I'd like to say I'm a long-time reader but first-time poster, in truth though I only found Daily Kos after the War in Ukraine started. Like many, I was desperately searching for a clear-headed attempt to peer through the thick fog of war and I'm happy to say that Mark and Kos have very much provided that. I honestly don't think there is even a close analogue to their reporting which has already sifted through other stories, telegram channels, and Twitter.
I'm sure there are hundreds or thousands like me that are constantly checking to see when one of those two have posted an update but are likewise just too busy to create a profile and comment. My excuse for not having the time is having a young family. In fact, the vast (vast) majority of the time I have a spare second is at the gym or driving and neither is conducive to reading so I'd like to humbly suggest, or plead, that their stories be available in audio or even on Youtube.
I've been meaning to share my deep appreciation and suggestions for a while, but I'm actually writing tonight about something different. Similar to Mark's Drone Guide or Kos's idea to write books about Ukrainian hero cities, I've been working on a Ukraine War side project as well. It's a proposed military vehicle. Yes, weird. I know. I think the idea is a combination of some misguided desire to help out with the war effort, listening to Mark and Kos hammer away about the logistical burden caused by the smorgasbord of donated military vehicles, as well as all the new technology available. I’ve been laid up with an injury recently and finally had the time to get it onto the page.
Also, I feel obliged to offer the mea culpa that I’m not a military expert. No, I’ve always been much more interested in sustainability, electric vehicles, solar panels, etc. However, all that changed February 24th, 2022. My brother-in-law’s young family barely escaped Irpin before the bridge pictured to the right was destroyed and the Russians visited unspeakable horrors upon the town and nearby Bucha. Since that day, I’ve been trying to drink from, what seems like, a fire hose of information on both the Ukraine War as well as the military hardware that could\should\might end up there. I hope you enjoy!
Sometimes referred to as General Mud, the Russo-Ukrainian War has shown that maneuver warfare isn’t possible for wheeled vehicles, and even tracked tanks, for about half the year during the Spring and Fall muddy seasons. Without cross-country mobility, military vehicles are forced to make extremely slow advances or to use predictable paved roads which are both extremely vulnerable to indirect fires as well as ambushes with Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG) and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM). It would be a game changer to be able to threaten any route, in any season, and any terrain while also vastly increasing survivability for crews and soldiers alike.
The proposed vehicle’s over-sized wheels are hard to miss, they’re not the usual single point of contact tire system used on military vehicles. They are instead designed for low-pressure, which results in a large area of contact and provides its unique off-road capabilities. Another benefit is that no suspension is needed and the tires contribute to its amphibious capability. If you haven’t seen videos of the Sherp ATV please click here and for the Atlas ATV please click here. Both Ukrainian ATV companies specialize in the low-pressure wheel system and say they are eager to contribute their expertise for the war effort.
Why A Plug-In Hybrid?
Electric motors only have a single moving part and this means that maintenance is drastically reduced, they’re very efficient, and provide very stealthy navigation. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEV) also don’t require transmissions as electric motors can operate a wide range of speeds. To create unmatched redundancy, each wheel in the proposed vehicle would have its own motor and battery pack. Each of the electric motors could also be set to a different optimal speed, thus in a way, providing 6 gears for on-road travel that would be faster and more efficient. Any future directed energy weapons would also benefit from the energy storage and the diesel engine’s ability to replenish the stored energy. The option to run off of either diesel or electricity would allow for more flexible logistics and its ability to utilize fuel in-situ (solar) would also relieve logistics. The benefit of instantaneous torque to go full speed forward, or backward, can be invaluable on the battlefield.
It is true that a PHEV powertrain is heavier than a diesel powertrain and, in an industry where armored vehicles weigh dozens of tons, weight is important for tactical and strategic mobility. However, the PHEV trade off is less maintenance, better dependability, and higher efficiency which results in less down-time and a smaller logistical footprint in the field. Very importantly, internal volume would also be increased with the transmission box removed, the diesel engine downsized to simply act as a generator, and its use of very compact electric motors. The proposed vehicle would also utilize new structural batteries that are robust enough to be integrated as part of a vehicle’s frame instead of lugging them around as additional cargo. Further, these new batteries are already being built at scale and as the technology advances so would the capability of this vehicle.
Many Soviet armored vehicles are designated amphibious, however all deep crossings in the Ukraine War have been made by bridge. This lack of amphibious assaults is evidence that it is very difficult for diesel-powered military vehicles to provide, and sustain, an amphibious capability. However, the internet is rife with videos of civilian electric vehicles swimming right through flooded areas while gasoline vehicles are stranded. An electric powertrain can be water-sealed in a way that an air-breathing diesel powertrain simply cannot.
Situated on the mighty Dnipro River, Ukraine is a country known for its river systems. However, its two most recent offensives in the Kharkiv and Kherson Oblasts (regions) were both halted by river systems. The Dnipro River proved too difficult to cross in the Kherson Oblast. The Kharkiv Oblast’s Oskill River was successfully crossed in a few places but the lightning offensive was slowed to a crawl. Russia was able to rush reinforcements in during the crossings and the advance culminated not far away along the P66 highway. If Ukraine is to retake Crimea then amphibious military vehicles are going to be crucial in pushing across the tidal waterways along its border.
Why A 120mm Mortar Turret?
Well, for starters there is plenty of 120mm supply across multiple partner countries. It’s the NATO standardized size for tank ammunition as well as large mortar shells. Some military vehicles are designated for mortar duty without a turret. For example, there is the US Army’s Stryker Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) with a variant for a 120mm mortar but the crew works in the open and is exposed to counter battery fire. A turret allows soldiers to remain protected inside the vehicle and, very important in modern warfare’s artillery duels, the ability to shoot and scoot before the enemy’s counter-battery fire is returned. The mortar’s indirect fire allows the proposed vehicle the option to support its infantry from kilometers away without exposing itself to ATGMs, RPGs or direct fire from other military vehicles. Beyond increased survivability, the mortar turret also allows the proposed vehicle to fire 120mm tank shells when the need arises. Since the turret is able to shoot high angle rounds, it’s also conceivable to be used against drones and loitering munitions.
Neither the Ukrainian Army (ZSU) or any other mechanized infantry competition has requested a 120mm mortar turret. The US Army did, in the now canceled Future Combat Systems (FCS), and is now pursuing a light tank called the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF). Ukraine’s ZSU needs all the mobile indirect fires they can get and this is evidenced by the fact that they are pressing tanks into indirect fire roles haphazardly. This already blurs the tank\mortar lines, and thereby makes this purposefully direct and indirect fires vehicle all the more useful to them. In addition, the US Marines Corps (USMC) is looking for a new wheeled infantry carrier with an upgraded cannon, and have just recently divested of all of their tanks.
Why A Smoothbore Cannon?
All modern artillery utilizes rifling because it’s the best way to accurately aim a shell without guidance. However, rifling comes at great cost as the friction of spinning a round reduces the projectile’s range, limits the rate of fire due to the cannon overheating, requires heavier ammunition casing, costs more to produce, requires more maintenance, and inevitably wears the barrel out. In the Ukraine War it is only the Russian Army that completely relies on artillery rifling for guidance. NATO countries use guided, or smart, munitions where fins guide the projectiles. Though smart munitions are more costly, they are so much more accurate that far fewer rounds are needed. Also, since they can be trusted in closer quarters, they are useful in more situations. Rifled precision has been surpassed by guided precision and all its above mentioned problems make its use a disadvantage.
Mortars and tanks both use smoothbore cannons with fin-stabilized rounds even though that system’s accuracy is second-best to rifling, again, without guidance. This is because rate of fire is higher without the friction heating of rifling, both the round and cannon can be made lighter, and barrel replacements are reduced. Most importantly, it allows rounds to be fired with more kinetic energy i.e. higher velocity. Now that smart munitions provide guidance, smoothbore barrels can launch incredibly accurate rounds faster, further, with less weight, cost, and metal fatigue than rifling can. This is no small point as more kinetic force equals more distance and there is an arms race for NATO to outrange Russia. Therefore, evolving this vehicle’s smoothbore cannon for longer range, smart munitions would be on the right side of the new arms race.
How Would This Vehicle Compare?
The proposed vehicle would most likely tip the scales somewhere between the newer double-v hull Stryker’s 30+ ton weight, up to the 40+ tons of the MPF and M2A2 Bradley. None of these vehicles are expected to stand up to Main Battle Tank (MBT) rounds or ATGMs; a feat even MBTs struggle with. A vehicle in the 30+ ton Stryker’s weight range can be expected to similarly protect against artillery shrapnel, mines, and small arms fire all around with some arcs having more protection. At the heavier 40+ ton weight, vehicles can be expected to also withstand Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) autocannons like the Bradley M2A2. Also, if the vehicle’s oversized tires were reinforced with more robust materials like Kevlar, it may be able to protect against RPGs like spaced or slat armor. Unlike the above mentioned vehicles, the top of a new vehicle can be designed to mitigate the lethal vertical attacks posed by ATGMs, artillery, and drones.
Similar to the US Stryker, one of this vehicle’s roles could be to dismount its infantry away from contact but with the unique ability to still provide immediate squad-level fire support via guided mortars while staying safely concealed. Its 120mm direct fire tanks shells would outmatch the recently upgraded 30mm autocannon of the Dragoon Stryker IFV variant, the M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle’s 25mm autocannon, and even the MPF’s 105mm cannon. None of the above vehicles have the unique option to use a mortar shell for an incredibly effective steep-angle attack against armored vehicles or entrenched enemies.
How Many Crew + Infantry?
The M2 Bradley, Marder, CV90, Warrior, and almost all Cold War era IFVs have 3 crewmembers. A gunner and tank commander turret with a completely separated driver was seen as ideal. However, the US Army is now procuring an Optionally Manned Vehicle (OMV) replacement for the M2 Bradley. Therefore, downsizing to two crewmembers seems to fit the trend of utilizing computer technologies to assist with targeting and driving. In the layout to the right is an M2A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Notice how much room the engine, transmission, and 2 crew turret takes up.
Too many Ukrainian soldiers are exposed to the ever-present danger of shrapnel, mines and small arms fire while riding in civilian vehicles or on top of other military vehicles. They deserve protection and that’s why this vehicle is designed to carry a large contingent of mounted infantry. To the left is a proposed one-crewmember turret. The PHEV drivetrain removes the need for the transmission, the downsized diesel engine fits below the compact unmanned turret, and then the whole turret is pulled forward to allow for (what looks to be) 14 mounted infantry. A higher mounted infantry threshold can be the difference between getting armored protection or not.
Why Design A New Vehicle For Ukraine?
Designing a new military vehicle for Ukraine makes sense as it’s the only ongoing major conflict and, as the war takes its toll, will be in constant need of more armored vehicles. Ukraine is comfortable right now with just receiving donations from the inventory of its allies, but it is not a long-term solution. Receiving over a dozen different military vehicle designs like the Humvee, Cougar, Senator, Bradley, Bushmaster, Marder, Varta, etc. is a nightmare for training, spare parts, and logistics in general. Committing to fewer mechanized infantry platforms would solve the above problems and this is also the strategy each of its allied countries has followed as well.
Russia is preparing its military industrial complex for vastly increased production, as it transitions to a war economy in order to sustain military production for years. Ukraine’s donations from allies are a finite resource and this poses a problem for when their inventories inevitably run low and they aren’t able to continue donating. The solution is for Ukraine to start production which matches or exceeds Russia’s. Ukraine will need hundreds, or thousands, of new vehicles for a prolonged conflict. The vehicle in this proposal would have very light logistics and partners from Ukrainian companies and its most trusted allies.
There are no military vehicles designed to incorporate the oversized low-pressure wheels which provide this vehicle’s unique all-terrain and amphibious capabilities. There are also no PHEV powertrains with integrated structural batteries that allows the additional room for mounted infantry. Further, there is no APC or IFV designed for indirect fire and no mortar turret vehicles with room for mounted infantry. It would also be very difficult and expensive to attempt to retrofit an existing vehicle frame to try to incorporate the above. The civilian electric vehicle market has shown that trying to retrofit an existing internal combustion engine chassis for a plug-in powertrain creates a flawed platform, akin to trying to stick a square peg in a round hole, without saving time or money.
This vehicle would also be a good fit for any other militaries that could use an all-terrain vehicle that’s light on maintenance and logistics, is capable of amphibious operations, outmatches the direct fire of other IFVs, adds indirect fire capabilities, and relies on existing systems. The subtext is that any country could be interested in this vehicle. Also, in the same way that orders for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) have spiked world-wide after demonstrating its effectiveness in Ukraine, the hope is for this proposed vehicle be battle tested in Ukraine and show that it can save the lives of their bravest.
Who Are Potential Partners?
There are just two companies, that I know of, with 120mm mortar turret systems which are designed for both indirect and direct fire. Finland’s Patria has the double-barrel AMOS as well as the newer single-barrel NEMO which is more cost competitive. There is also a fully automatic system available from HSW in South Eastern Poland near the Ukrainian border. There is much more information available on Patria’s systems, such as the NEMO’s 6 shot simultaneous impact and a peak of 10 rounds per minute according to Wikipedia, so that this system does seem more capable. However, the location of HSW near the Ukrainian border is a great fit for collaboration and testing. Both Ukrainian ATV companies have expressed interest in sharing their expertise with low-pressure wheeled systems. There are Chinese structural battery companies but also companies from strong Ukrainian allies. From Rammstein’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group, there is Japan’s Panasonic, Korea’s LG, and the USA’s Tesla all building large capacity for the 4680 structural battery standard.
Many of the US’s Cold War era military vehicles have had programs to replace their platforms canceled. Overly ambitious technology programs with ballooning costs are the main culprits. For instance, the Marine’s designed the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle from scratch but the result was an incredibly expensive and unreliable vehicle that was replaced by the Amphibious Combat Vehicle competition’s Iveco SuperAV because the military vehicle’s systems already existed. To paraphrase Bill Belichick, “Availability is more important than ability” and this is certainly true with military vehicles. Even the US Stryker was only chosen as a stop-gap Interim Combat Vehicle (ICV) when the US Army’s FCV program was cancelled. The Stryker was chosen, again, because its systems already existed. That’s why this proposed vehicle relies on existing systems wherever possible.
So… What’s With That Long Name?
All-Terrain Electrified Amphibious Fighting Vehicle With 120mm Mortar Turret is a rather long, if descriptive, name. When Russia invaded Ukraine it put the letter “Z” on its armored vehicles. That letter has become a symbol for pro-war Russian sentiment and propaganda even as they’ve committed unspeakable war crimes upon the Ukrainian people. I propose the vehicle is called the “Model Z” as a way for Ukraine to turn that symbol around as their own. Translating “Model Z” into Ukraine’s Cyryllic Alphabet is “Mодел 3” which may seem a bit like Tesla’s “Model 3” though. Choosing the name may not be important right now but if the vehicle ever makes it off of the page and onto the battlefield then… yes even then its name will still not likely be the most important question that needs to be solved.
Thank you so much if you’ve read this far and I appreciate any feedback you may have. Слава Украiні! (Slava Ukraini)