Three things define a tank: protection, an armoured shell to protect the crew members inside from attack and the ammunition from being set alight; firepower, a heavy gun, preferably mounted on a revolving turret; and mobility, a caterpillar track. For decades, these key components were traditionally made out of steel. While this requirement gradually gave way to the integration of specialised composite materials for the guns and armour, it is only recently that the virtues of building tracks out of rubber have been recognised by armed forces around the world.
"Some of the advantages that rubber tracks offer over steel are: weight saving; an average of 50% saving in weight and significant reductions in noise and vibration, explains Kevin Sloan, business development director at Soucy Defense. "The reduction in vibration that's achieved is not only better for all of the vehicle subsystems, but, also better for the human body. Composite rubber track (CRT) is also proven to provide the platform with greater reliability, availability maintainability and durability (RAM-D)."
Soucy Defense's rubber tracks, meanwhile, are made from composite materials, steel cord and rubber, of which the exact composition and recipe is known only to Soucy. Non-flammable and lightweight, they minimise weight without compromising on durability. It's a solution that makes steel tracks archaic in comparison, according to Sloan. "CRT is the future, as far as an armoured vehicle is concerned," he says.
Rubber tracks also enhance the endurance of the armoured vehicle, a crucial factor in long-term deployments. "The French Army, when they were deployed in Mali in 2014, achieved a 2,000km road move before they conducted their operations," says Sloan. "That sort of thing you can't do on a steel track, because you're changing your road wheels, your sprockets and replacing pads every 600-1,000km. And when you halt in this way, your battle group or battalion is combat-ineffective."
Using rubber tracks manufactured by Soucy Defense, meanwhile, can extend the distances between which significant maintenance is required to an average of 5,500km. "Then, you're achieving greater fuel efficiency for your vehicles, and more efficient logistics," says Sloan.
An armed forces' reason to purchase rubber tracks is reflective of their priorities, he adds. Some forces, for example, tend to prioritise weight-saving over reductions in noise and vibration. For some, the latter becomes more important than the former. "Some nations will be more concerned about damage to the environment and local infrastructure," explains Sloan. "In some countries, damage to the roads caused during training for operations can be passed back to defence to pay."
In most cases, Soucy Defense is able to provide a turnkey solution for its clients. "We try to keep most of the equipment manufacturing in-house," says Sloan. "What we also do within that is make our costings competitive. If our subsidiaries are not competitive enough, then we will go outside, in order to drive costs down, so that we're not passing them on to the client."
This approach has led to considerable success in winning contracts from several major defence companies across the world. Soucy Defense's tracks have also been routinely deployed in active warzones, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan by the Canadian, UK and Norwegian armed forces.
It's a proven system and one that lasts. "Maybe that's what we're about," says Sloan. "It's about trying to bring, I think, a track system [that] is going to take us into 2050, over and above steel tracks. At the Main Battle Tanks Weights, steel tracks still have a place - for now. But below 47mT, they've had their day. Soucy's CRT has the potential to be the biggest market disrupter to steel track manufacturers this decade. Our advantages and reduced life-cycle costs offer immediate and longer-term benefits for our customers."