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Armored Fighting Vehicles

Wheels perform better at high speeds than do tracks, particularly over relatively smooth terrain. They are more quiet, have a longer service life, are easier to steer, and are generally less expensive than track assemblies. Tracks, on the other hand, are less vulnerable to the impact of projectiles than are pneumatic tires; they make it easier to attain a low ground pressure under vehicles, where this is desirable, particularly true in the case of very heavy (50 tons gross weight and over) vehicles; and they usually permit a lower vehicle silhouette than is obtainable in a wheeled vehicle of comparable weight and ground pressure. The popular belief that tracks are superior to wheels for cross-country operations, however, is a fallacy. It has been shown that equal mobility can be attained with wheels as with tracks in identical terrain and under identical loads if soil-vehicle relationships are correctly utilized during the vehicle design phase. Other considerations cause preference to be given to one suspension type over the other.

There is a highly competitive world market for AFVs. In general, companies that produce sophisticated AFVs in the heavy (30-70 tons) and medium (15-30 tons) categories rely on their national governments to fund the high development cost of new products and have their national armed forces as lead customer. The cost discourages independent speculative AFV development, for either home or export markets. Once developed, export opportunities are usually limited to nations that have significant investment in their armed forces but no indigenous AFV capability, and are heavily contested. While the UK had some export success over the last 20 years with the Warrior IFV, CVR(T) and Saxon, and the Swedish CV90 Infantry Fighting Vehicle family have been more successful.

The world AFV market consists of several major companies supported by their national governments as outlined. However, the demand for heavy AFVs has fallen below potential supply which has caused recent consolidation. Most notably BAE Systems has extended its AFV global presence from the UK, Sweden (BAE Systems Land Systems Hgglunds) and South Africa by purchasing of United Defense Industries (UDI), producer of the US Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

The main US provider is General Dynamics (GD), which produces the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank and wheeled medium weight vehicles such as Stryker; GD also has a strong European presence. Both GD and BAE Systems had significant roles in the US Future Combat Systems (FCS) programme. Within Europe, key players include GIAT, provider of the French Leclerc Main Battle Tank and VBCI wheeled IFV, and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall Landsystems Gmbh who together co-produce the German Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank. In addition, a number of other suppliers exist in Europe and Asia. There is thus an oversupply of products and capacity in the market, which is driving a move towards consolidation and highlighting the need for increased productivity to drive competitiveness.

Lightweight AFVs (in the 7 - 15 tons bracket) tend to be less sophisticated and both supply and demand are greater and more elastic, with more industry funded product development taking place. However, the entry into this light AFV market of new lower cost manufacturers from Russia, Ukraine and Turkey for example - means that competition is strong and UK has found itself without a competitive product. The UK has not developed a significant lightweight AFV since CVR(T) in the early 1970s. Although this was an outstanding export success, it is now generally viewed as obsolescent.

The focus which the UK and other nations are placing on medium weight vehicles will offer very significant market prospects over the next 10-20 years, where families of technically innovative, but price-competitive vehicles can be modified to suit national requirements.

Since the end of World War II, the political, economic, and military industrial landscape in Europe has evolved significantly. Simultaneously, the land combat systems (LCS) industry in Europe also has been changing at a pace that is even more radical than that of Europe. As Europe has been evolving from its Cold War posture into the European Union, the LCS industry has been growing from a static environment of nationally based industries producing nationalist weapons programs feeding home grown, inefficiently structured industries. This change represents a move to a dynamic environment that, on the surface at least, is capable of achieving cross border cooperation and developing common and interoperable systems that are joint and more competitive with the United States.

Post World War II, the top priority in Western Europe was to rebuild domestic economic and political infrastructures. However, the Cold War made military rearmament a strategic priority and many of the more heavily affected, smaller European nations lacked the resources for simultaneous economic recovery and a military build up. To assist in that rearmament, the U.S. initiated a program of military aid to its European allies, the Marshall Plan.23 U.S. aid was not limited to the sales or donations of surplus stock, but also assistance in the development of domestic European defense industries. The buildup of national defense industries meant increased self-reliance as well as improved technological, industrial, and employment opportunities in the new Europe.

Technological developments in Europe increased at a rapid pace during the Cold War. The costs of developing and producing complex new weapons systems began to be felt throughout Europe, yet the LCS industry stayed nationally focused. Attempts to conduct cross border development and production collaboration failed to come to fruition. Major European arms-producing countries continued to develop and field their own systems, from artillery systems to armored vehicles, throughout the Cold War.

Recognizing that no single country could sustain a national defense technological industrial base (DTIB) that could meet all of its needs and remain viable, and that there were too many companies chasing too few contracts, European industry leaders decided consolidation was the only real course of action. Governments realized that they had to make their strategic priorities clearer and coordinate their procurement decisions better.24 The discrepancy between flat, stagnating investment budgets and increasing system costs has had a two-fold damaging effect. First, critics believe a gap in Europes military capabilities has become evident. These critics argue that Kosovo and Afghanistan revealed European armed forces are inadequately equipped for modern warfare. Second, the limits on military spending are increasingly damaging to the EDTIB. Lack of investment in particular is jeopardizing the LCS industrys technological ability to prepare for the future.

Simultaneously, European governments realized their companies could not compete against each other, let alone the U.S., without some form of consolidation. Thirteen countries with thirty-five major land system companies possessed a capability of designing and producing armored vehicles. Industrial consolidation throughout Europe has been slow and has followed different paths in each country. Only recently have the traditional, national powerhouses, BAE (Great Britain), Rheinmetall (Germany), Kraus-Maffei Wegmann (KMW, Germany) and Nexter (formerly GIAT, France), recognized that survival required consolidation. Smaller LCS companies either joined forces or were acquired by global firms like GD and BAE. During recent years, there have been a number of joint ventures, mergers, and acquisitions amongst the LCS-producing companies. This restructuring occurred irrespective of national borders, creating greater capability in the industry, though the consolidation still falls short of that seen in the United States.

Contrasting the U.S. and European LCS industries reveals important strengths and weaknesses. Because the U.S. market can be very profitable, it attracts considerable competition, with the corresponding capital investments. As a result of this competition, as well as DoD investments, the U.S. technology base is strong while the European base is more fragmented between countries. This emphasis on cutting-edge technology can be a weakness, though. The U.S. DoD tends to look for paper solutions rather than existing products that can be delivered immediately. This can lead to schedule delays and cost overruns.

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Page last modified: 07-08-2016 15:19:49 ZULU