All terrain – next-generation armoured vehicles

4 July 2014

In the future, as they take on new roles and deal with emerging threats, the UK’s armoured vehicles will need to be more adaptable and interoperable than ever before. Elly Earls speaks to Brigadier Ian Rigden OBE, the DCDC’s head of land and research, to find out more.

The UK is at a strategic moment; as an era dominated by enduring land campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan slowly draws to a close, globalisation brings new security challenges to the fore, and the ubiquity of the internet and other advancements in technology make security in the cyber-realm just as important as it is in the real world. When it comes to the combat environment on land, adaptability and interoperability are going to be more key than ever for military vehicles, as will be the need to respond to a growing number of threats - physical and digital.

Looking to the years leading up to 2030, the role of the UK's armed forces is set to become wider. Not only will it continue to demonstrate its ability to conduct demanding, decisive combat operations to deter or defeat its adversaries, but it will also contribute significantly to defence engagement. This could involve military intervention to deal with emerging crises, developing an understanding of emerging threats or providing broad humanitarian assistance, as the UK seeks to build long-term stability overseas.

Crucially, as is laid down in the Defence Concept and Doctrine Centre (DCDC's) 'Future Land Operating Concept' (FLOC) of 2012, both are necessary, as "credible hard power provides the foundation of soft power; defence engagement makes a key military contribution to this", and the capability to wield both "requires an adaptable and integrated approach".

"We are now resetting our focus to contingency and forward engagement, with our armed forces still delivering their traditional role while taking on wider utility," confirms Brigadier Ian Rigden, head of land and research at DCDC, a centre that does not set policy, but that produces concepts and doctrines that underpin and inform decisions in defence strategy, and provides vital research and experimentation in future capability development and operations.

Adaptability: essential

Adaptability will be required from three different standpoints: being capable of taking on three distinct roles (contingent capability for defence and deterrence, defence engagement and overseas capacity building, and UK engagement and homeland resilience); being capable of adapting to many different terrains (increasingly, conflicts are likely to centre around complex urban environments, but other settings, such as the jungle, cannot be ignored); and, finally, being capable of responding to more and more complex and unknown threats.

The armoured vehicles used by the future land force must therefore be able to operate in as many roles and environments as possible, says Rigden.

"Future vehicles must be resilient and able to operate when digital IT systems cannot."

"Armoured vehicles will remain a vital asset to our armed forces. While we can never fully anticipate all eventualities, maintaining fully adaptable platforms will be key to meeting emerging threats," he states.

"We cannot design a vehicle that is suitable on all terrains, but we can design vehicles that can adapt to most. The jungle, for example, is terrain where armoured vehicles have limited utility, except on major routes and roads where standard vehicles can operate. We design vehicles around the most likely scenarios we might face in combat, while paying particular attention to potential emerging threats that may force us to change our approach radically."

Emerging threats

The battle space is undeniably growing in complexity, particularly as the UK looks to operate more and more overseas, where, according to FLOC 2012, adversaries will increasingly be equipped with a range of capabilities - from unsophisticated, low-end weapons to comprehensive, layered and integrated defences.

"The UK must be able to defend itself from all future emerging threats," Rigden emphasises. "Our requirement to retain professional armed forces as the nation's insurance policy remains, but we are also investing more in forward engagement overseas.

"While the asymmetric threat is nothing new, the ability of actors to use asymmetric techniques has increased. This is why we have refocused resources to ensure our armed forces are best placed to adapt to meet these kinds of threats, including cyberattacks."

Indeed, cyberpower is increasingly central to the operations of adversaries, just as the UK's armed forces, as well as its government, power and water supply, food distribution, emergency services and transport systems, are depending more and more heavily on advanced computer networks. Along with its advantages, this increasing reliance on IT has introduced significant vulnerabilities into the UK's infrastructure, making it essential for the country's armed forces to learn how to defend themselves and manoeuvre in cyberspace, just as they do on land or in the air.

When it comes to combat on land, vehicles must not only be able to protect their systems and information from cyberattack, but they must also be ready for the worst-case scenario.

"Future vehicles must be resilient and able to operate when digital IT systems cannot," Rigden explains.

Better together

Moving forward, collaboration and cooperation are set to be more important than they ever have been on the world's military stage, with different armed forces, government departments and agencies, as well as other key partners, increasingly leveraging each other's resources and expertise to succeed in operations. This could take the form of engaging with already established partners, such as France or NATO, or ad-hoc coalitions, but, whichever form cooperation takes, interoperability and interdependence will be a key priority for modern militaries.

For Rigden, this is an incredibly important point when it comes to the development of armoured vehicles.

"[Working with outsourced partners and allies] remains an important tool available to us.

"Moving forward, collaboration and cooperation are set to be more important than they ever have been on the world’s military stage."

"We will most likely operate in one form of coalition or another in the future, and we will need to be as interoperable as we possibly can with our most likely allies, particularly the US, France and NATO," he explains. "Collaboration and sharing is our preferred way of strengthening our alliances."

The MoD's future armoured vehicles

The MoD is moving forward on the acquisition of four different armoured vehicles - as well as bringing 2,000 protected mobility vehicles that were purchased for the war in Afghanistan into the army's core equipment programme - to meet future requirements. The four new vehicle types currently being investigated are as follows:

  • Multirole vehicle - protected (MRV-P): a lightweight protected support vehicle that will fill a number of command, control, administrative and logistics roles at unit and sub-unit level.
  • Protected battlefield ambulance: a broad project seeking to deliver a clinical white-space for the ambulance variants of a number of armoured and protected vehicles.
  • Lightweight (air-portable) recovery capability: a very-high-readiness deployable recovery capability in support of the Air Assault Task Force and the Lead Commando Group.
  • Non-articulated vehicle - protected (NAV-P): a protected large goods vehicle able to carry a 15t load using a palletised load system.

"The decision to develop these vehicle types has been based on the requirements to meet envisage threats and potential military tasks in future operating environments," Rigden notes, while a spokesperson for the MoD's Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) organisation adds that the new support vehicles will include improved levels of survivability, including protection, and fill capability gaps within the support fleet that are not being filled by the protected mobility vehicles that are currently being brought into the core programme.

"The work being carried out currently will define the concepts of employment and user requirements for each vehicle, identify the numbers required and establish if there are any vehicles that are on the market that could meet each requirement," the MoD spokesperson says.

On top of these four new vehicles, the fleet of serviceable, protected mobility vehicles, which will be brought into the MoD's core programme on their return from Afghanistan, includes 400 Mastiff vehicles, 160 Ridgebacks and 125 Wolfhounds. Rigden stresses that the drivers behind the decision to press these vehicles back into service are in no way budget related.

"These vehicles have a proven record on operations in Afghanistan and still have great utility," he says. "The C-IED threat will not go away when we leave Afghanistan, and they have broad utility in the UN and NATO peacekeeping roles."

As the programme moves forward, Rigden is equally keen to emphasise that budgetary restraints will not impact future decisions related to armoured vehicles.

"Our armed forces are backed by the fourth-largest defence budget in the world; we have a fully funded equipment plan worth £160 billion over the next ten years, which will ensure we have agile, adaptable forces ready to meet future threats," says Rigden."The decisions on how and when to spend this money will be taken on the basis of operational requirements."

As emerging threats increase in number and complexity, multination and multi-agency activities become more widespread, and the UK's policy of defence engagement continues, adaptability and interoperability will only become more important for the vehicles that will eventually be deployed in the operating environment of the future.

The future of the UK’s armoured vehicles will lie in their adaptability across all types of terrain, not just for the desert environments encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The heavily armoured Mastiff vehicle has seen use in Afghanistan.

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