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Armored Cars: Oshkosh M-ATV

June 8, 2019

Via Wikimedia Commons.

Few armored vehicles have achieved the success of Oshkosh’ bestselling MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle (M-ATV). The result of a fast-tracked effort to supply US forces in Afghanistan with a new protected truck, as soon as the first contract was announced in 2009 the M-ATV enjoyed overwhelming demand. By 2010 Oshkosh boasted having 8,079 M-ATV’s in its order book with a thousand delivered by December 2009.

The impetus behind the M-ATV was the challenging geography of Afghanistan where few paved roads and mountain trails gave “traditional” MRAPs a hard time, especially those patterned after South African models better suited to dusty plains and savannah. Built on Oshkosh’ LMTV cargo truck chassis and scaling just 12.5 tons, the M-ATV redefined how mine-resistant vehicles are built.

Since it entered service in 2009 a lot of armored 4×4’s have emerged subscribing to the same principles as the M-ATV. But Oshkosh began looking for global customers as early as 2012, the same year the US Army began its JLTV competition. Oshkosh had tailored M-ATV variants as an ambulance and for special forces by then. The “family” is now five strong, with command, engineer, and utility among the M-ATV’s roles. To maximize its opportunities, Oshkosh showed a 6×6 M-ATV with an enlarged bed and a 30mm cannon as a main armament in 2015. Of course, the M-ATV’s traits boosted the JLTV’s own breakthrough in 2015. Readers may find it difficult to tell the M-ATV and JLTV apart, but the latter’s cab and hood are smaller. The bonnet or hood of the JLTV is different too.

A novel characteristic of the M-ATV is the “passenger capsule” behind the cab. Rather than settle for a rectangular bed, Oshkosh designed a compartment that fit as many as five people. To cut down on weight, non-critical external parts were made of fiberglass and other composites. The bonnet of the M-ATV opened from a frontal hinge like a sports car since this made it easier for cleaning or replacing the engine.

Protecting the vehicle’s occupants is a hull designed by Plasan, a longtime collaborator with Oshkosh. The interior visibility is enhanced too because of its optimal reinforced windows. Evidence from actual combat situations showed the M-ATV’s windows are the least likely to suffer damage. Overall armoring on the M-ATV is unspecified but the cab is the sturdiest with a multilayered combination of steel and fire-retardant spall foam. Since it was meant to save lives in dangerous rugged terrain, the sole armament on an M-ATV is a roof hatch with a machine gun inside a cupola. Oshkosh have since broadened the M-ATV’s arsenal to 30mm cannons and TOW or Hellfire missiles.

When it comes to mobility, the M-ATV is on par with the mine-resistant trucks that came before it. A turbo diesel Caterpillar C7 engine gives it a top speed of 105 kilometers per hour. One particular detail Oshkosh baked into its performance was a very wide turning radius so that it navigates obstacles better. Having TAK-4i independent suspension for its runflat tires enhanced the M-ATV’s movement on unpaved roads when compared to the US Army’s Cougars and MaxxPros.

After its successful adoption by the US military, thousands more M-ATV’s were scooped up by Saudi Arabia and the UAE from 2012 onward. Smaller batches were delivered and sold to a half dozen US allies in Europe and the Middle East. Saudi and Emirati M-ATV’s reached Yemen in 2015 when the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) backed President Abd Rabu Mansur Hadi against the resurgent Houthis. Dozens of M-ATV’s, some armed with M2 Browning machine guns on remote controlled turrets, reached Hadi’s militia and the vehicle’s limitations soon became apparent.

As the conflict enters its fifth year, images and footage show the futility of “cage” armor on M-ATV’s and other troop carriers as these are almost always crippled by direct hits from explosive projectiles. Another cause of failure is the vehicle’s abandonment as the crews fear for their lives during ambushes. There’s a wealth of imagery and footage from Yemen showing these vulnerabilities play out. It’s clear the vehicle’s limits have been exploited but the raw numbers of M-ATV’s in service around the world should keep it alive for decades. For all its faults, the M-ATV is the armored truck to beat.

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