John Cockerill at IAV 2021 - Innovation, Modularity, Lethality, Readiness3 February 2021
Military vehicles have come a long way since the 80s with the new generation of fleets adapting towards open architecture and modularity to keep up with innovation and advancements as they happen. John Cockerill is at the forefront of weapons modularity with innovative designs of turrets, to keep in line with current security threats faced by armoured vehicles. With operators spending much time in the hatch, what can be done to keep it flexible and adaptable, for a variety of mission scenarios in the field?
John Cockerill demonstrates its expertise, history and ingenuity of new designs, choosing to think outside the box in terms of traditional turrets, and preparing for a new future which includes disruptive technologies across SDR, AI and Situational Awareness to name a few.
DSSI spoke with Bear Midkiff, VP Sales & Marketing CEE, on the status quo of current military vehicle dilemmas, and what operators are looking for when it comes to preparing personnel for the next generation of combat scenarios.
The future of military vehicles seems to be adapting towards a near peer adversary, with modern military vehicles opting towards a modular design, how does John Cockerill envision current requirements for a turret design, which is mobile and adaptable to current threats in the field?
Bear Midkiff / John Cockerill:-
Your question is very interesting. The pressure for countries to replace their front-line conventional fighting forces, is a three part “Perfect Storm” if you will.
The first major influence driving the need to replace armored vehicle fleets is the wake-up call from the Post Cold War “Peace Dividend”. Some of the members of the Alliance have fleets of vehicles that are well over 40 years old. These were built at a time when the life span of an armored vehicle family was 15 to 20 years, no more.
Then Somewhere in the 2000s, Russia and China started paying attention to their armored fleets and generational change started to occur in the nature and missions of armored forces.
The final nail in the proverbial coffin is the wear and tear on the fleets due to the 20 year war on terror, as many countries were participating in actions from the peacekeeping in the Balkans, and very active war zones in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other conflict areas depending on which country you are in.
As I eluded to earlier, the roles and missions and what is critical in a vehicle has evolved during that time and the mission spectrum has expanded. This and the constant pressure on budgets drive the need for modularity. To use a very simple example that everyone can relate to: Armored vehicles in the 80s and even into the 90s, did not face the IED threat and therefore had much lower levels of protection underbelly and side. The Iron Triangle of Mobility-Firepower-Protection took a shift toward higher protection levels. In the 80s, in certain formations, tanks and armored vehicles in a formation might not even have a radio. Today, an open electronic architecture is a must and NGVA is a good start in establishing those standards.
Modularity is the natural progression of this changing environment. Countries need to have base vehicles and weapons systems that are going to provide superior performance over a long period of time, while being able to flex for different mission profiles. Modularity and the ability to quickly integrate new technologies are the fundamentals of value in tomorrows armored fleets.
With that in mind, we are already working on the technological building blocks to allow us to offer optionally manned solutions in the future. Systems such as SDR for secure communications, AI based automatic threat detection, enhanced situational awareness and improved HMI solutions are all under development today at John Cockerill.
Military vehicles are facing multiple dilemmas in the design stage, including the need to be mobile, lightweight, and ample enough to deal with new dangers in the field, how does the Cockerill range offer up to date firepower to defeat adversaries in the field?
Bear Midkiff / John Cockerill:-
There is an old joke, what does an engineer and politician have in common? They both have mastered the art of compromise…
I think there is a culture or philosophy to our weapons platforms. As you may know the company celebrated 200 years in business a few years ago and we have been producing weapons platforms since 1835. Our engineers are always challenging themselves and us with thoughts about how to be better and how to think outside the box.
For example, with our new Cockerill© Protected Weapons System Gen II; we have the most creative hatch that I believe exist in the world. The CPWS Gen II is a very light weight 25mm x 173 or 30mm x 113mm turret designed to be used on 6X6 or 4X4 vehicles. The turret pretty much defines flexibility. It is an optionally manned platform, that can be operated remotely, or the gunner can stand in the turret. The hatch can be: closed for full protection; slightly lifted, so the gunner can observe 360° observation around the vehicle, while maintaining protection above his head, or the commander can lift the hatch to the front providing protection in the direction of the weapon and finally for peacekeeping force demonstration, he may decide to take the hatch completely off. It’s this kind of creative thinking based on interviews with soldiers coming back from operations that gives inspiration to find the “New” ideas that keep us moving forward.
I would like to take the time to talk about the things you will find true of all our products! The John Cockerill DNA. We start with the soldier / operator. The operator always has to have an opportunity to fight back, so you will find layers of redundancy in our systems that provide our crews the maximum flexibility to fight, from Killer / Killer engagements down to and including manual sighting and firing solutions.
You will find the turret comfortable to be in and work in. Soldiers spend weeks living inside these vehicles and making a turret that is optimized for space may sound like a good idea, but if you can’t move around, reload, perform emergency actions, or assist your fellow crew member, then the turret is not practical. Finally, you will find reliability. I have never seen a company that test and retest and certifies to such a level as John Cockerill. When you make our turrets a part of your military, you are getting a system that is going to provide great service for many years.
The role of the IFV of the future seems to be evolving with multiple designs, how has JC managed to stay at the forefront of designers, and why is your range of capabilities so popular in the current marketplace?
All our recent designs from the 3000 series up are designed and built starting with Ballistic aluminum, so in the large caliber (105mm) configuration of our 3000 series, we are well over two tons lighter than our main competitors. This becomes very interesting when you start to look at upgrade programs and light to medium weight vehicle platforms.
The IFV, especially the tracked IFV is becoming a heavyweight on the battlefield. You are looking at vehicles that are 40 tons plus. Even the more advanced and heavily protected 8X8s are in the 30 tons plus area, so being able to save weight is important. It is not difficult to imagine these vehicles as more than just an Infantry Transport System like they were in the past. We at JCD believe there’s a real requirement to combine these forces with larger caliber firepower, which was the entire concept behind the 3000 series. Imagine a mixed fleet of 30/40mm IFVs, operating with their own indigenous 105mm assault guns next to them on the same vehicle? If you are moving, Especially in an urban environment and come around the corner and meet a tank: setting up for and engaging that tank will take time, often too much time. With the 105mm, you can engage right away and even if you didn’t “kill” the tank, I guarantee his sights and likely his tracks don’t work anymore.
So yes, we see this need to have both and the 3000 series provides 70% parts interoperability and if you are using the same vehicle, think what that means for the logistics chain? Then you can add the significantly reduced training delta due to the same MMI and the same software; now you have ultimate flexibility through modularity.
What do you really like about the approach of John Cockerill Defense?
As an independent turret manufacturer, this give us the ability to really partner with a customer and fine tune his system to his requirements. If you have a turret that comes from a supplier that has lots of other bells and whistles, often he is more worried about how much of his additional kit he can add on. There’s a story to the fact that it works together but everything might not be best in class. In some cases it might leave you completely reliant on one supplier and if he doesn’t perform well, then your entire fleet suffers. We are aware of some customers whose fleets have had abhorrent readiness rates, due to the poor readiness of the weapons system. Remember, the fight in the fighting vehicle comes from the turret.
What is out there for the future of JCD, what’s around the corner?
We all are very excited for IDEX. There will be some new product announcements as well as some partnerships in terms of cooperation. I don’t want to spoil the fun or the excitement around those announcements, but I will tell you one other thing we see in the market, that might give you a hint.
In addition to the perfect storm that is driving the renewal of heavy armored fleets, there is an additional lesson to be learned from the 20 years of various levels of fighting during the War on Terror. That lesson is “Every vehicle needs to be capable of defending itself”. There’s no rear area on the battlefield anymore. Light weight medium caliber systems of 25mm X 137mm, 30mmX 113mm and 30mm X 173mm are the only things that provide the overmatch necessary on the battlefield. I am always quoting LTG (R) Ben Hodges said “A fifty caliber machine gun is a great weapon to get into a fire fight with but a 30mm will get you out of it”.
This means a lot more weapons systems are needed on the battlefield and not all of them can take a full 30mm X 173mm solution. The M242 is a better direct fire weapon than the M230LF, but the 230LF has advantages in air burst capabilities, which help in the counter UAV role. We see customers needing the flexibility to have one system but possibly a mix of weapons to maximize their efficiency to service a wider range of targets on the battlefield. Especially when it comes to robotics… I think that’s a good place to stop.
International Armoured Vehicles is one of the leading events for future military vehicle procurement. The event has been running annually since 2001 and has a growing discussion on the threats facing armies in the field, and what defence organisations should be prioritising for their next generation of platforms.https://www.defenceiq.com/events-iav-online/