If you think the armed forces are all about burly men with big guns – well, they have some pretty impressive vehicles at their disposal too! JACO DE KLERK stands to attention and examines some local specialised military and defence vehicles.
It’s the beginning of a new year, and everyone is more or less getting back to normal – children returned to school, traffic a nightmare once more, and the grind taking up all our time and attention. But 2012 delivered some interesting things, or not, with the Mayan-predicted apocalypse probably ranking number one.
However, an event that didn’t fail was last year’s African Aerospace Defence Exhibition (AAD), which showcased some of the latest and greatest developments in military equipment.
The event took place during September at the Waterkloof Air Force Base in Centurion, south of Pretoria’s central business district, where the Mercedes-Benz South Africa (MBSA) military vehicle exhibition epitomised what specialised vehicles are meant to be.
According to MBSA, its vehicles are developed using the most modern resources and comprehensive data derived from operations under extreme conditions on all five continents. Reassuring to hear, considering that the armed forces, like so many other industries, are placing increased focus on flexibility and operating costs – which represents a significant part of any vehicle’s total cost of ownership over its lifecycle.
Adding to the reassurance was Mercedes-Benz Trucks product manager Christo Kleynhans’s statement that the company builds supportability into its vehicles from conception. “Our goal is to provide a range of vehicles that deliver full defensive military capabilities at maximum cost-efficiency,” he said.
However, the vehicle that is probably most renowned among its Mercedes-Benz peers is the Unimog. “This vehicle is legendary for its off-road capabilities, making easy work of almost any application,” said Thireshin Rama, national sales manager for Mercedes-Benz Commercial Vehicles Trucks division.
Both the Unimog 4000 and Unimog 5000 feature a long wheelbase of 3,85 m, and are powered by Mercedes-Benz OM 924 engines that produces 160 kW. However, all Unimogs have high levels of manoeuvrability due to their compact dimensions and short-nosed cabs.
Furthermore, these vehicles have a fording capability up to a water depth of 1,2 m and adjustable tyre pressure on each wheel that can be controlled individually with the aid of a tyre pressure control system. The vehicle’s all-wheel-drive, inter-wheel and inter-axle differential locks and high-torque engines enable the Unimog to conquer extreme gradients – 45° or 100 percent to be exact.
“All of these features make the Unimog an immaculate choice for military applications,” Rama pointed out.
Unfortunately, the Unimog 5000 that was on display at AAD 2012 was a non-armoured unit, but Mercedes-Benz offers a variety of flexible armoured protection solutions for the Unimog, G-Wagon and Actros model ranges. These conform to STANAG 4569 – the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s Standardisation Agreement, which covers the standards for the Protection Levels for Occupants of Logistic and Light Armoured Vehicles.
The different armoured cabins that provide protection to occupants for various risk profiles include:
• The Mid-level cab
This cab conforms to ballistic level 2 (protection from gunfire equal to that of a 357 Magnum revolver) and mine level 2a and 2b (protection from a blast equal to that of 6 kg of TNT, with “a” indicating a mine explosion activated under any wheel of the vehicle and “b” indicating a mine explosion under the centre of the vehicle).
The Mid-level cab also offers protection against improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – better known as homemade bombs.
• The Big Daddy cab
As the name suggests, this cabin offers protection against ballistic level 4 weapons (gunfire equal to that of a .30 calibre rifle), mines level 4a and 4b (a blast equal to that of 10 kg of TNT) and IEDs.
• And the Southern Hemisphere Armoured Cabin Concept (SHARCC) cab
This cab is designed to conform to ballistic level 1 (protection from gunfire equal to that of a 9 mm semi automatic hand gun) and mine level 3a and 3b (protection from a blast equal to that of 8 kg of TNT). However, the SHARCC cabin doesn’t offer protection against IEDs.
The lack of IED protection isn’t due to a lack of ingenuity, but rather part of the customisation process. This configuration is specifically built for conditions found in Africa and South America, where close-range and small artillery exchanges normally occur, but landmines pose a big threat – especially on untarred roads.
“The SHARCC cab is at concept level at the moment and is still undergoing tests at development stage,” explained Rama, adding that the armour can go up to ballistic level 4 (protection from gunfire equal to that of a 7.62 mm rifle).
I must admit that the SHARCC cab looked quite impressive. The Actros 3344 A 6×6 truck on display at the AAD sported this protection configuration – making it look rather burly, intimidating and geared for active military service.
Another machine on display that was set for active duty was the Mercedes-Benz G300 CDI Professional. Rama pointed out that the G-class range is a favourite among military personnel to use as a patrol vehicle. It is said to have superb off-road capabilities, a high degree of agility and a high level of protection. “It is an immaculate 4×4 that has been used in various military and humanitarian missions all over the world,” he added.
The G-class model range features three wheelbases – a 2,85 m; 3,428 m and the new three-axle 3,12 m plus 1,1 m – in five body versions; namely a stationwagon, a van-type, an open vehicle, a chassis with single cab, and a crew cab in the 6×6 model range. All G-class models have integrated lashing points and optional C-rails that can support loads of up to three tonnes.
Completing the line-up at AAD 2012 was Mercedes-Benz’s Sprinter 519 CDI XL people mover. “This extra-long Sprinter has outstanding safety features,” explained Rama, “including a high-strength safety cell, an effective braking system and an intelligent driver-assistance system like adaptive ESP control.”
He added that the Sprinter isn’t only popular as a people mover, but also as a panel van and ambulance conversion. “These are very popular among both government and private hospitals, but also military departments.” A larger van-type ambulance offers various benefits, such as greater crew comfort, increased storage capabilities, increased working space and design and layout flexibility.
However, Mercedes-Benz wasn’t the only company that had its military machines on display … Paramount Group, Africa’s largest privately held defence and aerospace company, launched a new mine-protected utility vehicle called the Marauder Patrol.
The company claims that this unit builds on the proven success of the Marauder, which should make it very impressive … During 2011, Richard Hammond, a presenter on Top Gear – the British Broadcasting Corporation’s leading motoring show – put the Marauder through a series of challenges in both the urban jungles of Johannesburg and the African bush.
The vehicle flattened cars, smashed through brick walls and defied attacks by hungry lions. In the final test, the Marauder and a Hummer were blown up, which left the latter completely destroyed and the former barely damaged and fully functional.
According to John Craig, CEO of Paramount Group, the Marauder Patrol breaks new ground in the mine-protected utility market because it offers high levels of protection along with extraordinary mobility. “This makes it ideal for police and special-operations forces conducting high-intensity operations in dense environments – particularly urban settings,” he said.
The vehicle is based on the Toyota Land Cruiser and has a non-aggressive appearance. Paramount Group said this was deliberate so that the vehicle could be used by police, peacekeepers and other special forces operating in sensitive environments.
“As governments seek to cope with a range of new security challenges,” Craig explained, “it is vehicles such as this that give them the flexibility to respond to a variety of threats without having to rely on more expensive or aggressive looking large scale armoured vehicles.”
The company declared that because the vehicle is based on a Toyota chassis it doesn’t require any additional training to operate (beyond that of a typical 4×4) and can be serviced through any Toyota dealer.
However, don’t think that just because this vehicle is based on the (admittedly impressive) Land Cruiser that it can’t bring it all on in the most military way possible … the Marauder Patrol conforms to STANAG level 1 ballistics protection and can be increased to level 2 without impacting on the performance of the vehicle.
It is available in two derivatives, a four-door pick-up and five-door Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), with the former sporting a gross vehicle mass of 3 500 kg and the latter 4 800 kg. The Marauder Patrol has a ground clearance of 235 mm and a wheel base of 3,18 m. It has a top speed of
120 km/h and a 128 kW and 398 Nm turbo diesel engine.
Performance wasn’t the only thing Paramount focused on – crew comfort and ergonomics were key design elements. The result is a vehicle that’s fully air-conditioned and has plenty of space for tools, personal equipment and communication devices.
“This vehicle has been in development for many years and once again proves that when it comes to armoured vehicles, South Africa has the heritage and experience to make some of the most innovative solutions in the world,” Craig emphasised.
With the vehicles Mercedes-Benz and the Paramount Group have on offer, the future that extends beyond the Mayan calendar is at least capable of being a well-guarded one!