Armor: Crew Discomfort Matters

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July 26, 2021: Britain has run into an unexpected problem with its new Ajax tracked recon vehicle. Field testing has revealed a vibration problem, in addition to unusually high noise levels in the crew compartment. This frequently causes crew members to become ill. Field testing has been suspended for several months to identify the cause of the problem and fix it. Excessive noise and vibration are a constant threat with new armored vehicle designs and have been around for over sixty years. The Russian BMP was a novel tracked infantry vehicle, the first of its kind when it appeared in the 1960s. It had one major problem, space for the eight infantry was so cramped that the troops were often sick, or at least disoriented, from the fumes, noise and lack of space that they were in poor shape when the vehicle made contact with the enemy and the infantry had to exit the vehicle and fight. This was especially true if the BMP was travelling off-road or on a dirt road beforehand. Although over 20,000 BMPs were built, the problems with crew well-being were never resolved.

Modern tanks also ran into high noise levels in the crew compartment. This was particularly the case with the American M1 tank, which used a very efficient, but noisy turbine engine. Excessive vibration was often more of a problem with electronic equipment in tracked vehicles and was never completely eliminated. This was one of the reasons for the move to wheeled armored vehicles. Britain tried to just upgrade its old Warrior tracked infantry vehicles but, in the end, realized that the Boxer wheeled vehicle it had developed with Germany was the way to go. Most of the new vehicles are eight wheeled armored vehicles similar to the American Stryker.

One exception was the Ajax, a 38-ton tracked vehicle that had one major attraction, firepower. Ajax is armed with a novel new 40mm autocannon design that uses CTWS (Case Telescoped Weapon System) ammo. This innovative design was first introduced in the 1990s by the European firm (CTA) that developed it and is now supplying it for Britain and France. Case Telescoped ammo has the projectile inside a tube inside the cartridge case. Since the ammunition is cylindrical instead of cone-shaped, high-speed mechanical loading is easier. It took CTA over a decade to get CTWS working properly. CTWS auto-cannon were initially designed to fit into the smaller turrets of scout vehicles and IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles). The 40mm shells weigh 1.8 to 2.2 kg depending on type. The heavier ones are armor piercing while the lighter ones are high-explosive. Both can be fired at rates from 100 to 200 a minute.

The 40mm CTWS weapon in the Ajax turret was not affected by the vibration problem and has, so far, performed up to expectations. The Ajax was originally one of several variants based on the same tracked vehicle chassis. The army was going to buy over 500 0f these tracked vehicles but other design flaws had already been found and testing was suspended in 2020.

In the meantime, Britain has gone back to wheels for more affordable and reliable vehicles. In late 2019 Britain ordered 500 Boxer wheeled armored vehicles worth about $3.35 billion. This came a year after the British rejoined the joint British- German effort to create a wheeled armored utility vehicle for their forces.

Boxer development began in 1999 and was joined by the Netherlands in 2001. Then Britain withdrew in 2003 only to return fifteen years later. Meanwhile, in 2006 the Dutch- German consortium agreed to buy 472 Boxer vehicles; 200 for the Dutch and 272 for Germany. In 2008 Boxer successfully completed trials with the German Army and in 2011 five Boxers were used in Afghanistan, where none were lost. The Boxer was then purchased by Lithuania (89 in IFV configuration) and Australia as a Combat Reconnaissance Vehicle (211 ordered so far).

The Boxer itself is an 8x8 wheeled armored vehicle that is operated by a crew of three. There is room for eight passengers and the vehicle weighs from 25 to 36.5 tons depending on the version. Moreover, it’s air transportable by the new A400M four engine aircraft. Its design is modular for maximum flexibility. Every chassis can be equipped with different snap-in modules for different purposes like infantry carrier, command vehicle, ambulance, supply carrier, IFV and so on. These modules are interchangeable and can be added or removed in less than an hour.

The modular armor is ceramic and is attached to the steel hull with fastening bolts. This design allows quick replacement of damaged modules or easier upgrades when new armor technology develops. Moreover, the vehicle has a triple hull floor for better protection against anti-tank mines and roadside bombs. For survivability, front armor can withstand 30mm autocannon rounds, while the all-round protection can withstand 12.7mm fire. This is accompanied by lowered radar, thermal and acoustic signatures which make it harder to detect. To ensure sufficient mobility the vehicle is fitted with a new high power 720 HP diesel engine provides sufficient power-to-weight ratio and 85 kilometers per hour top speed. The maximum operational range is about a thousand kilometers.

Boxer armament can be configured to suit specific requirements of every user. Available weapons selection is pretty wide from light remote-controlled gun stations, turrets with autocannons up to even low recoil 105mm and 120mm guns. For example, German Boxers have a remotely operated gun mount with a 40-mm automatic grenade launcher, the Dutch ones are equipped with a 12.7-mm machine gun while the Lithuanian variant uses an Israeli unmanned turret with a 30mm gun, coaxial 7.62 mm machine gun and Spike LR anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) with a range up to 4,000 meters. The Australian CRV variant uses a "classical" LANCE 30mm two-man turret fitted with 30mm MK-30-2 autocannon together with Spike LR ATGM.

Meanwhile, Britain settled on four Boxer variants: Infantry Carrier, armed only with a 7.62mm machine-gun RWS (remote controlled station), Specialist Carrier, Command, and Ambulance. The last three were ordered in much smaller numbers. Boxer is expected to serve around 30 years and, together with the Ajax tracked recon vehicle, will complete the replacement of Cold War era armored vehicles and serve British armor needs for several decades. So far there are orders for about 1,200 Boxers from all users, with about half of them delivered.

 


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