Tactical ground mobility is crucial to mission effectiveness for SOF operators.
By Andrew White
As special operations forces (SOF) continue to develop concepts of operation (CONOPS) to tackle a constantly evolving contemporary operating environment, increasing emphasis is being placed upon the utility of mobility platforms capable of providing range, lethality and protection to small units conducting direct action and reconnaissance missions at reach.
Such a requirement was clearly illustrated by a broad section of representatives from across the international SOF community at the Middle East Special Operations Commanders conference in Amman, Jordan, on 9th May, where the head of the French Special Operations Capacities Development Division, Colonel Andre Harivongs explained how “Soldier Modernization of SOF” out to 2020 and beyond, required operators to maintain the technological advantage over non-state actors capable of conducting transnational operations.
This, Harivongs explained, included requirements for SOF operators to have better protection, target acquisition, precision and lethality with such thoughts reiterated by Lieutenant Colonel Michal Cymbalista, commander of the Polish Special Forces Command who discussed the balancing act between agility and mobility versus protection and firepower.
It is precisely these capabilities which are now being provided in the form of special operations vehicles with the market witnessing a particular trend towards internally transportable vehicles (ITVs) capable of being forward deployed inside the holds of rotary-wing aircraft such as CH-47 Chinook; V-22 Ospreys; as well as larger fixed-wing options including the C-130 and C-130, C295, C-27J and A400M aircraft.
Such a capability allows a special operations task force to offset an assault team or special reconnaissance unit far enough away from an enemy position or area of operation to remain undetected (generally 10 kilometers for rotary wing platforms), before progressing onto target much more quickly than on foot and with the added capability of ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance), firepower and protection integrated into the vehicle itself.
During a decade of special operations in Iraq and Afghanistan during the 2000s, conducted by NATO and non-NATO entity (NNE) SOF task forces in partnership with indigenous security forces, such a CONOP was routinely used to approach target areas although assault teams would often progress by foot after being dropped at offset distances in order to maintain the element of surprise.
Speaking to Special Operations International, General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems (GDOTS), business director for lightweight tactical vehicle programs, Mike Iacobucci, explained how these current trends continued to concentrate on the delivery of interoperable options (for closer cooperation with NATO and NNE partners) as well as capability to travel long distances organically and without any requirement for resupply.
Referring to the contemporary operating environment, he explained: “Most places where enemy forces are operating, tend to be much further away and on purpose in some cases. So, in order to get SOF onto a target, they need an ITV capability so that when the aircraft hits the ground, generally offset by some distance, it can rapidly move to a point on the ground where the enemy are located and employ special operators.
“The international SOF community recognizes the need to employ some kind of mobility platform from the back of an aircraft which allows a SOF team to rapidly move to an objective. If a vehicle is configurable and can accommodate significant payload including a suite of weapons, then that’s all the better,” Iacobucci continued.
Such thoughts were reinforced by Polaris Defense’s director for international business development, Doug Malikowski, who explained to Special Operations International how requirements for enhanced off-road mobility were now driving the special operation vehicle market forward.
“When SOF teams move, these vehicles can move with them and that’s an issue that has come up over the past few years with both U.S. and allied SOF moving personnel around the battlespace fairly quickly. However, the problem has been that when they are on target, they don’t have the vehicles needed to conduct such maneuvers around a target area,” he explained while describing how cut-off teams could be regularly employed to interdict enemy combatants fleeing a contact.
Current Market Conditions
The international special operations vehicle market continues to thrive in today’s operating environment, particularly in line with irregular and unconventional warfare requirements arising out of ongoing engagements in the Middle East against so-called Islamic State (IS); counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations in West, North and East Africa; countering a resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan; and Russian aggression in eastern Europe.
The U.S. Special Operations Command continues to lead the way in the procurement of such vehicles, with force elements including the U.S. Navy SEALs, U.S. Army Special Forces, US Air Force Special Operations Command and MARSOC Raider teams all benefiting from such capabilities in the form of the Ground Mobility Vehicle 1.1 program amongst other initiatives.
However, such popularity is not exclusive to the U.S.. Elsewhere, the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command (CANSOFCOM) has begun the solicitation process ahead of its next generation fighting vehicle and ultra lightweight combat vehicle concepts, designed to provide enhanced mobility, protection and firepower to Canadian Special Operations Regiment and Joint Task Force 2 force elements.
According to defense sources associated with CANSOFCOM, units require a “tactical, multi-role special operations vehicle capable of incorporating weapons, mobility and survivability” to replace in-service HMMWV platforms across a multitude of environments including desert warfare (currently being conducted by force elements as part of a train, advise and assist operation in Iraq) through to cold weather operations in the Arctic Circle.
CANSOFCOM is expected to publish a decision on the future of the NGFV program later in 2016 with a preferred bidder likely to be selected in 2018, industry sources explained to Special Operations International.
Outside North America, Europe also remains a healthy market for special operations vehicles, particularly given the current operating environment and emphasis on CT and COIN operations at home and abroad. Special forces in France, Belgium and the UK continue to ramp up capabilities in this area while eastern European NATO partners, particularly across the Baltic states, seek to bolster long range patrol and direct action mobility platforms to counter an increasingly active Russian threat.
Currently contracted to USSOCOM under the GMV1.1 program is GDOTS’ Flyer 72 vehicle, which on March 27, 2016, received the go-ahead to begin deliveries to the various force elements. The decision to proceed with deliveries followed operational test and evaluation at the U.S. Army’s Special Operations Command Test and Evaluation Division at the Aberdeen Training Center, Md., and Automotive Test Center in Nev., which focused on mobility, protection and lethality.
This evaluation identified a requirement for a total of 70 modifications to be made following tests run by operators, army sources explained to Special Operations International. Improvements included modifications to the hood of the Flyer 72 to allow for more efficient air intake of the engine as well as alterations to the top turret particularly relating to ammunition stowage.
The decision to begin fielding vehicles to USSOCOM units follows a contract award in August 2013, worth $562 million, to GDOTS for the delivery of 1,300 GMV1.1 vehicles although only 650 have received funding to date.
Explaining how approximately 100 vehicles would be delivered each year, Iacobucci added: “Our goal for 2016 is to get the capability more broadly into the hands of operators across the SOF community and provide feedback as to modifications and design recommendations.
“Right now, we are at about an 80 percent solution but we expect it to get to a 95 percent or 100 percent solution after service with a number of SOF ‘tribes’, all of which have specific requirements for vehicles and designs. We are trying to accommodate those differences in opinions as to how they want the vehicle to react. It’s a challenge but shows the modular nature of vehicle. We have done a good job getting user feedback,” he added.
The Flyer 72 vehicle itself measures 72 inches wide, meaning it can be employed as an ITV and carried on board CH/MH-47s and C-130s. With a capability to carry a payload of 5,000 pounds (lbs.), the Flyer 72 has proven its capability to transport a total of nine fully equipped personnel as well as multiple weapons mounts, ammunition crates and C4ISTAR (command and control, communications, computers and ISTAR) suite.
With a top speed of 100mph, the Flyer 72 has a maximum cruising range up to 650 miles over flat terrain. With gross vehicle weight of 10,600 lbs,, the vehicle is powered by a 195 horsepower (hp) diesel engine.
The vehicle is also undergoing an evaluation program with UK Special Forces (UKSF), according to industry sources, following the cancellation of an ITV program conducted in 2015 due to strict width requirements.
However, looking ahead to this year’s Eurosatory conference in Paris, Iacobucci explained to Special Operations International how the company was “finalizing” a Foreign Military Sale to an undisclosed NATO country in Europe, worth a total of EUR5million. This deal, he explained, would pave the way for future European contracts.
A Flyer 72 will be on display in Paris with variants also made available to European countries for trials should they be required, with Iacobucci explaining: “We intend to conduct a trial in Europe, making it available for other countries to participate and get hands on the vehicle which is one of the things they have always asked for.”
GDOTS’ Flyer 60 ITV is also under contract to the U.S. Air Force Special Operations Command with a total of just three platforms having been delivered to the command. A further seven vehicles are included in the contract although funding has yet to be confirmed for these moving forward.
The Flyer 60 has been designed as an ITV for CV-22, designed to “fill operational gaps in fixed and rotary wing ground mobility deployment requiring a lightweight, mobile, air transportable vehicle capable of being rapidly reconfigured for a variety of mission needs,” a GDOTS spokesperson explained.
The vehicle is capable of carrying a 3,500 lbs. payload at speeds up to 75mph across a cruising range of 450 miles. Measuring 60in in width, the vehicle is powered by a 1.9L 195hp six-speed engine. The vehicle features four weapon mounts for the integration of 5.56mm, 7.62mm and 0.50 cal. machine guns and 40mm automatic grenade launchers.
Also contracted to USSOCOM and other international SOF organizations worldwide is Polaris Defense’s family of MRZR ITVs, including the MRZR-2 and MRZR-4. The company was awarded a $83 million contract in August 2015 by the command to deliver a mix of vehicles over a five year period.
The MRZR-2, which has been designed to carry two personnel, measures 60in in width with capability to carry a 1,000 lbs. payload. The larger MRZR-4 however, capable of carrying four personnel, has a payload capacity of 1,500 lbs., according to Polaris Defense.
Both vehicle variants are powered by an 88 hp electronic fuel injection engine, allowing vehicles to travel at a top speed of 60mph and feature collapsible roll cages for easier stowage on board transport helicopters and fixed wing aircraft.
Elsewhere in North America, Polaris Defense is closely monitoring the CANSOFCOM Enhanced All Terrain Vehicle (EATV) competition while the company also continues to market both variants to customers in Europe, the Middle East, Asia Pacific and Africa with several undisclosed contracts agreed with armed forces since February 2016.
Polaris also unveiled two new vehicle variants at the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference (SOFIC) in Tampa, Florida on 24th May. The company exhibited a turbo diesel (MRZR-D) variant, engineered to the same standard specifications of the original MRZR platforms although the upgrade provides increased auxiliary power and range, as Jed Leonard, senior manager at the company explained, “The new turbo diesel powertrain is significant in reducing the logistics burden for select U.S. services and many foreign militaries that have strict requirements for diesel fuel.”
Internationally, the company has also completed final deliveries of its Deployable Advanced Ground Off-Road (DAGOR) special forces vehicles to Australia’s Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) as well as 1st and 2nd Commando Units, which form the backbone of the country’s Special Operations Command.
The DAGOR, which also completed an evaluation exercise with the UAE Special Operations Command between June and September 2015, is capable of transporting 9 personnel at ranges out to 500miles. With a maximum payload of 3,250lbs, the vehicle is also capable of carrying bergans, light, medium and heavy machine gun options or automatic grenade launcher, dependent upon mission requirements.
Renault Trucks Defense
In France, Renault Trucks Defense (RTD) have begun the delivery of light and heavy special forces vehicles to the French Special Forces Command to replace in-service platforms including Panhard and ACMAT solutions.
A EUR250million contract was signed on 7th January 2016 for the delivery of 443 vehicles in both light (240) and heavy (203) configurations with an initial delivery of 25 systems fielded as an urgent operational requirement for CT and COIN missions in Africa and potentially the Middle East. French Special Forces remain heavily invested in Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Mali and Cameroon and have called upon strategic partner Lithuania to assist in operations in order for them to consider sending a special operations task force to assist in coalition operations against IS.
The remaining tranche of vehicles is expected to be delivered to force elements through to 2018 with French Special Forces officials describing how the systems would be used for “demanding missions, such as intelligence or neutralization actions in depth in hostile areas as discreetly as possible and aims to improve interoperability and performance level of the vehicle park of Army, Air Force and Navy special forces.”
Vehicles comprise specially designed variations of RTD’s Sherpa Light and Heavy Special Forces vehicles, the former of which is a 4×4 tactical and light armored solution capable of being forward mounted on board A400M and C-130 aircraft.
With a gross vehicle weight of 8 tons, the Sherpa Light is capable of carrying a 2 tons payload at maximum speed of 110kph. The vehicle has a maximum operating range of 800km with capacity to carry up to four personnel.
A spokesperson for RTD explained that “The Sherpa Light family of 4×4 tactical and light armored vehicles is designed to provide light forces (infantry, paratroopers, marines, internal security) with the best mobility/payload compromise of its category, ideally suited for special forces thanks to its all-terrain agility, autonomy and pre-disposal for 360-degree firepower. It is also able to support mine and ballistic protection kits.”
KADDB and Jankel Group
Neighboring Belgium is also in the process of receiving an uplift in its Special Forces vehicle capability with the introduction of the Jankel Group’s Fox Rapid Reaction Vehicle. On 19th January 2016, it emerged that Belgium’s Special Forces Group (SFG) would receive a total of 108 vehicles.
Developed in collaboration with Jordan’s King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB), the Fox features a Toyota Land Cruiser chassis and provides operators with a 1.4 tons payload allowing teams to conduct direct action, special reconnaissance and military assistance operations. With a maximum operating range of 1,200km, the platform can be internally transported inside CH-47, A400M and C-130 aircraft.
The vehicle comprises options for a 4.2L turbo-charged or 4.5L V8 intercooled diesel engine as well as 4L V6 petrol engine. According to Jankel Group officials, the vehicle has been designed to “…fulfil a variety of roles in order to offer the most cost effective capability, designed to provide leading weight carrying capacity, alongside affordability, high mobility and operational versatility.”
Also working in collaboration with Jankel Group in the development of the J8 military vehicle is Jeep which is currently marketing its Pegasus Special Operations Vehicle. Based on the same chassis, the vehicle has been designed for light strike operations and special reconnaissance missions.
The vehicle can be transported internally on board a CH-47 with the capability to carry a 1,500kg payload as part of its 4,500kg gross vehicle weight. The Pegasus is powered by a 2.8L turbo-charged and intercooled diesel engine with ground clearance of 27.4cm for maneuverability over arduous terrain.
Elsewhere, UAE-based Nimr Automotive continues to promote its Ajban Special Operations Vehicle, which last year took part in the UAE Special Operations Command trials alongside the Polaris Defense Dagor platform. The 4×4 vehicle is designed for long range reconnaissance missions and was first unveiled to the SOF community in February 2015.
Company officials explained to Special Operations International how the company displayed a production variant of the vehicle in mid-June, signaling its availability to the international market. Capable of carrying up to five personnel, the Ajban boasts a gross vehicle weight of 7,500kg with top speed of 110kph and maximum operating range of 700km.
The vehicle can be fitted with a variety of armament and is powered by a 300HP, six-cylinder diesel engine with options for upgrade to 360HP variant if demanded. It measures 2.13m in width allowing it to be transported inside CH-47 and C-130 as an ITV.
In February 2015, the UAE Armed Forces signed a $330 million deal with NIMR Automotive which included the procurement of 550 Ajban 4×4 SOVs in a variety of configurations, including open-top for maximum situation awareness. Vehicles also come with standard Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) systems allowing for integration of an intelligent power management system and associated C4ISTAR systems.
Additionally, industry sources suggested to Special Operations International that the company was also planning to unveil a new special forces vehicle (SFV) to the market later in 2016. Nimr Automotive was unable to provide further details.
The special operations vehicle market continues to widen with multiple other companies continuing to offer up solutions to the SOF community worldwide. Candidates include Northrop Grumman’s Hellhound vehicle, unveiled at the AUSA event in Washington, D.C., in October 2015.
The 4×4 light reconnaissance vehicle is fitted with a stowable M230LF 30mm cannon integrated on board the EOS Technologies R-400 remote weapon station, capable of carrying up to six personnel. The vehicle can be carried as ITV on board CH-47 and is available with Pratt and Miller collision avoidance system; rear-facing camera and radar.
Elsewhere, Supacat unveiled its Light Reconnaissance Vehicle (LRV) 400 Mk II at the Defence and Security Exhibition International (DSEI) event in London during September 2015, designed as a lighter weight option in comparison to its HMT 400 and 600 vehicles currently in service with multiple Tier I SOF organizations globally, including UKSF and USSOCOM’s JSOC. The platform is capable of carrying a 1,700kg payload at speeds up to 160kph, with a maximum operating range of 800km, according to company officials.
Soframe of France recently showed off two new special operations forces vehicles, the Outfielder and the Venpir. The 4×4 Outfielder is the lighter of the two vehicles designed for a crew of three with a ring mount designed for up to 12.7 mm and various swing mounts for 7.62 mm weapons. Gross vehicle weight is about 5,500 kg and has a maximum speed of about 120 km/h. Venpir is described as a rapid intervention special operations vehicle. Still a 4×4, it weighs more than twice as much as Outfielder and can carry a crew of five.
Promoted as a modular system for special forces, KMW of Germany has the SOV—Special Operations Vehicle which is an air transportable 4×4 that can be carried internally in a CH-47/-53 by folding down the roll bars. The effective combat range is offered at about 900 km while carrying crews of up to five operators. SOV has a payload of about 2.5 tons and can carry weapons up to the 12.7 mm machine gun and or 40 mm grenade launchers. The vehicle can also accommodate additional armor for the cab alone or the entire body for a more comprehensive armored personnel carrier. Argo offers a unique twist for a special operations platform. Although somewhat small, their 8×8 all terrain vehicles—including fully amphibious—offers a high level of tactical mobility. The vehicle was recently evaluated by Spanish special forces.
Other options include HDT’s Storm SRTV which is also deployable as an ITV on board CH-47, CH-53 and C-130 aircraft, Valentin Tusch’s VT Hunter is a open tactical vehicle carried internally in a C-130 (three vehicles), a CH-47 (two vehicles) or one carried externally by a Black Hawk helicopter, Achleitner offers the Speedfighter 55 and Speedfighter 100 in SOF configuration, Iveco’s Special Forces Light Multirole Vehicle (LM V), and Uro’s Vamtac line of tactical vehicles has a special operations variant. As discussed in Special Operations International’s April 2016 issue, both Battelle and Navistar have developed non standard vehicles for the special operations community.
Bright Future for SOVs
As the appetite for drawn-out conventional campaigns similar to those conducted in Iraq and Afghanistan lessens, more and more emphasis is being placed upon force multiplying special operations task forces capable of executing missions at reach and across arduous terrain.
The special operations vehicle, particularly in ITV form, is set to revolutionize the survivability, lethality and mobility of small units deployed to conduct offensive action and special reconnaissance taskings against highly mobile and effective enemy forces.