Saturday, May 13, 2017

Austria won the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2017

Two days ago the Strong Europe Tank Challenge (SETC) 2017 ended. The winning platoon comes from Austria, one of the first time participants. The soldiers of the Austrian Bundesheer deployed the 1980s' Leopard 2A4 main battle tank (MBT), beating last year's winner Germany. In the challenge held from 8th to 11th of May, teams from Austria, France, Germany, Poland, the Ukraine and the United States tried to show their skill in a number of different disciplines. These included offensive actions, defensive actions, target recognition/identification of thirty allied and enemy targets, estimating the range to a target without using the laser rangefinder, accurately reporting targets in a simulated urban area and firing crew weapons (pistols or submachine guns). Also part of the SETC was to recover a tank with simulated damage from an NBC attack, evacuating and treating wounded, calling for fire support by artillery/aircraft and precision driving along a pre-defined track. Crews also had to endure a physical fitness test. In comparison to last year the scoring was changed.

The confirmed rankings are:
  1. Austria (Leopard 2A4)
  2. Germany (Leopard 2A6)
  3. United States (M1A2 SEP v2)
As expected, the top ranks were occupied by the Leopard 2 tanks; last year the three top-scoring teams were all operating the Leopard 2 tank. That the older Leopard 2A4 managed to beat the sixteen years newer Leopard 2A6 gives a lot of reasons to speculate. It shows that the Leopard 2A6 tank (just like the Leclerc and M1A2 MBTs) probably could not make full use of their more advanced optics, as no night operations were tested. The Leopard 2A4 - fitted with only a single, older thermal imager - should perform a lot worse than these tanks. The limited range during firing trials also makes it impossible for the German and French crews to make full use of their longer barreled main guns.

The crews of the four Austrian Leopard 2 tanks with their trophy
However there is also another major factor for the Austrian victory: crew training. The Strong Europe Tank Challenge is not meant to be an evaluation of the technical characteristics of a main battle tank, but instead tries to measure how well a platoon from a country can perform with it's own equipment. The Austrian crew won, because they were the best trained crew (or rather: they could make the most use of their training).
Based on a photo from a score sheet, that was taken during the competition, the Austrians managed to perform best in calling for fire, the highest scored part of the competition. The Austrian crew got 696 of 700 possible points, while other teams such as the Germans and the Poles got only 500 and 450 points respectively. The Leopard 2s managed to get the best results in offensive operations, which might be related to the high quality and performance of the Leopard 2's fire control system (FCS) and optics. The platoons manning the Leopard 2A4 and the Leclerc tanks both managed to get the fastest time in the precision driving challenge; both these tanks happen to have the highest power-to-weight ratio of the competing models. This should give some of the tank designers a reason to think, if upgrading the engines shouldn't be a priority for the future, specifically after armor upgrades lead to an increase in combat weight of tanks like the M1 Abrams and the Leopard 2 by more than seven metric tons.

The score sheet during the competition
According to the US Army's own news report, there were different 12 events/challenges in the SETC 2017, which allowed for a total score of 1,500 possible points. However official data from the Austrian Army (scores during the competition, not all teams have finished the same amount of tasks) and the photo from a score sheet during the competition suggest that there were more than 1,500 possible points.
Unconfirmed rumors from an Ukranian websites suggest that the French team with the Leclerc MBT managed to get the fourth place, while the Ukranian platoon - operating an upgraded version of the T-64BV tank (sometimes described as T-64BM) - got the fifth place. These tanks were fitted with new radios, GPS systems and night vision optics before being send to SETC 2017. Apparently the crews managed to beat other Ukranain soldiers with T-64BM Bulats and T-80BVs in a national competition before being send to Germany. Supposedly the Polish team with the Leopard 2A5 was on the last place, something that has been blamed on poor training; last year the Poles managed to outperform all but the Danish and German crews. Based on the score sheet from during the competition the Polish crews apparently underperformed in the recovery of a damaged vehicle in a CBRN scenario, in precision driving, in calling for fire, in identifying vehicles and in determining the range. Other claims to justify the poor performance of the Polish platoon say that the fire control system of a single Leopard 2A5 broke in such a way, that the crew couldn't repair it. However the Polish press claims, that they managed to get the fourth place, beating the French and the Ukranian squads - it might be possible, that after the challenge a modifier was added to compensate the lack of a single tank.
According to claims from the US website, all scores are rather close to each other.

The trophy and the awards for first, second and third place
In 2017 the US Army had only one single platoon competing in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge; previously two US platoons tried their best to win the trophy. Back then the M1A2 SEP v2 tanks managed to only secure the fifth and sixth place, beating out only the M-84s of the Slovenian platoon. For the second time in a row, the US Army used the most modern of all tanks (the M1A2 SEP v2, which first entered service in 2011), but again failed to beat at least some of the Leopard 2 users with much older hardware. This means that the either the training of the US tank crews is lackluster, or that the M1A2 SEP v2 still requires some work in order to reach the same level of performance as the older German designs. Based on the very few known scores, the US tank platoon did perform slightly worse in offensive actions (gunnery, target spotting) than either German-speaking team, while also being a lot worse in precision driving. Specifically the offensive actions should be among the events, that are most affected by equipment.

The runner-up of the SETC 2016, Denmark, couldn't afford to participate. The Strong Europe Tank Challenge is rather expensive, it not only requires sending four tank crews, but also four tanks, to Southern Germany. Denmark instead decided to compete at the Worthington Challenge in Canada and the Nordic Tank Challenge in Scandinavia; both these competitons require only two crews, while tanks can be leased.
Next year Sweden will compete in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, probably with an upgraded version of the Strv 122; there are hopes that the United Kingdom with the Challenger 2 and Canada with the Leopard 2 (2A6 or 2A4M) will also be part of the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2018.  

New Turkish combat vehicles presented at IDEF 2017

The thirteenth International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF 2017) has been held in Turkey. While not extremely popular with foreign companies - despite having "international" in the name, not many international AFV manufacturers were present - this exposition serves as an opportunity for all Turkish defence companies to present their latest and greatest developments.
The company FNSS Defence Systems, a joint-venture of the Nurol Holding and BAE Systems, has presented a number of vehicles from the wheeled PARS family of vehicles (FoV) and the tracked Kaplan-20 and Kaplan-30 armored fighting vehicles (AFVs).

The Kaplan family of tracked vehicles
There are three main variants of the PARS: a light-weight 4x4 vehicle suited only for scouting, a slightly larger 6x6 variant and a large 8x8 version. The PARS design was originally developed by the the US company General Purpose Vehicles Inc. (GPV Inc., previously GPV LLC.), but failed to gain any orders by the US Army and USMC. In terms of weight and protection level, the PARS 6x6 and PARS 8x8 are more comparable to the previous generation of wheeled vehicles including AFVs such as the German Fuchs, the Swiss Piranha III, the French VAB and the US Army's Stryker interim armored vehicle (IAV). This is probably one of the main reasons for it's lack of sales, being not able to compete in performance (payload, protection, mobility and features) with more modern European designs such as the GTK Boxer, the Patria AMV and General Dynamic's Piranha 5.
The PARS vehicles have however been successfully exported to Malaysia, where a local version is known as AV-81 Gempita and manufactured by the local company DefTech.

The PARS 6x6 Scout features a new driver's cabin
At IDEF 2017, three new versions of the PARS were presented. The PARS Scout is also known as Special Purpose Tactical Wheeled Armoured Vehicle (SPTWAV) and is competing in the Turkish tender for a special purpose vehicle (SPV) against an offering from Otokar (probably a version of the Arma vehicle). The biggest change compared to other variants of the PARS 6x6 is the two-seat cabin at the vehicle front, which now features large windscreens made of ballistic glass, that allow a 230° horizontal viewing angle. A SARP remote weapon station ontop of the roof of the vehicle serves as main armament. The combat weight of the PARS Scout has yet to be made public, however it has a power-to-weight ratio of 22 horsepowers per ton and can reach a road speed of up to 100 kilometres per hour. The weight has not been announced, but if it's power by a 500-600 horsepower engine (like other PARS variants), the PARS 6x6 Scout would weigh around 22-27 metric tons. The hull belly is designed to withstand blasts from mines and IEDs, the seats are blast-proof. The amphibious vehicle is powered by two water blades located at the rear, reaching a swimming speed of 8 kilometres per hour (4.3 knots). On roads, the vehicle has a maximum operation rangee of 600 kilometres. It can cross 1.2 metres wide trenches and climb over vertical obstacles up to 600 mm high. It's maximum fording depth is one metre.

The PARS III is a further evolution of the old GPV design
Aside of the PARS Scout, the third generation of the baseline vehicles were presented. The PARS III 8x8 now has a maximum combat weight of 30 metric tons and can carry 12 soldiers (in the configuration presented at IDEF 2017, which included the Saber-25 one-man turret): Three crew members (commander, driver and gunner), aswell as up to 9 dismounts. The PARS III 6x6 has a lower combat weight of only 25 metric tons, and can carry only six dismounts in the configuration presented at IDEF 2017. Both vehicles have an operation range of more than 700 kilometres.
The main focus of the third generation PARS vehicle was apparently protection against current threats in assymetric warfare, FNSS claims that the resistance against mines is comparable to a MRAP, without stating anything more specific (some vehicles with relatively low level of protection are also called MRAPs...). The fuel tanks of the PARS III vehicles are designed to not detonate upon penetration and also to not leak fuel after being hit.

FNSS' Teber turret system
The company also presented it's TEBER-30/35 turret, which exists either as a manned turret for a crew of two or as an unmanned version, which does not penetrate the hull roof. The unmanned version - designated the TEBER-30/35 Remote Controlled Turret (RCT) can be fitted with either a 30 mm autocannon, such as the Bushmaster II Mk 44 chaingun from Aliant Techsystems, or a larger 35 mm autocannon such as the more powerful Bushmaster III gun. There is also the option of using the Bushmaster II Mk 44 with the 40 mm SuperShot (40 x 180 mm) calibre, which provides more payload, but lower penetration than the 35 x 228 calibre. The gun has dual-axis stabilization.

Depending on gun, ammunition storage varies. Up to 250 rounds of 30 x 173 mm ammunition fit into the turret, the amount of 35 x 228 mm ammo is limited to only 100. A 7.62 mm machine gun with 750 ready rounds serves as coaxial secondary armament. The maximum gun depression is -10°, the maximum elevation is +45°. The TEBER turret has two seperate sets of optics for gunner and commander, allowing hunter-killer operations. The type of optics has not been disclosed. The TEBER-30 unmanned turret is a welded aluminium construction with add-on steel or composite armor modules in order to reach what is believed to be STANAG 4569 level 4 protection all-around at most. Eight smoke grenade dischargers enhance the self-protection of the vehicle.

CGI showing the two-men Teber-30 turret
The manned TEBER-30 turret is operated by a crew of two. It's largely identical to the TEBER-30/35 RT, but provides storage options for up to 300 ready-to-fire rounds of 30/40 mm ammo and up to 1,000 rounds of 7.62 mm machine gun ammunition. Unlike the unmanned version, the TEBER-30 cannot be fitted with the more powerful 35 mm autocannon, due to the gun's greater size and recoild path. The turret has a weight of 3.85 metric tons when fitted with an unknown armor package. Like the unmanned version, it is consisting of aluminium with applique steel and composite armor options. The maximum possible ballistic protection level is STANAG 4569 level 5 (protection against 25 mm ammunition along the frontal arc).

Kaplan-20 armored personnel carrier
Like the PARS, multiple different versions of the Kaplan tracked combat vehicle were presented at IDEF 2017. The Kaplan-20 amphibious infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) has already been presented in 2015. It is meant to replace the ACV series of vehicles, which are essentially upgraded M113s, sometimes fitted with one-man turrets. FNSS calls the Kaplan vehicles also NG-AFV (next generation armored fighting vehicle).
The weight is depending on turret configuration, but it leads to a power to weight ratio between 22 and 25 horsepower per ton; 23 hp/ton in case of the exact vehicle displayed at IDEF 2017. Six roadwheels per side, which are connected to a torsion bar suspension, spread the weight of the vehicle along the lightweight rubber band tracks.
The IFV variant is fitted with the Teber-30/35 RT turret, usually armed with a 30 mm gun. It can carry up to 9 passengers, of which three are crew members (commander, driver and gunner). This year at IDEF, the armored personnel carrier (APC) configuration was showcased, which is armed with a remote weapon station (RWS) that is fitted with a machine gun. Modular composite armor provides protection against ballistic threats and mines of a yet to be officially announced level.

The Kaplan-30 is an enlarged Kaplan with betterr protection
First presented at IDEF 2017 is an enlarged version of the vehicle, known as the Kaplan-30 NG-AFV. Like the Kaplan-20, it is fitted with an automatic transmission coupled to a diesel engine. It was demonstrated with the latest version of the Teber-30/35 RT remotely controlled turret system, newer as the version used on the Kaplan-20 in 2015. The increased size of the vehicle offers greater payload. The Kaplan-30 has lost the amphibious capabilities of it's smaller cousin, while the power-to-weight ratio is reduced to only 20 hp/ton. These drawbacks were accepted in order to obtain a higher level of protection and to transport a a crew of three (commander, driver and gunner) plus eight dismounts instead of only six.
The Kaplan-30 might be a reaction to Otokar's Tuplar IFV. The Turkish Army is expected to open a tender for replacing the outdated ACV-15s; while FNSS developed the rather light Kaplan-20, the Tuplar is much heavier, providing a higher level of protection and room for twelve soliders (9 dismounts plus the crew of three).

The Kaplan Medium Tank is designed for the Indonesian Modern Medium Weight Tank (MMWT) program, competing with Rheinmetalls offer - a modified Marder 1A3 fitted with a Leonardo's Hitfact II turret. It is being developed by FNSS in cooperation with PT Pindad. The vehicle is based on a modified Kaplan chassis with rear-engine instead of the front-mounted concept used on the IFVs. With an estimated weight of 30 to 35 metric tons, the medium tank might be the development link between the Kaplan-20 and the Kaplan-30. The Cockerill 3105 turret from CMI Defence is fitted ontop of the modified hull. It is armed with a with 105 mm high-pressure Cockerill gun, capable of firing ammunition exceeding the official pressure limit of the 105 mm clabire according to NATO standards. The turret provides the commander and the gunner with two separate sets of optics (including thermal imagers and laser rangefinders), allowing the crew to carry out hunter/killer operations.
Previously the Kaplan medium tank for the MMWT project was only presented in form of computer-generated images, while Rheinmetall already had a working Marder medium tank by last year. The Kaplan Medium Tank was presented at IDEF 2017 to the public for the first time, it is expected to be ready for service by 2018.

Aselsan's Korhan features an advanced 35 mm gun-turret
Another armored fighting vehicle has been made by Aselsan, the largest defence company of Turkey; however Aselsan is usually focused on providing electronics and sub-components for combat vehicles. The new vehicle is known as Korhan and might be also meant to compete against Kaplan-20/30 and Tulpar for a potential contract with the Turkish Army. Unfortunately at the time of writing this passage, no reliable source provides enough adequate information about the vehicle.

It is fitted with an Aselsan-developed unmanned turret featuring advanced optics. Thanks to two separate sight units, the system is enabled for hunter/killer operations. The optronic units include laser rangefinders, daysight cameras aswell as thermal imaging systems. A further number of smaller optics is fixed to the turret; some of them are part of a 360° close-range surveillance system, while others optics located at the turret sides are part of a laser warning system.
The remotely controlled turret is armed with a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun as secondary armament. The main armament consists of a 35 mm autocannon, which is capable of firing locally developed KETF (kinetic energy time fuzed) airburst ammunition - essentially a direct copy of the AHEAD (advanced hit efficiency and destruction) concept for KETF rounds developed by Rheinmetall Oerlikon. AHEAD-based systems include various 35 mm anti-air guns such as the Rheinmetall Oerlikon GDF series, the Skyshield gun and the MANTIS C-RAM (counter rockets, artillery and mortar) system. It is also used on the CV9035 and on the German Puma IFV. The Turkish copy is also used in the new Korkut self-propelled anti-air gun (SPAAG), which is based on an upgraded M113 hull.
The Korhan's gun has a maximum elevation of +45°, the maximum gun depression is only -10°. A remote weapon station can be added ontop of the turret, if desired by the costumer. Alternatively the Akkor active protection system (APS) with two twin-launchers or a hatch for a mini-UAV (controlled
from inside the vehicle) can be added.

The Korhan's hull can be used for a mortar carrier
The Korhan's turret system is fitted with a modular armor system, utilizing bolt-on panels of composite armor atop the metal structure. The hull however apparently lacks any sort of modular armor in the demonstrated version. A sniper detection system and two banks of four smoke grenade dischargers each provide improved protection for the vehicle and nearby infantry. Like most IFVs, the Korhan has a front-mounted engine in order to allow the designers to incorporate a rear hatch for the dismounts. Up to eight dismounts can be tansported inside the rear compartment. Three crew members (commander, driver and gunner) are located in front of them. The vehicle utilizes steel tracks with rubber padding, the hull has six roadwheels per side, which are connected to an unknwon type of suspension (most likely a torsion-bar system or a hydropneumatic suspension). Aselsan also proposed a mortar vehicle based on a modified variant of the same hull.

Upgraded M60T Sabra
Other vehicles presented by Aselsan at IDEF 2017 include the Korkut SPAAG, and upgraded versions of the M60T Sabra and Leopard 2 NG. The M60T Sabra, a Israeli-developed upgrade for the Turkish M60A1 main battle tanks, now has been fitted with a SARP remote weapon station (RWS), a 360° camera system, laser warners and a new commander's cupola with increased situational awareness. The SARP RWS accepts either a 7.62 mm general purpose MG, a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun (HMG) or a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher.
The Leopard 2NG is an upgrade for the Leopard 2A4, which has been developed by Aselsan. It is based on the Leopard 2 Evolution armor package from the German company IBD Deisenroth, while Aselsan has developed new optics and electronics. On the enhanced Leopard 2NG, Aselsan has added a laser warning system and a SARP RWS.
The company Otokar presented it's range of wheeled vehicles, including four different variants (two 6x6 and 8x8 vehicles) of the Arma wheeled AFV fitted with the Mizrak and Mizrak-S unmanned turrets - the latter being a new development first presented at IDEF 2017. The up to 24 metric tons heavy Arma failed to gain contracts by the Turkish Army, but has been successfully exported to other countries in the Middle East.

The Altay has been fitted with the SAAB Barracuda MCS
Otokar demonstrated two variants of the new Turkish Altay main battle tank (MBT), which is expected to enter production within the next year. However the project mightr be delayed after severe issues with the local engine development: while all original prototypes were build using the EuroPowerPack made by the German companies MTU (engine) and Renk (transmission), the Turkish government was interested in using an indigenous engine for the tank - in the end the only reason for the development of the Altay was to have an own Turkish tank, rather than buying the licence to locally manufacture the M1A2 Abrams, the Leopard 2A6 or the Leclerc MBT. When South Korea offered a transfer of technology (ToT), the Altay project was born. The MTU powerpack might still be used for the very initial batch of Altay tanks, but makes exporting the Altay quite complicated - Germany could block possible export contracts to countries with poor human rights record. The Turkish industry however failed to develop a proper replacement engine on it's own, which is why the Austrian company AVL List was chosen to deliver technology and components to TUMOSAN, the Turkish engine manufacturer.

The Ukrainian 6TD-3 six-cylinder engine might be fitted to some Altay batches
Due to political issues between Turkey and Austria, the Altay engine project the was delayed. The Austrian government decided to forbid AVL List to export know-how to Turkey, after the Turkish president insulted and threatend Austria and other European countries. Thus the Turkish government searched for another source of engine technology and ended up finding Ukraine's State Enterprise Malyshev Plant. About a year ago in May 2016, this state-owned company presented the 6TD-3, a six-cylinder two-stroke enigne with an output of 1,500 horsepower, which is supercharged and liquid-cooled. It is a further development of the 6TD-2E used on the Oplot MBT from KMBD, which can be traced back to the times of the Soviet Union. It's very questionable that this six-cylinder engine can achieve the same performance in all aspects (including size, fuel consumption, operational range, etc.) as the current offerings from the market-leading German and US enterprises. Pakistan supposedly is interested in using the same engine for the upgraded Al-Khalid 2 tank variant.

The Altay AHT
Also presented at IDEF 2017 for the first time was the Altay-AHT, new Altay variant optimized for assymetrical warfare and urban combat - why a modern tank, designed after the bad experiences of the US military in Iraq, lacks the armor for urban combat shows that something went wrong within the development process. The tank should have been designed with either a proper applique armor package or enough armor to be used in urban combat from the get go.
When upgraded to the AHT configuration, the tank's sides are protected by an unknown type of explosive reactive armor (ERA); given that Otokar is not known for making it's own armor solutions, this might be a type of new ERA designed by Roketsan. ERA from Roketsan will be fitted to a large number of Turkish M60 and Leopard 2 tanks. The turret front now has a sloped shape rather than flat walls, due to addition of passive applique armor. This might imply that the original frontal armor was not meant to resist all possible threats encountered in Syria. At the rear section of the hull and turret, slat armor is adopted to protect against rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

The flanks of the Altay AHT are covered by ERA and slat armor
The tank is fitted with a new suite of optics in order to detect enemies approaching from all sides. The commander's independent periscope was dropped out of the AHT's design, instead a remote weapon station (RWS) fitted with a 12.7 mm heavy M2 machine gun, aswell as telescopic elevated observation system (EOS) have been added to the turret roof. The EOS is mounted on a retractable mast, it can be raised in order to enable the tank's crew to observe and spot targets, while the vehicle completely remains behind cover. It is apparently fitted with a thermal imager, but probably also includes a laser rangefinder and a daysight CCD camera - there are at least three openings for optics at the EOS' top module.

At the corner of the turret, the YAMGÖZ system and laser warners are mounted
The YAMGÖZ close-range surveillance system provides 360° degree coverage using cameras and thermal imager with a rather limited resolution. It consists of eight modules, each being a tandem of a camera and a night vision optic. Two modules are mounted at each corner of the turret, with a laser warning system located inbetween them. Each detector of the thermal imaging sensors has a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels, they operate at a spectral band of 8 to 12 µm. The daysight camera's have a slightly better resolution at 976 by 582 pixels. The field of view of both optics is limited to 40° horizontally and 30° in elevation. In terms of design this arrangement is similar to Rheinmetall's situational awareness system (SAS), but due the worse sensor unit layout, more optics are required - potentially leading to a higher price than Rheinmetall's offering.

Unlike the current Altay prototypes, the Altay-AHT's hull makes use of  a torsion-bar suspension; it can however be fitted with the original hydropneuamtic suspension if desired. Otokar cites easier maintenance for this decision. Indirectly the move to a torsion bar suspension might imply, that the Altay's hydropneuamtic suspension is not capable of dealing with the higher weight of the Altay-AHT, that it might offer lower reliability than the torsion-bar design or that replacing damaged components is a pain in the arse for the maintentance crews. A dozer blade is fitted to the hull front, which can be used for self-entrenching and clearing obstacles.

Like most modern tanks designed for urban combat, the upgraded Altay is also fitted with an electronical jammer to counter radio-fuzed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by jamming the frequencies used to fuze them. Furthermore the Altay-AHT has an acoustic location system to track the position of enemy snipers and soldiers. The laser warning system allows to launch the smoke grenade dischargers, acting like a simple soft-kill active protection system. Depending on setting, either the RWS, the EOS or the turret can be turned to face into the direction of a laser, from which the turret-mounted warners were triggered.