Land Warfare - Vehicles: Special vehicles for Special Operations | ADF Oct 08

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With the delivery of new long range patrol vehicles for the SAS to commence later this year, consideration is now being given to the selection of a range of other special operations vehicles (SOVs) to meet the different needs of the RAR Commandos and the TAG. 
Tom Muir

The role of the Special Air Services (SAS) is a highly specialised one.

It typically includes long-range reconnaissance and surveillance by small highly mobile forces that may have to penetrate deep into hostile territory to achieve their objectives and then withdraw, perhaps without engaging defenders, which might disclose their presence.

These activities have to be accomplished across the complete spectrum of physical environments including suburban, heavily vegetated countryside, desert, mountainous and jungle and under all climatic conditions.

The keynote to operational success depends on four main factors:

• teamwork within a small, highly trained, dedicated, superbly fit group of soldiers who are capable of independent action,

• reliable, covert short and long range radio communications,

• a weapons inventory that matches the operational requirement, and

• extremely mobile, high speed, reliable vehicles that are capable of carrying the soldiers, fuel, weapons, ammunition, water, food and first aid and spares in sufficient quantities to match the operational requirement which might be of many days duration without airlift support.

The characteristics of the vehicle will be an important determinant for mission success and, in view of the range of sometimes demanding physical environments in which it may be called upon to operate, it is evident that a role adaptable vehicle is required.

Air mobility is another important feature and in the case of Australian SF this refers specifically to CH-47D.

The other major Special Forces component, the 4RAR Commando, have a different role to that of the SAS and their vehicle requirements differ correspondingly.

Again, the two Tactical Response Groups (TAG) are likely to need specialised protected vehicles.

JP 2097 Project Redfin was established to ensure Special Operations Forces, including the SAS and Commandos, are suitably equipped to enable them to continue to respond effectively to operational demands well beyond those of other ADF elements.

The land mobility component of the capability consists of a range of combat and support vehicles for various special forces missions conducted by the SASR and the Commandos.

The HMT Supacat

The first phase saw the accelerated procurement of a replacement for the SASR’s ageing Long Range Patrol Vehicle with the sole source procurement of 31 new SOVs, the HMT Supacat Extenda, with an initial operational capability of eight vehicles to be available from November this year (2008) for immediate operation in Afghanistan.

Equipped with an on-board management and communications system to be supplied and integrated by the US-based company Tactronics, the HMT Supacat is a novel design that has been developed using advanced air suspension and engine technology derived originally from the commercial sector.

The Extenda format allows HMT 4x4s to be reconfigured as 6x6s with the addition of extra wheels, axle and drive shaft.

The two seat forward control driver’s station, a mid-mounted engine, and further seating at the rear, results in a compact vehicle with very good vision and good weight distribution as well as the ability to drive into Chinook CH47.

Variable ride heights from a minimum ground clearance of 180mm to a maximum of 530mm, combined with spring rates proportional to load, give a very comfortable ride for the crew.

The mid-mounted turbo-charged Cummins diesel engine and 5 speed auto-transmission is equipped with a transfer case using high and low ratios and full time 4-wheel drive.

Power assisted ABS ventilated discs brakes on all wheels and transmission-parking brake gives adequate stopping power.

While these are essentially open light tactical vehicles, the Australian ‘Narys’ can be further reconfigured as required for ballistic and mine protection thanks to their heavyweight suspension and drive system.

We understand that additional crew protection will also be available through the use of quickly installed composite armour panels.

Until now Special Forces vehicles have been drawn from an Army fleet that has been designed using an ‘all things to all men’ approach and, as is frequent with such a specification, it is short on specific capabilities.

The Army’s Perentie program is a case in point where Land Rover developed an AWD vehicle from the commercial Land Rover.

While this was an excellent mule for general use in many fairly benign applications, the mission successes of the six-wheel drive Long Range Patrol Vehicle, despite its many limitations, was due largely to the involvement of the operators in its design.

However it was still a long way short of many of the critically important criteria for SAS operations.

Notably, these deficiencies included being too heavy in the front and difficult to handle in swampy conditions.

It was also without any protection against high velocity small arms.

Built at Wingfield, Adelaide under subcontract to Jaguar Rover Australia by BAE Systems Australia, the planned life of individual Perentie vehicles was ten years with their production spread over five years.

Some vehicles were further upgraded by Westrac (WA). Of the 27 LRPVs delivered from 1987 onwards, all would have now passed their 15-year LOT, possibly with the exception of those upgraded by Westrac.

The next SOV variants

To meet the different missions of SAS and Commandos, which may range from deep covert surveillance, target designation for air strike, deep raids against enemy targets or rescue sorties, one might assume that for some missions, but not all, a hybrid multirole vehicle might well be the answer with mix and match weapons, range, and airmobility capabilities.

But does the HMT Supacat being acquired for the SASR have the role adaptability to suit the Commandos?

With first pass approval scheduled for consideration in March 2009, Redfin's next Phase (1B) is for the procurement, by open tender, of variants required to provide the balance of Special Forces land mobility.

Our understanding is that variants comprise the following four types of vehicles designed to handle different missions:

SOV direct action. The requirement here is for an open vehicle with considerable speed and agility, and able to carry up to eight personnel.

It would need mounts for a range of weapons including the M2A2 .50 cal machine gun, the 40mm Mk19 AGL and Javelin.

It would certainly need some mine and IED protection and possibly add-on crew protection (composites).

SOV surveillance & reconnaissance: while the requirements for this capability have yet to be determined it is anticipated that this would be an agile 4x4 vehicle equipped with day/night surveillance along the lines of BAE Systems' thermal imaging systems that enhance forward and rearward visibility.

The technology systems will fuse visible-light and infrared imagery to provide the SOV driver the best possible view in daylight, darkness and all weather conditions.

SOV logistics: this will be a similar vehicle to the above but configured for supply and support operations.

This would likely include a recovery capability and the capacity to undertake field repairs, carry mission equipment including ammunition resupply and general logistics support.

SOV support: this requirement is for a very different vehicle, similar to an up-armoured Toyota Land Cruiser type with IED and RPG protection, and possibly including a remote weapons station (RWS).

Designed for training and for discrete urban operations this vehicle would be used mainly by the ADF's two Tactical Assault Groups (East and West).

The TAGs were formed within 4RAR Commando to assist civil authorities to cope with major terrorist incidents, including the potential use of chemical, biological and radiological weapons.

The TAG is trained in offensive operations in a range of environments, particularly urban, and one of the stated objectives ‘is the recovery of hostages’.

Terrorist action where hostages are involved is still used in an attempt to leverage terrorist demands.

The Land Cruiser is no stranger to the ADF and some of the modifications in Australian military versions include armour plating, ARB snorkels and exhaust modifications, military-specification tyres, auxiliary fuel tanks, water tanks, bumper winches and steel transport racks on the roof.

The classic military guise of this vehicle is with a light machine gun mounted on the flat bed at the front over the cab roof able to fire 360°.

Uses are as a light personnel carrier (sedan version and open back), light rapid response vehicle (with open back and machine gun), as an emergency fire tender and as staff cars.

Toyota Tacomas have been used by the US Special Forces in Afghanistan and were purchased from showrooms in the US and pressed into service with very little modification at all.

With speed and agility an overiding capability for both the Direct Action and Logistics special ops vehicles, it would seem to us that the HMT Supacat might well suit the requirements for the Direct Action and Logistics vehicles due to its reconfigurable possibilities including its extendable 4x4 to 6x6 format.

If the HMT does meet the needs of the Commandos, who surely are having considerable input into those Redfin requirements that concern them, then there may be scale advantages in the initial and through life support costs of a platform basicly suited to most Special Forces operations.

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