The return to national and alliance defence in the Western Hemisphere has consequences for training, personnel, materiel and tactics and this is not just limited to any one troop category. As a result, many countries are currently reviewing the capabilities that their Special Operations Forces (SOF) require in order for them to be ready for national and alliance defence in the future.
Overall, a shift in the focus of SOF can be expected, with counter-terrorism an additional component in the matrix. SOF will again have to conduct conventional warfare against peer opponents, but will need to do so in a flexible and unconventional manner. The focus will be on the tasks of Military Assistance (MA), Direct Action (DA) and Special Reconnaissance (SR). SOF units must be fast and highly mobile on land, as well as airmobile, and the SOF community therefore needs highly mobile vehicles with reduced visual, noise and electro-magnetic signatures. Additional needs include connection to a Battle Management System (BMS) at higher command levels, as well as an appropriately integrated power supply to accommodate the necessary radio equipment, sensors and effectors.
Future motorisation also plays an important role in the current development of land vehicles. For example, test vehicles are being developed and built that use classic combustion engines, but also incorporate a hybrid-electric or a purely electric drive. In the case of hybrid and purely electric drives, care will have to be taken to ensure that they can still be transported as internal and external loads in aircraft, including helicopters, despite the potential hazards posed by batteries. In this regard, US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) is developing a number of concept vehicles, including the Purpose-Built Non-Standard Commercial Vehicle (PB-NSCV), a hybrid-electric ground mobility vehicle (GMV) 1.1, a hybrid-electric version of the Light Tactical All-Terrain Vehicle (LTATV), the LTATV MRZR X military hybrid vehicle, and an autonomous LTATV. All are expected to feature lower weight and more payload. The NSCVs will include current models found in Asia and around the world, including pick-ups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) such as the Toyota Hilux, Toyota Land Cruiser, Mercedes-Benz G or Volkswagen Touareg.
During Eurosatory 2022, a number of new SOF vehicles were on display, including the Merlin 4×4 from General Dynamics European Land Systems-Mowag (GDELS), and an open Eagle V as a commissioned study for the Danish Special Forces. The Merlin is based on the proven Duro vehicle family and was planned to be offered as a candidate for the German-Dutch airborne platform (LuLa), but GDELS decided against submitting a tender. Thanks to this platform, and a version with a length of 5.1 m (height 1.86 m), the vehicle can be produced in multiple variants. For LuLa, among other things, a transport variant with a payload of 1.7 tonnes is required, as well as a troop carrier for 2+8 soldiers. This is what the Merlin offers. The airmobile, rugged, compact, lightweight and robust platform gives military users superior multi-purpose and payload potential, as well as (adaptive) protection, as stated by GDELS at Eurosatory 2022. In the future, LuLa will form the backbone of airmobile forces, including paratroopers, but will also be used by SOF. Overall, LuLa is planned as a family with up to 15 variants.
Also shown for the first time in Paris was the Rheinmetall Caracal, a platform offered for the LuLa tender. The Caracal is based on the Enok Airborne (AB) from ACS Armoured Car Systems GmbH, already in use in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Cyprus for their SOF and airborne forces. The chassis (model series G 464), engine and drive train are from Mercedes-Benz. ACS has built a modular aluminium frame onto the special Mercedes-Benz chassis, intended to provide the necessary weight reduction as well as flexibility for the different weapons fits. The system was previously developed by ACS for the Swedish Armed Forces, at which time it was used for an LAPV 6×6. The vehicle, combining a steel floor with an aluminium frame, is air-loadable as either an internal or external load. The frame solution offers a high degree of modularity and, according to the company, is simple, robust, scalable and cost-efficient. The vehicle has a maximum weight of 4.8 tonnes and can accommodate four soldiers in its basic configuration. At EnforceTac 2022, ACS presented the Enok AB with a launcher for the MBDA Enforcer missile. According to ACS, however, other anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles, such as Rafael’s Spike, can also be integrated into the launcher and on the lightweight roof structure.
ACS Managing Director Sebastian Schaubeck explained: “The requirements for future SF vehicles will change as the orientation of the military changes again. Instead of Internationales Krisenmanagement (IKM; ENG: International Crisis Management), the focus will be on national and alliance defence. Mobility will remain very important for SF. At the same time, they will need modular mobility solutions to be able to take on a broad mission-specific range of tasks. Ideally, these vehicles will blur into the regular force.”
For the airborne platform tender, Dutch manufacturer Defenture is also offering the Ground Force (GRF) 5.12. Defenture had already delivered a study model to IABG, at that time as a flatbed, on which a six-seat configuration could be built. The vehicle has an empty weight of 2.5 tonnes, with a maximum gross weight of 4.7 tonnes, and is already being used by the Dutch SOF as the Air Transportable Tactical Vehicle (ATTV) Vector, with whom it is currently undergoing final testing and adaptation. The GRF 5.12 has a fording depth of 750 mm and a ground clearance of 340 mm. In cooperation with Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), they offered an adapted variant for the LuLa requirement. At the KSK Symposium 2022, Defenture showed the Vector in an open version and a variant protected to STANAG 4569 Level 1+. The protected vehicle has the EOS R400S Mk2 light weapon station integrated, with two anti-tank guided missiles and a Northrop Grumman M230LF automatic cannon chambered in 30 × 113 mm.
The German Kommando Spezialkräfte (KSK) will replace its obsolete AGF (Aufklärungs- und Gefechtsfahrzeug – reconnaissance and combat vehicle) Serval and has awarded a development contract to Defenture based on the Mammoth. At the turn of the year, a wooden prototype was used for positioning tests, and three prototypes are due to be built for testing by the end of 2023. In total, the “medium special forces vehicle family” is to consist of three vehicle types: the reconnaissance-combat vehicle (AGF-2) as a protected carrier vehicle for at least four command soldiers; a fire support vehicle (AGF-2-MK with 20 mm MK armament); and the command support vehicle (UFK). All are based on the same platform. The Swiss KSK still uses the Serval, while the Austrian Jagdkommando has a similar model in the form of the Puch G 290/LP Sandviper, also based on the Mercedes-Benz G-model. The G-model is used by SOF all over the world, including Australia, the USA (USSOCOM), the British Special Air Service (SAS) and many other countries.
In Paris, GDELS-Mowag showed the prototype of an Eagle V in an open variant for SOF. This stems from an order from Denmark, which had an in-service Eagle V converted. In the Danish Armed Forces, it is known as Eagle Recce Open, featuring a gross vehicle weight of up to 11.5 tonnes, with an extremely high payload. Despite the open roof design, the vehicle has a rotating ring mount for heavy weapons.
Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Great Britain will jointly procure the Collaborative All-Terrain Vehicle (CATV) as a successor to the Bv206 and Viking over-snow vehicle. In addition to mountain troops, the SOF of many nations also use the BAE Systems Hägglunds Bv206. Bearing in mind possible missions in the Arctic or on NATO’s northern flank this vehicle is once again gaining importance.
At Eurosatory 2022, IVECO Defence Vehicles (IDV), together with Dutch Military Vehicles (DMV), presented the Anaconda 4×4 SOF vehicle, based on the Military Utility Vehicle (MUV) family. The platform can be adapted to the needs of different SOF applications, including for fire support, as a rapid attack vehicle, materiel or personnel transport, ambulance, etc. It can accommodate a maximum of 2+8 soldiers, has an empty weight of 4,000 kg and a payload of 3,700 kg.
Almost all countries have recently renewed their ground vehicle fleets, or are in the process of doing so. Australia, for example, has just replaced its Land Rovers with Supacat Jackals, also used by Britain’s SAS, among others. The open vehicle is protected, has underbody mine protection, and weighs 5.5 tonnes. Thanks to its size and capabilities, long-range patrols of two weeks or more can be carried out. The SAS also use Ocelot Foxhound vehicles.
Belgium recently procured the Light Tactical Transport Vehicle (LTTV) from British manufacturer Jankel. It is based on the Unimog U5000 and will replace the ageing Mercedes Unimog 1.9T 4×4 Jacam vehicles. Jankel offers a protected cab (including a split windscreen) and a multi-functional flatbed to accommodate various “mission modules” on the Mercedes-Benz chassis. These modules can be integrated quickly and easily as pallet or container variants, thanks to standard ISO fastening. The vehicle has protection Level 1 (STANAG 4569) and can be upgraded to Level 2, according to the manufacturer. The empty weight is 6.5 tonnes, and it can carry up to 3 tonnes of payload. It is intended for use as a long-range reconnaissance or mother-support vehicle; 199 have been ordered for the Belgian SF. Other countries use the standard Mercedes-Benz Unimog in protected or unprotected variants as a mother-support vehicle, to follow smaller combat and reconnaissance vehicles with additional equipment, ammunition, water and food.
Belgium also has the Jankel Group’s Fox Tactical Utility Vehicle (TUV) in use, which is based on the Toyota Chassis Land Cruiser 79 and serves SOF for covert operations. With the air-transportable Fox RRV (Rapid Reaction Vehicle), Jankel is also supplying 100 lighter SOF vehicles to Belgium’s Special Forces. The new platform will have full interoperability with the Fox RRV fleet, procured since 2015. The Fox RRV uses a reinforced Toyota Hilux chassis.
The Polaris Defence vehicles MRZR D2/4, MRZR Alpha and Deployable Advanced Ground Off-Road (DAGOR) are in service with SOF worldwide. The latter two variants in particular are currently being tested by other European nations. The first airborne Utility Terrain Vehicle (LL UTV) MRZR D4 has just been delivered to the German airborne forces, where KSK and Fernspäher (Long-Range Surveillance Unit, LRSU) are already using them. All German Polaris vehicles are tactically and road-legally converted by Diederich Engineering Systems Defense (D.E.S.).
The DAGOR is used by USSOCOM and Canadian Special Forces, among others. On the sidelines of Eurosatory 2022, it was revealed that Polaris Defence will soon present a three-axle MRZR-Alpha vehicle with additional payload capabilities.
In addition, US Special Forces will receive the GDELS Pandur Evolution 6×6, designating it the Armored Ground Mobility System (AGMS). They are set to replace the Pandur 6×6, which has been in use for more than 20 years. Weighing about 18.6 tonnes, the Pandur Evolution, including additional armour, provides protection rated at STANAG 4569 Level 3 ballistic and more than Level 3 mine protection. By using the same turret as the demonstrator of the German Air Mobile Weapon Carrier (LuWa) from Slovenian company Valhalla, a vehicle of this class can be equipped with autocannon (for example, chambered in 25 mm × 137 mm) and loaded into the C-130 Hercules without dismantling the turret. According to sources in the sector, the German KSK and the Austrian Jagdkommando are also considering the procurement of vehicles in the same weight class.
For Europe, Messer Waffenhandel, based in Germany, is the new distribution partner for US manufacturer BC Customs, which builds the lightweight SRTV-SXV (Search and Rescue Tactical Vehicle Side by Vehicle). This vehicle has been in use with US Air Force Special Forces since 2021, mainly because it can also be transported as an internal load in a Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey alongside the Boeing CH-47 Chinook and Sikorsky CH-53. So far, 300 vehicles have been delivered, and another 300 are under contract. In addition, it is highly mobile and can be dropped by cargo parachute. According to the manufacturer, the vehicle also has a convincing payload of around 1.5 tonnes, with an empty weight of 1.5 tonnes.
Variants can fill the breacher or assault vehicle roles (with a weapon station up to 30 mm MK) or for the pararescue teams of the USAF Special Operations Command (AFSOC) with four stretchers for prone wounded. Messer will offer sales, including workshop service, in Europe. A hybrid version with diesel-electric drive will also be offered, which considerably increases the range of the troops. Caterpillar tracks are also available for difficult terrain.
At SHOT Show, 2023 the SRTV-SXV 4×4 vehicle was shown with the ‘Aerolite 12 ft’ inflatable aerial delivery platform from SWORD International. This is a multi-mission Aerial Delivery System, created in conjunction with the SRTV-SXV for the USAF SOF. However, the drop pallet can be used with basically any ATV/UTV, as well as watercraft such as jet skis, rigid inflatable boats (RIBs), etc. It can also be used as a life raft if needed. It is a made-to-order product so it can be customised, within reason, to the end-user’s needs. According to SWORD, it is the lightest and most versatile air delivery system of its kind. The system is designed to bring the payload safely to the area of operation with minimal build-up and break-down time. The system will roll up and can be recovered or left pressurised and attached behind a waterborne vehicle as an additional floating work platform. It can also be repressurised using the exhaust fill system and utilised as a lift bag for rescue/recovery. The total system weight is 90 kg (198 lb) with a maximum payload of 2,268 kg (5,000 lb).
Meanwhile, Sweden is interested in the Arquus Patsas 4×4, a light armoured (STANAG 4569) vehicle with an open body, specially designed for SOF. The 12-tonne vehicle can carry 2+3 soldiers, can be transported in a C-130 Hercules, and can carry up to three 7.62 mm MGs, a 12.7 mm HMG on the rotating ring mount and an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) launcher. Sweden has been using the Arquus Bastion for the SOG (Särskilda Operationsgruppen – Special Operations Task Group) for about five years. The Patsas and Bastion are actually the same platform, the former being an open vehicle and the latter an Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) variant.
The Spanish Special Forces took 24 units of Einsa’s Neton 4×4 vehicle into service in 2021. It too is based on the civilian Toyota Hilux chassis with an open architecture. However, the vehicle has a new engine, transmission and parts of the chassis have been modified to offer a new vehicle that meets SOF mobility and firepower requirements. Neton weighs 2,300 kg, and can transport four soldiers and their equipment, equating to a payload of 1,078 kg.
In France, the ACMAT and Mercedes-Benz G-model (Panhard VPS/SOF) SOF vehicles are replaced by the Arquus Areg (240 units) and Arquus Sabre 4×4 (202 units). The latter is a patrol vehicle used by SOF around the world, designed to remain as undetected as possible and to offer extremely high mobility and range. This allows it to be used behind enemy lines, according to the manufacturer. It accommodates five soldiers, weighs 11 tonnes and features the Battlenet system. It can also carry three 7.62 mm MGs, one heavy MG .50 BMG, auxiliary tanks and extensive radio equipment.
Due to delivery delays with the Arquus vehicles, an interim solution was also procured, in the form of the VPS (Véhicule de Patrouille Spéciale) 2 Patrol Vehicle. Based on the British Fox from Jankel, it is manufactured under licence by French company Technamm. The procurement was based on immediate operational needs and the vehicles were swiftly deployed to Africa. VPS 2 offers space for up to six soldiers and is designed for long-range reconnaissance missions. It is also based on the Toyota chassis with a total weight of 4.2 tonnes and a maximum payload of 1,700 kg. The maximum range is stated to be 1,500 km. On top of the vehicle is a ring-mounted weapon station that can be swivelled through 360°. This can be armed with a 7.62 or 12.7 mm heavy machine guns, a 40-mm automatic grenade launcher or a Dillon Aero M134, a 7.62 × 51 mm NATO Gatling gun with six barrels, firing at a fixed rate of 3,000 rounds per minute. Another 7.62 mm FN MAG machine gun is mounted on a swivelling station in front of the commander’s seat. In 2021, Techmann also introduced the Land Tech 3.5 tactical vehicle, which uses a Peugeot Landtrek pick-up as its base and is thus more cost-effective than comparable Toyota-based vehicles. With this, Techmann wants to score points, especially in the African market.
In parallel, the P4 Aspic (Mistral) will be converted to the P4 VIPAIR configuration. The product improvement includes new guidance equipment, weapon mounts (for MGs up to 12.7 mm), roll bars, improved stowage facilities and a new paint scheme. The contractor is ACS from Germany and initially, 19 vehicles will be converted and delivered to the Brigade aérienne des forces de sécurité et d’intervention (BAFSI – Air Force Security and Intervention Brigade) with the commandos parachutistes de l’air (Air Force Special Forces).
The Rider from UNAC is a French ultra-light SOF vehicle, which can be dropped by cargo parachute or transported as an internal or external load. The vehicle itself offers a payload of 900 kg, and can tow a trailer with a further 400 kg payload, or a 120 mm mortar. The empty mass is 1,890 kg. Safran showed a corresponding aerial delivery system for the Rider at Eurosatory 2022.
Also from France is the HUTP from Haulotte, competing in the same segment as the Polaris MRZR series or the Polaris DAGOR. HUPT is supposed to offer the same payloads as larger vehicles, at a smaller size and is thus suitable for smaller aircraft. Different variants are foreseen: HUTP-Reconnaissance (HUTP-R); HUTP-Logistics (HUTP-L); and HUTP Xtra-Logistics (HUTP-XL). The HUTP-R has a total weight of 2,800 kg, a payload of 1,200 kg and can carry four soldiers, with a stated range of 1,300 km. HUTP-L is a flat-bed, has a payload of 1,400 kg and offers space for two persons. HUTP-XL is a longer 6×6 vehicle with a total weight of 3,500 kg and a payload of 1,750 kg.
The trial bikes from Electric Motion also come from France. ACS has taken over the exclusive military distribution and adapts the electric motorbikes to the tactical demands of SOF. Silent rides combined with extreme acceleration bring tactical advantages. An approval with a higher payload was obtained for the Bundeswehr. The e-bike is dubbed ‘Emu’, and can be ridden with a 125 cc driving licence. The battery has a range of 40 km and can be easily replaced in seconds. Thanks to its 80 kg dead weight, it can easily be carried at the rear of a 4×4. Other suppliers of military electric motorbikes are Zero Motorcycles from the USA and SurRon from Austria.
Sensors, Effectors & Camouflage
All these vehicles fulfil a single function: serving as mobility platforms. They are only a means to an end, being effective only through the cargo they transport – first and foremost, commandos as the most important (weapon) system. In addition, there are sensors for reconnaissance or electronic combat and, finally, effectors to achieve a direct effect. The market is enormous, so only a few examples can be mentioned here.
First of all, SOF and their means of transport should remain undetected. For highly effective camouflage, there are systems such as the Barracuda Camouflage System from Saab, customised for each platform. These systems are used in more than 24 countries, including France and Germany. The local industrial and distribution partner for France is Solarmtex in Vierzon. The 3D material consists of a textile matrix in order to fully use the properties of the active materials. The design creates a non-snagging, easy-to-use system, supporting fast and safe operation. Saab’s camouflage solutions offer multispectral capabilities against a wide-range of sensors: visible, IR, thermal imager, etc., and reduce the heat inside the vehicle, which is an important factor in mission areas such as Africa.
Another supplier of multispectral 3D camouflage is Saro with its GHOSTHOOD brand from Germany. In addition to camouflage nets, it also offers systems for vehicles. The solutions protect against vision (VIS), near-infrared (NIR) and far-infrared (FIR) detection. The mobile vehicle solutions can be applied to platforms from motorbikes to IFVs or battle tanks. There are different versions, such as static systems with a turning function and two different camouflage patterns (e.g. 12 kg for 5.8 m × 8 m), or an ultra-light version with a total of four camouflage patterns and a weight of 5 kg for the same size. These can be attached in less than 2 minutes, or removed in less than 30 seconds in an emergency; they also offer a very small pack size. Similar versions also exist as a “mobile system,” which can then be used on the move once attached. There are light (4 kg for a G-Class) or heavy (12 kg) versions, each with a turning function. GHOSTHOOD customises the mobile systems to fit a specific vehicle. “Modern 4×4 vehicles are fully equipped with a lot of high-tech equipment, but the space in aircraft as well as the vehicle itself is limited. Since classic camouflage is heavy and bulky, a new generation of camouflage is needed. Ultra-light and compact solutions replace old school systems while offering the same or even better camouflage. Soldiers in direct surroundings or dismounted also need to be camouflaged. Therefore, vehicle camouflage solutions for SF should be a multipurpose tool with the thread of drones and thermal devices in mind”, says Konstantin Möller, Development & Sales Manager at GHOSTHOOD.
In order to be able to approach the target even more closely and quietly, electric bicycles and motorbikes are now carried by 4×4 vehicles. Close to the target, the commandos can switch from four-wheel to two-wheel mode, and cover the last few kilometres quietly. Some manufacturers have already been mentioned above, but the market is now quite large.
D.E.S. from Germany, for example, designed an electric bike that can be delivered by parachute. This idea is not entirely new – the British Welbike, developed in 1942 and used by airborne forces from 1943, was a light single-seat folding motorbike that could be dropped by parachute when packed in a container. Many were used by airborne troops around Arnhem during Operation Market Garden in 1944.
Another important aspect of the equipment is the inclusion of various sensors and command devices. In terms of sensors, the spectrum ranges from optical, through electro-optical, to acoustic or radar devices. It is becoming increasingly important to reduce the size and weight of sensors in order to make optimum use of available vehicle payload. To increase the range of the sensors, mast systems are now also being integrated into the vehicles. This is a challenge, especially for smaller, lighter platforms. As heard at the KSK Symposium 2022, the integration of mast systems as sensor carriers has been decided or is planned for almost all KSK vehicles in the future. Zippermast has recently conducted tests in the Alpine operational area on the MRZR D4, together with the KSK. Mast systems must show flexibility by being used on different vehicles with different sensors (Optronic sensors, radars, etc.) as well as in remote use (dismounted) with an effector for drone defence. The range of sensors that can be integrated must include the systems already available in the respective armed forces. Acoustic shot detection, such as that of Microflown Avisa or the APV (Acoustic Protection for Vehicles) shot detection system from Rheinmetall Electronics, are also included.
Therefore, an open interface is indispensable. In remote operations, the mast and sensors must also be remotely controllable. The sensor network is ensured via a tactical ad-hoc mesh network and corresponding radio links. The Zippermast mast system is currently in the qualification process, to prove that the military requirements from current and upcoming orders are met. Another supplier of corresponding systems is Will-Burt.
A further trend in SOF vehicles is heavier armament and thus greater assertiveness. Whereas in the past, light and medium machine guns were the main weapon of choice, today HMGs, 40 mm automatic grenade launchers (AGLs), 20 mm automatic cannons, Gatling guns, as well as anti-aircraft and anti-tank missiles are the weapons of choice. The MBDA Enforcer and Rafael Spike effectors have already been mentioned. Meanwhile, vehicle manufacturers have also developed lightweight launcher systems for them, so that these effectors can also be used on the open and lightweight roofs of 4×4 vehicles.
Diehl Defence is EOS’s sales partner in Europe and, together with partner D.E.S., recently showed a light, rapidly-retractable weapon system for the Polaris vehicles. An EOS R150 RWS, hydraulically retractable at the push of a button, was integrated on the DAGOR, and armed with a 12.7 mm HMG. The rapid extension and retraction allows it to be loaded as an internally in a helicopter. Depending on the helicopter, only the barrel would have to be removed or attached, using a quick-release fastener. The forces would be ready for action immediately after landing.
At the KSK Symposium, the DAGOR was also seen with a quad launcher for Rafael Spike NLOS guided missiles. The 70 kg NLOS can engage targets at distances up to 32 km with high accuracy. The DAGOR could alternatively carry other missiles, such as Spike ER/LR, and, thanks to its lighter weight, was also able to carry a larger number. The Spike NLOS is distributed exclusively by Diehl.
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