As more militaries attempt to establish route clearance capability, their capability developers often consider an all-in-one concept for vehicle platforms as a way to improve cost and mission efficiency. At first glance, the idea of having a single platform designated to execute the breadth of clearance tasks seems to be an effective approach; but this model has not been adopted by any contemporary clearance teams in combat for several reasons.
The most significant reason why clearance units employ a teamed approach to executing clearance tasks rather than fielding all-in-one platforms, is its impact on survivability. When executing clearance in a high threat environment survivability should always be the priority. Repurposed construction vehicles that are robust enough to accept a full range of task-specific payloads are selected primarily for their integration capacity rather than their survivability. This means that the platforms identified to fill this all-in-one role are generally large and cumbersome, retrofitted to maximize payload capacity, not purpose-built to optimize survivability design features.
Regardless of the effectiveness of detection sensors, standoff payloads, or even clearance tactics, efforts to resource clearance teams must take into consideration an increased potential for platforms and their operators to experience IED strikes.
By design, clearance teams:
- travel higher risk routes;
- are restricted in their mobility options;
- encounter threats ahead of (and more frequently than) supported units;
- deliberately engage known threats instead of bypassing them; and
- are targeted because of their ability to disrupt IED operations.
As such, clearance teams must be resourced with a goal to avoid IED strikes, but with the anticipation that they will experience them.
The foundational clearance task is always protection, which must apply to both the clearance element’s personnel and equipment. All other clearance tasks should be built from that foundation. A vehicle platform, whether employed to detect, interrogate, disrupt, mitigate or neutralize, must first protect itself and its operators. Protection can be achieved either through survivability or standoff.
Regardless of armor upgrades, flat-bottomed vehicles have shown limited effectiveness at protecting against subsurface threats. The v-hull of an MRAP is designed to reduce blast effect by increasing ground clearance, maximizing structural hull rigidity, and diverting blast energy and fragmentation from the platform and its occupants; but even MRAP platforms are vulnerable to larger IED strikes. The dramatic v-hull and ground standoff of the Husky are designed to further enhance the survivability features afforded by standard MRAP hulls.
In addition to the survivability benefits of a frangible platform, the ability to rapidly execute battle damage repair significantly reduces fiscal and logistical burden conventionally seen with the fielding and sustainment of clearance vehicles. Husky components are engineered to break apart in a predictable fashion during a strike, reducing damage to critical components, and enabling rapid field repair using towable modules and line replacement units.
Beyond the unmatched survivability features of the Husky’s hull, blast protection is further increased by the vehicle’s unique frangible design, which allows blast energy to transfer to detachable front and rear modules rather than the vehicle’s critical components or its occupants. Even if personnel are removed from the cab (if remote or autonomy appliques are integrated onto the vehicle), frangibility ensures that vehicles experiencing blasts are able to be quickly rebuilt and put back on mission, protecting the material investment in the platform.
This design feature enables operators to repair damage on site that would be catastrophic to almost any other vehicle. Reducing the need for recovery teams and logistical patrols to evacuate and support the vehicle, as well as minimizing the role of specialized maintainers and maintenance facilities, ultimately gets clearance teams back on the road faster, decreasing unnecessary risk to support elements and the enemy’s reseeding opportunity.
The most effective and tested clearance teams around the world employ a coordinated approach to executing clearance tasks in order to increase efficiency, reduce stress, and improve focus of operators working in the vicinity of explosive threats. When simply considering the clearance tasks of detection and interrogation, employing a single vehicle to conduct hours of focused detection and then switch to the high-pressure task of interrogating a suspected explosive is incredibly stressful on operators. By working as teams, vehicle operators can hand off stress, reapply focus, and cover ground more efficiently.
Repurposed construction platforms, reconfigured to serve as all-in-one clearance vehicles, often require significant maneuvering to transition between clearance tasks either because they must be large enough to forward mount multiple critical payloads or they must dramatically reposition themselves in order to use rear-mounted attachments. This can mean traversing uncleared terrain in order to reposition or not being able to reposition on restricted routes at all. Ultimately this increases time on target, expands the patrol’s footprint, and risks unintentional disruption of triggers.
Effective clearance teams have found that the coordinated hand-over of tasks between specialized vehicle configurations enables faster and safer transitioning, reduces stress on operators, and reduces impact on mission-critical equipment in the event of a strike.
Synchronized detection also offers redundancy on narrow routes and the ability to cover the entire width of wider routes. When executed properly, a synchronized team method allows an interrogation platform to quickly and easily travel along already cleared paths to approach detection sites with minimal maneuvering.
While the “always be prepared” mindset of an all-in-one clearance platform seems like the intuitive way to address the dynamic, evolving nature of the IED threat, the stress put on an over-burdened platform or its crew often undermines the perceived preparedness. Before designating an all-in-one payload configuration for a primary clearance vehicle, capability developers should ask a few questions: What is the impact of the payload configuration on a platform’s maneuverability or survivability? What is the physical impact on platform wear or the cost of sustainment? What is the impact on the mission in the event of a strike? What is the impact on task efficiency from reducing the ability to specialize in, and share, tasks?
Increasing the proximity of critical payloads to blast exposure by integrating them all onto the same platform often reduces mission effectiveness, complicates logistics, and increases battle damage repair costs (financially and tactically). In a single strike a clearance element’s entire capability may be lost and time spent non-mission capable is increased. Clearance units reduce the mission impact of lost or damaged capabilities in the event of a strike by sharing those capabilities across different platforms.
Route clearance is a complex mission, executed in diverse environments, in response to a dynamic threat. Mounted route clearance is made even more complex by placing mobility limitations on the clearance element that increases the ability for the enemy to deliberately target. As such, the equipment employed for mounted route clearance missions must be highly survivable and anticipate strikes, while still being modular and versatile in application. Employing teams with specialized payload configurations that operate in practiced coordination is the most efficient way to negotiate the clearance process without becoming static or cumbersome. Resourcing a capability that can operate this way requires that leaders have complete understanding of the changing threat, the environment, and the mission objective. Instead of standardizing all-in-one platforms, the deliberate employment of specific assets requires that leaders apply resources appropriately and avoid mandated over-equipping that can be redundant or burdensome given the conditions of the mission. The tendency for leaders to require units to use overburdened capabilities comes from leadership’s risk aversion in a mission with constant threat variation. When capability developers recognize protection as an enduring priority for clearance vehicles, regardless of the threat or mission, they can expand the ability to adapt that platform to specialize on any task as the threat evolves. Ultimately, this is the value of the Husky, a platform that: protects its most critical sensor, operators; protects the investment in the system itself; and anticipates future evolution of the threat with modular customizable configurations and forward-compatibility with current and future payloads.