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The gathering pace of experimentation with electric propulsion was a key takeaway at this year’s Defence IQ International Armoured Vehicles conference (IAV23), held at Twickenham in London from 23-26 January 2023, with a number of UK initiatives reported to be making progress.

IAV attendees were told that the three platforms being trialled with various hybrid electric drive (HED) fits under the UK Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) TD6 initiative – a Jackal 2 4×4 high-mobility patrol vehicle, a Foxhound 4×4 protected patrol vehicle and a MAN HX60 4×4 6-tonne tactical truck – will in June arrive at the British Army’s Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU) at Bovington, Dorset, for 12 weeks of trials. Having already been tested at the proving ground in at Millbrook, Bedfordshire, the vehicles will now be trialled on around eight battlefield missions to determine their resilience in real-world scenarios and to enable comparisons to be made with their original, conventionally powered counterparts.

Further to this, the IAV audience was told that Project Lurcher has been initiated by the ATDU to trial four fully electric-propelled British Army Land Rovers two Weapons Mount Installation Kit (WMIK) variants and two Fitted for Radio (FFR) examples. The key focus of these trials will be to study performance, acoustic and thermal signatures, wheel hub manipulation, regenerative braking, fording, maintenance, energy costs and offloadable power.

Meanwhile, the UK MoD’s Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl) has secured GBP 1.6 M in funding from Army Headquarters to progress the work with its one-third-scale Mobility Test Rig (MTR) 8×8 platform on to a full-size demonstrator under Project METEOR (Mobility Enhancing Technology Electrically Optimised Rig). This will support further risk reduction work, demonstrate the scalability of the technology, quantify performance and capability benefits, and support the business case for potential further funding.

The electric-drive MTR has a fully articulating suspension, advanced multi-wheel steer and wheel traction control, facilitating exceptionally high mobility for a wheeled platform and manoeuvres such as ‘crabbing’, whereby the vehicle can advance obliquely while retaining its front towards the threat. Dr William Suttie, of Dstl’s Land Platforms Group, told ESD at the IAV conference that the full-scale rig would have the ability to be ballasted up to 30 tonnes to simulate a representative 8×8 armoured vehicle.

Dstl’s one-third-scale, electrically powered Mobility Test Rig. Dstl has now received funding to progress to a full-scale demonstrator under Project METEOR. (Credit: Dstl)

Moves towards electric propulsion present something of a dilemma for land forces. While vehicles designed for electric propulsion from the outset might in future present the most cost-effective solution, the fact remains that the fuelling, training and maintenance infrastructure is simply not there to support them. IAV attendees were thus told by more than one presenter that hybrid electric drive (HED) systems, which can still make use of current infrastructure based on fossil fuels and can be retrofitted to current fleets, are the necessary bridge to fully electric-powered AFV fleets. HED vehicles can also accommodate future power-hungry onboard systems and carry power capacity forward on the battlefield.

The French Army has obviated this dilemma to some extent by starting to field a future fleet of AFVs – most notably the Serval 4×4 light Véhicule Blindé Multi-Rôles (VBMR; ENG: Multi-Role Armoured Vehicle) – that, though currently conventionally powered, is ‘HED ready’ for future upgrades.

Pete Felstead