A Look Into the Future: Next-generation Armored Vehicle Technologies
As global instability continues to change the rules of conflict, new challenges for land forces also emerge. Military vehicle manufacturers find themselves hastening their steps toward developing armored vehicles that adapt to the fast-changing landscape of modern warfare.
As insurgencies and paramilitary movements sprout in regions like the Middle East and North Africa, government troops expect their armored vehicles to serve as a crucial component in responding to these threats. Faced with increasingly asymmetrical warfare, the need for strong operational and tactical mobility, protection, and weapons are at an all-time high.
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The trifecta of protection, firepower, and mobility are key factors that influence the development of advanced military vehicles. As budget cuts have been implemented across military units, much scrutiny has been done to the specification and selection of military equipment without compromising the “iron triangle of defense.”
Talks have been ongoing as to what features to focus on when designing these special vehicles. There has been contention in terms of what to prioritize first: protection of the soldiers or the agility and speed of the vehicles. It is not to be misunderstood, however, that the safety of the troops must be compromised. What the mobility camp suggests is that when these vehicles have been equipped with the necessary agility and speed required to execute combative action, then there might be no need for personnel deployment.
To address the growing threats of instability existing fleets must be modernized. Doing so will arm ground forces with the necessary ballistic and blast protection on the battlefields.
One of the upgrades that the armed forces are investing in is increased vehicle and personnel protection. With land mines and improvised explosive devices (IED) being used to deter government troops, newer equipment such as the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles have been introduced.
Military vehicle manufacturers have developed this highly modular, multi-role range of vehicles that provide increased protection for ballistic attacks while maintaining mobility.
A consensus has been reached about the use of lighter materials in armor manufacturing. Engineers have now found a way to reduce the weight of a vehicle shell by half of the current two-ton weight when using steel. By using composites to decrease weight, armored vehicles can make more space to carry fuel, ammunition, and crew if needed. Since composites will not rust or suffer from fatigue like its metal counterparts, it also helps drive down lifetime maintenance costs while increasing service life.
Slat armor, designed to disrupt the shape charge of a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) when it explodes, is now being revolutionized. Made of textile materials, it is more lightweight compared to metal. Some companies have made use of complex interlaced fabrics inside a protective sheet, which give the appearance of a heavy-duty metal wire. Its innovative design makes it easy to disassemble and transport, folding flat against the vehicle, which also saves time and money.
Wheels and tires
Since tires are the primary targets to immobilize the vehicle, finding innovative ways to address this concern is imperative. It is crucial that military vehicles will be able to escape at high speed or complete its mission while running on one or two wheels deflated. To do this, manufacturers are turning to run-flat tire technology.
Military planners are exploring green solutions to answer the gas guzzling characteristics of military vehicles. For instance, the US Army Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center (TARDEC) began the advanced testing of a new hybrid Ultra Light Vehicle (ULV). This concept vehicle can offer increased survivability of soldiers with its protective design. Since the electric motors will eliminate the need for a driveshaft, the underbody will perform better during an IED or mine blast.
Communications and Optics
The communications platform of military vehicles will also see new improvements. This new system will allow real-time situational awareness and unparalleled command and control capabilities, as well as enable driving in all-weather conditions, 24/7.
Further upgrades will also equip soldiers with better satellite network speeds, ruggedized wireless tablets with vehicle docking stations, plot IEDs, and send text messages for emergency medical evacuations if radio transmission is down.
The shift from manned weapons to remote ones offers very promising rewards as it provides more protection for soldiers. Some manufacturers have already developed remote-controlled turrets, a modular system that can house multiple weapons. It also makes use of electro-optical sights, meaning enemy forces can be fired upon from as far as 3,000m away, or with infrared, as far as about 8,000m at night.
Laser technology is also being studied as an advanced alternative to conventional weapons. Needing no ammunition resupplies, offering rapid engagement of multiple targets, and reducing logistic costs, laser weapons offer a number of advantages that place them at the forefront of priorities for advance military vehicle features.
In the age of austerity, military procurement officers lean toward modular designs for their vehicle requirements. The trend in protective mobility now lies in vehicles with shared platforms and modular configurations. This spells out more savings on ownership and maintenance costs, especially for cash-strapped armies.
Multi-role military vehicles sporting the modular concept draw much interest as they offer capabilities not offered by aging fleets. With increased protection and payload capacity, these vehicles can be fielded to diverse mission situations. They can serve as infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), ambulances, command and control spaces, or recovery vehicles.
When cars fly
When we talk about advanced technology, we cannot fail to mention the possibilities of cars that fly. One such project is underway at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) where they are assessing the possibility of a vehicle being capable of vertical takeoff and landing. This concept combat transport is also projected to be able to travel up to 250nm on a single tank of petrol.
If and when this happens, then we can say that we have really reached the age of futuristic automotive design. While it is unlikely that we will see this in a couple of years, the flying car project, along with advances in systems, armor protection, vehicle components and weapons will surely keep everyone on their toes.
Band of brothers
As belligerent groups continue to threaten humanity, governments continue to pour energy and resources toward the advancement of military transportation and weaponry. Even with all the advanced systems and technology packed into these vehicles, we could only hope that they will soon be used to drive towards world peace.
Senior International Business Development and Sales Manager, NIMR Automotive LLC
Miles Chambers joined NIMR Automotive in October 2016 as Senior International Business Development and Sales Manager. In this capacity, Miles oversees NIMR Automotive’s expansion to Global markets, particularly into Europe and Southeast Asia. In addition to his responsibilities at NIMR Automotive, Miles is the Chairman of the Azerbaijan-South Africa Chamber of Commerce.