Digging out from almost two feet of snow in Washington DC today, I am remembering a remarkable gap between how the National Guard in this country is equipped, and the requirements of the missions it sometimes must undertake. To assist with emergency services weekend, the District of Columbia Guard mobilized about 100 troops, and pulled about 30 Humvees from their pre-positionings at fire houses and police stations around the city. The Humvees are solid domestic response vehicles, and probably at least as capable in snow as my all-wheel-drive Subaru. But neither is really suitable for blizzards and floods. DC has had plenty of snow, but heavy snow and coastal storm surges have been afflicting points all the way to New York. Dealing with those most adverse conditions requires a whole other category of conveyance: articulated, tracked, amphibious, air-portable, all-terrain vehicles.
Swedish firms have been in this business since 1954, and since the late 1970s, BAE Systems Hägglunds has sold over 11,000 Bandvagns (literally “tracked vehicles”) to customers in 37 countries. The Canadian Army took its Bv206s to Afghanistan. The US Army has a few that it calls the Small Unit Support Vehicle (SUSV, pronounced susvee, because US Army vehicles need awkward and anodyne acronyms). But neither the Army nor the National Guard really much of a fleet of these vehicles, and they’re mostly in out-of-the-way places.
About ten years ago, Hägglunds followed the 206 with the much larger BvS10 Viking, selling hundreds to the British Royal Marines, the Dutch Royal Marines, the French Army, and the Swedish Army. Last September, the company followed that with a logistical variant it named the Beowulf. As I wrote back then, Beowulf was a certified badass who (by the marketing pitch) “would travel immense distances to prove his worth against mortal enemies.” It’s all awesomely Nordic, because somehow, England’s national hero was Dano-Swedish. The company’s video makes for a good visual display of how the monster-slayer works.
Finland’s Sisu Automotive and Norway’s Narvik Technologies were once in this market too, but today the other main contender is Singapore Technologies. ST has sold its Bronco to the Singaporean Army and the Royal Thai Army, and substantially the same vehicle as the Warthog to the British Army. The Warthog was purchased specifically for Afghan service, as the Singaporean vehicles at the time offered heavier armor against landmines. On this blog back in May, I noted how the during the 2010 floods in Thailand, the Army made great use of its Broncos, to include driving the prime minister around washed-out streets. I don’t see that happening in New York right now.
Both BAE and ST know something about amphibiosity, as they are the second-round contenders in the US Marines’ Amphibious Combat Vehicle program. That ACV will be a very different vehicle—an 8x8 armored car—but still capable of swimming ashore from a landing craft. For many combat applications, the higher road speed, greater driving range, and heavier armor of an 8x8 make a lot more sense. But in the worst conditions, amphibious, air-portable, and all-terrain offer a whole lot of capability in one package.
I should disclose that I sometimes advise BAE Systems on marketing matters, though not at the moment. Perhaps I too would have missed that the company—either company—could have usefully had a handful of all-terrain vehicles prepositioned on the East Coast this week. Driving a few Beowulfs or Broncos on volunteer emergency missions around some of the hardest-hit counties might have made a difference on the ground, and certainly could have made an impression in the huge market of the United States. Of course, if anyone in the National Guard Bureau is reading, you might just send them a check, to make ready for next time with a small demonstration.