The Dragon is a combat vehicle on wheels (VCR) manufactured by the Spanish consortium TESS Defense, made up of Santa Bárbara Sistemas, Indra Sistemas, Sapa Placencia and Escribano Mechanical & Engineering for the Spanish Army. It is an 8 × 8 platform on wheels developed on the basis of the Piranha V (in Spain also known as Piraña 5), from the Swiss company MOWAG, which like Santa Bárbara Sistemas is part of the General Dynamics European Land Systems group.
Although its origin is foreign, Santa Bárbara Sistemas “has the design software of the Mowag company without limitations”, which will allow it to make modifications or modernizations, as well as to sell the vehicle in the foreign market.
This program, launched in 2007, initially envisaged the purchase of 300 vehicles in a first phase and a total of 1200. The vehicles would be divided into three versions: basic for personnel transport, which would replace part of the BMR-M1; command post, which would take the place of the BMR-M1 of that version; and cavalry exploration, to replace the VEC-M1s. This last version would be the most powerfully armed of those acquired by the Spanish Army, since it would be equipped with a 30 mm (or higher) cannon in a manned tower that would predictably also carry Spike anti-tank missiles. They will also replace a part of the M-113s, although as these chain vehicles are, their natural substitute will mainly be the Pizarro.
The BMRs and VECs are armored cars whose design dates back to the 1970s, and the M-113 even further back to the 1960s, so they are all well-outdated models today, and even sometimes have They have been branded as “obsolete”, although it must be taken into consideration that, although they are no longer top-of-the-line systems, they can still perform support tasks, as evidenced by the fact that the M-113 is still in service today in the United States Army, which has not begun receiving its replacement, the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle, until September 2020.
The initial idea was that at least 40 of the total vehicles would be available before 2014 and the rest before the end of 2016, signing the contract, which could represent an amount of more than 1,300 million euros, in June 2010. Subsequently, the The Ministry of Defense accelerated the program, establishing a new calendar that supposed to have received all the vehicles of the first phase by 2014. The companies that took part in it were:
- Spain’s Santa Bárbara Sistemas, with the Piranha V.
- The Italian consortium Iveco-OTO Melara, with the VBM Freccia.
- The German Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann, with the GTK Boxer.
- The French Nexter, with the VBCI.
- Patria, from Finland, with Patria AMV.
- BAE Systems-Hägglunds of the UK, with the Splitterskyddad EnhetsPlattform.
- General Purpose Vehicles, from the United States, with the GPV Colonel.
After the first phase of the selection process, the list of competitors was reduced to the three models that obtained the best marks in it: the Boxer, the VBCI and the Freccia.
However, the program was canceled in 2010 due to budget cuts, although in 2013 it was reactivated. However, in the end none of the vehicles that had been submitted to the tender were directly purchased, but what was done was to award a contract to a temporary union of companies formed by General Dynamics-Santa Bárbara Sistemas, Indra and Sapa. to develop an armored vehicle with Spanish technology based on the Piranha 5. After the construction and testing of five prototypes, it is expected that the first series vehicles will be available in 2022.
The projected cost is € 1.6 billion for the acquisition, € 4.59 million per vehicle, and € 3.8 billion in total, including logistical support. There will be seven variants (infantry, exploration, recovery, sappers, command post, anti-tank and forward observer), with a total of 13 configurations. The delay in the entry into service compared to the initial plans, will cause that in addition to the models mentioned above, they also have to replace the RG-31 Mk.5E Nyala (incorporated from 2009).
The Piranha V on which the Dragon is based is an 8 × 8 wheeled vehicle. Its barge is made of ballistic steel. Its protection is greater than that of previous generations of the vehicle, and much superior to that of the models that the Dragon must primarily replace, the BMR-M1 and VEC-M1, whose barge is made of aluminum. Modular protection will also allow it to be increased in certain missions that require it. The Swiss vehicle measures 8 meters in length, 2.34 meters in height, 2.99 meters in width and can carry up to 11 people (3 crew members and 8 soldiers). It is capable of overcoming 40% lateral inclinations, passing 75 cm steps, climbing slopes of up to 60%, and crossing a one meter ditch. It has a wading capacity of 1.5 m with a turning radius of 15.
However, the Dragon will not be merely a Piranha V manufactured under license in Spain, but numerous and important modifications have been made to it, mainly technological developments of the Spanish industry considered strategic by the Ministry of Defense. Its weight will be 33 tons, and the degree of nationalization will be 64% .
It is modular in design, which gives it great versatility – as indicated, 13 configurations are planned – in addition to reducing costs and facilitating both maintenance and repairs. Space will also be reserved for new systems to be implemented in the future.8 Their service period is expected to be up to 40 years.
One of the differences will be the powertrain. The original engine, a German MTU 6V199 TE21, with 577 hp (430 kW), has been replaced by the more powerful (724 hp, 540 kW) DC13 from Sweden’s Scania. Also the transmission, originally a German ZF 7HP902S, It has been replaced by another model, in this case a 24-speed binary logic SW624 from the Spanish company Sapa, already used in the second-phase Pizarros. This motor system will provide you with a maximum speed of 100 km / h.9 It also has an auxiliary power unit of 16 kW from Sapa itself and 6 batteries.
The basic armament will be the 30 mm Mk.44 Bushmaster II STRETCH cannon, from Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (originally Orbital ATK), with the capacity to fire the Mk.310 PABM (Programmable Air Burst Munition, Programmable Air Burst Munition).
The laser alerter will be the Elbit Elaws 2, and the trigger detector the Metravib Pilar V. The Pearson universal anchoring system has also been selected, to attach a shovel, a roller or a mine cleaner. The navigation system will be the Isnav, from GMV, and the Comte de Tecnobit on-board screens, both Spanish companies.
Weapon Stations and Towers
The program establishes that 219 vehicles will initially be equipped with an unmanned 30 mm tower. This contract, now awarded to Escribano, is valued at around 200 million euros.
The company has worked in recent months to adapt its Guardian 30 tower to the requirements established by the program. After completing the development in December last year, the tower has been evaluated first on a Piranha III vehicle of the Marine Infantry and in recent weeks on one of the five 8 × 8 VCR demonstrators in tests in Chinchilla (Albacete) and Viator ( Almeria) with the Legion Brigade.
The Guardian 30 has as its main weapon a MK44S cannon, already used by Escribano in the remote Sentinel 30 naval towers that it will install in the Serviola patrol boats of the Spanish Navy. It also incorporates a 7.62mm machine gun and two Oteos electro-optical systems, one for the shooter and one for advanced ision located on top of the tower.
Potential active protection systems
As stated by the Chief of the Army General Staff (JEME), due to limited budget availability, the ET was unable to get a vehicle with all the benefits it would have wanted from the outset, although there is the possibility of incorporating them later through future credit extensions. Therefore, although it is considered essential that vehicles are equipped with an active protection system to increase the safety of the platform and the occupants themselves, this aspect does not appear in the technological program for Increasing Safety (PT -1) of the Dragon. In the initial phases of the VCR, different systems were studied, including the Israeli Trophy (hard kill) and the French Galix (soft-kill), the Trophy being the system that seemed to have the most possibilities, however it seems that it will not be acquired in the present. Installing the equipment in a later phase with the platform already in service is currently being studied, on the other hand, implementation in the development stage is vital if the objective is to facilitate the entire integration process in the future. If the necessary adaptations are not created in this phase, integration once the vehicle is active will be problematic.
The Trophy is the only active protection system (Hard-Kill) tested in combat between the years 2011-2014 in the confrontations in the Gaza Strip. It is currently integrated into the Israeli Merkava Mk3 and Mk4 tanks, the American M1 Abrams A2SEPv2 and the Namer, Stryker and Piranha III armored fighting vehicles. It can deal with various threats such as artillery ammunition, propelled grenades, recoilless cannon shells, and anti-tank missiles, among others. The external installation of this system in the VCR Dragon vehicle would be distributed in a similar way to the LAV-III light armored vehicle of General Dynamics Land Systems Division, being the upper central area of the barge where the launchers would be located (one on each side), meanwhile, the four radar units would be located in such a way as to achieve coverage at a full 360º angle, while the control box and the central processor would be integrated inside. The team has a weight of around 880 kg, including the two countermeasure launchers and four radars.
There is some controversy about equipping vehicles with active protection systems, since although the Trophy seemed to have possibilities for its acquisition, in the end it will not be installed. Meanwhile, the Department of Military Technique of the Cavalry Academy considers it essential that the new VCRs have such systems, warning of the vulnerability of the 8×8 to anti-tank missiles. According to the Department, it seems that this system has not been considered, when the tendency of other countries is to bet firmly on active protection systems.
At the beginning of 2020, two vehicles were equipped at the Seville facilities with remote employment towers carrying 30 mm Mk44 cannons. The first demonstrator included the UT30MK2 remote employment tower and Spike LR missile launcher along with teams from the Security Enhancement, Situational Awareness, CIS and Powerplant Integration and Technology Programs teams. The second demonstrator offers the same equipment combination as the first unit, except the evaluation of the Samson Mk2 tower with the Spike LR missile launcher, and some differences in the technological program number 4 based on the CIS and integration.
In October 2020, two of the five Dragon demonstrators will be used to certify their protection against mines, tests in which detonations will be carried out under both vehicles that will imply their destruction.
In July 2020 the firing tests and launches of the Spike LR missile were carried out. Said tests took place in the Almería maneuvering field, beginning on July 14 and ending on July 24.
Both demonstrators equipped with the UT30MK2 and Samson 30 towers opened fire with ATK 30mm cannons, 7.62mm coaxial machine guns and Spike LR missiles. The launched Israeli-origin missiles struck targets 2.8 kilometers away using the fire, shoot, watch and update mode. Ammunition of the type ABM (Airbust Munition) was used.
During the evaluations, different tests and situations were carried out, such as the launch using the command post of the shooter and the commander, as well as using the electro-optical sensors in CCD and infrared mode. Shots were fired with both moving and static vehicles and targets.