Slovakia’s Infantry Fighting Vehicle programme is a once-in-a-generation opportunity

Slovakia’s program for the renewal of its infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) fleet is following on the heels of similar programs in neighboring countries: the Czech Republic and Hungary. As armed forces in Central Europe replace outdated Soviet-era equipment, acquisition programs are unique opportunities to meet the demands of modern and future battlefields as well as economic requirements.
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Rheinmetall Lynx KF41 at IDEB 2021 (Picture source: AH)

Who’s in the running?

The complete list of potential providers for the Slovak IFV program is not yet closed. Some suppliers have already confirmed their participation, including BAE Systems with the CV90, General Dynamics with the ASCOD and Rheinmetall with the Lynx KF41.

The contenders are, therefore, similar to the providers vying to provide the Czech Republic with its new IFV fleet. Final offers have been submitted for the Czech program, after several weeks of tests had been undertaken earlier this year to determine the vehicle best matching the requirements of the Czech armed forces. However, the program has been running for several years now and nobody knows when the final decision will be made.

In Slovakia, Rheinmetall was the first participant to present its Lynx KF41 IFV at Zahorié to Slovak decision-makers. After that, BAE Systems made its presentation with two variants of its CV90, while GDELS showed its ASCOD 2 fitted with the Elbit Systems MT-30 turret.

Undoubtedly, Rheinmetall's Lynx KF41 is the biggest and heaviest vehicle in the competition, with a weight capacity of up to 50 tons. Yet it is also the most modern. The Lynx has not yet been tested in active service, but more than 200 units are currently under production for Hungary. And the vehicle is also a contender for programs in Australia (Land 400 Phase 3), the Czech Republic, and the USA (OMFV). Both the CV90 and ASCOD 2 vehicle types were either excluded or not considered for the Australian and US programs.

As mentioned before, GDELS presented its ASCOD 2 with Elbit MT-30 turret at Zahorié. The ASCOD 2 chassis is in service in the UK (Ajax); Spain (Pizarro) and Austria (Ulan) are using a lighter Ascod chassis weighing about 35 tons. The armed forces of the Philippines have recently chosen an ASCOD variant for their Light Tank Acquisition Project. The vehicle's turret is already fitted on a number of platforms already and is in competition for Land 400 Phase 3 on the AS-21 Redback of Hanwha.

The CV90, from Swedish company BAE Systems Hägglunds, is in service in different variants in several European countries. It can be considered the most proven system among all the competitors for the Slovak program, although even the Mk IV variant presented by the company at Zahorié cannot hide the fact that the vehicle’s concept was designed some 30 years ago.

On the plus side, the CV90 is the lightest vehicle in the competition, with a maximum weight of 38 tonnes, but its inner volume is also very limited. The 120mm CV90 light tank shown at Zahorié is not yet in service, and its 120mm Mjölnir mechanized mortar has so far only been purchased by the Swedish Army.

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GDELS ASCOD 2 with a manned turret at the NATO Days 2019 in Prague (Picture source: Armadny Noviny)

Will innovation or experience be the deciding factor?

Whereas BAE’s CV90 and GDELS’s ASCOD 2 have been already in service for some years, Rheinmetall’s Lynx stands apart because of its relative youth. While CV90 is undergoing mid-life upgrades in the Netherlands and Switzerland, Hungary has put its trust in Rheinmetall’s new concept, ordering a total of 218 units last year, most of which will be produced at a major new manufacturing plant in Zalaegerszeg, western Hungary.

Arguments against the Lynx usually focus on its unproven status in an actual theatre of conflict. Indeed, if battlefield experience were the sole criteria for Slovak decision-makers, the Lynx would not be able to compete with the Ascod 2 or CV90 models. Production of the CV90 vehicle type began in the 1980s when very different fighting conditions prevailed in global conflicts. And although the ASCOD has been in service for almost two decades, the recent history of the vehicle family has been far from smooth. Britain’s Ajax is the subject of escalating concerns as the UK armed forces struggle with delivery and technical problems, including vibration and noise issues causing significant discomfort for soldiers.

For lethality, BAE Systems and GDELS chose the Orbital ATK Mk44 as the main armament for their vehicles, while Rheinmetall is using the Mk30-2 manufactured by the former company Mauser, now Rheinmetall Weapon & Ammunition. Both weapons are airburst capable but use different types of technologies. An airburst round is a type of tactical anti-personnel/anti-material ammunition, typically a shell or grenade, that is time fuzed and detonates at a defined distance from the target, causing destructive effects by the kinetic energy of defined (sub projectiles, e.g. tungsten cylinders) none defined (shrapnel) fragments.

The ATK 30mm Air Burst Munition System (ABM) provides any platform an immediate lethality improvement. The system provides the new capability to burst a 30mm projectile at a precise point in space resulting in increased effectiveness against targets in defilade. The ATK ABM system is composed of the ATK 30mm Mk44 Bushmaster cannon employing an integrated fuse setter in the feed system; an ABM fuse setter module in the gun control unit (GCU); an ABM ballistic algorithm integrated into the platform fire control unit; and the Mk310 Programmable Air Burst Munition (PABM). The PABM can function in an airburst, point detonating and point detonating delay modes. The projectile has proven penetration capability and significant behind armor effects against lightly armored vehicles. The ATK ABM system is also capable of being retrofitted into existing Mk44 cannons.

As a matter-of-fact BAE chose the Rheinmetall ABM/ KETF technology for at least two of their CV90 programs in Europe, in the Netherlands, and Denmark.

Rheinmetall’s airburst ammunition (ABM) is the ideal solution for contemporary vehicle main armament, ground-based anti-aircraft guns, and naval applications. Based on NATO-qualified Ahead technology, each ABM round contains a large number of sub-projectiles and a programmable fuse, which is supplied with data from the fire control computer via an electric fuse programming coil as it departs the barrel. After measuring the current velocity of the round, the electronics calculate the optimum detonation time, inductively programming each round as it passes through the muzzle. Since the ejection interval can be altered, the insensitive Rheinmetall airburst ammunition can be used to engage a wide spectrum of modern battlefield threats. The ABM round is available in caliber 30 mm x 173 and 35 mm x 228.

ATOM 35mm Air Burst Ammunition developed by the Turkish company ASELSAN is a smart ammunition having a base fuse. The effectiveness of the barrelled guns is increased noticeably with the use of Air Burst Ammunition and they become an important option for small and high-speed targets.

Together with the ability of precise time counting and the capability of being programmed during firing by taking muzzle velocity into consideration; ATOM 35mm Air Burst Ammunition provides high hit probability against various types of air and land targets.

Who will make it?

All the contenders to renew Slovakia’s IFV fleet have positives and drawbacks. Ultimately, the result may come down to whether or not decision-makers wish to play it safe with the older design of BAE Systems or GDELS, or opt for the higher-risk, higher-reward option of Rheinmetall’s innovative Lynx design. Whatever the outcome, the country’s armed forces will be hoping for the arrival of a vehicle type with which they can work for decades to come.

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BAE Systems CV90 at DSEI 2021 (Picture source: Army Recognition)