Friday, December 31, 2010

BAE’s Diverse MRAP Orders

The USA’s Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected (MRAP) program has been a long road for BAE Systems. In the wake of the US Army’s belated realization that mine protection was critical for vehicles in theater, BAE’s designs, long-standing experience in the field, and production capacity had made them an early favorite. Early results were a deeply humbling experience for the firm, but a combination of acquisitions, persistence, and product development combined to recover 2nd place status by the time MRAP orders ceased.

BAE MRAP: The Vehicles

The RG-33L’s unique features make it a very strong contender for Explosive Ordnance Disposal roles, route-proving, and other classic MRAP Category II tasks that need a larger vehicle. It is a 6×6 vehicle designed to maximize interior space and visibility, while remaining well-protected and transportable by C-130 Hercules. At 38,700 pounds empty, it’s a close fit, and a fully-loaded vehicle can weigh up to 58,000 pounds. Compare this with an up-armored Hummer’s 9,000 pound empty weight and 12,000 pound total weight when fully loaded.

The optional robotic arm is probably the RG-33L’s most recognizable feature, allowing it to probe, remove, and/or place destruction charges near possible land mines from a safe distance. This feature helped the vehicle win the US Army’s 2,500 vehicle MMPV competition to equip its engineer and EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) units. It can be fielded without the arm, and some variants like the RG-33L MEDEVAC Ambulance variant are never equipped with it.

The RG-33L’s standard armor is designed to offer protection up to medium machine gun fire, while its monocoque v-hull is designed to deflect blasts away from the vehicle offer protection against IED land mines. Its windows use TRAPP transparent armor, and the vehicle is equipped to handle the weight of additional tailored armor packages if desired. It is also equipped with run-flat tires, multi-positional mine protected seating, and other survivability equipment such as extinguishers.

An hydraulic ramp, a transparent armor gunner’s shield, dedicated space for equipment stowage, and enough power generation to operate mission electronics and air conditioning round out the RG-33L’s key features. That last item may seem like a luxury, but when it’s 110 degrees outside the vehicle and you’re wearing body armor or a full explosives protection suit, air conditioning is necessary in order to arrive in a fit state to perform one’s duties… like defusing touchy explosives. The vehicle can carry up to 14 people, including the driver & front seat.

The shorter 4×4 RG-33 has 90% commonality with its larger cousin, and is the same width and height, but loses the robotic arm. It weighs 29,700 pounds empty, with a maximum weight fully loaded of up to 38,000 pounds. They are BAE’s high-end Category I patrol vehicle offering, designed to carry up to 8 people. They are also used in reconnaissance roles, and have been equipped with hydraulic masts that carry electro-optical long-range surveillance/ infrared/ laser-targeting turrets. A special variant of the RG-33 serves with US Special Operations Command as their MRAP vehicle of choice.


BAE’s 40-ton MRRMV recovery vehicle is also based on the RG-33. As militaries internalize the need for mine-protection on combat vehicles, a couple of corollaries become obvious. One is that heavier blast-resistant vehicles need heavy wheeled recovery vehicles that can tow them out of mud, canals, et. al. – or haul a vehicle that has had an axle destroyed by land mines back to base. The other corollary is that recovery vehicles intended to work in in areas where land mines are a common weapon of war must also be blast-resistant.

The privately-developed MRRMV carries a 2-man crew, plus equipment and spare parts to conduct on-site vehicle repairs, including field maintenance tasks that require lifting, welding, cutting and heating. It also maintains space to carry 2 recovered crew, and other combat spares. The MRRMV is capable of up-righting, winching and towing Hummers and M1117 ASVs, plus all MRAP, MMPV and Stryker class vehicles. Indeed, BAE claims that it has the capacity to recover all types of U.S. tracked and wheeled combat vehicles, with the exception of M1 Abrams battle tanks and the M88 Hercules tracked recovery vehicle.

MRAP Caiman Driving

BAE’s new subsidiary Armor Holdings was offering the Caiman MRAP vehicle before the acquisition, and is now known as BAE Tactical Vehicle Systems (BAE-TVS). Caiman is a v-hulled capsule design, mounted on the US Army’s standard FMTV medium trucks. This is not entirely surprising; one of the salient features of the trend toward mine-resistant vehicles is the use of truck chassis instead of standard automotive bases, in order to accommodate the extra armor and body weight associated with these kinds of vehicle designs. It also allows BAE to offer mine-protected cargo carrier versions of its vehicle in future.

Compared to the RG-33 family, the Caiman is slightly narrower (94 vs. 96 inches) and not quite as tall (111 vs. 136 inches). As a “v-capsule” design, Caiman acquires some of the classic drawbacks of easier “mobility kills” and a potentially higher center of gravity, in exchange for easier production due to commonality with the popular and successful FMTV truck that makes up the backbone of the US Army’s medium truck fleet.

While there are technically 2 types of Caiman on offer for the MRAP program, they are actually the same vehicle with different numbers of seats installed inside. A smaller Caiman version did not make it through testing, and the decision was made to use the larger CAT-II vehicle design and install fewer seats to create the CAT-I offering. Caiman vehicles can carry up to 10 soldiers, including the driver and front seat.

More Caiman variants may be on the way. BAE spokespeople have confirmed to DID that the firm’s MRAP-II vehicle contender, which was one of only 2 vehicles to pass through initial testing against a wider range of threats, is based on the Caiman platform. Moving in the other direction, the firm’s “Caiman Light” is designed to be smaller and provide more mobility in Afghanistan. A further step was taken with a Caiman M-ATV design that lightens the vehicle further and lengthens its nose to provide better balance for all-terrain mobility, but reduces the number of troops that can be carried.

BAE MRAP: The Current Tally

Despite their status as early favorites, by June 20/07 contracts had been issued for 3,266 Category I patrol & Category II squad-sized MRAP vehicles, fully 42% of a the program’s planned 7,774 orders. Force Protection had racked up orders for 1,780 Cougar vehicles, and Navistar/Plasan Sasa had come out of the tests at Aberdeen with orders for 1,216 of its MaxxPro joint design. BAE sat in 4th place with orders for just 90 vehicles – 2.8% of the total. It had to be a humbling experience for the firm that went into 2004 as the world leader in the field.

BAE has worked hard to catch up, even as the number of MRAPs in the program more than doubled to over 15,000. The final tally gave them a wide 2nd place lead over 3rd place firm Force Protection. It also made them one of just 2 firms with a foothold under new MRAP-II qualifications, which includes protection against EFP (explosively-formed projectile) land mines that fire the equivalent of a cannon shell at the vehicle, in addition to the standard under-body blasts.

As of December 2007, more than 2,000 BAE Systems employees in the United States and 400 in South Africa (BAE OMC, producing General Dynamics’ entry) were producing vehicles with the support of suppliers in more than 30 states across the United States. Key production locations include York, PA; Fairfield, OH; Aiken, SC, and Sealy, TX, with production assistance from partners Spartan Motors Chassis and Demmer Corporation.

Of the envisaged 15,771 vehicles in the MRAP-I program as of March 31/08, all have now been ordered – and follow-ons have grown the total further, even as related programs like the more mobile M-ATV and the Army’s MMPV engineer vehicle have grown the overall fleet of blast-resistant platforms. Thus far, BAE has directly received basic MRAP contract orders for 5,218 vehicles:

    * 31 RG-33 MRAP CAT-I
    * 436 RG-33 MRAP CAT-I SOCOM variant
    * 1,710 RG-33L (MRAP CAT-II w. optional robotic arm)
    * 181 RG-33 HAGA Ambulance variant
    * 2,178 BAE-TVS Caimans, CAT-I seating internally
    * 684 BAE-TVS Caimans, CAT-II seating internally
    * Caiman Ambulance variant in development

Based on these orders, BAE remains 2nd place in the initial MRAP CAT-I/II race, with 29.6% of all orders to date. This is a major improvement from its position earlier in the competition, and its own high-end RG-33 vehicles now own a respectable 13.3% share. General Dynamics Land Systems has also been contracted to supply RG-31 MRAP program vehicles to the US military, in partnership with the Canadian government and BAE OMC of South Africa. RG-31 orders actually began before the MRAP program, and are not included in the above figures. If RG-31 MRAP program orders are also folded into BAE’s share, it rises to 38.9%.

The leader is still Navistar with 42.7%, a lead that widened recently when its lighter “MaxxPro Dash” was selected by the US Army in recent orders for the Afghan theater. One-time MRAP leader Force Protection has slipped to a distant 3rd place at 17.5% and is unlikely to receive further MRAP orders.

To learn more about the history of this program, click here.

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