Non-combat vehicles musings

I'm going to try to build my own vehicle strategy here. It's meant as a baseline for comparison with actual vehicle inventories. I'm fully aware that developing an actual vehicle inventory is messy, incremental, and done by successive leaderships.
The comparison is thus not necessarily a critique, but rather an attempt to make the difference between actual and optimal (or what I think would be optimal) visible.

(1) Road march and driver efficiency
Up to as quarter of the personnel of a division or brigade can be full-time or part-time drivers. Almost none of these troops would abandon their vehicle during contact and fight in effective small units. This drain of personnel strength is astonishing. Many formations have a substantially lower share of drivers, albeit 15-20% drivers is still bad enough. The trouble doubles once you assume a second man in the cabin for manning a defensive gun. This issue adds to the attractiveness of big, high capacity vehicles as you get more capacity per head.

A similar effect is visible in regard to maintenance. The maintenance requirements of trucks don't scale nearly with their nominal or average payload. Again, attractiveness bonus for high capacity vehicles.

The third effect of this kind is about column length. Both the convoy length and convoy time of passing a certain point (from first to last vehicle) should be short. A high capacity vehicle may have five times the payload of a small one, but be only about twice as long. The mandated spacing between vehicles (for avoidance of traffic issues, accidents and for diminishing the effect of attacks) is even the exact same for a car and a heavy truck.

As a consequence of these considerations, I am no fan of light trucks. A HMMWV-based vehicle park is very suboptimal in my opinion.
Many vehicles have functions which only require a 1.5 or two-ton truck's payload capacity, and the common practice is to not allocate a bigger vehicle than necessary for the job. Sometime ago I already wrote about my alternative; multi-role vehicles. A light truck with a radio cabin may be replaced by a medium truck with a radio cabin, a powered water purifier, surplus diesel fuel capacity, and a small flatbed with some supplies, for example. The overall quantity of vehicles would be decreased, and the overall quantity of drivers and gunners would be decreased.

one ACMAT VLRA version (light truck)
(2) Spare parts logistics
Having the same steering wheel in all trucks is a largely pointless commonality, but having the same engine spare parts (even if the engines of two trucks have a different cylinder count) or the same tires (two or three standard tire sizes could suffice for almost all vehicles) is a different story. The French had great success with their ACMAT VLRA family of vehicles and Germany had partial standardisation with its MAN trucks as well. I am under the impression that these laudable efforts are withering away.

(3) Fuel standardisation
Most modern armies have standardised on diesel fuel, with some jet fuel for rotary aviation. This move of the 70's and 80's was a wise one, but it also helped to drive motorcycles out of the armies, and that was probably not such a good idea. Luckily, there are a few diesel engines for medium weight motorcycles available off the shelf today, so a perfect fuel standardisation on diesel fuel should be self-evident nowadays. You never know what dearly paid-for lesson the bureaucracies throw out of the window next, though.

(4) Night march capability.
A limitation of headlight effects was important during the Second World War up to the Vietnam War, but modern combat aviation has introduced sensors which question the relevance of such discipline nowadays.
The suppression of the visible light signature at night may still be worthwhile because of the ground threat, though. This assumes that only negligible civilian traffic drives at night, of course. Civilian trucks would both provide false positives to hostiles and the risk of traffic accidents with dark military trucks would force the latter to switch on their headlights on temporarily in order to avoid crashes.
One solution to the problem is the use of infrared driving aids
The use of such driver's aids actually adds another issue: It makes little sense to build mixed convoys of vehicles some of which have such aids and others don't. I suppose we need to limit the employment of such driver's aids for some years to come, and I assume the vehicles in manoeuvre and scouting units should get such aids, as should the advance guard of large convoys.
We should always afford the very simple, cheap yet effective devices used for night marches at correct intervals used in the past. Mere reflector crosses and other simplistic pro forma measure for night driving safety aren't nearly as good.

(5) Climate control
German military vehicles need only the basic heater and no cooling climate control. Neither Germany nor NATO or EU can be defended in an African desert, period.
Cabins full of electronics are an obvious exception, of course. There should nevertheless be provisions for an upgrade with a standardised climate control kit (for export, if nothing else).

(6) Fuel tanks, road range
Wheeled vehicles can quite easily reach great on-road ranges. 1,000 km is easily possible, and 1,500 km is possible as well. It has been documented that even in heavy formations the trucks are the main fuel guzzlers, not the tanks. Even the notorious thirst of the Abrams tank prior to introduction of its auxiliary power unit did not change this. Logistical trucks drive more and are so numerous that their combined movement of weight is much greater than the combined movement of armoured vehicle weight even of a mechanised brigade.
Now let's take into account that manoeuvre forces (such as a mechanised brigade) are very difficult to resupply during mobile warfare. Often times they receive supplies only every second day, even if daily resupply was intended. The longer they can make do without resupply, the less trouble for the leadership. The additional fuel thirst from carrying the extra weight of extra fuel and fuel capacity does not come close to compensate for this.
I would thus set a minimum road range of 500 km (except for motorcycles) under realistic conditions including whatever electrical power has to be supplied for the payload. The vehicle fleet as a whole should have about 1,000 km road range. The transfer of fuel from longer-endurance vehicles to shorter-endurance ones should be possible, quick and easy with on-board equipment. This way the higher fuel capacity vehicles (heavy trucks) would probably be the only ones being refuelled by fuel resupply and then much of this fuel could be further distributed over time to lower endurance vehicles. The filling of fuel tanks should be visible outside, so no driver could refuse to hand out fuel as long as his truck's fuel supply is above a marked level (such as equivalent to 500 km road range), by claiming that he's short on fuel.

(7) Protection
Armour protection for trucks is terribly in fashion nowadays. Even RPG-proofing with the aesthetic armageddon of cages is widespread. Protection against mines is focused on the command-detonated types, both below the hull (V-shaped belly, shock absorbing structure, roof-mounted seats) and roadside.
The classic pressure-fused mine threat is being neglected by comparison (otherwise we would prefer to have the front axle well ahead of the cabin, so the cabin isn't directly above the explosion of a pressure-fused mine). We also don't care much nowadays about scatterable mines either. Anti-vehicle (anti-tank) mines can be scattered by multiple rocket launchers, combat aircraft, dispensers underslung a helicopter et cetera. I suppose this threat is something to consider for vehicles in a manoeuvre formation.
Does up-armoring make sense? It depends. One thing is certain, though; it does again favour the higher capacity vehicles. The armour protection for a truck cabin weighs in at about a ton, so two-ton trucks cannot reasonably be up-armoured and still be employed in a two-ton truck role. The drivers of 15-ton trucks barely notice a difference.
It makes sense to keep the overall standard truck design compatible with up-armouring and lightly armoured versions, but I doubt that today's fashion of very much protected cabins and trucks will last for long.
We will probably go back to mere bullet-proofing and add a reduction of secondary effects (reduced fire hazard, spall liners to limit the effect of penetrations, protection against common mines) to it. Even this kind of protection may be limited to those units most exposed to wartime hazards.

(8) Fuel consumption
Very high pressure tires, much electronics, no armour weight and very aerodynamic, curved shapes would be ideal for fuel efficiency. Instead, many military vehicles are rather technically primitive, boxy vehicles. Modern civilian trucks are in between.
I suppose there's a golden middle. We can have the electronics, but the vehicles should keep going in a back-up mode if they fail. We can have the boxy cabin structures that allow easy addition of armoured panels, but we can have aerodynamic, curved skins on them. The 1950's era innovation of central tire inflation systems is widespread anyway and allows for high air pressure tires during road marches and soft, wide tires on soft soil. Alternatively we could use airless tires.

(9) Off-road requirements
Most vehicles don't need greater agility or off-road ability than the trucks used in the forestry industry. The ones which need better off-road ability can be divided into groups. The greatest off-road aspirations would have the scouting vehicles and combat engineer vehicles (some of which could even be reasonably equipped for amphibious movement) followed by combat vehicles. Most other vehicles even in manoeuvre formations would not drive in difficult terrain often. Most importantly, they are unlikely to cross drainage ditches, fences or walls often. Driver training is a greater determinant of off-road capability in such trucks than the gearbox or axles. There is little to be gained by noticeable variations in the off-road capability of such vehicles. An offroad-wonder such as a Unimog in the same unit as a barely modified 7-ton road truck would allow the convoy effect to kick in: The leader would need to limit his routes and speed according to the limits of the poorest vehicles and drivers.

(10) On-board spare parts
I've long-lost the source, but I remember an anecdote about a convoy in Bosnia during the 90's which got harassed by snipers so badly that hundreds of tires were ruined during a day's trip. Sure, we have run-flat tires nowadays, but once pierced these still require replacement and at least some serious repair. The very small quantity of spare tires has always irritated me. I suppose we need many more, and vehicles should be prepared to carry many more full quality spare tires, ready for a quick change. Two full quality and inflated spare tires on or in a four-wheel vehicle should be normal, not noteworthy. Again, airless tires may be a reasonable alternative.

(11) Radios
All trucks should have the rather large radio antennas (to keep observers from identifying leadership vehicles) and all should be (are) prepared to accept a quick upgrade with a military radio set.
Short-range (hundreds of metres, with automatic relay function) radios should be in all vehicles. Their use should not be more distracting than unavoidable. The costs of this kind of technology have dropped so much that there is really no excuse for not having short-range radios in all trucks. No troops should be forced to resort to improvisations with civilian mobile phones.

(12) Camouflage and deception
Certain paints can reduce infrared contrast, certain netting can reduce both radar and infrared signatures. Exhausts and coolers can be placed and designed to leave less of a signature.
All these signature reduction measures should be considered with the possibility of blending with civilian-type vehicle traffic in mind. I'm not really thinking of mixing with civilian traffic, but many civilian trucks with quick military paintjobs would be used in a major conflict. They would be driven either by contractors or by soldiers.
Either way, they would be lower priority targets than the dedicated military trucks. The latter possess more capabilities, are more likely to be part of manoeuvre forces, and are more likely carrying valuable equipment.
The heavy army trucks should thus be able to switch between an almost civilian appearance and trying to hide entirely (not on the move, of course). Special versions such as trucks with multiple rocket launchers or expensive air defence or electronic warfare equipment should be able to look identical to their less important military truck cousins of the same basic vehicle type.

(13) Crew comfort other than temperature control
Many heavy civilian trucks possess a module on top of the cabin (or in its rear) with a bunk for sleeping. Military trucks don't, for somehow we still pretend that a weapon on most if not all trucks is a good idea.
We should nevertheless provide some more comfort for these troops. Sleep deprivation is a huge problem during military campaigns, and it is well-known that tired drivers cause many accidents. These accidents are 'friction' which sabotages the execution of the commander's intent. A reduction of this friction requires enough sleep for drivers. Yes, this should be a truck design issue, too. The truck's side could have a quick folding tent roof and a quick-folding camp bed with enough insulation for a European spring or autumn night. Maybe there is actually enough personnel for two men per cabin; the second one should be easily able to adjust his seat, get a pillow and sleep during a road march. Many cabins weren't designed with this in mind.

(14) Navy and air force have little need for standardisation or off-road capabilities
Dump all vehicles which were found deficient in practice there.

(15) Mobilisation
It should be possible to satisfy the need for trucks during an emergency doubling of the army within six months. The production of enough trucks should be possible on short notice and civilian commandeered trucks should be adapted in time.

(16) Temperature range
Useful down to about -40°C, without excessive breakages. This includes suitable coolants, rubbers and lubricants.


edit: Updated link in (6); it's relevant for (8) as well.
edit 2014: Related earlier text


  1. I think one important question you should first ask in respect to points 3/6/8 and especially in combination with design of new tanks is, do we really believe that the current concept of ICE + mechanical gear box will survive the next thirty years?

    As long as tanks, IFVs and heavy trucks in many armies have a much longer life span than civilian trucks, we should first discuss the most likely scenario for the civilian world, this includes changes of drive unit concepts, changes of fuels and, as a result, changes of refinery capacities. Then we should try to find solutions that make most sense for military potential applications.

    As I do not believe in a diesel dominated world after 2030 for the civilian stuff, my concept would be to switch for heavy trucks and tanks/IFVs to hybrid systems (like F. Porsche's Elefant) , i.e. we design a interface between a potentially short-lived generator and and a relatively future proof electric drive system.

    The generator would be in the first generation or in export models fueled with diesel, however, this unit could easily be replaced with other concepts, here, as high end solution fuel cells come into mind or combinations with larger batteries.

    Such hybrid systems could quite easily decrease fuel consumption (increase range), provide enough electricity for future applications and could compensate for dramatic changes in civilian fuel production.

    The use of only one fuel has not the same highe priority for me, because it only works in a ICE/mechanical gear world that will very likely die.


    1. Hybrid drives' fuel savings depend on either a comparison with obsolete predecessors or on a driving mix including stop and go city traffic.
      There's not much fuel saving possible if you cruise on roads a lot.
      Normal engines with a larger-than-normal electricity generator attached can proivde the required electrical power jsut as hybrids can, and it's possibel to deactivate some cylinders to turn the engine into something resembling an efficient diesel generator.

      The electrical drives appear to have some technical issues which kept them from having a breakthrough in ground forces for four generations. Hilmes published an article in Soldat & Technik years ago covering these persistent teething problems.

    2. My main point for hybrid is that the civilian world will change much faster than the military one and a change to electric is obvious in the civilian world.

      The teething problems are undisputed but with a much huger civilian market and less critical environment I expect fast developemnet, this already starts with busses and will get traction in the field of short range hauling very soon, both are fields were high milage is created with a high number of short trips, i.e. the more expensive engine/battery is easily payed back with lower O&M.


      Battery technology changes fast, so I would sim ply start thinking in 5 years. :-)


  2. North African, Middle Eastern desert and Siberia are the places where the oil comes from. I doubt that inability to defend that ground is a wise choice.
    I understand that as soon as you can drive in the desert, you might want to do some intervention stuff that guzzles money.

    1. Sorry, Germany or other EU members are not in the business of "defending" North African, middle Eastern or Siberian anythings.

    2. Anonymous,

      the basic problem is, if we are talking about 2030, that the declining production of conventional oil in the ME in combination with dramatically increasing domestic consumption gives no argument for fighting there.

      For military applications a viable alternative for Europe is of course to produce synthtic fuel from coal.


    3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_for_the_Mediterranean

      Union for the Mediterraean and NATO-Partnership for Peace are important economic zones bordering to the EU. It is not inconceivable that the supply from these regions can be threatened and NATO and EU called for helping the local forces in defence.
      For this scenario adaption to hot and cold climates is necessary.

      A scenario - post 2030 the US will be outspent by China in military matters. The tensions in Asia are unlikely to be solved and the US is guaranteing the status quo. Any violent outbreak (such as between China and India or China and Japan/Taiwan) would have China under a naval US embargo with Siberia being the best choice for resources. Germany is a major Siberian customer as well and Russia already exhibits a reluctancy to link the exploitation of Siberia too much to China. So a Chinese invasion of Siberia is one of the possible results of a conflict in Asia, threatening German supplies and likely having a former enemy asking for assistance in defence.
      This area of Partnership for Peace and Mediterranean Union as well as the Northern and Southern Atlantic cover the economic zone of interest of Europe. Intervention is not about conquering them, but being able to intervene if things go awry within this zone.
      It's similar to the small scale Singaporean dependance on Maylasian fresh water and safe shipping through the Malacca strait with their forcs tailored to intervene within this zone.

      Sven's adversion to the brand of current US interventions is understandable, but he is "throwing the baby out with the bath water".
      Intervention needs rules, like being asked in support of the local democratic gouvernment against enemy aggression or in support of human rights. An organized violation of human rights affects Europe by a flood of fugitives and victims. These measures have to be measured.

      A good example for a small and meaningful intervention would be support for the hunt of the LRA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord%27s_Resistance_Army). Such support can be aerial reconnaisance, supplies and transport for African Union forces. The current arrangement for interventions with the African Union is an example of sensible arrangement for limited interventions.

    4. Look; what's necessary for a scenario is not necessary for us unless the scenario itself is necessary.
      Let's say Algeria overruns and annexes Tunisia. We could support a Moroccan mobilization and the Arab states could protect Libya. A total blockade could be enforced with mere radar surveillanc eof Med traffic and keeping all ships from Algeria back at Med and Black Sea harbours and at Gibraltar. This could last for a decade, but an invasion to free Tunisia could be avoided.
      And this was already an extreme scenario; I doubt anything more extreme will happen for a long time to come.

      And how exactly is the apparently completely usuccessful suport against the LRA "sensible"? They merely pushed the LRA from Uganda into South Sudan IIRC.

      And seriously; a Chinese invasion fo Siberia would call ten million Russians to carms. No need for us to go to Siberia. That would be about the most idiotic thing to call for in face of a German.

    5. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
      Germany is part of the European Union and as such has a security perimeter necessary for economic well-being. Within this zone we can be called for help and are capable of providing, because we tailored our capabilities to continguencies in this zone. It's not the same as running a number of invasions called interventions. It's more similar to the normal training deployment of Gebirgsjäger to Norway for training in order to be prepared for a lot of snow and not necessarily in Germany.

      China is rising economically and military and from my limited exposure, I think it possible that the conflicts in Asia can find a violent outlet that inevitably drags us in, because of our alliance with the guarantor of the status quo, the USA. If this were not the case we might still be dragged into this quagmire, because of the economic power concentrating there.
      Russia is no superpower and it is foreseeable that they will be ever less on par with China that does have vested interest in Siberia. It's a possible continguency that China laucnhes an invasion of Siberia and Central Asia in order to avoid the effects of a naval embargo, the big stick of the US Navy. Under such conditions Russia would sooner or later have to ask for help.
      The other route is China successfully challenges the US Navy and we have a full scale global naval war that most seriously affects us on this domain.
      Currently they are a far cry from enacting either one, but their capabilities grow fast and they clearly show that nukes don't deter them.

      LRA could go to South Sudan, but that limits their capability to be in Uganda. It did not eliminate the problem, because Sudan is not so cooperative. The usual political problems and the reason why such things are best done by the AU forces with our intelligence and logistic support. The LRA story is quite complicated. They do have a network that supports them for a number of reasons and they are very elusive enemies with their capabilities in high demand in a war-torn environment.

      At least we have both spoken our minds. I consider the situation in developing Asia volatile and lay a quite large security perimeter around Europe where intervention could be necessary to deter the Asian conflicts from coming closer. You are quite content with the degree of peace and tranquility achieved in Europe, especially central Europe. Case in point, you are right and I am right, we just have two different outlooks at the situation.
      To reconcile, it might help if you write an article about the lumbering Asian discords and how they flared into violence and whether they would do that again. Afterwards explain how these would affect us in the future. Asia is the region with the fastest growth in military investments, Europe and North America are the regions with most current expenditure and capability. This is about to change in the coming decades (the US will spend less and the Asian countries more).

  3. Even if the logistics vehicles take the brunt of the fuel consumption in-theatre, it still makes a lot of sense improve the fuel efficiency of front-line combat vehicles, because it has a multiplicative effect.

    Lets say a tank company doing manoeuvre needs five lorries' worth of fuel every day, together with one more lorry with ammunition, spare parts, and so on. A drop in fuel consumption of 20% for the tanks would mean they would only need five (4 + 1) lorries bringing stuff every day, ie the reduced fuel consumption at the front would reduce the needed logistical footprint for the unit with 17%.

    If the lorries also had a similar increased fuel efficiency, then we get a combined saving of 1 - (0.83 x 0.8) = 34 %.

    Now, this is theory, but in practice I can imagine the savings can become even larger. Shorter convoys can move more efficiently (vehicles in a road march seldom can keep a steady 50kph in the tail end of a convoy), any "liberated" sources of fuel will have a higher marginal effect, the decrease of the logistical tail will bring savings further back and so on.

    I think the Soviet invasion of Manchuria gives one illustration of this. I read that the Sherman-equipped units that led the way in the beginning simply had to stop due to the need to ferry enough fuel forward, while the T-34s needed much less fuel to keep moving ahead, and thus easier to top up as well.

    1. True, but the bigger problem is not consumption, but range. I discussed this earlier: