Military trucks are essential for military operations and need to be modernised in
line with the latest developments on the battlefield.
Military logistics have always been at the heart of military operations. As a rule, armed forces involved in operations are geographically distant from their home locations. Logistical support is essential to provide them with weapons and military equipment in addition to food and non-food items. The further away the theatre is, the more important logistics become in terms of troop support. Logistics must, therefore, adapt to deployment scenarios. In particular, efforts have been made to better align logistics with the growing need for mobility and new operating theatres. Ideally, logistics should consist of two segments: the majority of support runs along the second line, and a more flexible ‘last mile logistics’ supports troops operating on the front line. Nevertheless, the fact that more and more military operations are taking place in remote areas is leading to increasing demands. For example, troops involved in anti-terrorist operations in African desert areas will need additional water and food supplies as well as weapons. In this case, their logistical ‘footprint’ will be considerable.
The development of increasingly powerful military transport aircraft and technological innovations, for example in the field of water desalination and purification, has reduced the impact of supplies on military operations. New ‘last mile’ logistics solutions to increase flexibility are also being explored, including the use of unmanned solutions.
Nevertheless, heavy military trucks remain at the heart of military logistics, making wheeled systems widely used within the armed forces. Our focus here will be on the latest developments in operational requirements and on the major European programmes currently being implemented.
Operational Requirements for Heavy Trucks
Over the past decade, the functional principles of heavy trucks have changed dramatically. As European armies are increasingly exposed to harsh weather conditions and physical geography, the demand for trucks that can be used in non-permissive environments is growing. The trucks offered by European companies are usually commercial vehicle designs. Compared to their predecessors, they have low life-cycle costs and low fuel consumption, which is an indispensable prerequisite for the armed forces in their constant search for cost-effective solutions – even when budget constraints are considered.
In addition, the new-generation military trucks are characterised by a high degree of modularity, which increases their flexibility and adaptability to operational requirements. In line with the requirements of the armed forces, these vehicles have integrated logistical support functions that maximise modularity and extend the operational life cycle of the vehicles regardless of operating conditions. In addition, the armed forces are particularly interested in air-transportable systems that can be moved easily overseas. Furthermore, the most recent military heavy truck programmes require armoured cabins and the use of armoured axles.
The Importance of the Armoured Component
A growing number of defence companies are offering customers heavy armoured trucks to protect them from direct small arms fire and indirect artillery fire. In general, some level of protection against ballistic threats is a ‘win’. Although the role of heavy trucks has not changed over time and remains essentially a second line duty – mainly related to logistical support – the demand for armoured military trucks is driven by two key factors.
First, increasing artillery ranges even put second lines under fire in case of attack. Second, the use in harsh operating theatres, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, where IEDs are widely used, has led users to protect logistics vehicles. The need to reduce the susceptibility of trucks to ballistic threats from explosives and mines has led to the development of an armoured undercarriage that better protects crews and payloads. Armoured undercarriages also have a positive impact on stability in rough terrain, payload and maintenance. In fact, armoured trucks can actually carry heavier payloads without damaging the structure of the vehicle.
Armoured driver’s cabs and undercarriage make trucks more resilient and help to better meet the new operational requirements, thereby stimulating demand for these vehicles. As a result, the supply of the latest generation of vehicles offered by European companies has increased in recent years and several armed forces have procured such vehicles or plan to do so in the near future.
The Supply Side
Iveco, one of the largest manufacturers of military trucks in Europe, has met the growing demand for protected cabins by developing 4×4, 6×6 and 8×8 armoured cabins, which can be mounted on the TRAKKER chassis, resulting in more cost-effective logistics vehicles. The ballistic steel cabin replaces the commercial basic cabin. The entire range of Iveco vehicles is based on the modularity principle to allow better adaptation while maintaining an optimum combination of performance, protection and payload. This means that the user can deliver material and high quality goods as close as possible to the ‘line of fire’. At Eurosatory 2018, Iveco presented the latest vehicles developed as part of the ‘High Mobility’ family and is used by the Italian, Spanish and Romanian Armed Forces in various configurations. During the show, the Italian manufacturer also unveiled the TRAKKER 8×8 armoured vehicle, which will equip the German Bundeswehr. TRAKKER, one of the company’s bestsellers, was also recently purchased by the Swiss Army.
The Czech company Tatra – one of the oldest in Eastern Europe – offers several tailor-made lorries enabling heavy loads to be transported and, due to the unique TATRA chassis, driven at high speed on often difficult terrain. Optimised for defence users, TATRA trucks are offered in configurations ranging from 4X4 to 12X12. A range of vehicles can be obtained in armoured versions, using cabins with ballistic and mine protection. These belong to the T-815-7 models specifically designed for military use, with the exception of the 8X8 heavy-duty chassis cabin that, in its basic version, is always equipped with an armoured cabin. Vehicles of this class can also be transported with the C-130 transport aircraft. TATRA trucks are available in a freight/troop carrier, container, truck, salvage and pontoon transport configurations. They are in service worldwide and are used for military and peacekeeping operations.
The TATRA chassis, a further development of a technology developed in the early 1900s, makes the company’s manufactured chassis so powerful that it forms the basis for various MRAP vehicles, namely the French Nexter TITUS, the Czech SVOV VEGA and Brazilian AVIBRAS ASTROS. In 2017, the Danish Army selected the TATRA chassis as the weapon platform for the Nexter CAESAR 8×8 self-propelled howitzer, making it the first country to adopt such a configuration. In particular, the Danish howitzers, which are expected to be delivered by the end of the decade, will be equipped with the four-axle TATRA FORCE chassis and other technical features manufactured by the company, such as the driveline and gearshift.
The German producer Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles (RMMV) offers a wide range of military trucks to enhance customer logistics. As a result of their remarkable off-road capabilities and their holders specifically designed to carry special military equipment such as rifles, trucks belonging to the TGA series can support troops even in the most difficult terrains. In addition, tankers or tank tractor versions are also available. Vehicles of the HX series, developed from the commercial TGA class, feature high mobility and air transportability. The low-torsion ladder and the particular suspension make these trucks available in 4×4 to 10×10 variants while remaining comfortable and resistant at the same time. The strong adaptability to all military purposes is the key characteristic that made the Australian, Danish, Norwegian and Swedish Armed Forces all choose these models. As they are based on commercial solutions, these trucks are known for their limited life-cycle costs.
The company also offers two crew protection systems, namely the Modular Armoured Cabin (MAC) and Integrated Armoured Cabin (IAC). Rheinmetall also has the 6×6 YAK armoured and mini-protected multi-purpose transport vehicle on offer. Shelter’s modularity allows the vehicle to be modified to fit the required mission profile. The cabin of this 13.5t-class vehicle (with 5.5 tonnes of payload) can be armoured due to an add-on baseline protection.
As a result of their century-long experience in military trucks, another German producer, Mercedes-Benz, provides a wide range of military trucks to around 80 armed forces worldwide. Their lengthy experience in the truck domain has made the company capable of developing high performing vehicles, which ensure a high operational readiness even in harsh conditions due to their chassis, traction and suspension design. In particular, their offers include any class of vehicles, weighting between three and 35 tonnes, each providing specific off-road capabilities.
The three variants belonging to the AROCS class medium and heavy duty, all-wheel-drive tractor, ALTEGO for light duty jobs, and ZETROS tractor for medium off-road capabilities. Trucks belonging to the UNIMOG class, based on the chassis of the same name, provide superior off-road performances. The 14.5t-class UNIMOG special chassis provides not only mobility and versatility but also a balanced load capacity, even in its armoured versions.
Arquus (ex-Renault Defence Trucks) offers a wide range of wheeled trucks, including two families of tactical trucks, namely VLRA and ARMIS. Vehicles belonging to the VLRA class are an evolution of the successful VLRA 1 class, with over 12,000 vehicles sold worldwide. These logistics and support carriers, available in 4×4 and 6×6 versions, respond to the requirements of the armed forces in terms of modularity, low life-cycle cost and deployability in complex environments. The all-terrain capabilities are enhanced as a result of a low gooseneck chassis and all-wheel-drive, allowing for easy maintenance. The possibility to choose between electronised and non-electronised engines and manual/automatic drive increases the vehicles’ versatility, without negatively affecting agility and contributing to easy maintenance. The different variants include also TORPEDO, a truck specifically designed for special forces’ needs.
The 6×6 trucks belonging to the ARMIS class respond as well to the operational requirements of the armed forces as a result of remarkable all-terrain capabilities and the MOTS chassis. These vehicles are reported to be performing outstandingly for mounting weapon systems, equipment and supplies, for frontline logistics and troop transport. Approximately 250 vehicles are already in service with the French Army as carriers for logistic support and CAESAR artillery systems.
Scania launched last year a new generation of trucks featuring new characteristics drawn from the mix between armed forces’ needs and the companies consolidated experience in trucks and engines. For instance, the R500 B6X6 vehicle, presented at Eurosatory 2018, is a serially produced truck that has been adapted to military Not sure the value of the sentence after the comma so suggest ending it at ‘needs’. According to them, the fact that military vehicles maintain the main features and come from the same production line of commercial vehicles provides users with remarkable advantages in terms of support and costs. Another peculiarity of Scania vehicles come from the possibility to replace unprotected cabins with protected ones in less than 24 hours, and also from the fact that both cabins share the same driver interface, therefore not requiring any form of specific training.
The Demand Side
As a result of the considerations mentioned above, several European countries are modernising their logistic vehicles’ fleets in order to respond better to their operational requirements.
The annex to the French Loi de programmation militaire 2019-2025 states that France will purchase 7,000 new trucks by 2030 to replace its ageing fleet of Renault GBC 180 6×6 tactical vehicles, which entered service some 50 years ago and reconditioned about 30 years ago. According to available details, this large programme to replace French logistic vehicles will progress slowly, as the French Army is expected to receive only 80 vehicles by 2025 – risible numbers when compared to the demands on logistics that French external operations require.
In the summer of 2017, the German procurement authority BAAINBw awarded RMMV with a €90Bn framework contract under the UTF programme, which aims at supplying the Bundeswehr with transport vehicles belonging to the five tonne and 15 tonne classes. The company is expected to deliver up to 2,271 vehicles belonging to the HX2 family, 558 trucks of which in the first batch, in an unprotected configuration (protections for the cab could also be added if required). In 2018, the Bundeswehr ordered 137 Rheinmetall HX81 vehicles, in addition to a first order of 32 trucks to be delivered between 2019 and 2020. In 2017, they have also renewed their fleet of Iveco vehicles (1,000 tracks supplied over the last decade) by procuring 280 EUROCARGO 4×4 (ordered in 2017) and 133 armoured TRAKKER 8×8.
RMMV vehicles are also in the inventories of the British Army, which signed a contract with the British-based MAN Truck in 2008 for the supply of Medium mobility and improved medium mobility trucks of the HX family, in six, nine and 15 tonne versions. MAN military logistic vehicles, belonging to the UNIMOG and the TGM classes, are also in use in the Austrian Armed Forces.
The inventories of Italy, Spain and Belgium mainly consist of Iveco-produced vehicles. Spain chose Iveco as multi-purpose military truck supplier in 2015. The contract consists of 700 high mobility vehicles, belonging to different variants (4×4, 6×6 and 8×8), to be delivered over a six-year time-frame Italy also procured Iveco vehicles belonging to the High mobility class in almost any available version. Finally, the logistic component of the Belgian Army consists of Iveco M250 (2013) and EUROTRAKKER type trucks.
After a long tender for the replacement of defence vehicles, the Dutch Army had first selected Scania as participant in a competitive dialogue, and then awarded them the contract for 237 vehicles in configurations from 4×4 to 8×8. According to the country’s requirements, the contract includes support managed by Scania’s facilities in the Netherlands, as the modularity that characterises these trucks establishes a strong commonality with the other Scania programmes. Vehicles for the verification and test phases were handed out in mid-2018, with deliveries expected from 2019 to 2022. Trucks will all be delivered with unprotected cabins, which can be replaced by protected ones depending on customer need.
While Poland is among those European countries that are modernising their military trucks, it decided to buy nationally due to a contract signed with Jelcz who will provide 888 special-high mobility vehicles to be delivered between 2019 and 2022. The order included the third batch of 442.32 class trucks (4×4 vehicles with six tonne maximum payload), which have been serving with the Polish Army since 2013.
Although the use of trucks for military logistics dates back to the 1900s, heavy armoured trucks have become increasingly important in today’s armed forces. Although their role has not changed over time, the demand of armoured cabs is now common due to the increased range of artillery systems and the consequent impact on truck vulnerability. Armoured chassis are also becoming more important as they are at the core of the development of heavy armoured trucks, providing better protection from IEDs while allowing for sensibly increasing the payload of heavier vehicles. Armoured military trucks are expected to maintain their leading role in logistics for at least another decade to come. Nevertheless, the future of logistics lies with unmanned ground technologies that are currently under development. As armed forces search for the ‘perfect balance’ between cost-efficiency and troop protection, the possibility to rely on unmanned solutions will probably be a ‘game changer’ in military logistics. However, today’s products hint that these technologies will be used for last mile logistics first, while second line duties will continue to be performed by heavy trucks for a long time. Moreover, COTS-inspired solutions for less demanding missions are likely to continue populating the most cost-effective procurement programmes in the medium term. Indeed, these technologies are not only consolidated, but also easier to maintain due to commonalities with commercial vehicles, for instance, in terms of spare parts.
Giulia Tilenni is an analyst in international affairs based in Paris, France.