Italy is developing a new modular approach to countering improvised explosive devices (IED) that will employ a number of specialized vehicles based on the Iveco VTMM multirole medium tactical vehicle chassis.

The concept is to operate a “train” of four vehicles, each of them providing a dedicated capability, to defeat or dispose of every kind of potential threat.

The new vehicles will replace the current fleet of four Buffalo and six Cougar vehicles that were acquired to meet an urgent operational requirement to provide troops in Afghanistan with route clearance and disposal of IEDs and unexploded ordnance.

The Italian army has decided it wants to use smaller, specialized vehicles, fitted with a variety of systems and sensors, and has appointed European missile giant MBDA and Iveco to develop the new system, called Calife 3. It awarded the team a $199 million contract that includes the acquisition of 16 systems by 2013, with an option for an additional 10. The industrial team is set to complete development and qualify the two main variants by the end of the year. The army will assign the vehicles to the combat engineers.

Calife 3 builds on the experience MBDA had already gained in countermine systems with its Souvim “pushed decoy,” (DTI May, p. 27), a demonstrator that followed a design phase started in 2002. A second-generation decoy came with the Sydera remotely guided vehicle, tested in demonstrator form.

The first vehicle is devoted to countering IEDs and is equipped with a pressure plate, wires and rollers, and infrared, tripwire and tilt-rod activators. Its mission is to perform the initial route clearance, to identify and possibly detonate any threats using mechanical arms that allow it to keep a relatively safe (3.5 meters, or 11.5 ft.) distance.

Compared to initial configurations, the latest evolution is heavier, at 750 kg (1,650 lb.), and can be lifted from the road by hydraulics if the vehicle needs to clear an obstacle, such as a tree. The pressure plate counters mechanically activated devices. A second unit uses vertical steel arms to capture trip wires. A third element addresses IEDs triggered by IR sensors, even if placed off road.

The second vehicle will to be fitted with a dedicated ground-penetrating radar. MBDA has signed an agreement with the U.K.'s Chemring to integrate the Visor 2500 radar, in service with the U.S. Army and fitted on different vehicles. (Chemring acquired its U.S. maker, Nitek, in 2008). The radar searches the ground and is capable of finding and identifying buried IEDs.

Information from the radar is displayed to an operator sitting in the vehicle, showing a 2-D or 3-D image of the ground. Advanced processing software will classify the contacts, reducing the false-alarm rate.

The third vehicle is equipped with a mechanical arm used to dig and precisely locate the threat, while the fourth vehicle will perform area surveillance using electro-optical sensors that can detect any sign of IED activity. The army is also slated to acquire systems to counter remotely detonated IEDs, or RDIEDs, which will effectively jam and disable their controllers and/or activation systems.

The army also has a requirement for an explosive ordnance disposal vehicle, again based on the VTMM. The army thinks that the VTMM offers the best combination of protection and mobility, obviating the need for heavy vehicles that are difficult to operate in many areas of countries like Afghanistan. VTMMs are light enough to allow strategic deployability, while using a common chassis will keep costs down compared with systems using completely different vehicles.

The Iveco VTMM is the fruit of a collaboration with Germany's Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, and covers a “family” of vehicles, in 4 X 4 and 6 X 6 configuration. The Italian army has opted for the smaller 4 x 4 to carry out a wide variety of combat support roles. Initially the army planned for the acquisition of up to 1,800 vehicles, but the total number already had been trimmed to around 1,400 before the defense ministry announced an overarching armed forces restructuring that will reduce the combat strength of the army. Nevertheless the VTMM acquisition is going to continue until 2031 and is to be carried out in three batches, with the first being completed in 2017, a second between 2018 and 2026 and the third from 2027 to 2031.