Wheels, no more tracks - Mobile Gun System vehicles in Canadian army

For many years, the war in Afghanistan has been rehabilitating the tracked main battle tanks. But except on that theatre of operations, the Mobile Gun System "philosophy" has taken over on the "old concept". No more tracks, but wheels. So, the Canadian army wants MGS vehicles.

Wheels no more tracks Mobile Gun System vehicles in Canadian army2
The Iveco-Oto Melara Centauro I of the Italian army, an example of the MGS "philosophy" that has mainly superseded the "old" tracked MBT tradition The Centauro II is now available on the market (Picture source: Army Recognition)

In the late 1990', the Canadian Leopard tanks had been slated for disposal or sale after Gen. Rick Hillier decided they had become obsolete on modern battlefields. But by the time the request came in from commanders in Afghanistan for Leopards, there were still enough functioning Leopard 1A5s in the inventory – not yet decommissioned. While some tanks were in the process of being decommissioned and used as monuments, the tanks sent to Southern Afghanistan were fully operational.

Canada commissioned KMW to upgrade 20 Leopard MBTs in July 2009 for deployment in Hindu Kush. The new version, the Leopard 2A4M CAN, is specially designed for operations in Afghanistan. In fact, all the Leopard tanks operated by the Canadian army in Afghanistan seem to keep performing very well. Among the Leopard variants operating in the country, the Leopard 2A6M CAN is a Canadian variant of the Leopard 2A6. Significant modifications include the mine protection belly armour added, thus giving the tank the “M” designation, distinctive tan coloured boxes mounted on the rear of the turret, contains Canadian Forces designated communications and anti-IED (improvised explosive device) jamming gear which includes the “T” antenna stands, and stand-off slat armour. They have been fitted with a cooling unit with cooling suits for the crew, and the Saab Barracuda camouflage mats which also serve to reduce solar loading by 50 percent. This system was added to the deployed Leopards in 2009.

So, why having initially removed the Leopard tanks from the Canadian army inventory? In October 2003 Lt.Gen. Rick Hillier told journalists that Canada was taking its Leopard tanks out of service and instead was going to purchase the U.S. Stryker Mobile Gun System, a 8x8 combat vehicle. Hillier told reporters that the army’s Leopards had served their purpose and, despite undergoing a $145-million upgrade, were now of limited use. The vehicle of the future was instead the Mobile Gun System, a “war-winner” commonly considered to be a wheeled vehicle for obvious mobility advantages.

The Stryker Brigade Combat Team uses the MGS to create openings in walls, destroy bunkers and machine gun nests, and defeat sniper positions and light armor threats. The primary weapon systems are designed to be effective against a range of threats up to T-62 tanks. But Strykers are being upgraded to face heavier threats.

The general dismissed concerns from some opposition politicians who warned the decision would put the lives of Canadian military personnel at risk and placed the country on par with Belgium, Luxembourg and Iceland, three nations at the time which also saw no longer need for heavy tracked combat vehicles. But studies done by the Canadian Forces in the late 1990s had already called into question replacing the Leopard tank with a lighter armoured vehicle, similar to the MGS, thus a wheeled vehicle. The outcome of one of those war game simulations warned that using such a vehicle would cost Canadian lives.

In 2003, responding to a Canadian Forces report that showed U.S. tanks played a key role in the Iraq war, then retired brigadier general Jim Hanson ridiculed the MGS purchase in an Ottawa Citizen article that I wrote. “The Americans drove their tanks into downtown Baghdad where RPGs bounced off their armour,” said Hanson. “Buying the Stryker — that’s insanity.” He also argued that Canada’s Leopards could be upgraded at a lower cost than the MGS price tag and still provide the army with armour protection and firepower for years to come.

Hillier, who was Army commander at the time, responded a short time later. He called Hanson’s comments “a distortion” and characterized critics of the MGS as “armchair strategists” who “preferred it the old way.” Warfare had changed, according to Hillier. No longer were the Canadian forces facing the Russians, Lt.Gen. Hillier wrote. Instead, it was up against “snakes,” a reference to terrorists and insurgents. “Tanks are a perfect example of extremely expensive systems that sit in Canada because they are inappropriate to the operations we conduct daily around the world,” Lt.-Gen. Hillier wrote. “The MGS, in conjunction with other combat systems, will give us a much greater capability on operations such as those being conducted in Kabul, and still give us options for high-intensity combat.”

The general also directly linked the purchase of the MGS to the future transformation of the Canadian army. “This transformational process to counter the Snakes that are prevalent around the world is unsettling to some,” he wrote. “They would appear to prefer that we stop the process of change irrespective of the dramatically different threat.” That, argued the general, would be illogical.

A short time later, the Canadian Army under Lt.Gen. Andrew Leslie asked that the MGS project be killed. To no avail, as the MGS "philosophy" was definitely on track. So, on the Afghan theatre of operations, Leopard Tanks keep demonstrating their remarkable efficiency but, on the other hand, the Canadian army has taken the path of the MGS with various vehicles. Hence two interesting vehicles illustrating the MGS line of vehicles: the Centauro II MGS 120/105mm and the LAV-111 Stryker 105mm SPW.

The Centauro II MGS 120 mm/105 mm, a modernized version of the Centauro 1 8x8 anti-tank wheeled armoured vehicle. The Centauro 2 was presented for the first time to the public during the defense exhibition Eurosatory in June 2016. It was the first 8x8 wheeled anti-tank vehicle in the world with a high-pressure gun. The Centauro II represents the logical evolution, being armed with a third generation 120/45 mm gun, with integrated muzzle brake and semi-automatic loading system. The weapon system provides a fire power equivalent to that of most modern main battle tanks, and is capable of firing all latest generation 120 mm, NATO APFSDS and multi-role MP munitions.

The LAV-III Stryker 105 mm Self-Propelled Howitzer is based on the unique 105 mm Towed Gun Howitzer ballistic system as developed by Denel, packaged in an integrated and lightweight turret system. The development the 105mm LAV III Light Self-Propelled Howitzer (LSPH) has taken another leap forward with the certification of the system as safe for manned firing tests. To date, the system has been remotely fired. The LSPH is a joint project between General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), Denel Land Systems (DLS) and Rheinmetall Denel Munition (RDM). Work on the development resumed last year after the cancellation of the US Army’s NLOS-C (non-line-of-sight, i.e indirect fire, cannon) programme the year before. DLS in a statement say the LSPH during the week of July 4 fired high explosive projectiles at a maximum range of 31km from a manned turret at Armscor's Alkantpan Test range in the Northern Cape.

The Canadian army is definitely "engaged" with the MGS "philosophy". Even if its Leopard tanks keep demonstrating their utility on the Afghan theatre of operations, like their M1A1 Abrams counterparts.


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