For decades tank design has been held in the vice-like grip of the “Iron Triangle’, a design mantra that states that any tank – in order to succeed on the battlefield – needs to be built on the sturdy columns of firepower, protection and mobility. The perfect tank, it was deemed, would be a seamless combination of these three key qualities – a machine that could withstand a host of armour-piercing shells, transport its crew both quickly and safely across a war-torn battlefield, and then deliver a series of explosive shells into enemy structures and vehicles.
Today’s most advanced tanks are testament to the Iron Triangle -just look at the awesome firepower and armour delivered by the Mi Abrams main battle tank – delivering, in varying degrees of success, heavily armed and armoured mobile fortresses capable of leveling city blocks and boosting an army’s odds in any conflict they are deployed in.
However, times are changing. The modern 21st-century battlefield experienced today in 2012 differs radically from that experienced in the mid-20th century when much of today’s top armour was conceived. The theatre of war in the present is more fluid, fast-moving and interconnected than ever before, demanding armies to react quickly and efficiently to any intelligence gathered to stay on top. In essence, intelligence and adaptability are now central to any armoured fighting vehicle, and these qualities are rapidly reshaping the Iron Triangle into an ‘Iron Pentagon’ with which any new build must comply if it’s to be an out-and-out success.
In this article How It Works takes a close look at three of the most notable armoured fighting vehicles that are being constructed following the Iron Pentagon principle. These mighty machines not only offer bucket-loads of armour and smart munitions, but also deliver advanced electronic architectures, near-omniscient sensors, super-fast internet networks, modular structures to adapt to any situation, plus revolutionary propulsion units.
So, strap yourself in and pay attention, as knowledge is power – and boy do these tanks go a long way to prove it!
ASCOD SV: the scout
The Specialist Vehicle (SV) is the British Army’s new, medium-weight armoured fighting vehicle built on General Dynamics’ ASCOD platform. The platform is designed to fulfil a variety of roles that are currently each handled by one specialized but restricted vehicle. As such, upon introduction – the first trial vehicle is set to be delivered by January 2013 – the SV will be able to undertake all the diverse roles of these traditional vehicles, replacing them and reducing both costs and training timescales.
This is possible for two main reasons. The SV’s modular architecture allows a number of specialised vehicles to be generated off the back of one common base platform (CBP). So, the SV can deliver some 17 variants, including the Scout reconnaissance variant, armoured personnel carrier, direct fire light tank, command and control vehicle, ambulance, through to recovery and repair engineering vehicles.
Another reason the SV is the ‘Swiss Army knife’ of the tank world is its integration of an advanced open electronic architecture system. This allows the SV’s base vehicle to communicate with any systems unique to its specialised variants, enabling full sensor suite integration and easy control by its operator. It also helps manage the intelligence that can be captured, analyzed and stored by the SV, which can be transferred over the latest Ethernet network to the rest of the battle group – be they on foot, in other vehicles or at base. This capability is a game-changer for the British Army.
One of the SV’s most impressive qualities is its modular design, allowing a stock base to be metamorphosed into many vehicle types
Thanks to its common base platform (CBP) and advanced electronic architecture, SV variants will be able to handle a host of roles. For example, the SV family offers a light tank, anti-aircraft and missile gun station, repair and recovery vehicle, command and communication vehicle and ambulance among other vehicles. Each of these can be outfitted to fulfill roles laid out in the British Ministry of Defence’s Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) programme, a project designed to create a large fleet of network-enabled, cross-spectrum armoured fighting vehicles. For example, the final phase of the development will also see a bridge layer and heavy-lifting vehicle developed.
CV90120: the tank killer
There is no escaping the CV90120’s primary purpose: that of delivering a vehicle that offers the penetrative stopping power of a main battle tank, but with a weight, mobility and sensor suite comparable to a smaller and lighter specialist vehicle. And indeed it delivers, bringing the colossal Rheinmetall LLR/L47 120-millimetre (4.7-inch) anti-cannon to the battlefield, a gun that no armoured vehicle in the world can withstand if a clean shot is landed. What’s more exciting, however, is its revolutionary new electronic architecture and systems, as well as its unique ADAPTIV cloaking device.
The ADAPTIV system enables the tank to cloak itself over the infrared spectrum from any surveillance radars, accurately mimicking other less dangerous vehicles – therefore supplying misinformation to enemies. It can even vanish all together, with the system drastically reducing its signature at long and medium ranges. No other system like this is currently on the market worldwide and, when you factor in that ADAPTIV is already being used in the field, then its game-changing qualities really shine through.
Another real high point of this next-generation fighter is its impressive suite of electronic survival features. These include laser, radar and missile approach warning systems, various multispectral, aerosol active countermeasures, a top-mounted attack radar that can identify precision anti-tank munitions, and a detailed vehicle information system (VIS). The latter supplies crew members with a vast array of battlefield information and intelligence, as well as various system parameters.
The CV90120 is hardwired with BAE’s ADAPTIV armour, a revolutionary new electrical camouflage system.
The ADAPTIV system works by using lightweight, metallic, hexagonal pixels to cover a vehicle’s armour, which themselves are powered by the unit’s internal electrical system. The pixels are then individually heated and/or cooled using semiconductors to either remove the tank’s heat/radar signature entirely from surveillance radars – making it invisible to the enemy – or mimic the heat signature of another vehicle. As such, the CV90120 tank can quickly and quietly assume the appearance of a 4X4and have its true threat remain undetected.
Interestingly, the ADAPTIV technology also allows the host vehicle to mimic the textures of other objects, minimizing its radar signature even further and enabling it to appear like a range of inanimate natural objects, such as a large rock.
GCV: the mobile fortress
BAE Systems-Northrop Grumman’s brand-new Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV) has been designed to provide the right mix of capabilities to adequately tackle the 21st-century battlefield, while also innovating in its delivery of cost-effectiveness over its scheduled 40-year life span. As such, the GCV has been designed to replace existing armoured personnel carriers and light tanks, while also providing a modular common chassis from which future specialist vehicles can be evolved.
The GCV features an adaptive platform built around a space-efficient steel core hull (the vehicle can carry a full squad of nine soldiers), an unmanned turret equipped with a 25-millimetre (one-inch) auto-cannon and coaxial machine gun, and a cutting-edge hybrid electric drive (HED) propulsion unit. This smart tank can also boast an integrated C4ISR electronic network, including embedded intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets to connect personnel to varied information sources – a vital asset in modern warfare.
The propulsion unit is the real star of the show though, offering exceptional force protection and mobility in such a lightweight vehicle. The benefits are marked – read: a 20 per cent saving on fuel, 50 per cent fewer moving parts, 60 per cent reduction in total volume and increased on-board power delivery capabilities. Indeed, a standout feature the ability to generate its own power even when stationary, a move intended to ready the GCV for the ongoing evolution of its systems.