VBM Explorer and the digitization of land units
In the XXI century the ‘breakthrough’ function of the old generation Infantry units has been replaced with new functions: Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition (RSTA). The Freccia VBM, the 8X8 armoured fighting vehicle produced by CIO, the Iveco - OTO Melara Consortium, represents the best solution to transform the land units into digitized, network-centric units.
The land units have been undergoing a complex transformation process because in present and future international warfare scenarios intelligence, reconnaissance, target acquisition, timeliness, tactical and strategic mobility and flexibility are of paramount importance. The digitization of the Medium Infantry and the Medium Brigade represents the best solution to increase operative capabilities of combat vehicles thanks to the integration of the latest technology in the field of medium calibers, electro-optical systems, communication systems, command, control and Navigation Systems and Robotics (UGVs and UAVs). The most advanced vehicle platform of the Medium Infantry is the Freccia 8X8 Medium Armoured Vehicle developed by CIO, the Iveco - OTO Melara Consortium.
The Italian Defence industry has proposed an innovative system that can integrate RSTA functions in a single platform: the VBM Explorer. This vehicle can manage and spread data concerning not only the battlefield, in its traditional meaning, but also in all the dimensions of the operative environment.
Exploration and reconnaissance: the latest technology in the field of small calibers and robotics
In addition to the the HITFIST 25mm turret Top of the Range, the most advanced turret developed by OTO Melara, equipped with a panoramic view Janus FF by Finmeccanica-Selex ES and optical aiming systems, the VBM Explorer will be fitted with the unmanned vehicles Horus and TPR2-RSTA.
HORUS, a micro UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), will guarantee aerial reconnaissance and target acquisition. This micro UAV weighs only 2 kilos and is equipped with an optical sensor in order to carry out surveillance and tactical reconnaissance missions. It can reach a speed of 80 km per hour, has one hour operative capability and can be hand-launched by an operator.
The TRP2-RSTA tracked unmanned vehicle will be used for land reconnaissance: it weighs about 60/70 kilos, can reach a maximum speed of 15 km per hour and can be radio-operated from a distance of 1.550 meters. It is equipped with a mechanical arm fitted with Colibrì EO-IR micro camera by Selex ES. The TPR2-RSTA will be integrated with the SICCONA system (Command, Control and Navigation System), one of the most important components of Forza Nec (Network Enabled Capability), a programme developed by the Italian Army to make men and means in service with the Armed Forces digitized and network-centric in all warfare scenarios (air, land, sea, cyber and space).
Born as an Infantry vehicle, the VBM Explorer, with the integration of RSTA functions, has become an innovative and unique platform to be used in Cavalry units. The VBM Explorer is therefore the best vehicle to be deployed in fast and fluid scenarios, where also a platoon or company small reconnaissance unit can contribute to achieving operative and strategic objectives.
VBM Explorer in counter-insurgency operations
How does this complex system work? In counter-insurgency operations (COIN), for example, we shift from the Clear phase, which is mainly characterized by Kinetic activities on the field, to the Hold phase, that consists in keeping the territory under control. Then we move on to the Build phase, when state buildings are reconstructed and control is handed over to the local authorities. Therefore, the military units must be able to perform selective engagement of targets with the weapon systems the vehicle is equipped with, but at the same time they must have access to and manage information concerning the entire area of operation, especially in operative theatres where NATO and non NATO forces are deployed.
The configurations of VBM Explorer
The VBM Explorer represents a real innovation in the Defence weapon systems and in the present international environment. This vehicle will equip the Cavalry units in charge of reconnaissance, as established in the second phase of the VBM acquisition programme which foresees the redefinition of a Second Brigade.
The vehicle will be developed in two different configurations: “Far” (or Freccia E1) and “Close” (or Freccia E2), that will operate jointly and in a complementary and synergetic way. Both configurations will be fitted with the HITFIST turret, like the VBM in Combat configuration already in service with the First Brigade.
The Freccia E1 will carry out long-range reconnaissance tasks using the LYRA 10 radar developed by Finmeccanica-Selex ES, a thermal camera for targets detection, and two Horus micro UAV launchers for surveillance and targets acquisition. The LYRA 10 - a land surveillance radar providing high precision measurement of targets’ position - can detect and automatically classify small objects that move on the land surface at low speed.
The Freccia E2 will be deployed for short-range surveillance and targets acquisition, therefore it will be able to perform close up exploration. In addition to the Janus Full Format sensor provided by Selex ES (already present in the latest configurations of the HITFIST turret mounted on the VBM Freccia, and able to provide medium and long-range panoramic view in all weather conditions), the Freccia E2 will be equipped with the TRP-2 RISTA (Reconnassaince, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target-Acquisition) developed by OTO Melara, an unmanned ground vehicle (UGV), and SPIKE anti-tank missiles.
The VBM is considered the ‘backbone’ of the Medium Forces; it was born as an Infantry vehicle but is perfectly suitable to modern operative scenarios. It is a wheeled vehicle, lighter than traditional tracked vehicles, but able to ensure high protection and high mobility on and off road, which are fundamental requirements in current operative scenarios. It is the first fully digitized vehicle designed to be used in network-centric warfare. The weapon system is developed in compliance with the ballistic protection requirements specified in NATO STANAG 4569, therefore it ensures anti-mine protection. Moreover, the VBM ensures high protection against nuclear, bacteriological and chemical agents (NBC) since it is fitted with a pressurization system for the hull and fire and explosion suppression systems. All these characteristics make the VBM the keystone of the future Digitized Medium Brigades.