GLOBAL DEFENSE MARKET
Middle East Militaries Eye More Rugged Tactical Vehicles
GM Defense photoABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — Under the blazing mid-afternoon sun of the United Arab Emirates, a tactical military vehicle emerges into view and the driver speeds across a rugged dirt road, leaving a cloud of dust behind it.
The vehicle — an Ajban A440A 4x4 made by the UAE-based NIMR Automotive — first runs up a ramp lined with cobbled wood and debris. It then makes a quick, 180-degree turn before riding through a pit of water larger than the vehicle itself. Finally, the driver takes the Ajban over a hill taller than the height of a doorway, gliding over the top and coming back down on the other side just in time to turn around and run the obstacle course a second time.
Half-a-dozen tactical vehicles from various manufacturers and countries would run the obstacle course for a crowd sitting outside of the nation’s largest exhibition center. Armored combat vehicles like tanks and howitzers followed.
The half-hour demonstration occurred each day of the weeklong International Defence Exhibition, or IDEX, in Abu Dhabi, underscoring the prominence tactical wheeled vehicles had during the largest defense trade show and conference in the Middle East.
Middle East countries are looking to upgrade their fleets of tactical wheeled vehicles that can move around and survive the threats of modern, dynamic battlefields. In response, vendors from all over the world came to IDEX to exhibit their advanced vehicles — many with added weapons and subsystems — that meet the region’s demands.
While some of the militaries operate modern military vehicles, others use outdated platforms or commercial trucks that have been ruggedized to meet military requirements, said John Lazar, vice president and general manager of international programs at Oshkosh Defense.
“In the Middle East-North Africa region, they are moving away from commercial trucks with upgraded suspensions and a green paint job that they now call a ‘military truck’ and moving to a true military, tactical truck,” Lazar said during the trade show.
Furthermore, using commercial vehicles for military purposes may cost a fraction of the price of a military-grade vehicle, but down the line a country’s military may end up spending more in sustainment costs, said Jim Cannon, president and CEO of AM General.
“A soldier never looks at the data plate and says, ‘How much weight can I put on this vehicle?’ They put all the weight they can on the vehicle to get where they gotta go,” Cannon said. “What they’re learning is the initial cost up front may be cheaper to buy an F-250 pickup truck, but after the third time they’ve replaced it … they’re kind of pivoting back towards the light tactical vehicle space.”
As Middle East nations look to modernize their fleets, the current conflict in Ukraine has demonstrated that there is a growing significance in a truck’s mobility, Lazar said. He pointed to images of Russian trucks sitting roadside and idle in Ukraine — unable to move farther into the battlespace — as an example of the growing importance of a vehicle’s mobility.
“If you have militarized commercial trucks, you become quite vulnerable in tactical and operational situations,” Lazar said.
While commercial vehicles could cover part of the lines of communication between a military’s supplies and a battlefield’s front lines, there is an additional stretch of off-road area that can only be covered by military tactical vehicles — and that stretch is only getting longer, he noted.
Oshkosh Defense brought a four-door Joint Light Tactical Vehicle equipped with an objective gunner protection kit and a .50 caliber machine gun on top to Abu Dhabi. Lazar said this configuration seemed to be “the most popular requested type of weapon system on top of a truck for this region.”
Compared to the company’s Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected All-Terrain Vehicle — currently operated by both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — the JLTV provides much more mobility for land forces, Lazar said.
“With the JLTV, you have MRAP levels of protection in a much smaller vehicle that weighs much less and that gives you greater mobility,” he said. The truck can reach speeds of 130 kilometers per hour over rugged terrain and can be given various levels of armored protection, he added.
While nations in the Middle East might be turning away from using ruggedized commercial vehicles, there is still value in military platforms that share commonalities with commercial trucks, said Steve duMont, president of GM Defense.
“My goal would be to start first with a vehicle that is as close to the commercial starting point as possible, because then I can tap into economies of scale to drive the cost down and value up. I can leverage the global supply chain, global distribution and sustainment network — all of those things … bring a lot of value to the customer,” he said during the trade show.
At the conference, GM showcased a heavy gun carrier version of its Infantry Squad Vehicle — currently in use by the U.S. Army. The light utility vehicle is based off of the Chevy Colorado ZR2 truck and 90 percent of the military version uses commercial-off-the-shelf parts, said Bradley Watters, vice president of international business development at the company.
“We’ve added some performance racing parts to it, and that helps you with maintainability, sustainability and being more rugged for the long term,” Watters said.
At the same time, the level of tactical mobility the Infantry Squad Vehicle gives land forces is paramount for modern conflicts, duMont said.
“It allows them to parachute the vehicle out with them — come in underneath the Black Hawk or inside the Chinook they’re riding in — and as soon as they hit the landing zone they move with speed to dismount, engage the enemy and then they can rapidly leave the area,” he said.
Not only are vehicles built for agility able to move troops and supplies in and out of battlefields quickly, “but it’s also now more and more about bringing technology out into the battlespace to do missions like surveillance, reconnaissance and, in some cases, strike missions,” he added.
While emphasizing increased mobility, vendors at IDEX marketed their platforms as more than just vehicles. Many manufacturers integrated UAVs, counter-drone systems, anti-tank weapons and more with their tactical vehicles on the trade show floor.
For example, AM General displayed its Humvee Saber Blade Edition concept vehicle at the trade show for its customers in the Middle East. The latest iteration of the company’s most famous vehicle incorporated two AeroVironment Switchblade loitering munitions as well as a remote-controlled weapon system with counter-UAV capabilities made by France-based firm Hornet.
Cannon said the vehicle was like “an air defense bubble,” adding that the purpose was to demonstrate how the vehicle could be easily upgraded and customized with different weapons systems to match the most pressing threats.
“You see how much drones are employed in Ukraine. Everyone is watching that conflict and learning from it every day, and I think that holds true certainly here in the Middle East,” Cannon said.
Other vehicle manufacturers showcased the flexibility of their tactical vehicles.
The Emirati company Calidus Land Systems revealed a version of its Light Reconnaissance Vehicle 20 equipped with a tube launcher able to carry four drones and an additional small quadcopter, all for surveillance.
The vehicle was specifically designed to be integrated with a variety of weapon systems and communications platforms so it can perform a range of mission-specific tasks, including rapid intervention, surveillance, intelligence and fire support missions, according to the company.
That kind of modularity is crucial for modern conflicts — especially when vendors are working with international customers, Lazar said.
As Oshkosh markets its vehicles to Middle Eastern nations, it is also keeping the door open for partnerships with indigenous defense industries that may understand each country’s specific needs better, he said.
“We realize that we might not have all of the solutions, and we want to customize the vehicle to meet the capability requirement of the indigenous forces,” he said. “We will find local partners — whether it be in [maintenance, repair and operations], or aftermarket or in weapon systems — and we integrate those onto the truck.”
The need for additional capabilities on battlefields could also push Middle Eastern nations to embrace electrification and hybrid-electric engines, duMont said.
“The ability to have onboard power to run all the mission systems on the vehicles — including ISR, long-range thermal imagers, communications components, tethered drones or launchable and recoverable drones — they can all be powered by the batteries onboard the vehicle without having to idle the vehicle and give away your location,” he said.
The technology has other tactical advantages, such as giving vehicles a low thermal signature and allowing the platforms to drive quietly, he added.
During IDEX, GM Defense announced it had entered a memorandum of understanding with the United Arab Emirates’ Tawazun Council to research and develop advanced mobility and vehicle power technologies — marking GM Defense’s first collaboration with a Middle Eastern nation.
“We are moving forward with research and development with things that deal with fuel cells, research and development on [electric vehicles] and incorporating some of that capability into their platforms as well as ours,” Watters noted.
As companies usher in new vehicle technology to the Middle East, AM General is also working with countries in the region to recapitalize the vehicles they already have in a cost-effective way.
Many Middle Eastern nations have operated fleets of Humvees in harsh conditions for almost two decades, and to update the aging vehicles for more modern conflicts, AM General began recapitalization programs with countries to revamp their fleets.
“We’re very willing to provide chassis, provide new vehicles, provide recap capability in-country for them to utilize,” Cannon said.
In the Middle East, the company is currently working with Jordan to revamp their Humvees. Cannon noted that along with an upgraded Humvee fleet, the effort brings innovation to the country’s local industry — a common theme across the region.
“They all want some local industrialization, they want to build their own local industrial base,” Cannon said.