Successor Of The Honker Vehicle. Mustang Programme Doubts [Opinion]

  • Załoga Apollo 11, fot. NASA/Wikipedia
    Załoga Apollo 11, fot. NASA/Wikipedia

Throughout the period between 2016 and 2022, the Polish Army is willing to acquire new heavy goods/passenger high mobility vehicles, in order to replace the platforms that are being operated now – Honker and UAZ 452/469b. The order is going to include procurement of 882 vehicles, with 841 non-armoured and 41 armoured platforms.

Similarly as it happens in case of other tasks that are being implemented by the Polish Ministry of Defence, within the framework of the modernization plan, only the basic information is available, referring to both of the platforms that are expected to be introduced into operational use.

The non-armoured variant is to be characterized with maximum total permissible weight which would not exceed 3500 kilograms, with a load capacity of 1000 kilograms. The vehicle is expected to carry 8 soldiers plus a driver. In the armoured variant, it is expected that the new vehicle would be able to carry up to 4 troops, plus a driver, and its minimum payload capacity has been defined as 600 kilograms. The most significant controversy, in case of the armoured variant, stems from the requirement related to the provided level of protection. Initially, it was assumed that the vehicle would be characterized by Level II Ballistic Protection and Level IIb mine protection, in line with the STANAG 4569 Annex A and B standard. Then, the requirements above were reduced, down to level I in case of the ballistic protection and level I, when it comes to anti-mine protection. The new platform, in this variant shall also be fitted with seats which would diminish the effect of mine explosions on the crew, including the high g-forces. Moreover, run-flat tyres are also one of the requirements defined.

In such configuration, the vehicle is going to be characterized by weight exceeding 3.5 tonnes. Total permissible weight to be attained in case of the original requirements framework is defined as 6 – 8 tonnes. However, the same chassis may be used, with changes pertaining to reinforced suspension, rims etc., as the one applied in case of the non-armoured variant.

It is also said that the vehicles to be ordered are required to be factory new, and they will feature a 4x4 drive-train. Here, the power should be provided to all wheels permanently, or a possibility should exist to optionally send it to the front axle. The new vehicle is also required to use a diesel engine with power to weight ratio of 35 kW per tonne, and finally, it should be capable of wading through water obstacles with depth of up to 500 mm (650 mm with some preparations made beforehand). Moreover, the vehicles are also expected to be fitted with a winch, capable of pulling the total permissible mass of the vehicle, with 25 meters of rope.

It should also be stressed that the number of military all-terrain vehicles available on the market is limited. This stems from the fact that there is a variety of approaches adopted among armed forces of different countries, when it comes to use of such vehicles in the Army. Among the vehicles available, the following platforms may be found: Land Rover Defender (or its successor), HUMVEE, Jeep J8/Storm 3, VAMTAC, Mercedez-Benz G or the new Honker (excluding the Turkish or Israeli platforms). The above listed platforms are available both in an armoured, as well as in a lighter, non-armoured variant. Militarized and modified versions of civil offroaders are also offered, including Toyota Hilux or Nissan Navarra pick-up trucks.

Honker and its Successor

The requirements related to vehicles such as Honker have been defined with battlefield conditions and operational use methods in mind, which are different, in comparison with the current developments. More and more often, new, light armoured vehicles are used to carry out patrols, reconnaissance or special operations. These platforms have replaced the standard offroad vehicles then. They are also used as universal platforms that are using specific layouts, including command, communications, electronic warfare variants, or variants which serve as a carrier for weapons systems. This is related to the experience gathered during the asymmetrical conflicts against insurgents. Moreover, there is a need of providing the soldiers with a higher degree of protection, increasing their chances of survival on the battlefield. Gradual increase of the quantity of electronics (optronics, data transmission systems) onboard the vehicles, need to provide a proper power and energy balance, or capabilities of the armament and equipment (and related need of securing the logistics) also contributed to the decisions to introduce platforms that are heavier and more universal. 

Honker was designed to become a modern successor for the UAZ vehicles. The political and economic conditions, along with the real capacity at hand, available to the Polish industry and R&D facilities led to a situation, in which only solutions available at the time have been applied on that vehicle.

This vehicle, in essence, has two basic variants, general one (passenger/utility vehicle) and specialized one, that may be fitted with a specialized equipment bodywork. Both these platforms have their pros and cons. The pros include the simple structure, which means that the platform is simple to maintain, even though some problems may emerge, large volume of the transport cabin is available, reliability is ensured, across a variety of climatic and environmental conditions. What is more, the vehicle is also characterized with quite good offroad capabilities. The cons, on the other hand, include weak engine, high centre of gravity, weak suspension (especially the rear suspension of the specialized variants), low quality and comfort of use, and lack of other body variants, including one with five doors or in a 2+3 layout.

One of the most significant problems, in case of this design, is seen in change of the ownership of the company, and consequential under-funding of the development works. Such situation also has an impact on the orders placed by the military, since only small lots of vehicles are procured, which differ within the scope of the drivetrain and the equipment applied. This leads to emergence of problems related to proper maintenance of a variety of vehicles used by the army, including servicing, overhauls or even availability of the spare parts.

The above listed problems forced the Army to create a requirement, according to which all of the vehicles which are going to be procured during the Mustang programme are going to be unified, within the scope of their drivetrains, applied equipment, layout of the control elements, control panels or applied measurement and control appliances and systems and electrical connectors. This also pertains to provision of servicing, carrying out the guarantee and post-guarantee repairs and maintenance.

Role and Requirements – Mustang Programme

The initial aspect which is to be defined is related to the place and role the above vehicles would play in the Polish Army. The new platform will not be a typical patrol vehicle, or a weapons system/specialist equipment carrier. Thus, maximum permissible weight, payload, usable volume or technological tailoring are all seen as limitations.

The vehicles, in a variety of new versions, will be used to provide logistics support or support for the operations undertaken by the army during the peacetime. Thus, the tasks will include transportation of people and materials, trailers, and carrying specialized bodyworks, including sanitary ones.

When requirements pertaining to these vehicles are defined, one should remember about provision of the possibilities of realizing the tasks that are defined for the new platform, or of providing support for the soldiers across a variety of terrain and weather conditions, or within a variety of operational heaters. The structure of the vehicles, including the parts, shall make it possible to carry out tasks on tarmac roads and on surface roads, offroad and in urbanized areas.

It is going to be difficult to acquire a simple platform, without ABS, ESP, ASR and multi-point seatbelts or airbags, all of which raise the level of passive and active safety of the user. Reinforced bodywork structure, crumple zones, suspension layout or applied drivetrain also have an impact on the level of protection offered by the vehicle. The structure and concept of using the vehicle shall also follow the principles of ergonomics (also having impact on the level of safety) and comfort of use. Efficient ventilation and A/C system makes it possible to diminish fatigue and lack of focus of the soldiers, when they are executing the missions with which they have been tasked. Fire extinguishing system would act as a safeguard in case of fire, currently covering the engine compartment and the cabin, which would be complemented with wide use of fire-proof fabrics and materials. The dimensions and weight of the vehicle shall make it possible to transport it with the use of a C-130 Hercules aircraft, or as external load, in case of transport/multi-role helicopter.

Nonetheless, the requirement for the vehicle to be able to carry eight soldiers seems to be a bit controversial, considering the class of the platform. In case of the requirements that are so precisely defining the role and place of a passenger/heavy goods vehicle of high mobility in the Polish Army, the solution seems not to be fully justified, and some technical (proper payload and volume) and functional (providing comfort for fully equipped soldiers, also carrying the equipment required by the logistics) problems and issues may emerge. The available materials also did not define the requirements pertaining to the specialized variants.

In case of the armoured variant, it seems that a solution which would be more cost effective and better logistically could be seen in acquisition of additional 41 examples of the vehicle within the scope of the Pegaz programme, concerning the multi-role platform for the special forces, maybe with other equipment, dedicated for the patrol role, or other requirements defined, pertaining to the weaponry, data transmission and protection areas.

Challenge for the Polish Ministry of Defence

The new high mobility passenger/heavy goods vehicle which is to be acquired within the framework of the Mustang programme is going to be a typical logistics platform, used for transporting of the equipment and personnel, both during the military operations, as well as, and above all, during the peacetime use, for provision of support for the military units realizing their tasks in a variety of areas. The quantity of typical, specialized variants is going to be limited to one, or maximally a couple of solutions.

The basic parameters of the platform should make it possible to operate the vehicle across a variety of environments, with provision of comfort of use and reliability.

As the new car is procured, the Polish Ministry of Defence should also take care of beneficial guarantee and post guarantee maintenance conditions, including supply of spare parts or assemblies. The best solution would be to manufacture the new platform domestically. This should also mean that a civil variant would also have to be developed, since the general demand of the military is not going to be high. The domestic entity who would get involved in realization of such task would have to be well acquainted with the market, prospects pertaining to demand for such vehicles, and proper approach taken, when it comes to future developments regarding the new platform.

There is also one, final question that needs to be asked. Are such vehicles needed so urgently, considering the existence of other AWD vehicle programmes (Pegaz), and the lack of proper funding of the modernization programme? Should we not stop, and cancel spending more, minor quantity of money on equipment which would not have a significant impact on the Polish defence capabilities, and which may only meet the momentary needs of the potential contractors?

Marek Dąbrowski