The Army’s new Arctic ride is a total beast. This month, BAE systems announced it had won a $278 million Army contract to build the service’s cold-weather all-terrain vehicle, beating out Oshkosh’s CATV with its Beowulf vehicle.
Named for an old English poem about a titular Scandinavian hero warrior, the vehicle is based on the BvS10 armored tracked vehicle built by BAE’s Swedish subsidiary Hägglunds. While Beowulf itself has no armor, it’s built for extreme maneuverability in the most difficult terrain and weather conditions, including steep mountains, snow, and ice.
“Beowulf is a highly capable solution to meet the U.S. Army’s requirement for Arctic operations. We look forward to providing our soldiers operating in challenging terrain and environments with this highly capable vehicle,” Mark Signorelli, vice president of business development at BAE Systems Platforms & Services, said in a statement.
“We have been maturing and modernizing cold weather all-terrain capabilities for decades, bringing advanced capabilities to the United States and numerous other countries. This contract means we will continue to do so for many years to come,” he added.
Right now, the Army has just one platform for Arctic maneuver: the articulated Small Unit Support Vehicle, based on the Hägglunds Bandvagn 206. Tracked and capable of carrying up to 17 soldiers, SUSV is rugged but old, with its production having begun in 1980. Defense News reported last year that the Army sees SUSV as “no longer sustainable” due to maintenance needs.
Beowulf is slightly longer, at seven meters to SUSV’s eight. However, it packs substantially more power and capability in its frame. Its 285-horsepower diesel engine can travel up to 43 miles per hour on roads with a payload of up to 8,000 kilograms, or more than 17,000 pounds. The 132-horsepower SUSV, by comparison, travels at max speeds of 40 miles per hour and can only carry 2,250 kilograms, less than 5,000 pounds.
Its powerful engine also allows Beowulf to climb slopes at grades of up to 45 degrees, and gives the vehicle a range of up to 1,000 kilometers, or more than 620 miles.
BAE also notes that Beowulf’s large windows and big cabin make it comfortable for its passengers and suitable for tasks that might require movement space and observation vantage for passengers, including search and rescue and homeland defense.
“Its modern, commercial design ensures soldiers’ operational effectiveness in executing a wide variety of difficult missions,” the company said in a statement.
The Beowulf traveled to Alaska for the prototype evaluation phase of the Army’s Cold Weather All-Terrain Vehicle program, where it demonstrated its ability to navigate highly technical terrain, operate reliably in extremely cold temperatures, and even conduct water operations. The Beowulf is amphibious by design and capable of achieving speeds of up to 2.5 miles per hour in the water. Soldiers also were able to evaluate the vehicle during this period and provide user assessments, BAE said.
The vehicle submission from Oshkosh, based on the company’s Bronco 3 forward operating vehicle, had a similar tracked and articulated design, and had the same amphibious capability. While precise specifics of the variant presented to the Army have not been released, a spec sheet for the Bronco, Oshkosh’s entry, describes a 500-kilometer range and a payload of 6,000 kilograms, slightly less than the maximum capacity of the Beowulf. The vehicle also appears to feature smaller windows on the front and rear cars than the Beowulf design.
The Army has said it wants to buy up to 200 new cold-weather all-terrain vehicles.
The US is stepping up its Arctic capabilities
The service’s investment in new and more powerful cold-weather gear is a calculated pivot that recognized the need to move beyond desert wars in the Middle East to a present in which Arctic and “near-Arctic” powers like Russia and China are dominant threats and the U.S. may be called to defend its interests in the north – or even fight in frigid terrain in Europe or the Pacific.
Last year, the Army released a new Arctic strategy, laying out plans to establish a new two-star headquarters overseeing combat brigades specially trained and equipped for cold weather operations; improve the gear available to Arctic-capable units; improve Arctic training, including high-altitude and mountainous environments; and improve quality of life for troops stationed in the Arctic region.
In March, active-duty and National Guard units converged on Anchorage, Alaska for a massive natural disaster exercise called Arctic Eagle-Patriot 22, in which they simulated responding to a hospital collapse with numerous casualties in freezing temperatures.
In May, Alaska-based Army paratroopers deployed to Norway in what Defense News reported was the first time a unit has deployed from Alaska to the Arctic Circle.
“The Army must understand the Arctic’s role in defending the homeland, the complicated geopolitical landscape within the context of great power competition, and how accelerated environmental change impacts future operations,” Army leaders wrote in the new Arctic strategy. “With this understanding, the Army will be able to generate, project, and employ forces able to operate and compete in the Arctic as part of the joint force in support of Combatant Commands and in concert with allies and partners.”
The Army also recently deployed a team of scientists from the U.S. Army Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Mass. to study the gear soldiers wear and carry and help the service determine what troops need to operate effectively in sub-zero temperatures.
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