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Modern conflicts rarely include open confrontations of regular armies. Rather, they look like a series of counter-partisan operations of varying intensity, and operations to seize and keep control of key infrastructure and facilities for their further exploitation. In these conditions, means and measures designed to protect contingents from the constant threat of mines and insurgents becomes more and more important. Intense usage of vehicles close to what are currently described as infantry mobility vehicles (IMVs) and mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles dates back to the legendary Toyota War of 1986-1987 and the Rhodesian Bush War from 1964-1979. Since then, the role of IMVs and MRAPs of various kinds as well as similar systems have become key on the battlefield.
This set conditions for further development of such systems, growth of the market, the number of producers and their geography. One of the key reasons behind the increasing number of IMVs and MRAP variants and their producers is the relatively low complexity of their production amid high demand on the market.
Over the past years, IMVs and MRAPs have often been used to address similar challenges on the battle field. This blurred the lines between these two types of armed vehicles even further. The main tasks of IMVs and MRAPs are reconnaissance, transportation of troops and fire support in the event of confrontation. Their main difference, in the current conditions, lies in the field of the employed system platform, protection level and type of installed weapons, which can vary from ordinary fire arms to light guns, non-guided rockets, guided rockets, mortar systems and even anti-aircraft missiles.
Various IMVs and MRAPs are currently in service within most militaries around the world and are being actively used in local conflicts. The use of such equipment was heavily documented in the current conflicts of Syria, Iraq and Yemen, both because of their sufficient intensity and due to the wide distribution of video and photo equipment facilitating the propaganda efforts of the parties.
The Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) use domestically produced Cobra IMVs and Kirpi MRAPs in northern Syria.
The infantry mobility vehicle Cobra is produced by Otokar which uses some mechanical components and sub-systems of the HMMWV vehicle from AM General of the US. The Cobra’s monocoque steel v-hull provides protection against small arms fire, artillery shell shrapnel and, to a certain degree, against anti-personnel mines, tank mines, and IEDs. Front wheel arches are designed to be blown away to free blast pockets.
The Cobra vehicle forms a common platform, which can be adapted for various roles and mission requirements including the following: armoured personnel carrier, anti-tank, reconnaissance, ground surveillance radar, forward observation, armoured ambulance and armoured command post. It can be equipped with a turret for a 12.7mm machine gun, 20mm cannon, anti-tank missiles such as the TOW missile and Spike missiles or surface-to-air missiles.
ISIS terrorists seized and destroyed several Cobra vehicles along with other TAF equipment in northern Syria during Turkey’s Operation Euphrates Shield in 2016-2017.
Cobra II specifications:
- Mass: 12,000kg
- Length: 6m
- Width: 2.5m
- Height: 2.2m
- Crew: 2+7
- Maximum speed: 115km/h
- Operational range: 700km
The Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle Kirpi is designed and manufactured by BMC for the needs of the Turkish Ground Forces. It features an armoured hull which provides protection against armor-piercing rounds and artillery shell splinters. The V-shape bottom portion provides protection against grenades and land mines.
The Kirpi features shock absorber seats and interior accessories, a GPS system, rear view camera, and an automatic fire suppression system. The vehicle has five firing ports and four bulletproof windows on each side of the troop compartment as well as a shielded position for the gunner on the rooftop. Depending on the modification, the Kirpi can be armed with a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine gun or remotely-controlled weapons stations. Passengers enter and leave the troop compartment through a hydraulically operated ramp at the rear of the hull. The Turkish Army employs these vehicles for operations in the Syrian provinces of Aleppo and Idlib.
- Mass: around 16,000kg
- Length: 6.0-7.075m (depending on the version)
- Width: 2.51m
- Height: 86m
- Crew: 3 + 10-12
- Maximum speed: 100km/h
- Operational range: 800km
US forces in Syria and Iraq and the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen use a wide range of American equipment: HMMWV, Сougar, M-ATV, Caiman and MaxxPro.
The High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV) is a light utility vehicle produced by AM General. Originally, it was designed primarily for personnel and light cargo transport behind front lines, not as a front line fighting vehicle. The lack of protection from weapons ranging from small arms and RPGs to mines and improvised explosive devices turned it into a vulnerable target in conditions of low intensity conflicts and constant counter-insurgency operations. Therefore, the Humvee’s later modifications included additional armour protection. Adapting to new tasks and conditions, the vehicle, depending upon modifications, started carrying a wide variety of military hardware ranging from machine guns to anti-tank missile launchers and MANPADs. There are multiple Humvee variants, which were developed for different tasks and conditions.
M1043A2 HMMWV Humvee light multirole tactical vehicle:
- Mass: around 3,295kg
- Length: 4.84m
- Width: 2.18m
- Height: 93m
- Crew: 1+3
- Maximum speed: 70km/h
- Operational range: 443km
The Сougar MRAP and infantry mobility vehicle is a family of armored vehicles produced by Force Protection, Inc. which focuses on manufacturing ballistic and mine-protected vehicles.
Coming in two main variations: 4×4 and 6×6, the vehicle is purposed for the transport and protection of troops and equipment. Both the crew and engine compartment of these vehicles are protected against small arms, land mines and improvised explosive devices. The main armament is the CROWS -a remote weapon station which allows operators to engage targets without leaving the protected portion of the vehicle.
The two main Cougar variants are equipped with different modifications depending on their final purpose: Joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal, rapid response, Protected Patrol, Tactical Support, engineer vehicle and others.
- Mass: up to 17,200kg
- Length: 5.91m
- Width: 2.74 m
- Height: 2.64 m
- Crew: 2+4
- Maximum speed: 105km/h
- Operational range: 966km
The Oshkosh M-ATV MRAP vehicle was developed by the Oshkosh Corporation for the MRAP All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV) program. The vehicle, designed as one of the options to replace HMMWVs, is designed to provide MRAP-level protection, but with improved mobility. There are assault, command, special forces, utility and engineer variants of the vehicle.
Depending on the purpose, the M-ATV can be fitted with a variety of remote-controlled weapon stations which can include an M240 machine gun, an Mk 19 grenade launcher, or a BGM-71 TOW Anti-tank guided missile launcher.
Oshkosh M-ATV specifications:
- Weight: up to 14,700kg
- Length: 7.72m
- Width: 2.47m
- Height: 2.81m
- Length: 6.27m
- Width: 2.49m
- Height: 2.7 m
- Crew: 4+1
- Maximum speed: 105km/h
- Operational range: 510km
The BAE Caiman is an MRAP vehicle with a V-hull design based on the Family of Medium Tactical Vehicles (FMTV) and Low Signature Armored Cab (LSAC), initially developed by Stewart & Stevenson. In addition to the ballistic and IED protection provided by the design and materials used for the personnel compartment, the vehicles can also be equipped with enhanced armor packages. The vehicle is capable of employing all types of manned and remote weapons stations.
BAE Caiman specifications:
- Weight: 16,825kg
- Crew: 2+ 10
- Maximum speed: 105km/h
- Range: 645km
The International MaxxPro is an MRAP armoured fighting vehicle. It was designed by the US company Navistar International’s subsidiary Navistar Defense along with the Israeli Plasan Sasa, which designed and manufactures the armor. The vehicle utilizes a crew capsule with a V-shaped hull mounted on an International 7000 chassis and can withstand ballistic arms fire and mine blasts.
Navistar came up with a number of mission variants for the MaxxPro featuring a range of armouring levels to suit mission requirements: MaxxPro, MaxxPro Plus, MaxxPro ambulance, MaxxPro MEAP (increased protection), MaxxPro Dash (with increased mobility) and others. The MaxxPro can carry a remote weapon system or turret with an installed weapon.
Russian troops deployed to Syria within the framework of the anti-terrorist operation launched in 2015 are mainly equipped with Tigr-M IMVs, Typhoon-K MRAPs and Patrol MRAPs.
International MaxxPro specifications:
- Mass: up to 14,500kg (depending on variant)
- Length: 6.5–7.2m (depending on variant)
- Width: 2.5m
- Height: 3m
- Crew: 3-7
- Maximum speed: 105km/h
- Range: 600km
The Tigr-M is a multipurpose armoured vehicle designed and manufactured by GAZ for the Russian Armed Forces. The vehicle is designed to carry troops and cargo, pull towed systems such as artillery and radar, mounted weapons and other combat gear. It incorporates various improvements aimed at enhancing its operating characteristics, reliability, ergonomics and bullet and mine resistance. The vehicle’s armour provides protection from small-arms fire, shell fragments and mine blasts. The Tigr-M can be armed with a machine gun or a grenade launcher.
There are numerous variations of the vehicle incorporating different armour and other specification adaptations based upon the intended purpose.
- Mass: 5,300kg
- Length: 5.67m
- Width: 2.2m
- Height: 2m
- Crew: 1+9
- Maximum speed: 140km/h
- Range: 1,000km
The Patrol is an MRAP vehicle assembled by the company Astais utilizing the KamazAZ-43501(2) chassis. The vehicle is equipped with a conventional cab united with a personnel compartment and is intended for the transport of personnel and equipment across rough terrain and hostile areas while providing ballistic and mine protection. It is capable of carrying 10 passengers or up to 1,500 kilograms of cargo. It can also be fitted with additional armour packages. In the standard configuration, the Patrol is not equipped with any weapon module. However, it may receive various upgrades depending upon the operator’s requirements.
- Mass: 12,500kg
- Length: 7.2m
- Width: 2.5m
- Height: 3.1m
- Crew: 2+10
- Speed: 100km/h
- Range: 1,000km
The Typhoon may be categorized among the MRAP family of vehicles and most are designed for troop transport. In designing the vehicle, special attention was paid to mine and ballistic protection of personnel. Installation of special equipment and weapon modules allows the Typhoon to serve in various roles such as fire support, self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, artillery, unmanned aerial vehicle carrier, crane, tow truck and others. A remotely controlled machine-gun unit can be equipped to all personnel carrier variants.
- Mass: 21,000kg
- Width: 2.45m
- Height: 3.32m
- Crew: 2+16
- Speed: 105km/h
- Range: 1,200km
In the Yemeni conflict, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates supplied their proxies with multiple IMVs and MRAPs of different variations, from UAE-produced Panthera T-6F, Nimr JAIS 4×4 and NIMR AJBAN Long Range Special Operations Vehicles to the already mentioned Oshkosh M-ATV, International MaxxPro and BAE Caiman. The Ansar Allah movement, more widely known in the mainstream media as the Houthis, destroyed this equipment in large quantities. Suffering from a lack of heavy military equipment and artillery, Saudi and UAE proxies attempted to use IMVs and MRAPs as the main solution for offensive military actions. This approach, in combination with poorly performing infantry and rough terrain, predetermined the fate of the supplied equipment.
Dozens of prototypes and serial models of IMVs and MRAPs are being developed and produced -even by states having no significant industrial base. The difference in combat efficiency between these two types of armoured vehicles is insignificant. Therefore, success is achieved by the most inexpensive and easily exploited models able to demonstrate an acceptable level of reliability and firepower. Additionally, there is a niche for expensive, complex systems designed for use by special operations forces, image purposes and other tasks which do not require usage of these systems en masse. Every more or less important military power has already developed, or is developing its own IMVs and MRAPs -employing domestic base elements. In the near future, it may be possible to observe an even more diverse offering of IMVs and MRAPs in international and domestic markets.
At the same time, the developing trend of using IMVs, MRAPS, infantry fighting vehicles and even armoured personnel carriers for similar tasks on the battle field does not mean that mass deployment of IMVs, MRAPs and technical vehicles is the cure-all for every challenge faced by military contingents involved in modern conflict. Yet, IMVs and MRAPs remain as the main tool for transporting personnel and equipment in local conflicts involving mine warfare and sabotage operations. They are a relatively cheap solution for equipping formations involved in modern conflicts with military equipment.