Army Vehicle Programs
Nov 15, 2011

“Keep on truckin’” seems to have become the mantra in the federal government’s procurement machinery, as the Department of National Defence considers how to move troops around safely and efficiently at home and abroad. Considering that some new vehicles were supposed to have been in service years ago, “keep on talkin’” might be more appropriate as the government recently announced it will reopen the bidding process for the Standard Military Pattern Vehicles (SMPV), the Canadian Forces’ basic wheeled workhorse.

The need for new SMPVs was identified more than a decade ago when the when the Army acknowledged that its 1960s-techonologies fleet (which went into service in the 1980s) was dying of terminal rust. They were considered catastrophically dangerous to keep on the road – let alone using them off-road – but the Liberal government of the day, trying to deal with a huge deficit, put off a replacement decision.

While DND and Public Works & Government Services Canada (PWGSC) pressed on behind the scenes, it wasn’t until the Conservatives came to power in 2006 that the project regained momentum. That was in June 2006, when a couple of ministers joined LGen Marc Dumais, then-commander of Canada Command, for a high-profile announcement at CFB Valcartier.

They intended to seek bids on a $1.2-billion buy of 2,300 new trucks and associated equipment. It would include 1,500 SMPVs and up to 300 trailers, 800 commercial vehicles adapted for military use, 300 armour protection systems, and 1,000 vehicles kitted out as medical/dental stations, kitchens and offices. The vehicles themselves would cost an estimated $1.1 billion with the remaining $100 million accounted for by a 20-year in-service support contract.

 “The requirement for this equipment is urgent,” DND said at the time, expecting deliveries to begin in 2008. But internal disputes about the requirement (such as whether it could be armoured appropriately for overseas deployment) resulted in continued delays. Fast forward to 2011 when PWGSC told prospective suppliers that “further refinements in the technical specification” mean further delay, possibly with no deliveries until at least 2014.

Other than stating that the latest development “will ensure maximum competition,” Public Works is saying nothing publicly, and DND will say only that a new Request for Proposals was in the works. “Gross mismanagement” is opposition defence critic Jack Harris’ response. “Here we are, fully five years later, and they haven’t completed a Request for Proposals.”

Meanwhile, at the sharp end of DND operations, the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAPV) and Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) programs are designed to address several critical deficiencys in the Army’s current fleet of soft-skinned and lighter armoured platforms. While there have been “enhancements” over the years since they first entered service, those platforms have reached certified gross weight limits and cannot be upgraded further. There is also the economic reality that older vehicles usually cost more to operate and maintain.

TAPV and CCV testing at the Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG) in Maryland is expected to wind up by Christmas and DND told FrontLine that detailed evaluation of the overall bids, including the APG test results, is expected to be completed sometime in January, setting the stage for contract award in the spring. This would be three years after the government announced that it would combine the TAPV and CCV programs with Force Mobility Enhancement (FME) vehicles (mostly augmented Leopard 2 tanks) for a more cohesive combat capability.

In addition, there will be significant upgrades to the current Light Armoured Vehicle (LAV) fleet, which had rough-terrain issues during Canada’s extended mission in Afghanistan. The problem was highlighted early in the mission: a 2004 Army briefing note warned that because the LAV-III was prone to tipping at angles of 30° or more, it should be driven in the centre of Afghan highways because the edges tend to crumble under heavy loads.

In late October, the government awarded a $1.064-billion contract to General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada (GDLS) to extend the operational life of 550 LAV IIIs to 2035. As part of the IRB requirements, GDLS is required to re-invest 100% of the contract value in Canada. Most of the upgrade work will be done at GDLS’s London, Ontario plant, which also makes Stryker variants for the U.S. Army, but some work will also be done in Edmonton.

Improvements include a GDLS-developed blast-deflecting double-V hull, akin to what was already being installed on the Strykers, as well as better upper armour, energy-attenuating seats, larger hatches and a new suspension to cope with a significant jump in all-up weight, to 25 tonnes from 17.2t. “Canadian soldiers … deserve the best protection we can give them,” GDLS Canada Vice-President Danny Deep said “This contract will enhance … survivability, operational capability and long-term ­performance.”

In the meantime, only weeks after the government’s mid-summer TAPV Request for Proposals deadline, most of the prospective contenders had shipped vehicles to Aberdeen. DND declined to identify which four had actually sent vehicles to the APG for testing, but rumours are flying that one may have failed the ballistics section of the trials. FrontLine has been unable to confirm either way. The 25-46 tonne gross weight range originally considered by DND would have encompassed every Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) available, which was reflected in the variety of pre-qualified vehicles.

The existing fleets are deemed no longer capable of meeting current and future requirements for protection, mobility, ergonomics, information and intelligence-sharing. While they have been upgraded to mitigate various threats – notably those posed by improved explosive devices – those enhancements have pushed gross weights to the limit, restricting not only the potential for further life-extending modifications but also the all-important air deployability.

The TAPV program, apparently further along than the CCV despite questions about weapons systems and other key components, calls for an initial 500 vehicles with the option of 100 more. It will replace the Coyote reconnaissance variant in the LAV fleet and the RG-31 Nyala personnel carrier, which are at opposite ends of the operations-and-protection spectrum. Requirements call for 200 reconnaissance platforms for crews of four and either a manned turret or a remote weapon station (RWS), while the remaining 300 would function as command and control vehicles and RWS-armed armoured personnel carriers with crews of three and the capacity to carry four troops. The procurement is ostensibly “off the shelf”, but the prospective primes are taking different approaches to the program.

Textron Systems Canada calls its TAPV candidate “a newly-engineered” evolution of its proven Armored Security Vehicle, which was deployed by the U.S. Army in Iraq. The base ASV is a wheeled 4x4 with advanced lightweight ceramic armour that makes it C-130 deployable and its stance enables it to deal with five feet of water and climb obstacles two feet high. By applying “new technologies and features,” the Textron team − which includes Rheinmetall Canada (systems integration and final assembly), Kongsberg Protech Systems Canada (remote weapons system), and Engineering Office Deisenroth Canada (modular nano-ceramic and steel armour) − is offering what it describes as “an unmatched blend of survivability, protection, power, mobility and versatility” with “best-in-class speed, acceleration, ground clearance and gradient.”

Oshkosh Defense has teamed with both GDLS (in-country support and systems integration) and London Machinery Incorporated (manufacturing and final assembly) to offer a fully-integrated TAPV suitable for any CF mission. It says that its vehicle, available in general utility and reconnaissance variants and based on its combat-proven 4x4, the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle, is engineered for optimal manoeuvrability and survivability. “High commonalities of chassis, crew capsule and cargo body … minimize support costs.” Its defensive and protective capabilities would be augmented by a dual remote weapon station. “In independent testing … the Oshkosh TAPV has undergone on- and off-road durability validation, successfully met ballistic and other survivability threat requirements … and completed extensive live-fire demonstrations,” the company says.

Meanwhile, BAE Systems, teamed with Thales Canada, is offering the RG35, which it describes as “purpose built to meet the Canadian Army’s emphasis on survivability with increased tactical mobility” and which is essentially a shortened version of its 6x6 RG31 that was deployed by the CF in Afghanistan, but with a lowered hull and a narrower, more centred front cab. The RG35 would be available in reconnaissance, patrol and utility variants.

Force Protection’s entry into the TAPV competition is through a Team Timberwolf alliance with CAE of Montreal, Elbit Systems of Israel and Lockheed Martin Canada. Working with its combat-proven Cougar 6x6, the South Carolina-based company has offered a compete vehicle system and in-service support, the latter provided by CAE. Elbit, one of the world’s largest defence electronics manufacturers and integrators, would provide its Dual Remote Weapons System, and Lockheed Martin Canada its C4ISR integrated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance system. (Force Protection confirmed in early November that it is being acquired by General Dynamics in a deal which will see it become part of GDLS.)

Navistar Defence Canada, which lodged a successfully complaint with the Canadian International Trade Tribunal over PWGSC’s definitions of TAPV levels of protection in 2010, has put up its MaxxPro, which is designed by the U.S. company in collaboration with the Israeli armour specialist, Plasan Sasa. Most of the vehicles sold to the U.S. military to date have been the larger MaxxPro Plus, which has dual rear wheels for added load capacity. The MaxxPro Dash is lighter and smaller, but either model could compete to fulfill Canada’s vehicle requirements.

As for the CCVs, they would bridge an operational gap between the LAV IIIs and Leopard C2 tanks. Initial plans call for 108 CCVs, with an option for up to 30 more, and the target is a “competitive military off-the-shelf approach.” Only three companies sent vehicles for blast and other torture tests at Aberdeen: the tracked CV90 Mk-III developed by BAE Systems’ Hägglunds division in Sweden; the GDLS 8x8 wheeled Piranha V, developed by its MOWAG division in ­Germany; and Nexter (formerly Giat Industries) has put up its 8x8 véhicule blindé de combat d’infanterie (VBCI). There was early interest in the Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle built by German partnership of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall for the British Army, but the companies opted out. However, Rheinmetall Canada re-emerged as part of GDLS’s team.

Leveraging its extensive automotive and military expertise, BAE is teamed up for the CCV contract with Ottawa-based DEW Engineering (design services, armour, vehicle assembly and field service support) and Thales Canada (combat systems integration). Essentially a medium-sized tank, the CV90 is available in a number of variants. They saw extensive combat in Afghanistan, including Norwegian models with a modification developed during BAE’s work on its Canadian proposal: tracks with rubber pads made by Soucy International Incorporated of Drummondville, Quebec. They not only matched the performance of steel tracks but also reduced gross weight, noise and vibration.

The GDLS Piranha V 8x8 would be fitted with Rheinmetall’s 2-man Lance 30-millimeter modular turret system (MTS), which also has the potential for development into a remotely-operated system. As contract prime, GDLS would manufacture and assemble chassis at its London facility while Rheinmetall would produce its MTS at the Rheinmetall Canada facility in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec.

Armatec Survivability Canada of Dorchester, Ontario, would contribute a survivability suite of advanced composite materials and energy-absorbing troop and crew seating.

The VBCI from Nexter (which abandoned plans to put forward its Aravis 4x4 for the TAPV competition) features an aluminum hull that carries field-replaceable modular steel and titanium armour. Described by Nexter at its 2008 debut as “the most protected vehicle in its category,” it is configurable as an armoured personnel carrier with a capacity of up to 14 troopers, an ambulance or a recovery vehicle. Like most of the competition, it has enhanced manoeuvrability for deployment into dense urban areas, but at an empty gross weight of nearly 18 tonnes, it would be air transportable only by Canada’s largest fixed-wing transports.

Whichever vehicle wins these corporate shoot-outs, they undoubtedly will be a significant improvement over most of their predecessors in terms of capability, survivability, and crew comfort. Whether they will be put to the test in hostile environments, now that the Canadian combat mission in Afghanistan is over, remains to be seen.

It bears repeating that when Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled the Canada First Defence Strategy at the Halifax Armoury two and a half years ago, he called it a “comprehensive, long-term plan to ensure the Canadian Forces have the people, equipment and support they need to do what we ask them to do.” However, the new enemy could be budget cuts as DND, like all other departments and agencies, have been directed to trim spending by at least 5% and possibly twice that.
Ken Pole is a contributing editor at FrontLine Defence magazine.
© FrontLine Defence 2011