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24 Aug 18. Australian LAND 400 Phase 3 tenders now open. The multibillion-dollar project to replace Army’s M113 Armoured Personnel Carriers has taken another step forward with the formal release of the request for tender for LAND 400 Phase 3 – Mounted Close Combat Capability. Defence is placing greater emphasis on a co-ordinated and programmatic approach to Army’s biggest project ever. A new Armoured Vehicle Division will been created to consolidate large programs like LAND 400, LAND 907 – Main Battle Tank Replacement and LAND 8160 – Enhanced Gap Crossing Capability into a programmatic ‘mega project’. When fully delivered, the LAND 400 program will allow Army to successfully sustain mounted close combat operations against emerging and future threats as part of a joint force.
Minister for Defence Industry Christopher Pyne encouraged Australian industry to get behind the project, saying, “I actively encourage Australian small and medium sized enterprises to take advantage of the significant opportunities arising from this project.”
Opportunities for industry to participate in the process are outlined in the tender documents and include industry briefing sessions scheduled for September this year. Assistance to industry is available through the Centre for Defence Industry Capability (CDIC) for Australian businesses entering or working in the defence industry. Minister Pyne indicated that during this tender process, Defence will work closely with industry to optimise Australian industry capability content.
“This project is another exciting opportunity for Australian industry to deliver leading-edge technology in support of the Army,” he said.
Minister for Defence Marise Payne said the project will see Army’s capability significantly enhanced with a fleet of up to 450 modern Infantry Fighting Vehicles and 17 Manoeuvre Support Vehicles.
“This will be the largest investment in Army’s capability ever undertaken and will provide our troops with a modern close combat capability,” Minister Payne said.
This announcement follows a fortnight of announcements made by government and industry regarding LAND 400 Phase 2, with the announcement of the joint venture between Varley and Rafael and the confirmation of the Spike LR2 Anti-Tank Guided Missile for Army’s future 211 Boxer combat reconnaissance vehicles as part of the $5.2bn project. The LAND 400 program is broken down into four distinct phases:
- LAND 400 Phase 1 – Project Definition Study (completed);
- LAND 400 Phase 2 – Mounted Combat Reconnaissance Capability, primarily enabled by the combat reconnaissance vehicle (CRV) mission system (the ASLAV replacement);
- LAND 400 Phase 3 – Mounted Close Combat Capability, primarily enabled by the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) (the M113 APC replacement) and MSV mission systems; and
- LAND 400 Phase 4 – Integrated Training System.
Rheinmetall has been selected to deliver Australia’s new Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle, the Boxer 8×8 CRV, for LAND 400 Phase 2.
The full tender can now be downloaded from the AusTender website at www.tenders.gov.au. Submissions will close at 5:00pm AEST on Friday, 1 March 2019. (Source: Defence Connect)
23 Aug 18. Russian MoD orders Taifun 4×4 MRAP vehicles. The Russian Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced on 22 August that it had signed a contract for 59 Taifun 4×4 mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles at the Army 2018 defence show in Kubinka near Moscow. The vehicles, the variant of which was not disclosed, will be delivered up to the end of 2020. Russian company Remdiesel is continuing development of the K-53949 Taifun-K MRAP family, which is intended for land forces. Remdiesel told Jane’s at Army 2018, “The Taifun family now comprises two more vehicles: a self-propelled anti-tank guided missile (SPATGM) system and a medevac version. Like the Kornet-EM system, our new SPATGM version is armed with eight ready-to-launch Kornet-D anti-tank guided missiles mounted on two separate masts.” The SPATGM version has a laden weight of 16,000kg and a maximum speed of 105km/h. The medevac version using the K-53949 chassis is named Linza. “Linza can transport up to 10 wounded soldiers,” Remdiesel said. “The vehicle is almost ready for serial production.” The company added that it is also expanding its K-4386 Taifun-VDV family, which is being developed for the airborne troops (VDV) under a contract with the Russian MoD. “Remdiesel has developed the second generation of the K-4386 vehicle, which is intended for the VDV,” the company said. “The upgraded platform has an independent spring suspension and less expensive electronics.” (Source: IHS Jane’s)
23 Aug 18. New additions to DVD2018 reflect its Innovation theme. Jointly sponsored by Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) and the Army Headquarters, DVD will hold its 13th show on 19 and 20 September at Millbrook, bringing together industry and defence in the Land Equipment sector. Reflecting the theme of Innovation, there will be a number of new additions to this year’s show, including an opportunity for industry experts to participate in speaker sessions; close links with the ‘Year of Engineering’ and a number of engineering graduates in attendance at the event; and the Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA) will display some of the UK Armed Forces military equipment, which is available for sale. DVD2018 believes that providing the opportunity for industry to participate in speaker sessions will encourage debate on the challenges our armed forces face and consider innovative solutions for implementation across a number of key areas. The MOD has invited industry to challenge its preconceptions by discussing alternative solutions and clearly evidencing how the solution could be delivered to support training, force preparation and/or can be deployed in a mobile operational environment. Topics up for discussion will include:
- Reducing Logistic Need (RLN).
- DEEP operations.
- Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence (C4I) systems.
- Year of Engineering and STEM development.
2018 marks the ‘Year of Engineering’ and DVD is the ideal platform to recognise the Army’s commitment to encouraging more young people into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and related careers within the Army. DVD2018 will welcome a number of engineering undergraduates, who will have the unique opportunity to access the end-users of equipment, those who make decisions on acquisition and industry, all in one event.
Army Engineering Champion, Major General Mark Gaunt explains: “This year’s DVD theme is all about innovation. How can the Army be more creative with what we currently have and the means by which we support it? What new and emerging technologies are out there that the Army should be looking to exploit? Our discussions at the show therefore need to be about good ideas, problem solving, thinking differently, being creative and challenging norms, both today and in the future.
“It is my hope that exhibitors and visitors alike will seize the opportunity to talk to each other about how engineering careers are future-facing, offering young people variety, creativity and excitement, and to forge some new ideas about how we can continue STEM development in 2019.
“With UK and international companies represented, absolutely cutting-edge technology on display and the opportunity to see some remarkable pieces of equipment in action, I can think of no better showcase for the Year of Engineering than DVD2018.”
As well as new equipment and technology, engineering students, visitors and exhibitors alike will have the opportunity to view equipment, which has recently been withdrawn from the frontline, including CVR(T), Warthog, MAN SV and many more.
Clive Walker, head of Defence Equipment Sales Authority, said: “The Defence Equipment Sales Authority (DESA) is delighted to be part of DVD 2018. DESA works closely with the British Army, Industry and our DE&S colleagues to ensure that we offer exciting opportunities to Foreign Governments and customers to purchase equipment that has been used effectively by the UK Armed Forces globally on operations.”
Another new addition to DVD2018 will be the attendance of recently appointed Minister for Defence Procurement, Stuart Andrew MP, who will present on the first day of the show, along with a number of high profile defence personnel. There will be a wide range of equipment on display from industry and the military, with more than 250 companies expected to exhibit at DVD2018. Displays will include mobile vehicle demonstrations, equipment suppliers, spares provisioners and service providers. Visitors will experience a full agenda over the two days. They will have the opportunity to interact with defence industry exhibitors, showcasing the equipment, innovative technology and support solutions that might meet the future Land Equipment requirements. For those involved in Land Equipment for Army Headquarters, DE&S and Front Line Commands DVD2018 provides an ideal opportunity to identify innovation, develop ideas and generate a greater understanding of technologies, capabilities and requirements.
22 Aug 18. VPK displays upgraded Tigr-M vehicle. The Military-Industrial Company (VPK) is displaying the upgraded Tigr 4×4 armoured vehicle at the Army 2018 defence show in Kubinka, near Moscow, on 21-26 August. The upgrade is based on combat experience gained during operations in Syria. Designated the ASN 233115 Tigr-M SpN, the upgraded vehicle is intended for reconnaissance, escort, patrol, and fire support missions. The ASN 233115 has a monocoque welded three-door hull, providing Level 1 STANAG 4569 protection against 5.56mm and 7.62mm steel core bullets. The vehicle, which has a laden weight of 7,932 kg, can carry up to six fully equipped soldiers and has a useful payload of 1,200kg. The ASN 233115 is powered by a 215hp YaMZ-5347-10 multifuel turbocharged diesel engine, producing a top speed of 120 km/h and a range of 1,000km. The upgraded Tigr-M SpN has greater ground clearance than the baseline AMN 233114 Tigr-M, as well as a protected engine compartment. VPK told Jane’s, “Traditional less-protected seats have been replaced by anti-blast ones to increase crew survivability. There is an option to reinforce the windshield and windows with shockproof steel cages. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
22 Aug 18. Tulpar light tank completes initial trials, awaits first contract. Otokar has completed initial firing and mobility trials of its latest Tulpar light tank, which has been developed to meet potential requirements of at least two export customers. This system mates the Otokar Tulpar tracked armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) with the Belgian CMI Defence Cockerill 3105 turret already in quantity production for Saudi Arabia (with more than 130 turrets delivered). The Cockerill 3105 turret is armed with a 105mm high-pressure rifled gun fitted with a thermal sleeve and fume extractor. The 105mm gun is fed by a bustle-mounted automatic loader that enables the turret to be crewed by just a commander and gunner. It also has a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun (MG) and a bank of electrically operated smoke grenade launchers on either side. In addition to firing conventional rounds of 105mm ammunition – including armour piercing fin stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS), high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT), and high-explosive squash head (HESH) – it can also fire a Falarick gun-launched anti-tank guided missile (GATGM) developed in Ukraine. This is laser guided and fitted with a tandem HEAT warhead to neutralise targets fitted with explosive reactive armour (ERA), and has a maximum range of 5,000m. The weapon has a computerised fire-control system and stabilised sighting systems, including stabilised sights for commander and gunner consisting of day/thermal channels and a laser rangefinder.
The Tulpar light tank has a crew of three – commander, gunner, and driver – but there is additional space in the rear for two dismounts and more 105mm ammunition. Tulpar was developed by Otokar as a private venture to meet the potential requirements of the export and home markets. It was first shown in 2013 in the infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) role and fitted with an Otokar Mizrak remote-controlled turret. The turret was armed with a stabilised 30mm dual-feed cannon with 210 rounds of ready-use ammunition and a 7.62mm co-axial machine gun (MG) with 500 rounds of ready-use ammunition. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
21 Aug 18. Rosoboronexport launches Sprut-SDM1 light amphibious tank. Rostec State Corporation subsidiary Rosoboronexport has launched the new Sprut-SDM1 light amphibious tank in the world arms market. Built by the Tractor Plants Concern, the Sprut-SDM1 vehicle is equipped with a powerful armament suite, corresponding to the main battle tank, and is fitted with a 125mm gun, a 7.62mm remote-controlled machine gun and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.
Rosoboronexport director general Alexander Mikheev said: “The Sprut-SDM1 is the only light amphibious fighting vehicle in its class that possesses the firepower of the main battle tank.
“It is capable of disembarking from a ship and operating day or night in terrain impassable for other similar vehicles. Rosoboronexport expects increased attention to this vehicle from countries having difficult terrain, such as water obstacles, marshes and mountains.
“In particular, a number of South-East countries have already shown great interest in the Sprut-SDM1.”
“The Sprut-SDM1 is the only light amphibious fighting vehicle in its class that possesses the firepower of the main battle tank.”
In addition, the light amphibious tank features a guided missile weapon system that is specifically designed to engage armoured targets, including ERA-equipped ones, at ranges of up to 5km. Referred in Russia as a self-propelled anti-tank gun or tank destroyer, the Sprut-SDM1 vehicle has been developed to deliver fire support to infantry, engage armoured targets, destroy hostile strong points and fortifications, and carry out battlefield reconnaissance and security. The highly automated digital fire control system integrated on to the tank facilitates target detection, recognition and destruction both on the move and at the halt, and in poor visibility conditions, day or night, using different types of gunner’s and commander’s sights. Capable of being deployed in the highlands and hot tropical climate, the low-weight amphibious vehicle has the ability to fire its gun while being afloat. The combat vehicle has been specially designed for use by the Russian airborne forces. (Source: army-technology.com)
20 Aug 18. US Army Wants 70 Self-Driving Supply Trucks By 2020. The US Army is ready for unmanned vehicles but not yet for a completely unmanned convoy. The 2020 iteration is called Expedient Leader-Follower because the Army still wants a human soldier driving the lead vehicle, with up to nine autonomous trucks following in its trail. But Oshkosh and Robotic Research told me they could take the humans out altogether, if the Army wanted. If you find self-driving cars impressive today, think about Army trucks that can drive themselves off-road, in a war zone, less than three years from now. For all the Army’s embrace of high technology, the service still wants the lead vehicle in the convoy to have a human driver, at least at first. But the unmanned trucks that follow behind will need to stick to the trail without relying on street signs, lane markings, pavement, or GPS. They might not even have a clear line of sight to the vehicle ahead of them, which may turn a corner in a city or disappear into a cloud of dust driving cross-country. En route, they have to avoid not only pedestrians, animals, and vehicles, like civilian self-driving cars, but also rubble, rocks, trees, and shell holes. And they have to avoid solid obstacles without stopping every time they see tall grass, a low-hanging branch, or a dust cloud in their path — the kind of common-sense distinction that’s easy for humans but very hard for computer vision. But the Army is confident it can be done. Army Secretary Mark Esper has publicly enthused about the technology after riding in a prototype, saying it could both free up manpower for the front line — most troops work on logistics and maintenance, not in combat units — and save lives from roadside bombs and ambushes — to which supply convoysare particularly vulnerable. After years of tinkering, the Army has accelerated its Automated Ground Resupply (AGR) program by spinning off something called the Expedient Leader-Follower demonstration. Contractors are currently installing Robotic Research LLC’s computer brains and sensors on 10 Oshkosh M1075 PLS (Palletized Loader System) trucks that’ll be used for safety certification tests in 2019. They’ll convert 60 more to self-driving vehicles in time to equip two Army transportation companies in 2020.
While the two units’ main job will be to demonstrate the technology works in field conditions, “if they get called to deploy, they will deploy with the vehicles,” said Alberto Lacaze, president of Robotic Research, in an interview with me yesterday. “That could happen fairly quickly.” Exactly when the large-scale demo starts in 2020 is still a moving target, based mainly on how 2019’s safety testing goes, said Pat Williams, VP for Army and Marine Corps programs at Oshkosh Defense. It’s the Army’s call on whether to compress the timeline, he told me, but “there’s interest in pulling that left where possible.”
The Limits of Leader-Follower
Leader-Follower is still a limited form of autonomy — but those limits are more about Army tactics and culture than the technology itself.
The Army is ready for unmanned vehicles but not yet for a completely unmanned convoy, which is slated for a later phase of the Automated Ground Resupply program, albeit perhaps as early as 2022. The 2020 iteration is called Expedient Leader-Follower because the Army still wants a human soldier driving the lead vehicle, with up to nine autonomous trucks following in its trail. The self-driving trucks may still have soldiers in them, able to switch to human control if necessary or, alternatively, to let the truck handle the driving while they watch for ambushes and shoot back at attackers. That’s all part of the operational concepts the Army wants to work out in the 2020 demonstration.
But Oshkosh and Robotic Research told me they could take the humans out much sooner, if the Army asked, and have the truck drive itself along a route that a soldier chose without any soldiers actually having to be present. (I didn’t talk to the other two Leader-Follower contractors because they’re less directly involved with the autonomy system: Lockheed Martin, which does integration work, and ECS, which builds the interface for human operators). The hard part isn’t getting a computer to trace a route on a map — even your smartphone can do that — but getting it to move through physical space without hitting anything. That difficulty of that challenge is why Tesla and Uber self-driving vehicles have ending up killing three people (which is still a lot better than human drivers).
“The technology does exist, but we’re not there yet with acceptance,” said Chuck Bunton, Oshkosh’s program manager for autonomous vehicles. “This is a phased approach.”
“This is a big milestone for the Army,” said Robotic Research’s Lacaze, both for combat troops and for the acquisition community. In next year’s safety certification tests, he told me, “this is the first time, to our knowledge at least, that ATEC (Army Test & Evaluation Command) is going to have to give a rating for a vehicle that is basically an SAE Level 5 (on a scale of 0-5), a fully autonomous vehicle without anybody in the cab.”
That said, Lacaze went on, Robotic Research and General Dynamics together fielded a self-driving vehicle that could lead convoys without a human aboard way back in 2008. (This was a Special Operations program in urgent wartime circumstances, able to bypass the usual testing process). While he’s not allowed to give details, Lacaze told me that “we deployed vehicles in Afghanistan for road clearing, fully autonomous… To our knowledge, that’s the first time that fully autonomous vehicles have been deployed in theater.”
Now, a route-clearance mission — finding and removing roadside bombs and other Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) so other vehicles can pass safely– is very different from a supply convoy. In some ways, it’s actually easier: You’re on a road, to start with, and you’re usually moving extremely slowly as you search for ad hoc mines. In other ways, it’s much harder, since screwing up means blowing up. Despite the differences, Lacaze said the road-clearing mission pioneered key technology and learned useful lessons that carry over to Automated Ground Resupply. Plus, of course, computers in general and robotics in particular have improved immensely in the last 10 years. Robotic Research could “absolutely” build a completely unmanned convoy-leader vehicle, if only as a backup in case the human leader gets killed, he said, but the Army isn’t asking for that until a later stage of the AGR program: “There’s a lot of technology that we have to do that, but that’s not the program we currently have.”
With the technology already being installed on the Leader-Follower vehicles, however, there is a workaround to having a human in the convoy, Lacaze admitted when I pressed him. You’d still need a human to drive a leader vehicle down the route the first time, so the computer and sensors could figure out landmarks along the way, he said. But once the trail was digitally blazed, unmanned follower vehicles could drive themselves down it whenever. That might be minutes after the human led the way, or hours, or days, or “we could have one of those vehicles follow a leader from last month,” he said. “And we have demonstrated that on previous programs.”
How is this possible? Because of the ingenious way Robotic Research combines data from a wide array of sources to landmark a route.
Blazing the Trail
Civilian navigation nowadays relies on GPS. The military can’t, because both hostile terrain — like a narrow canyon in Afghanistan — and human enemies — using a Russian-made jammer — can block the GPS signal. There’s such a thing as an Inertial Navigation System (INS) that uses gyroscopes, accelerometers, and a lot of math to figure out where you’re going based purely on heading and velocity, but that kind of dead reckoning loses accuracy the further you go. So military robots need to check their location against landmarks, just like humans do, only without the benefit of hundreds of millions of years of evolution. Rather than rely on any on technique, Robotic Research uses a belt-and-suspenders approach — although it’s really more like someone wearing multiple belts, several sets of suspenders, and some duct tape over those beltless trousers that are supposed to stay up by themselves in the first place. (The company did much of its earlier work on systems to help human troops navigate underground). If the enemy jams, decoys, or physically destroys one sensor, there’re several others that still work.
Sure, GPS is great if you can get the signal, so the system accepts that as one input among many, when it’s available. It uses INS to keep going between one landmark and the next. But the crucial part is how the system uses a combination of cameras, radars, and lasers (LADAR) to pick those landmarks. The Leader-Follower vehicles don’t navigate the way humans do — “turn left at the 7-11 and then go, like, a couple blocks, past a big red house….” — because robots see the world much more precisely, with much less tolerance for ambiguity. A landmark for this system can be almost any solid, stationary, and distinctive object: a tree, a telephone pole, a rock, a section of curb, even a pothole. As the human drives the lead vehicle down the route, its autonomy system detects potential landmarks along the way, checks their location with multiple sensors, and then transmits the data to the followers. Then, as each follower approaches the landmark in turn, it uses its sensors to detect it and confirm its own position, adjusting its Inertial Navigation System as needed. If the lead vehicle passed 1.9 meters to the left of a particular telephone pole, but the follower finds it’s passing 1.8 meters away, it knows it’s drifted 10 centimeters to the right and corrects its course accordingly. What if the landmark isn’t there at all? Perhaps someone knocked it down after the leader passed by, for example, or the leader vehicle mistakenly tagged something that could move away. Well, then the follower software is smart enough to, in effect, give an algorithmic shrug and move on, following its INS until it can check itself against the next landmark. Since the INS doesn’t actually drift that much — its average error after going 100 meters is just ten centimeters — the system can get by with relatively few landmarks. “If we had one of those features every mile, we would correcting sufficiently to drive in most areas,” he said. (He didn’t specify, but presumably the areas where you’d need to correct yourself most often to avoid hitting something, like cities or forests, are the ones with the most landmarks). It’s a bit like walking around your house at night with the lights off, he said: You can probably get by on dead reckoning most of the time, occasionally touching the wall to verify your position.
A Place for Humans?
This combination of landmarks and dead reckoning is what allows the unmanned follower to go down a trail a month after a human-driven leader vehicle marked it. Unlike in some earlier experiments, the unmanned follower doesn’t actually have to watch the manned lead vehicle go down the road ahead of it. It just has to see the same landmarks the leader saw at some previous point. It doesn’t have to see all of the landmarks either, just enough to keep correcting its inertial navigation system. That the system could function without humans anywhere around, however, doesn’t mean that humans aren’t useful, Lacaze made clear. For the foreseeable future, humans will still be better at subtleties like whether an overhanging tree branch is safe to brush past or needs to be avoided because it’s strong enough to crack the windshield. They’re also better at picking up subtle signs of a roadside bomb or lurking ambushers, such as loose trash along the road, grass trodden down by passing enemies, or earth disturbed by recent digging. What’s more, having survived the dinosaurs, giant killer birds, and saber-toothed tigers, mammalian brains are still better than computers at reacting to danger with either fight or flight. While the Army is also pursuing armed robotic vehicles, they will, initially at least, be remote-controlled by human operators, especially when they open fire, rather than self-driving like the unarmed Leader-Follower trucks. Even if the robots get as good as humans eventually, they’ll still be good in a different way, simply because brain cells and microchips don’t work the same. On the battlefields of the 21st century, robots will complement human soldiers, not replace them altogether — but getting humans out of vulnerable supply trucks could save a lot of lives. (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
17 Aug 18. Central African military receives new equipment. The Central African Armed Forces (FACA) has received over 120 assorted vehicles donated by the United States and China. President Faustin-Archange Touadéra received more than 70 vehicles with a value of over USD15m from the Chinese company Poly Technologies on 8 August. The vehicles included Dongfeng EQ2050 4×4 tactical vehicles and Dongfeng CSK131 4×4 protected vehicles, which are Chinese versions of the US Humvee. Several Steyr 6×6 utility trucks, Iveco ambulances, firefighting trucks, and water carriers, as well as engineering vehicles such as bulldozers, tractors, and graders, were also delivered, according to Defence Minister Marie Noëlle Koyara. These new vehicles will be used to equip newly trained FACA units that are being deployed throughout the country to improve security, notably to Bouar, Dekoa, and Bambari. The US handed over 48 vehicles with an overall value of USD8.5m to Touadéra on 6 August. The presidency said the vehicles included 42 Toyota Hilux 4×4 pickups outfitted with communications equipment and six Renault K380 utility trucks, with nine tanker trucks of unspecified make to be delivered at a later date. (Source: IHS Jane’s)
Millbrook, based in Bedfordshire, UK, makes a significant contribution to the quality and performance of military vehicles worldwide. Its specialist expertise is focussed in two distinct areas: test programmes to help armed services and their suppliers ensure that their vehicles and systems work as the specification requires; and design and build work to upgrade new or existing vehicles, evaluate vehicle capability and investigate in-service failures. Complementing these is driver and service training and a hospitality business that allows customers to use selected areas of Millbrook’s remarkable facilities for demonstrations and exhibitions.