Okay, so we’ve got our new MBT to meet the T-14 Armata anytime, anywhere. What about the IFV? Well, last year’s Victory Day parade showcased both the T-15 Heavy IFV and the Kurganets regular IFV. Which leaves us with a lot of questions. I’ve already vetoed the family nonsense, and talked a little bit about heavy IFVs, but now is a good time to elaborate on that as we look to design our new IFV, the Hoplon.
We can see that regular IFVs have been steadily increasing in weight. BMP-1, BMP-2, and early models of Bradley were all at least sort of amphibious, and under 25 tonnes. Bradley has grown into the 33-35 tonne range, which is about where CV9035 is. And the big Puma gets all the way up to 42 tonnes once you kit it out. How heavy should our IFV be? In Syria and Lebanon, the Israelis discovered that if your enemy has modern ATGMs, like Hezbollah does, then you really need heavy armor on your vehicles for them to be survivable. Before fighting all of these ATGMs, the Israelis thought the relatively lightweight M113 was more than enough for infantry transport purposes. Afterwards, they sought tank-level protection and got it in a number of conversions of old tanks, finally culminating in the purpose-built Namer HAPC.
The Russians reached a similar conclusion after their experiences in Chechnya. BMPs are all under 20 tonnes, all amphibious, and all lightly protected. In Chechnya, they were found to be extremely vulnerable to the Soviet-era weapons used by the separatists. These separatists had often served in the Soviet Army, and they tended to target the known weaknesses in the BMPs: the sides and roof, inflicting heavy casualties. The Russians came to the same conclusion as the Israelis, and the T-15 Armata IFV is big, heavy, and well armored.
What about the experiences of the Bradley in the Iraq wars? Well, in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Bradleys were seldom used in cities. The primary threat was IEDs, and even the M2A3 Bradley didn’t have much protection against IEDs. They were roughly equivalent to an up-armored humvee in terms of IED resistance. Instead, coalition forces in Iraq used MRAPs, which were much more protected against IEDs than either humvees or Bradleys. Also, the GCV, which was intended to replace the Bradley was very heavily protected. Interestingly, and possibly due to asinine rules of engagement, the absence of the 25mm cannon on the Bradley was not felt much on the streets of Iraq.
So, it will be a heavy vehicle. I can hear Fishbreath groaning already. The price, Parvusimperator! Yes yes, I’m aware. And I haven’t forgotten. And a massive vehicle is going to be more expensive. Now, we’ll talk about some ways to reduce costs as we discuss the configuration. Clearly, we’re going to put the engine and transmission up front, and a ramp at the back for ingress and egress. We’ll use the same LV100-5 engine and associated transmission system that we deployed on the Myrmidon. We’re trying to reduce logistical complexity here. The LV100-5 gas turbine is our standard heavy vehicle engine, and we don’t have to worry about stocking parts for another engine.
Let’s talk armament for a bit. This might also be a place to save, since MBT-grade fire control systems and optics are rather expensive. The gun armament is for supporting infantry. Fix that firmly in your mind, and say it with me. The gun armament on an IFV is for supporting infantry. This is important because of the armor race I mentioned earlier. IFVs are getting tougher. MBTs are already super tough. This demands a bigger and bigger gun. But the IFV must also carry troops. So we end up with a partial squad and not a lot of ammo. And for what? Is a 40mm gun all that much better than a 30mm gun? You still have to run from tanks. You may or may not be able to kill other armored vehicles. And then we’re getting into the classic question of quantity of rounds or quality of rounds.
Let us consider some more combat experience. Specifically, the First Persian Gulf war. Operation Desert Storm. This is quite possibly the best argument in favor of a heavy IFV armament, where the Bradleys racked up tremendous numbers of kills with their 25mm M242 cannons and TOW missiles. Bradleys killed more tanks than the Abramses. Of course, the Iraqi tanks and other armored vehicles were used incompetently. But we should be careful about drawing too strong a conclusion here. Recall that the Bradley cannot fire missiles on the move. It also cannot guide those missiles on the move for fear of fouling the wires. So the Bradley must remain stationary for the entire flight time of the missile, which can be up to twenty seconds at longer ranges. Against a reasonably competent tank crew, their only chance is if the tank fails to spot them or the launch. It’s also good to consider what the Bradley had that made it effective, namely a stabilized gun. The sights on the earlier Bradleys are not particularly advanced, but they were good enough, and a stabilized gun made shooting on the move doable. This was considered an overly expensive luxury by just about everyone else until they saw the results of Desert Storm.
Let’s also look at the Bradley use in Operation Iraqi Freedom. There, as I’ve mentioned before, the quantity of 25mm ammunition available proved invaluable in the engagements where it was permitted. 300 rounds of autocannon fire is quite a lot, and allows the Bradley to support troops for quite some time.
So, proven uses for the autocannon include supporting an infantry assault on fortifications and shooting up lightly armored vehicles.1 What we don’t want to do is to get caught up in an arms race with other medium armored vehicles, and certainly not the heavy armored vehicles. An excess of fancy electrics is a significant portion of what drove the Puma’s high cost. So to hell with that. We’re going to mount an autocannon in a relatively simple remote weapon station and call it a day. We’ll have night vision capability, some limited zoom, and stabilization. But we needn’t spend too much on this. It’s for supporting the infantry and striking targets of opportunity, and maybe taking potshots at attack helicopters. Elbit makes a nice autocannon turret that comes with all of the above, plus a Mk. 44 Bushmaster II 30mm chaingun and 200 rounds of ammunition.
Why 30mm? Wouldn’t 25mm be better? At least, better from a “more rounds” and “good enough” perspective? Perhaps. We can get about half again as many 25mm rounds as 30mm rounds in a given volume. On the face of it, probably. Depleted Uranium 25mm rounds are about as good at armor penetration as 30mm ones. But, the 25mm round isn’t getting any more development effort. Much as I hate it, the move is to bigger rounds with airburst capability, and 25mm is too small for this. Plus, there’s still some growth left in the 30mm round, seeing as it doesn’t have a depleted uranium APFSDS round yet. Both rounds are currently popular, but the 25mm guns are increasingly being replaced. A pity.
A few other notes on our turret. The Elbit remote turret comes with a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun mount, which is fine by us. It’s also capable of high-angle fire, which is perfect for those urban scenarios, or wandering helicopters. It isn’t well protected, and that’s okay too. This weapon system is not critical, and it keeps cost down. We’ll add a second, smaller remote weapon system that will double as the commander’s sight. Again, modest zoom, thermal camera, stabilization are all we need. This will add a second 7.62mm machine gun. More suppression and will give the commander every reason to keep his head down. Both machine guns are heavy-barreled FN MAGs.
The commander will have eight periscopes, with optional night-vision attachments, around his hatch for observation. We expect his primary observing to be either through his sight/RWS or the gunner’s sight/RWS, which he can also view on his monitor. Again, we’re trying to keep costs down, so these aren’t super fancy sights, but they should be good enough. We will have to put in some fancy electrics, specifically the fancy force tracking datalink systems mentioned in the Myrmidon write up2 and the radios to get data. Radios are also fitted to allow communication with other vehicles, aircraft, and nearby troops on the various frequencies that they might use. There’s a repeater display for the troops in the back to see the force tracking information as well so they don’t all have to huddle around the commander’s station.
The gunner has five vision blocks for auxiliary observation, again, with night-viewing options. The driver, who is on the left side of the hull, has five vision blocks, as well as a forward 1x/4x thermal camera, side cameras, and a rear camera. We’re using the same displays and cameras that we used on the Myrmidon, so we can get them in (greater) bulk, and so we only need to stock one set of spares.
The crew sit at the front of the main compartment, with the driver on the left, commander in the middle, and gunner on the right. The commander’s and gunner’s stations are further back from the driver to accommodate the engine compartment. Behind the crew is the space for dismounts. There are seats for nine dismounts, plus space for a stretcher case or a lot of kit. Remember, this is a roughly tank-sized chassis. Additional storage space is available behind the seats and under the floor panels. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have explosive stuff in the passenger compartment, but then we’d have to put it out where the armor is, and the armor would get in the way of accessing the stuff. Armor is heavy. So, the stuff has to be mostly inside. There is external provision for attaching packs and earthmoving tools (picks, mattocks, spades, etc) to the outside of the vehicle.
The crew compartment is provided with a spall liner all around. It’s also NBC protected (assuming hatches are closed), and has heating and air conditioning. Provision is made for an electric kettle for boiling water and assisting in cooking meals. There are also battery rechargers to keep electrical devices going.
We’ve already mentioned that the Hoplon is one heavy beast, having tank-grade armor. It also is fitted with the Trophy active protection system, and a number of hull-mounted smoke grenade dischargers. The commander has a hatch, as does the driver. Another, larger hatch is provided to allow roof egress if needed, or access to the primary remote weapons station for reloading. Normally, the crew and use a door-ramp at the back for entry and exit. The door-ramp, as well as all roof hatches, have power-assisted opening, due to the great weight of the roof armor.
The Hoplon’s suspension system is hydropneumatic, but not adjustable like that of the Myrmidon. This will keep costs down, but also maximize common spares/tools/training. There are seven road wheels per side, and tracks are protected with heavy composite skirts. Like on the Myrmidon, the skirts of the Hoplon can be detached to facilitate transport. This is as good a time as any to talk transportability. The Hoplon is big, and has similar mobility characteristics as the Myrmidon, as far as ground-pressure and bridging requirements go. While this makes them more difficult to deploy on some damn-fool peacekeeping exercise, it also means that some idiot general is less likely to commit his IFVs alone without tank support. That’s not how this is supposed to work, so the size of the Hoplon ends up being an advantage from a doctrinal perspective.
Now, let’s do a little bit of reckoning. The Hoplon is 7.97 meters long, 3.657 meters wide without the skirts, and about 2 meters tall (to the top of the hull, not counting the RWSes). It weighs about 60 tonnes. With a good large order, we reckon we’ll have a unit cost of about $4 million.
1.) Yes, I’m including BMP-1s in the “lightly armored” category .
2.) Heavily influenced by the US Army’s FBCB2 system