Developed in the UK by Force Protection Europe (recently acquired in a 300 million dollars deal by General Dynamics) and by engineering firm Ricardo, with Thales, Qinetiq, Formaplex, DSG and Sula collaboration, is a wholly new design. The vehicle has been drawn on a clean sheet to increase current available levels of protection, mobility and modularity/mission configurability compared to vehicles already on the market.
The result of the design process is the by now relatively well-known “Skateboard” chassis type. Most, if not all readers interested in the British military have probably already read the name. This chassis, basically, is a V-shaped armoured element that acts as spine for the vehicle, like a keel in a ship. It sustains and protects the engine, the two fuel tanks (one main and one secondary tanks), the batteries, the electric generator and all elements of mechanical transmission. The only elements left outside of the armored shield are the torsion bar suspensions, but this is not to be considered a disadvantage: in most cases, as proven by the tests, a mine will blow off a wheel, but leave the Foxhound able to move on on the remaining three, and reach a safer area on its own.
|Foxhound on trials: note the absence of side door|
Atop the skateboard pod sit the various mission-specific pods. For now, there’s a 2+4 seats Protected Patrol module, a Fire Support open-top Weapon Mounted Installation Kit WMIK pod and an Utility pick-up pod for protected logistics role, but more could be developed, and in particular an ambulance pod should be available soon. Each pod, regardless of its specific role, has sharply tilted inferior sides, which sitting atop the skateboard complete an ample V-shape perfect to reduce underbelly blast effects, venting the force of the explosion outwards.
The advantages of the Skateboard are:
- A low centre of gravity as all the heavy items are placed under the skateboard, improving mobility and stability
- The absence of any mechanical part inside the crew pod, ensuring maximum safety and leaving more exploitable space available inside the mission pods.
The pods in this way could be built entirely in composite materials, giving it a good compromise in terms of weight and protection levels. The base protection level of each pod is STANAG 4569 Level 2+, with add-on armor kits available to overcome Level 3 and offer protection against RPGs and Explosively Formed Projectiles EFPs. I expect the UK Foxhounds on order for Afghanistan to be fitted with this additional layer of protection, but for now there is no evidence of it.
I also must say that I’m a bit disappointed: Level 2+ protection, or even Level 3, is far from revolutionary, even if, to be fair, the Foxhound is intended for a gross weight of 7.5 tons, which limits the amount of armor that one can put upon it. The French Aravis 4x4 vehicle offers Level 4 protection, but it weights over 12 tons. Blast and mine protection levels are not disclosed, but are certainly at least meeting STANAG Level 2a/2b, and hopefully exceed these significantly.
|A batch of Foxhound vehicles: again, no side doors.|
The pods are installed with a fast linking system that allows the replacement of mission pods directly in the field. To replace a pod it is enough to remove the electric connectors, detach the steering system and open the hinges on both sides of the hull. At that point the module is detached and can be lifted off and replaced, in just 30 minutes of work. For normal maintenance, the operation is the same, but the hinges of the pod are opened only on one side, and the pod is gently pushed to tilt to the side with the help of, for example, another vehicle.
Very simple is also the replacement of the engine block, which has to be possible in any FOB, without sending the vehicle back to the main base.
The Patrol Protected Vehicle module has two front seats (Driver and Commander), with the seats, provided with five-points harness, hang from the roof for improved blast-mitigation effect. Two bulkheads behind the seats separate the front compartment from the rear one, where four dismounts sit in seats attached to the walls, shoulders to the wall, sitting face to face. Further bulkheads separate this compartment from the last one to the back, which houses the radio and the electronics, on the two sides of the large double door at the back.
|Inside the Foxhound LPPV: note the empty space in the back, over the wheels. Here is housed the radio and other electronics, while the seats for the Dismounts sit in the middle.|
Access to the vehicle is possible from this large door or from a large “Commander’s Door” in the side of the vehicle. This door is optional, however, since the absence of side openings is advantageous in terms of protection. Since the Mastiff 3 re-introduced side doors, it is probable that Foxhound vehicles will also have it, despite the detrimental effect on overall resistance of the safety cell. On the roof two large openings are provided: one hatch above the Commander’s seat, on the left, and a larger one in the middle of the roof, over the Dismounts compartment. This second opening is large enough for two men to stand and fire out of it at once with their personal weapons. In alternative, a ballistic-protected shielded turret for a machine gun can be fitted. Remotely-operated turrets should however be the preferred long-term solution, as they tend to offer the maximum performance and protection while generally impacting less the weight margin and centre of gravity.
The Protected Logistics variant sits only driver and “commander”, has a single top hatch over the commander’s seat and side doors, with the back made up by the pick-up loadbed. The WMIK variant sits four men in an open-top pod with thick rollbars from which the blast-mitigating seats hang. Several weapon mounts are available, two more than on a Land Rover or Jackal: in addition to the top ring mount and the Commander’s swing mount, to the side of the driver, there’s a heavy machine gun mount in the back, aiming to the rear, and a further swing mount for a medium machine gun can take place on the passenger’s side.
|Foxhound with WMIK module|
The Foxhound is 5.4 meters long, 2.1 meters wide and 2.34 meters tall, with a gross weight of 7.5 tons, with a payload of nearly 2000 kg. In the Patrol Protected Variant this means that there is payload margin for 6 soldiers (for design purposes a soldier is a load of around 158 kg) and over 900 kg of further load, which could include a RWS turret (on the market there are models from 70 to 280+ kg. The Selex Galileo Enforcer, widely used by the British Army on the Panther, on the Bulldog and on some Challenger II vehicles, weights around 156 kg without ammunitions and weapon) or a shielded, manned turret ring (can weight well over 300 kg), additional armor and other kit.
At 7.5 tons, the Foxhound can be under slung on a Chinook helicopter and airlifted easily by C130, A400 and, of course, C17 and above. The Foxhound has a Steyr-Daimler Puch 3.2l engine. It is a six-cylinder, four-stroke diesel engine with turbocharger with a power of over 250 HP. The vehicle is also fitted with a ZS six speed auto-transmission and independent, lockable differential axles from AxelTech. The four-wheel steering provides it with a turning circle of just 12m. The Foxhound can reach a maximum speed of 110 km/h and accelerates from 0 to 80 km/h in 19.7 seconds on road. Cross country it can overcome a 60% maximum gradient and negotiate side-slopes of 30%, promising very good mobility on the field.
With the around 200 liters of fuel in the tanks, the Foxhound has a range of around 600 km.
Last, but not least, it is worth remembering that the Foxhound will be the first vehicle adopted by the British Army that meets the Generic Vehicle Architecture (GVA) requirement. Objective of the GVA is to affirm as unique vehicle standard for all electric and electronic parts, the DefStan 23-09. In practice, the wish is to have all new vehicles fitted with a common, open electronic architecture, so that any equipment developed for a vehicle is compatible with all the others as well.
To make this possible, it was necessary to rapidly select a stable base over which develop the system and write the requirements in terms of hardware (which tension should the component use, which shape factors it needs to follow, etc). Key to this is the “Middleware”, the common software interface that allows components from different firms to work together and dialog without problems. As Middleware, the MOD selected the DDS (Data Distribution Service), and consequently made available to its suppliers a specific development software suite, called Land Data Module. A supplier that tomorrow will be asked by the MOD to design and provide a new component for a GVA vehicle will use the Land Data Module development suite to write software fully compatible with the DefStan 23-09.
In the case of the Foxhound vehicles on order, responsibility for design of the DefStan 23-09 components falls on Thales.
The Foxhound should soon make its appearance in Afghanistan, mainly as Land Rover Snatch replacement. Initially procured as UOR in the first order, placed in 2010 (180 million pounds for 200 vehicles and initial spares package) they have been brought into Core budget and are part of the long term Army plan for the future. A second order for around 100 more is being negotiated and has already been announced. It is expected that the actual contract will be signed soon. This news is however made a bit less happy and good by the awareness that, originally, it was expected that the second batch order would be for another 200 vehicles. It has effectively been halved.
Further orders are expected, but they will depend on the availability of budget for it – no more UOR money for Foxhound, most likely -, on its effective performances in Afghanistan, on its cost hopefully dropping (now it is still way too high) and on the decisions that will be taken on its long term roles within the new army structure. In particular, its future is likely to be closely connected to that of the ex-Operational Utility Vehicle System, now Protected Vehicle Multirole. Of course, the Foxhound/Ocelot aims to export orders as well, even though its first big occasion (a 1300 vehicles order from Australia) has been lost, with Australia deciding to locally develop and pursue the Hawkei vehicle.