Russian experts analyze wheeled armor prospects

Most modern armies are switching to new wheeled hardware. Modern conflicts of the past 30 years and forecasts of experts about future wars advanced a set of requirements to it, the Izvestia daily writes.

Russian experts analyze wheeled armor prospects
The BTR-82A with all the drawbacks of Soviet hardware of the Cold War time remains the main wheeled vehicle of the Russian Ground Forces. (Picture source: Army Recognition)

The most popular future war concept is the so-called multidomain warfare which is another evolution of the general combat. The authors believe the combat will develop in several domains at a time - at sea, in the air, on the ground, in cyberspace and outer space, and will be distinguished by high speed and interaction of allied forces.

US military circles believe the warring parties will try and win advantage over an equal adversary by constantly making it face numerous mutually complementing threats, each of them demanding a response. It means the adversary cannot allow itself inaction while any action will compel it to take measures that will deteriorate its situation.

A major component for the task is maneuverable mechanized units of a new type which are armed with corresponding weapons. The idea of a universal mechanized formation has long been in the air. The British tried to implement it in the first half of the 20th century and created an Experimental Armored Force (EAF) in 1927. Besides tanks, the EAF included reconnaissance forces on armored vehicles, field artillery, heavy artillery and antiaircraft artillery, motorized rifles, engineers, provision and communications. Besides, the force was backed by reconnaissance, fighter and bomber aircraft. The idea was decades ahead of its time and was not implemented because of undeveloped technologies, high costs and requirements to personnel training.

The United States returned to the idea in the late 1990s and began to draft the ambitious Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. By the mid-2000s, the US Department of Defense proposed to Germany, the UK and France, as well as to other NATO partners to join the Scorpion project to modernize the armed forces. Therefore, some European programs of the army of the future contain elements designed by the USA. The multidomain warfare concept is supported by NATO and outside the alliance. A new global trend has emerged.

Most modernization programs focus on a brigade as the main tactical mechanized formation. Like in the UK 92 years ago, modern brigades have a broad range of capabilities and instruments. Their tactical missions include control of a territory, decisive actions on difficult terrain, offensive actions (raids, deep attack, and power reconnaissance), defensive actions (deterrence or defense of a broad frontline), and ensuring access of allied forces to the theater of warfare.

The brigades have to destroy the engagement zones of A2/AD strategy where air defense, barrel and rocket artillery and other weapons operate and deny access and maneuver. The aim is to ensure maneuverability on a division level.

What are the new requirements to combat vehicles and why wheeled vehicles are important today? The main reason in favor of wheeled armor is the necessity of high mobility for mechanized formations. They must be able to accomplish difficult maneuvers and maintain communications with all allied forces, rapidly exchange information and see the general picture of the battlefield. Colonel Claude Fran from Scorpion laboratory (LCS, Le laboratoire du combat Scorpion) described the French option of the doctrine as "decentralized maneuver based on total presence and rapid operation." What does it mean?

Quickly changing concentrations and dispersions have to constantly keep the adversary on the edge and make it guess the location and intentions of a tactical group or brigade. It means total presence.

Decentralization means that a tactical group or brigade can quickly disperse, move in parts or as a whole unit, and again concentrate for a decisive strike. It is difficult to detect and destroy such a formation by artillery or air strike.

When western experts analyze the combat capabilities of a potential adversary, they take into account the necessity to fight numerous and developed artillery. Thus, the Russian Ground Forces are often mentioned. US experts Charles Bartles and Lester Grau described them as "an artillery army with numerous tanks."

Most modern armies are switching to new wheeled hardware. Modern conflicts of the past 30 years and forecasts of experts about future wars advanced a set of requirements to it, the Izvestia daily writes.

Mobility is a component of survivability of the whole formation and each armored vehicle. The protection of modern hardware begins with armor. However, it is the final defense line when all other means have been exhausted. Tactical maneuverability and ability to timely detect the threat helps escape adversary strike and offers the best protection. Naturally, armor is important in passive and active options and increased mine resistance.

The requirement to equip wheeled armor with active protection does not surprise anyone anymore. It is more surprising that the protection of motorized rifles remains at the level of 1930-1950s. The value of a professional soldier has greatly increased since then.

Another basic requirement demands the hardware to be unified and modular. The latter aspect is considered in several dimensions - from additional armor to the replacement of combat and functional modules. Unified standards in NATO countries and allies help combine elements from various producers in various countries.

Multidomain warfare demands mechanized forces to be highly autonomous and operate away from the main forces and supply lines. For example, the British want their brigades to quickly march over 2,700 kilometers and actively and autonomously operate for ten days. Therefore, the importance of ergonomics is growing. Armor designers know that future conflicts will develop at a high pace and the load on a soldier, both physical and informational, will increase.

Comfortable conditions positively influence the effectiveness and morale of a soldier who is an important component of the success on the battlefield. Designers believe a soldier does not have to overpower everyday conditions and the hardware, but fulfill the mission without losing effectiveness. Therefore, everyday and technical conditions should be improved for him to the maximum.

All of it is senseless without upgraded communications and awareness of the situation. The multidomain warfare ideology has all tactical units and elements operating in a common network and possessing a common vision of the tactical situation. Designers say the information has to be updated in real-time or close to it. It develops an armored vehicle into a key element of the combat network. The new combat hardware is capable of joint actions and data exchange with allies, including those technically less developed. Most modern wheeled hardware that has appeared in the armies since the early 2000s meets the parameters or is close to them.

Protection, ergonomics, and situation awareness came to the foreground, while the weight and size are losing priority. 20 centimeters less of hull height do not matter for modern antitank weapons, but are an inconvenience for soldiers who have to stay in the vehicle for days. The hardware is costly and sophisticated. The cost of armament and the value of each solider, as well as other requirements, are much higher than 40 years ago. Modern warfare is costly and armies of the future will cost even more. The time of rapidly trained massive armies has passed. Russia is not fast in implementing the transition to unified heavy, medium and light brigades announced by Ground Forces Commander-in-Chief Colonel-General Alexander Postnikov in 2011.

The BTR-82A with all the drawbacks of Soviet hardware of the Cold War time remains the main wheeled vehicle of the Russian Ground Forces. Massive supplies of new hardware will not happen soon and the potential adversary will have time to saturate its army with new hardware and train its engagement. It is a dubious prospect to remain without a new engagement concept and a vehicle of 1970s against NATO brigades by 2030.

As for foreign markets, they are not endless and competitors are active with finished products. When the first serial vehicles on the Boomerang platform may be offered to foreign customers, competitors will market the second generation or deeply upgraded vehicles. The situation for Russian producers is disturbing also because new players entered the market of wheeled armor and the old ones became more active. Solvent markets are crowded while poorly financed armies cannot afford costly weapons, the Izvestia said.

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