program, weighing up to 43 metic tons.

Marder medium tank with HITFACT II turret
The current Marder medium tank is fitted with a HITFACT II turret made by Leonardo, previously Oto-Melara. It is made out of weight-efficient aluminium with bolted-on steel plates for increased protection. The seven tons heavy three-men turret replaces the earlier two-men turret, which was armed with a 20 mm Rh202 autocannon and a coaxial MG3 machine gun in an overhead mount. The original up-armored turret of the Marder 1A3 weighed only 3.2 metric tons.
The Marder medium tank is still based on an upgraded Marder 1A3, which features improved survivability compared to the original model. The Marder 1A3 is protected by spaced steel armor, which resisted multiple impacts by 30 mm AP or APDS ammunition from close ranges (400 m). It is not known if the armor is enough to reach STANAG 4569 level 6, but the Lynx IFV (fitted with the same frontal armor, but different side armor) is offered to Australia as part of the LAND 400 Phase 3 competition, which supposedly demands a similar level of protection.

Marder Medium MBT at the Eurosatory 2012
Unlike FNSS and Pindad's offering, the Marder medium tank is only making use of proven systems, which already are in service with other militaries. The Marder 1A3 is operational with the Chilean Army, the German Army and the Indonesian Army, while the HITFACT II turret is used on the Centauro II and the previous version on the normal Centauro mobile gun system. The turret can be fitted with an autoloader, if demanded by costumer. However the current version of the Marder medium tank uses a manually loaden gun.

The rear of the Marder medium tank
The vehicle has a weight below 35 metric tons and features a 650 hp engine for reaching a top speed of 65 kph. The medium tank has a road range of over 600 km, but in heavy terrain this is reduced to only between 400 and 500 kilometres. The Marder medium tank is 3.07 metres tall, 8.48 metres long and 3.35 metres wide.

Lynx IFV with LANCE MTS turret
Rheinmetall is offering several other improved versions of the Marder. Aside of the Marder Medium MBT from Eurosatory 2012, there also is the Marder CCV prototype with LANCE RC turret, different configurations of the Marder IFV and the Lynx family of vehicles, currently being offered to Australia. Aside of this the TAM (Tanque Mediano Argentino - "Argentinian medium tank") and the TH 301 are based on modified versions of the Marder IFVs.
Currently Rheinmetall is also offering a Marder with modular armor package, an upgraded MTU diesel engine, an improved suspension system and increased internal volume by raising the vehicle's roof. The upgraded engine provides an output of 690 hp compared to the Mader's original 600 horsepower.

For the Indonesian medium tank project, a powerful air-conditioning system is a key requirement, because any military vehicle without air-conditioning can suffer from fungal growth within a few days when not being maintained and controlled. This is the result of the high humidity in Indonesia. Supposedly officials from the Indonesian Army are favoring a configuration with a two-men turret and autoloader instead of a three-men turret. This would mean that the cooperation between FNSS and PT Pindad has a clear advantage over Rheinmetall's Marder medium tank. In general the vehicle is more modern than the Marder, using state-of-the-art armor technology, and a modern drivetrain and suspension system. The meanwhile the Marder is a late 1960s design, which was upgraded in the late 1980s.
However Rheinmetall's Marder medium tank has the advantage of being based on well-proven military-off-the-shelf components. It might be cheaper than the MMWT. The fact that the Marder 1A3 is operational with the Indonesian Army should result in lower lifecycle costs and less infrastructure strains.
Both the Marder medium tank and the MMWT from FNSS and PT Pindad make use of off-the-shelf turrets from other companies. These feature 105 mm rifled guns and advanced fire control systems with thermal imagers and separate sights for gunner and commander, which enable the tank to conduct hunter/killer operations.

General Dynamics Griffin uses an ASCOD hull design and a highly modified Abrams turret made of aluminium
The US Army is looking for a light tank as part of the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) program. While members of the US Army in a TARDEC workshop came to favour a lighter vehicle with lower protection level and armed with a 50 mm autocannon, which could be deployed via a C-130 aircraft, the official requirements from the US Army call for a vehicle with a weight of 32 metric tons or below, which is armed with a 105 mm or 120 mm gun. Currently there are two contenders being pushed by the industry: a modernized version of the old M8 Armored Gun System (AGS) from BAE Systems and the new Griffin, a vehicle based on the ASCOD design, under development by General Dynamcis. Both vehicles were presented at the AUSA 2016.

It is interesting to see China apparently producing the best light tank design of 2016. Aside of the VT-5, only the outdated M8 AGS is based on a purpose-built light tank chassis. The Griffin, the Marder medium tank and the MMWT are all based on modified infantry fighting vehicles, which leads to a greater size than necessary and an unoptimised shape. The smaller physical size enables the VT-5 to reach a higher protection level - all-round protection against RPGs and at least heavy machine gun ammunition (probably even some medium calibre rounds) in the configuration presented at Zhuhai - without exceeding the weight of other vehicles such as the Marder medium tank and the MMWT. At the same time, the VT-5 has the highest power-to-weight and supposedly a hybrid suspension, combining torsion bars and hydropneumatic systems.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Chinese main battle tank composite armor

The Chinese military was relatively late when it comes to introducing composite armor for main battle tanks and armored fighting vehicles. The first series-produced Chinese tank fitted with composite armor was the Type 85 tank, which was developed in the 1980s and is based on the Type 80. The Type 80 itself can be traced back to the Type 59, a locally made T-54A tank.

A presentation from the Pakistani company Heavy Industries Taxila, the state-owned manufacturer of the Al-Khalid main battle tank (MBT), featured an image of a three-dimensional CAD model representing the armor layout of an unknown tank. While the topic of the presentation are products of Heavy Industries Taxila and the slide title is mentioning the Al-Khalid tank, other images from the same slide however show a tank that looks more like a Type 96A/B, Type 99G or a MBT-3000; i.e. the tank has wedge-shaped explosive reactive armor (ERA) at the turret front and hull with no large gaps and irregular size, which certainly does not fit to the Al-Khalid. Heavy Industries Taxila wants to produce a local version of the MBT-3000 designated as Al-Hyder tank, so maybe this explains the CGI showing a tank that clearly is not featuring an Al-Khalid.
In general it seems possible, that the armor layout is similar on all Chinese-designed tanks (including local variants like the Al-Khalid) follows the same pattern. 

CAD drawing representing the armor layout (left) and layout drawn by militarysta
The armor consists of an external layer of explosive reactive armor (ERA), that is installed ontop of a armor steel plate. It is possible that this plate is made of high-hardness steel with a hardness of somewhere betweeen 400 and 600 BHN on the Brinell scale for enhanced protection. China has manufactured different types of ERA, some of which are claimed to provide protection against kinetic energy ammunition and even missiles with tandem shaped charge warheads. Based on the thickness alone the ability of protecting against the latter seems to be improbable for the ERA used on the MBT-2000 and Chinese Type 96A/B tanks. The Al-Khalid is supposedly fitted with locally developed Aorak reactive ERA. 

Behind the ERA is the actual armor array, which is located inside a dettachable module made of rolled homogenous steel armor (RHA; marked in blue). Between two mounting brackets an array of five or more sandwich plates are mounted. Based on older Chinese research papers, these plates are probably some kind of non-explosive reactive armor (NERA), consisting of an elastic material (marked in yellow) such as rubber being sandwiched between two steel plates (marked in red). This type of armor is also known as "bulging armor" or "bulging plates armor". Upon impact the steel plates will compress the elastic material, which will expand after reaching the point of maximum compression. This will impose lateral stress onto the penetrator and also move more steel into it's path. This will weaken and in the ideal case this shatter the penetrator or the shaped charge jet.

While the main function of the ERA and the NERA array is to weaken penetrator/shaped charge jet by distrubing and disrupting it, the main purpose of the rest of the armor array seems to be absorbing the left-over fragments of the penetrator/shaped charge jet in a passive manner. This is a common design scheme in armor design according to British and German sources. This passive-working rest of the armor array consists of four layers of unknown materials, but most likely the majority of this is steel.

Based on the color coding and some assumptions, the first two layers are conventional RHA (marked in blue). Armor steel is still a major design component in tank and AFV armor. On all Soviet tanks with composite armor - including the late T-72B and T-80U tanks - about half of the armor array was armor steel. Given that the Chinese tank development is based on local improvments of licence-made Soviet tanks (T-34, T-54A) and China is rumored to have bought several T-72 tanks from third world countries (such as Iraq and Iran) in the 1980s, it seems plausible that the Chinese composite armor design follows the Soviet design philosophy to some extend. The two plates could be made of different steel alloys with different ductility and hardness. This dual hardness or tripple hardness armor (depending on how many different types of steel are utilized) would lead to increased protection against kinetic energy penetrators (KE) and shaped charge warheads.
Such layered or spaced steel armor using different alloys has supposedly been used on the late models of the Leopard 1, the AMX-40 export tank, the Brazilian Osorio tank and as part of the armor arrays protection the Leopard 2 and Leclerc tanks. In ideal case nearly twice the protection against KE per weight could be achieved; however neither color coding nor the thickness of the plates used in the Chinese/Pakistani CAD image imply anything like this.
The backplate of the passive armor should be made of high-hardness steel (marked in darker blue); at least this is the case with the backplate of the armor arrays used on the T-72B and T-80U.

If these assumptions are correct, only one single layer of the four non-NERA layers - the third to be more exact - could be a non-metallic material (marked in grey). This might be some kind of polymer or glass-reinforced plastic. The composite armor types used on the BDD armor of the T-55AM/T-62M and the special armor used for the T-80U is known to contain different types of polymers. The hull armor of most Soviet tanks used a glass-reinforced plastic commonly knonw as stekoplastika or STEF. Alternatively this might be a ceramic layer. At least according to the British Defence Science Technology Laboratory (DSTL), ceramics can be used as absorbing elements of tank armor when fitted with backing.

Chinese armor array from a research paper (left) and layout drawn by militarysta (center)
Overall this armor array seems to be very similar to an array mentioned in a Chinese research paper. This armor consisted of several sloped NERA plates (using two steel plates of different thickness with an elasitc interlayer material) in a steel module. There are only two backplates; a thin one and a thicker backplate; both of these are apparently made of steel. Supposedly this armor was used on the Type 85 or the original Type 96, but this is not confirmed. Based on the illustration from the Chinese research paper, the overall thickness of the turret armor has increased.

Relative distribution of incoming fire in conventional and irregular combat; image taken from US CBO document

A problem of the Chinese tank design is the armor layout. Most tanks are designed with full armor protection along the frontal 60° arc (±30° from the turret centerline), because statistically between 60 and 80% of all hits (depending on conflict and measurement methodology) occur in this arc. Tanks like the Challenger 1/2, Leopard 2, the Leclerc and the M1 Abrams not only have thick frontal armor, but also turret side armor designed to provide the equivalent thickness when attacked from a 30° angle. Tanks following the Soviet tank design philosophy, such as the T-72, T-90, T-84 and the PT-91 don't feature composite armor at the turret sides, but the overlapping frontal armor and the turret geometry make sure, that the weak side armor is not exposed when being attacked along the frontal 60° arc. 

Chinese tank turret being manufactured; no armor modules fitted yet
Chinese tanks on the other hand don't feature composite armor at the turret sides, while the turret geometry doesn't follow the original Soviet concept. This means that it is possible to hit the tank from within the frontal arc (where between 60 and 80% of all hits are expected) at a place, which is not protected by any sort of composite armor at all. Another problem - at least if the armor layout looks like it does in the drawings - is the exposed upper section. In the CAD image, the roof of the special armor module is sloped at about 15°, which would be sufficient to make most RPGs and older APFSDS rods "bounce" or shatter, but is not enough against modern ammunition. Given that the NERA plates and most of the passive armor array do not cover the upper section of the armor module, hitting this area with any somewhat modern anti-tank weapon would allow to pentrate the tank easily. On actual Chinese tanks, the roof section of the armor module seems to be sloped at 12-13°, which would be a bit better, but still not sufficient against modern APFSDS rounds. Maybe this is the reason why the current Chinese "premium tank", the Type 99A2 is fitted with a new turret.

Chinese turret design. Note that the special armor doesn't cover the 30° arc.

It appears that the Chinese composite armor of the Type 85/96 and possibly also the Al-Khalid is following the same design pattern as the turret armor of the T-72B. The T-72B also has been fitted with ERA, while the cast steel turret featured a cavity into which several bulging plates and a high-hardness backplate are inserted. The armor of the T-72B might be less efficient, because the NERA is less sloped (only sloped in one dimension) and cast steel usually provides less protection than rolled steel plates; the T-72B has however an advantage in regards to armor coverage (both vertical coverage and coverage of the frontal arc). 
It is interesting that the Soviets and the Chinese managed to develop armor that is essentially following the same design pattern as the original British-developed Chobham armor, which used different types of sandwich plates to work as non-explosive reactive armor. The current armor solutions of  M1 Abrams, the latest Merkava tanks and the Leopard 2 tanks are known to be based around similar NERA systems. The German MEXAS and AMAP composite armor, used on tanks like the MBT Advanced Technology Demonstrator and on infantry fighting vehicles such as the Puma IFV and upgraded CV90s, also include NERA options similar to Chobham.