CF ‘family’ of Vehicles
May 15, 2012

Two and a half years ago, the government announced plans for a “family” of vehicles which would not only replace several ­current fleets but also be “off-the-shelf”. It seems that the latter goal – as has been the case with many other procurements – remains elusive.

While most of its plans to acquire new vehicles seem to trundling along nicely, the Department of National Defence’s plan to acquire Close Combat Vehicles (CCVs) to bridge the ­tactical gap between its Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) and its Leopard 2A6M tanks has been stopped in its tracks for the second time in just 20 months. Bidders were essentially told at the end of March that all proposals were non-compliant and that they should await a further announcement, expected in mid-June.

DND wanted an initial 108 CCVs with the possible option of 30 more, and the contract also would include in-service support. A contract had been expected last summer, setting the stage for their introduction to service this July and full fleet operations by mid-2015.

However, in December 2009 – just five months after Defence Minister Peter MacKay and then Chief of the Land Staff LGen Andrew Leslie announced a $5-billion “family” of vehicles concept – it ground to a standstill over questions about the timing of their entry into service.

Predicated on a “competitive military off-the-shelf approach”, the package also included Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicles (TAPV) and Force Mobility Enhancement (FME) vehicles, as well as upgrades to the current LAV IIIs.

The original CCV candidates included two tracked vehicles, BAE’s CV90-35 and General Dynamics’ ASCOD, as well as several wheeled vehicles, including General Dynamics’ MOWAG’s Piranha 5, Nexter Systems’ VBCI infantry combat vehicle, and the German-Dutch Boxer MRAV. They were effectively the same platforms which competed for British Army contracts for reconnaissance and utility roles, but their armour was considered inadequate by Canadian planners.

DND and Public Works & Government Services Canada (PWGSC) eventually rejected all CCV proposals in August 2010 and four months after that, issued a new Solicitation of Interest (SOI) with an explanation that some potential bidders might have been “disadvantaged” by the information they had been given a year earlier.

While that decision caught many by surprise, the second shutdown was evident by the government’s abrupt cancellation of a meeting with the three remaining bidders toward the end of March. Nexter of France, General Dynamics Land ­Systems - Canada, and European consortium BAE/ Hagglunds, had to wait a couple of weeks for the non-compliance explanation, none of which have been made public.

In the meantime, the CCV project is trying to get back on track. The first part of an RFP was launched on 27 April and ­bidders are awaiting the technical portions which, ­presumably, will indicate what retesting may have to be done. A detailed review of the technical information will determine which of the contenders remain interested in competing for the project. Industry representatives expect to receive the technical portions very soon, certainly before mid-June.

When Leslie joined MacKay for the initial program announcement, he said the new vehicles would be “the modern and robust equipment needed” for the Army “to fulfill its role in today’s increasingly dangerous operating environment.” The Canadian experience in Afghanistan as well as in Iraq, Lebanon and other theatres had underscored the need for a new vehicle in the 25-40 ton range to handle conventional and improvised mines and more sophisticated anti-armour munitions. In addition to enhancing crew survivability, the CCV was expected to increase force effectiveness in support of infantry, particularly in urban areas.

The CCV had been described as the Army’s top priority even though it would not enter service until after Canada wound down its combat mission in Afghanistan. The LAV-IIIs were what could be described as “topographically challenged” there, and required a lot of unscheduled maintenance, and while the M113 tracked armoured personnel carriers, which have been fielded by more than 50 countries, had been used by Canada to good effect, there was a demonstrated need for an even more ­effective solution.

While the CCV program has been fraught with uncertainty, the opposite can be said of the Tactical Armoured Patrol Vehicle (TAPV) program, which would replace the Coyote reconnaissance LAV and the RG-31 Nyala 4x4 personnel carrier which, although there have been maintenance issues, have been used effectively on point for convoys. The 200 reconnaissance units would have crews of four and either a manned turret or an RWS; 300 others would function as command and control vehicles and RWS-armed armoured personnel carriers (APCs) with crews of three and the capacity to carry four troops.

According to Neil Rutter, general manager of Textron Systems Canada, the TAPV program has been “very smoothly run by the government.” In his view, PWGSC and DND had put together “almost a flawless” package. He said the initial Request for Proposals was “clear, objective and everybody got a fair chance at it”, including aggressive testing late last year at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, the sprawling U.S. Army facility in Maryland. As prime, Textron is offering a wheeled 4x4 designed by Textron Marine & Land Systems and its key partners are Ottawa-based EODC of Ottawa for armour, and Rheinmetall Defence for systems, including an RWS supplied by Kongsberg Protech Systems.

Rutter says the Textron candidate, developed from the company’s proven M1117, is understood to have done “very, very well” at Aberdeen.

Representatives were on hand “to maintain the vehicle in the evening, to give guidance and instruction,” he explains. No official feedback was given to any of the ­competitors from government or army testing personnel.

Team Timberwolf is offering a thoroughly upgraded version of the Force Protection Cougar 6x6. “We’ve made some adjustments in terms of payload, performance and handling that’s all part and parcel of the team that’s been together, with us and CAE (long-term logistics support) kind of leading the way,” explains team spokesman Tommy Pruitt. Elbit Systems will supply a dual weapons station, Lockheed Canada will do systems integration, and Malley Industries of New Brunswick will do final assembly.

“We have put together a very strong team of Canadian companies and really are looking to do almost 100 percent of the vehicle production in different parts of Canada,” Pruitt says. “The Canadian Forces already have a lot of Cougars; they’ve had them for a number of years and they perform very well from what we’ve heard.”

BAE Systems, with Thales Canada and DEW Engineering integrated systems, has put up the RG35 4x4 reconnaissance patrol and utility version of BAE South Africa’s mine-resistant platform. Bluedrop Performance Learning of St. John’s, Newfoundland, is partnered to provide operational and maintenance training.

Oshkosh Defense is bidding on both the TAPV and MSVS contracts. Its TAPV contender is a variant of its M-ATV 4x4 built at London Machinery Inc. (an Oshkosh subsidiary in London, Ontario), and the latter with an upgrade of its Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) A4 8x8. Jeff Krumrei, international business development manager for Oshkosh Defense, notes that “General Dynamics Land Systems - Canada is a key partner” in each offering and confirms that Kongsberg would fit an RWS to the TAPV.

The MSVS bid deadline is May 23 and all contenders face at least four months of testing. Early 2013 is the anticipated timeframe for contract award, with production to start within 14 months after that. The MSVS program requirement is

for a standard military pattern truck and therefore can accommodate a much shorter period between contract award and production than the TAPV.

Oshkosh Defense is offering an upgrade of its Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT) A4 8x8 for Canada’s Medium Support Vehicle System (MSVS). Designed as a replacement for the M1114 HMMWV or Humvee – versions of which were used by Joint Task Force 2 and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment in Afghanistan – the M-ATV utilizes the chassis and proprietary Tak-4 suspension from the Israeli-designed Plasan armoured hull that had been developed for the Northrop Grumman/Oshkosh Joint Light Tactical Vehicle for the U.S. Army.

“The survivability solution is uniquely Canadian: the requirements and how they tested it,” Krumrei says. “One of the strengths of the M-ATV base design is that the capsule is integrated into the hull; they are one and the same. So it allows us to design from the ground up exactly what they’re asking for and it’s designed into every different part of the capsule as well as how the weapons system fit in and how the soldiers inside are positioned.”

Asked what makes the coil sprung and fully independent suspension so special, Krumrei replies with a chuckle that “it’s just the best.” With 16 inches of travel, it was originally developed for a marine-based vehicle which now has more than 10,000 in service. Moreover, he says, specifications can be tailored to specific vehicles. “As the need for protection grows, so does the weight. One of the advantages of the Tak-4 is that it is scaleable. When our armies were serving in Afghanistan, what you really saw was a significant emphasis on off-road capability. The existing fleet of MRAP  (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicles had more of a conventional suspension and the terrain just totally abused that. After a short time, a large percentage weren’t able to go across the terrain.”

Krumrei believes the Canadian Army has “keyed in on a successful formula” of ­balanced requirement with the rest of its fleet and says “they’ve made some good choices.” They have put together a specification that challenges everybody to weight where they’re going to put their design efforts.”

Mercedes-Benz has responded to the MSVS program with its Zetros triple-axle 6x6, which is in the 7-10 ton range and has considerable commonality with the company’s commercial trucks. A key difference is that it can be armoured as necessary simply by changing cabs. “If you don’t need armour, it weighs on the maintenance and fuel and so forth,” company spokesman Stanley Ing explains.

“It is off-the-shelf and there are a lot of common parts to the axles which the Canadian Army already has,” Ing notes, adding that the Zetros has been ordered by several NATO countries, including Germany, which is where the main MSVS integration will take place. However, body integration will take place in Canada, “so there’s a high Canadian content,” he adds.

A weapons system is not part of the MSVS requirement, but it does call for a cab-top turret hatch capable of accommodating a weapons station.
While the various programs are ostensibly off-the-shelf, comments heard over the years from ­various potential suppliers of ­platforms – across all environments – clearly suggest that once the procurement process begins, fine-tuning turns any OTS into a continuing headache that tends to complicate and delay implementation.

Ken Pole is a Contributing Editor at FrontLine.
© FrontLine Defence 2012