Contemporary operations are highlighting a resurgence in demand for flexible and accurate anti-armour support weapons as armed forces grow increasingly concerned about the military equipment available to insurgent organisations and so-called ‘near pear’ adversaries such as Russia.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) insurgent group operating across Syria and northern Iraq captured an impressive array of equipment from government forces in both countries as its advance swept across these nations in 2014. Materiel is now routinely used by ISIS to conduct armour and manoeuvre operations; for example, the group now uses General Dynamics M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), of which two may have been captured from the Iraqi Army, together with circa 52 BAE Systems/United Defence M-113 family tracked Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) from the same source. Additionally, the organisation is operating artillery such as the Kharkiv Tractor Plant 2SI Gvozdika self-propelled howitzer and Mytishchi Engineering Works ZSU-23-4 Shilka self-propelled anti-aircraft artillery. Despite operating anti-armour munitions throughout ongoing counter-insurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan for over a decade in rather more limited capacities, current US-led operations to eradicate ISIS from the Middle East will depend heavily upon an ability to neutralise and destroy the organisation’s armoured columns.
Elsewhere, a resurgent Russia continues to equip its growing expeditionary force with a range of equipment including armoured platforms such as the Uralvagonzavod T-14 Armata MBTs and the Armata Universal Combat Platform family of armoured vehicles from the same company. The proliferation of such platforms in the Russian Army, which commenced in 2015, resulted in the government of the United Kingdom highlighting such concerns in a July 2016 report entitled Russia: Implications for UK Defence and Security. According to this House of Commons’ (the UK’s lower house of parliament) Defence Committee report, Russia’s ability to conduct operations across represents a serious concern for (North Atlantic Treaty Organisation; NATO) members and non-NATO members alike. In its report the Committee stated, “It is clear to us that Russia has harnessed a wide range of capabilities which can rapidly be deployed for use in conjunction with classic military power. NATO needs to respond in kind if it is to counter unconventional as well as conventional warfare. We therefore most strongly recommend that NATO, as part of its response to Russia, addresses its shortcomings in terms of the full range of unconventional warfare.” The report future stated that “The Russian armed forces have shown impressive deployment abilities in Crimea (annexed by Russia in 2014) and Ukraine (through the country’s involved in Ukraine’s civil war), the effectiveness of which was enhanced by the use of integrated, unconventional warfare techniques. It is likely that Russia will continue to use military means and unconventional warfare as ways of reasserting what it believes to be its rightful role on the international stage.”
In response, NATO members across Europe and allied nations further afield are beginning to pay more attention to fielding of anti-armour weapons, capable of defeating the growing arsenal of armoured platforms being deployed by Russia (see above). Earlier this year, Canada elected to reintroduce tripod-mounted anti-armour munitions to army infantry formations having mothballed or sold off most of its capability in this regard over recent years. In July 2017the country’s media reported that this reintroduction would concern the Canadian Army’s Raytheon BGM-71 TOW (Tube-Launched, Optically-Tracked, Wire-Guided) Surface-to-Surface Missiles (SSMs). When speaking to the media following the announcement, Brigadier General Derek Macaulay, the Canadian Army’s chief of staff for army strategy, disclosed that deliveries of the BGM-71 weapons to the force would begin in 2017, although he held short of confirming whether the weapon’s reintroduction was a direct response to Russian aggression in Europe, particularly in light of the country’s involvement in Ukraine’s civil war. Instead, Brig. Gen. Macaulay stated that the move represented a fulfilment of an existing capability gap: Canada currently has 450 personnel posted to the Baltic state and NATO member Latvia.
In 2005, Canada made its first order of the BGM-71 TOW, configured for launching from its fleet of General Dynamics Land Systems’ (GDLS) LAV-III eight-wheel drive light armoured vehicles. The SSM equipping the BGM-71 missile had a maximum effective range of 3.7 kilometres (2.3 miles) against hard armour targets such as APCs and MBTs. This contract was followed in 2007 with a second Canadian order for 462 TOW-2A RF anti-bunker munitions. Raytheon’s family of TOW systems now includes the 2A, 2B (to perform top-down attack using explosively formed penetrators) air-burst and Bunker Buster munitions (see above) providing “long range, heavy assault-precision anti-armour, anti-fortification and anti-amphibious landing” capabilities, according to Raytheon’s official literature. Variants of the BGM-71 are currently fielded with 40 armed forces worldwide and integrated on fixed infrastructure, vehicles and rotary platforms, Raytheon explained to AMR. “The TOW-2A, TOW-2B Aero and TOW Bunker Buster missiles can be fired from all BGM-71 launchers, including the Improved Target Acquisition System (ITAS, an improved version of the current BGM-71 family launcher), US Army GDLS M-1134 Stryker anti-tank guided missile vehicle, and BAE Systems/United Defence M2 Bradley family Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs),” stated Raytheon.
Beyond the BGM-71, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin’s joint venture FGM-148 Javelin ATGM (Anti-Tank Guided Missile) continues to enjoy popularity across NATO and allied partners with news published during the June Eurosatory defence exhibition in Paris regarding successful integration tests onboard US Army Stryker Infantry Fighting Vehicles achieving a maximum lethal range of four kilometres (2.4 miles) compared to the weapons’ legacy 2.5km (1.5 miles) range.
Describing tests conducted earlier in the second quarter for the UK’s Ministry of Defence on the Salisbury Plain Training Area, southwest England, Raytheon sources explained to AMR how the FGM-148 had already been qualified for use with the US Army as part of a Remote Weapon Station upgrade effort, which saw the weapon integrated on the Kongsberg CROWS-II remote weapons station used by US Army Stryker family vehicles. Mirroring the concern regarding potential Russian aggression in the Baltic, NATO member Lithuania officially implemented a request for additional FGM-148s via a Foreign Military Sale from the US on 18 December 2015. Having been the export launch customer for the weapon back in 2001, with approximately 74 munitions and associated launchers supplied during subsequent years, the Lithuanian armed forces are seeking an additional 200 munitions and 74 Command Launch Units (CLUs). Industry sources also suggested to AMR that Lithuania would also be seeking to procure an undisclosed number of Rafael Advanced Defence Systems’ Spike family ATGM systems for integration on board infantry fighting vehicles, possibly the 88 ARTEC Boxer eight-wheel drive armoured fighting vehicles that the country stated it will purchase in December 2015, which are expected to be furnished with the Spike-LR long-range SSM that has a range of four kilometres. Baltic neighbour Estonia has also been supplied with the FGM-148, obtaining 120 CLUs and 350 SSMs in an FMS contract signed back in October 2014. Finally, the Czech Republic agreed an FMS with the US DoD (Department of Defence) in December 2015 for the provision of FGM-148 SSMs and CLUs for $10.5 million.
Meanwhile, prospective Asia-Pacific customers such as the Indian Army continue to pursue options to procure Spike ATGMs with a requirement to purchase launchers and missiles for $1 billion. In May, the Indian government completed negotiations which could see the eventual supply of 275 launchers and 5500 SSMs, plus a technology transfer deal allowing Bharat Dynamics Limited to build an additional 1550 launchers and up to 30000 SSMs. Elsewhere, Azerbaijan’s armed forces continue to rely on Spike ATGMs in its ostensibly frozen conflict with Armenia over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh (an Armenian majority enclave of southwestern Azerbaijan) region with frequent clashes along the border region between the two belligerents.
The US Department of Defence (DoD) also continues to increase orders for Saab’s Carl Gustaf 84mm recoilless rifle, the latest deal for which was received on 28 July. According to the Swedish company, a $5.4 million contract has been agreed for ammunition to furnish the M3 MAAWS (Multi-Role, Anti-Armour, Anti-Personnel Weapon System) as the weapon is known in US service, where it is primarily used by that country’s Special Forces community. According to Michael Andersson, president and chief executive officer at Saab’s north American subsidiary, the Carl-Gustaf/M3 continues to provide a “versatile and powerful” solution for soldiers across “the most demanding environments”.
Saab’s latest M4 variant (known as the M3E1 for the North American market), has witnessed reductions in size and weight, with its all-up mass falling from ten kilograms (22 pounds/lbs) down to less than seven kilograms (15.4lbs), company officials explained to AMR. “Employing a wide range of ammunition types, the Carl-Gustaf allows dismounted soldiers to defeat multiple challenges, from neutralising armoured vehicles to clearing obstacles and engaging enemies in buildings,” z company spokesperson for Saab explained, stating that the M4 had been designed as a man-portable, multi-role weapon system providing “high tactical flexibility through its wide range of ammunition types”. In 2015, Slovakia became the first country to sign up for the M4 which features programmable ammunition allowing for flexible engagement of what can be rapidly evolving target sets during combat. “As technologies evolve, weaponry needs to keep pace and offer cutting-edge capabilities. Programmable ammunition is just one innovation that is set to revolutionise the battlefield for dismounted infantry. Built with future requirements in mind, the M4 is compatible with intelligent sighting systems and prepared for programmable ammunition,” the spokesperson added. “Today’s dismounted infantry face a broader range of battlefield challenges than ever before and speed can mean the difference between life and death for dismounted infantry … Having a single weapon for all situations increases their tactical flexibility and reduces the amount of equipment that they carry.”
Despite being a lighter solution, the M4 has been designed with enhanced ergonomics in mind, including an adjustable shoulder rest and foregrip, as well as a reduced action time, allowing the weapon system to be carried safely but quickly to destroy targets as and when required, in line with an ever-shortening kill chain which sees dismounted infantry and special forces often acting on real-time intelligence.
Germany’s Rheinmetall has also revealed its Remote Control Lightweight Missile (RCLM) launcher. Weighing just 19kgs (41.8lbs), Rheinmetall official explained to AMR that the project remained in a development phase with a Technology Demonstrator expected to be unveiled to the market within the next two years. Comprising significant weight savings for infantry and dismounted close combat users, the RLCM has been designed for integration on tactical ground vehicles, providing users with a surface-to-surface and surface-to-air weapon system. Unveiled during the June Eurosatory exhibition in Paris, the RCLM includes an integrated Rheinmetall SAPHIR mission system comprising a third-generation infrared sensor, as well as high-resolution television camera, and eye-safe laser rangefinder. The RLCM will be capable of hosting multiple legacy munitions ranging from Rafael’s Spike-SR SSMs to MBDA’s Mistral family surface-to-air missiles.
Rafael is also keen on reducing the size and weight carried by infantry forces during expeditionary operations. During Eurosatory, the company showcased a Spike NLOS (Non-Line-of-Sight) SSM launcher integrated onboard a scale model of Polaris Defence’s MRZR-4 all-terrain vehicle, a popular internally transportable vehicle currently employed by NATO and allied Special Forces units to enhance the mobility, lethality and reach. In this particular exhibit, Rafael illustrated how such a vehicle platform would be capable of housing a remote-controlled launcher which could be operated by soldiers positioned up to half a kilometre away (0.3 miles) away. Earlier in the year, Rafael unveiled a new warhead design for its Spike-SR, extending the range of the legacy rocket out to 1.5km (0.9 miles). Legacy models of the Spike-SR family previously had maximum effective ranges limited to just one kilometre (0.6 miles). However, the company will not continue with the development of its next-generation Mini-Spike anti-armour solution, company officials explained without divulging specific reasons.
Eurosatory also saw the People’s Republic of China’s NORINCO (China North Industries Corporation) promoting its Red Arrow-12 multipurpose, fire-and-forget munition. With an all up weight of 22kgs (48.4lbs), the Red Arrow-12 boasts a maximum effective range of four kilometres (2.4 miles), according to company officials. Its associated CLU comprises a command and control system with daylight and infrared cameras, allowing missiles to lock onto targets ranging from armoured platforms through to soft-skinned vehicles and bunkers. Company officials speaking to AMR during Eurosatory claimed the warhead would be able to penetrate 11mm of armour and could be used for surface-to-air operations against slow-moving rotary wing aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, as well as small vessels in the maritime environment.
According to defence sources associated with NATO’s Special Operations Headquarters (NSHQ) in Mons, Belgium, it is precisely these concerns relating to the enhanced capabilities of both state and non-state actors which remains a major worry for NATO members conducting counter-insurgency operations in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan as well as homeland security and military assistance operations across the Alliance’s eastern flank with Russia. “After more than a decade worrying about COIN-based operations globally, the same sort of adversaries are now forcing NATO to reconsider the employment of manoeuvre warfare and anti-tank operations which had failed, to differing extents, to be included in contingency planning,” the NSHQ source explained to AMR. “This is a classic example of expecting the unexpected.”
by Andrew White