Innovation leads at Eurosatory
More hardware, less software: that sums up the 2012 Eurosatory show held in Paris in mid-June. It was back to the basic toys for boys: tanks, other armored vehicles, self-propelled and towed guns and a wide range of unmanned ground vehicles (UGV) where the only limits are the engineers' imaginations. In that field, Indian industry came up trumps.
Sartaj Singh, a scientist at the Center for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics at the Defense Research & Development Organization (DRDO) in Bangalore, drew crowds all week long with his “snake” which sidewinds, slithers and raises its camera-bearing “head” up like a cobra. He told AW&ST delightedly that the beast was the product of his own research but that the Indian army was looking into its possible uses.
Also making a big debut at the show was U.S. company ReconRobotics, which has emerged rapidly as a leader on the “throwbot” scene, with well over 3,600 vehicles delivered. The company had designed a booth that allowed visitors to operate its UGVs without seeing them, showing off the simplicity of the control unit and the vehicle's cat-like ability to right itself on landing.
From snakes to satellites: Astrium was showing its concept for a GO3S (geostationary space surveillance system), a satellite that can acquire images and send them back to Earth in near real-time, which could make HALE (high-altitude, long-endurance) unmanned air vehicles (UAV) superfluous. Today's Earth-observation satellites, such as Spot or Helios, operate in low orbit 800 km (497 mi.) above the surface of the Earth. “However, having to wait for the satellite to overfly the zone to be observed and then overfly the receiver antenna so that the images can be retrieved is not a satisfactory solution when lives are at stake and a rapid response is required using information that is as up-to-date as possible,” says Astrium. This can take anywhere from 10 hr. to three days.
The advantage of geostationary orbit is that the satellite remains in the same spot 36,000 km above the Earth's surface, has a footprint covering one-third of the Earth's surface at a time and can stare constantly at a given area. Such a system would provide useful continuous observation of large areas such as the Indian Ocean to help in the fight against piracy off the coast of Somalia, for example.
GO3S has a resolution of three meters. It thus will not be able to read a license plate on a vehicle but can certainly observe traffic movements at an airport, detect a fast boat among ship traffic and see traffic flow on roads. Like airborne wide-area surveillance systems, it will not take full-speed video but will snap stills at a high frame rate. Benoit de Maupeou, business development manager for Earth observation, told Aviation Week that the satellite would be complementary to a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV. “If the satellite saw something unusual in ship traffic movements for example, government authorities could send a MALE to that spot to get a closer picture,” he explained.
The satellite is an Astrium-funded project that de Maupeou says is sparking “a great deal of interest.” He says “we know how to make all the technological bricks” so if funding is forthcoming and the project gets the go-ahead next year “then it could be in service by 2022 or 2023.”
As for nearer-term hardware, one of the new products launched at the show was the Rapidfire air defense system developed byAir Systems and Nexter, as part of the Rapid mobile integrated weapon systems family. Cyril Dupuytrent, system engineering manager and the system's first gunner, told Aviation Week that its particular characteristics are its firepower (up to 200 shots per minute) and accuracy (up to 4 km). It is particularly designed to cope with threats from helicopters, UAVs and asymmetric threats such as rockets.
Rapidfire consists of a GM60 ground-to-air radar and a 40-mm, mobile cannon that can be used either to protect a fixed site or to accompany troops. “Its principal function is as an air defense system but its secondary function is to provide ground-to-ground self-defense,” Dupuytrent explained.
The 40-mm cannon is designed by CTA (Case Telescoped Ammunition) International, a 50/50 joint venture between Nexter and, based in Bourges, France. It fires case-telescoped ammunition designed by Nexter that bursts in the air close to the target, releasing tungsten pellets with a high lethal hit probability against very small aerial targets. The optronic sight, developed by Thales Belfast, has a thermal imager, a day TV camera and a laser rangefinder. Precision firing tests were made a year ago in Biscarosse, France, and development of the product should be complete by year-end.
CTA's radical gun is receiving more attention in other places, as it nears being fielded as part of the U.K.'s upgrade of its Warrior fighting vehicle. It also appeared on Panhard's Sphinx experimental 6 X 6 combat vehicle, which is being pitched to the French army as a solution to its EBRC (armored combat and reconnaissance vehicle) requirement, part of the Scorpion army upgrade program. The concept is for a vehicle protected to Level 5 but offering high mobility both in the tactical sense—with up to 550 hp and long-travel double-wishbone suspension—and strategically, its size and 16-ton weight making it possible to carry two vehicles in the.
Next to the Sphinx was the CRAB (combat reconnaissance armored buggy), a smaller 4 X 4 (three fit in an A400M) that gets its name in part from four-wheel steering, which allows it to move obliquely sideways. Innovations on the demonstrator platform (not yet equipped with an engine) include the use of a small, low-cost optronics turret based on one of Sagem's infantry-portable systems. A notable feature of both vehicles was a large transparency area around the driver—using newly developed transparent ceramic armor.
Another new vehicle was the 4 X 4 version of BAE Systems' RG35, the 6 X 6 version of which was unveiled at Eurosatory in 2010. The design has been refined, but still retains the offset side-mounted engine bay, and is still intended to combine a high degree of mine and IED resistance with better mobility than classic mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles.
The RG35's size and shape are reminiscent of the M113 armored personnel carrier, and the visual trend at Eurosatory is that wheels are gaining ground on tracks except in the case of the biggest infantry fighting vehicles (IFV), as better suspension improves their off-road mobility.
Meanwhile, at least two tracked IFVs—Bumar's Anders from Poland and an upgraded Rheinmetall Marder —appeared in the guise of medium tanks or fire-support vehicles. The Marder carried an Oto Melara turret, while the Anders was fitted with a Cockerill turret containing the Belgian-French company's 105-mm high-pressure gun, which can also fire the Falarick laser-guided missile from the Ukrainian Luch company.
Also on the Anders was the Zaslon active protection system (APS) from Ukraine's Microtek, using cylindrical fragmentation charges extending sideways from ports in the hull. Another APS manufacturer's representative was dubious: Zaslon might take out the incoming warhead, but it also looked likely to mission-kill the tank itself by destroying its optics, and it would assuredly cause some discomfort to troops in the open.
Rafael introduced two new versions of its Trophy APS, for medium and light vehicles. Trophy-MV is basically similar to the system now installed on Merkava tanks, with slewing countermeasure heads that fire a pattern of explosively formed projectiles toward the incoming threat, but has been downsized to a 450-kg (992-lb.)package versus 800 kg for the heavy version and is designed for infantry fighting vehicles. The LV model is different, comprising a roof-mounted frame carrying modular “energetic blade” charges that fire downward and outward and separate the fuse from the weapon. In tests, an up-armored Humvee absorbed five RPG-29 hits without being penetrated.
Rafael representatives are trying to persuade other nations to get serious about APS before an operation goes wrong. “We know Kornet (KBP's laser beam-riding 9M133 missile) is out there, RPG-29 is out there, and they can take out an M1. And APS is not something you can integrate overnight—we went through years of safety testing.” As for Russia's RPG-30, with a separate precursor rocket designed to trigger the APS and let the main warhead through, Rafael simply comments: “We know about it. That's all we can say.”
KBP was also at Eurosatory, with the international debut of the Kornet-EM missile system. This comprises two retractable four-round 9M133 launchers on a protected 4 X 4 vehicle. Each launcher has its own targeting and designation system, which allows the system to engage two targets concurrently. The system includes two missile types —the tandem-warhead, anti-armor 9M133-2 and the 9M133FM-3, with a high-explosive/thermobaric warhead. The latter can be used against troops or thin-skinned vehicles and has a proximity fuze for use against air targets such as UAVs and helicopters.
Navistar brought the Special Operations Tactical Vehicle to Europe for the first time—bidding to enter a competitive sector where Britain, France and Israel are already strong. Developed initially to meet U.S. Special Operations Command's Ground Mobility Vehicle requirement, Navistar's vehicle uses suspension technology and components from Indigen Armor's Non-Standard Tactical Truck, but unlike NSTT—which is designed to look like a standard Toyota HiLux—has a tactical, “overt” body that can carry modular armor. The key to GMV is a relatively narrow track that allows it to be carried internally on a.