Armor: Building A Better Box

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November 30, 2020: In late 2020 the U.S. Army began receiving the first AMPV (Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle), a long-sought replacement for the 65-year-old M-113 design. The army officially began looking for an M-113 replacement in 2013 and by 2014 selected the vehicle submitted by BAE Systems. This candidate was based on the BAE M-2 Bradley IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). The AMPV costs nearly $4 million each and has protection similar to the M-2 and even greater off-road mobility.

AMPV pre-production prototypes were available for troop testing in 2018 and production of the first 551 of 2,907 AMPV was to begin at the end of 2018. There were delays getting the production line going and in early 2020 covid19 came along. Meanwhile the army was having budget problems and reduced AMPV spending. It will take longer to produce the 2,907 AMPVs needed. For example, full production won’t start until 2022, two years later than planned. In other words, all the AMPVs may not be produced until the end of the decade.

The 34 to 37-ton AMPV comes in several different variants and that accounts for the variable weight. Top speed is 60 kilometers an hour and range on internal fuel is 360 kilometers 0n flat ground or roads at cruising speed of 48 kilometers an hour. Crew varies from two to four depending on purpose. The basic AMPV has a crew of two and six passengers. AMPV can carry supplies using the flat-bed, no roof version. Medical variants have a roof and can carry four wounded troops on litters or six sitting. There is also a medical treatment variant that carried several medical specialists, a treatment table, additional medical equipment and space for one litter. The medical variant can also be used as a command center, mainly because the AMPV provides a lot more electrical power than the M-113. The command variant is meant to provide a mobile command center for a battalion or brigade headquarters. There is also a weapons carrier version that currently consists only of a mortar carrier that is armed with a 120mm mortar and 69 rounds of ammo. Other weapons systems will eventually be installed. Most AMPVs are armed with a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun.

Israel, South Korea and the United States were all actively seeking a suitable replacement for the thousands of M113 APCs (armored personnel carriers) each uses. All three nations still use lots of M113s. Actually, about 10,000 M113s are still in use worldwide and the U.S., South Korea and Israel account for more than half of them. Everyone wanted a more effective but still affordable replacement. The U.S. settled on a support version of the M2 IFV. South Korea developed the K21 to replace the M113 in combat and the 16-ton 6x6 K806 to replace the M113 for non-IFV functions. A larger version of this vehicle, the 8x8 K808 is similar to the American Stryker. The U.S. considered a Stryker variant as a M-113 replacement but found that this vehicle could not keep up with M1 tanks and M2 IFV while travelling cross-country in a combat situation. Since AMPVs will comprise about 30 percent of the armored vehicles in an armored brigade that became the deciding factor for the AMPV.

Israel selected the Eitan, an 8x8 wheeled APC, in 2016. Eitan relies on new technologies to keep its weight under 35 tons and eliminate the cost (to build and maintain) of tracked vehicle technology. Eitan also provides an affordable, well protected and more reliable APC than heavier and more expensive proposals. The Eitan used new types of lightweight armor and the Trophy APS (Active Protection System) for defense against RPGs (an unguided rocket propelled grenade fired from a metal tube balanced on the shoulder) and ATGMs (Anti-Tank Guided Missile). New mechanical and electronic technologies enable the Eitan to handle off-road movement as well as a tracked vehicle. That concept had to be field tested extensively, which is why Israel first built Eitan prototypes to test mobility, protection and general usefulness. Eitan passed those tests.

The new lightweight armor designs and Trophy have already been tested in combat. Trophy was first used in combat during 2011 and several times since. It has worked consistently. APS consists of a radar to detect incoming missiles and small rockets to rush out and deal with the incoming threat. A complete system weighs about a ton. Eitan will have a remotely (from inside the vehicle) controlled 30mm or 40mm autocannon and carry a crew of two and twelve passengers. The Eitan will mainly replace Israeli M113s by the end of the 2020s and cost about 20 percent less than the AMPV.

The M113 was a hard act to follow. This boxy armed vehicle entered service in 1960 and served effectively during the Vietnam War and was the main American APC throughout most of the Cold War. About 80,000 M113s were manufactured. At 13 tons, although often closer to 15 tons with added armor and other accessories, the M113 is lighter than the M2 and Stryker that replaced it in the combat role. The major shortcoming of the M113 is the time and expense of keeping elderly ones running. That’s because it runs on tracks, like a bulldozer. That means it has a max speed of only 65 kilometers an hour compared to at least 100 for wheeled armored vehicles. Those tracks wear out quickly and have to be replaced at great expense (over $10,000 a set) every 6,000 kilometers or less. Traveling on roads wears out the tracks faster. The tracks also limit how much weight you can add. However, the M-113 proved to be a very flexible platform, lending itself to modifications by many of the dozens of armed forces that still use it. Some countries have added turrets, mounting 25mm cannon. Israel, however, wanted more protection for the urban fighting its reserve troops (who rely on the M113) often encounter. By the 1990s an updated M-113 cost less than $2 million each. This late model M-113 had much better armor protection and reliability but was still inferior to the M-2 that replaced it as an infantry combat vehicle.

The M2 Bradley is a 27-ton armored vehicle that proved to be an excellent, combat proven vehicle worth keeping around for a while. Over 4,000 M-2s were built, plus about 2,300 similar M-3s, a recon version with more gear and fewer passengers. The M2 has a turret armed with 25mm autocannon and two TOW ATGMs. The M-2 eventually cost about $5.7 million each and weight increased to 30 tons as more protection and other equipment was added.

The new South Korean, Israel and American M113 replacements are also competing for the large export market for a good M113 replacement. Which vehicle wins that competition remains to be seen.

 


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