Assessing Tracked and Wheeled Vehicles for Australian Mounted Close Combat Operations

Lessons Learned in Recent Conflicts, Impact of Advanced Technologies, and System-Level Implications

by John Matsumura, John Gordon IV, Randall Steeb, Scott Boston, Caitlin Lee, Phillip Padilla, John Parmentola

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Research Questions

  1. Task 1: What kind of vehicles were employed and under what conditions?
  2. Task 1: How were the different classes used?
  3. Task 1: Did the vehicles meet expectations?
  4. Task 1: If not, where were the shortfalls and why did they occur?
  5. Task 2: What prospective technological capabilities could alter the mobility, protection, and firepower of future vehicles?
  6. Task 3: Do the increasing operational costs of heavier vehicles outweigh the benefits?
  7. Task 3: What are the system-level and side-by-side implications of performance for each class of vehicle?

The Australian government is making recapitalization decisions about its mechanized land forces. One of the main initiatives, Project LAND 400, involves updating the Australian military's close combat capability. To assist with this decision, the Defence Science and Technology Group asked RAND for help in assessing the range of trade-offs between tracked and wheeled combat vehicle classes, focusing on the infantry fighting vehicle component. This request entailed completing three tasks.

First, we examined the expected performance of tracked and wheeled vehicles as a way to assess lessons learned from conflicts around the world. The idea was to "connect the dots" between how combat vehicles were expected to perform and how they actually performed.

Second, we examined how advanced technologies could affect the performance of tracked and wheeled vehicles into the future. We examined several capabilities that could alter the mobility, protection, and firepower of future vehicles. Some technologies should be considered in any decision about the preference of one vehicle class versus another, because they could close the gap between tracked and wheeled vehicles. Others could improve the survivability and operational effectiveness of both classes over time.

Third, we assessed the implications of tracked and wheeled vehicles from a broader, system-level perspective. Previous research shows the importance of considering performance at the system or unit level in addition to side-by-side vehicle class performance. In the side-by-side comparison, the heavier vehicles are often preferred, but they come with an increasing operational cost, which shows up in the system or unit level assessment.

Key Findings

There are many trade-offs between tracked and wheeled vehicle classes

  • Tracked vehicles have shown their advantages in off-road mobility, flexibility in weight growth, and ability to fight and survive on the battlefield.
  • Wheeled vehicles have shown better on-road mobility, savings in maintenance, and reduced crew and squad fatigue.
  • The distinctions between vehicle classes are blurring with the introduction of new technologies and systems.

Recommendations

  • Acquiring a medium wheeled infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) is amenable for the many types of conflicts that Australia is likely to see within its own regional engagement zones, but it may introduce constraints in major combat operations, particularly focusing on direct fire engagements.
  • Given that the Australian requirement for fielding a heavy armor force appears to be associated with serving as a partner to the United States, it may be possible to predetermine roles where the Australian contribution in such future fights takes into account the relative strengths of combat capability, much like how Joint Forces within the United States are planned for, deployed, and ultimately employed on the battlefield.
  • The Australian Army might consider evaluating the full range of doctrine, organization, training, materiel, leadership, personnel, and facilities adjustments with both classes of IFV alternatives. Both classes will have an impact, with a heavy tracked IFV involving more and/or different logistics units than a medium wheeled IFV.
  • In parallel, the Australian Army might consider conducting an official business case analysis (BCA) or similar net cost-benefit analysis. In this analysis, stakeholder elicitation can be conducted to quantify the relative weights of the priorities associated with a future IFV decision.
  • Detailed force-level modeling and simulation (M&S) could be conducted to assess the force-level impact of specific IFV alternatives. The BCA and the force-level M&S should provide further information and guidance on specific IFV platforms.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One

    Introduction

  • Chapter Two

    Task 1 Results: Lessons Learned About the Expected Performance of Tracked and Wheeled Vehicles in Combat

  • Chapter Three

    Task 1 Results: Lessons Learned About Tracked and Wheeled Vehicles Meeting Expected Performance in Recent Conflicts

  • Chapter Four

    Task 2 Results: The Impact of Advanced Technologies

  • Chapter Five

    Task 3 Results: System-Level Implications

  • Chapter Six

    What the Assessment Means for Project LAND 400 and the Path Ahead

This research was conducted within the Acquisition and Technology Policy Center (ATP) of the RAND National Defense Research Institute (NSRD).

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