It seems as if the readiness of modern armed forces is constantly in search of balance. After many years of preparing to face terrorist or guerrilla tactics, now the threat of more conventional, largescale conflicts has reared its head once more. If nothing else, the war in Ukraine is proving that forces must now be prepared for anything.

This puts great pressure on armies to choose the right kinds of vehicles to support effective deployment in a range of scenarios. They must be sufficiently versatile to perform effectively in the heat or the cold, in the desert or in the mountains. Furthermore, they must be able to withstand the explosive force of an IED and be able to evade the threat of a more powerful weapon like a round from a tank or MANPADS.

“The conflict in Ukraine has caught our attention and everyone is watching closely the technology, the tactics and the strategy,” says Abri Du Plessis, CEO of NIMR, a prominent manufacturer of versatile, combat-proven light and medium-weight wheeled military vehicles. “We have to accept the harsh reality that there is almost no amount of armoured steel that can protect you against some weapons.”

“Shoulder-launched systems can penetrate a main battle tank of 40–60 tonnes, so what chance does a normal utility vehicle have?” he asks. “You can’t include passive protection for that, so you must firstly avoid being targeted. Then it is all about detecting a threat using add-on systems, including laser-detection, and the ability to launch smoke grenades and get away, as well as incorporating more active defensive systems, like use of suicide drones such as the Switchblade.”

Test, trial, improve, qualify

Established in 2000, based in the UAE, and part of the EDGE Group, UAE and Platforms and Systems Cluster, NIMR has a range of battle-proven, light and mediumweight ground vehicle platforms that are known for their field-tested versatility, ruggedness and high performance. The AJBAN is a 4×4 ballistic and blastprotected light tactical patrol vehicle for a crew of five, with mine-blast protection and a ballistic-protected rear cargo compartment, as well as the option of a roof-mounted self-defence weapon. The HAFEET is a 6×6 vehicle capable of reaching 110km/h top speed, and providing STANAG 4569 AEP-55 standard blast protection. The JAIS is a next-generation Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle that balances firepower, survivability and mobility for modern, conventional and asymmetric operations. At the last IDEX international defence conference, NIMR showcased the next iteration of the AJBAN and the HAFEET, and it is now hard at work on the JAIS MK2. “Since then, we have benchmarked against other vehicles and highlighted areas of possible improvement to make them more competitive,” says du Plessis. “The main areas are, first and foremost, protection from landmines, grenades, ballistic weapons and IEDs, and to upgrade the electrical systems to a more modern, open version for command, control, communications and intelligence (C3I) capability.”

Adding ABS systems has also been a priority, along with increasing payload capacity – always a key demand from clients – without compromising manoeuvrability. “We set demanding goals, and we wanted to make these improvements while keeping the same price as the MK1 vehicles,” du Plessis adds. “Now, we are continuing that journey, leading with the AJBAN, which has undergone two trials with UAE armed forces in August 2021 and August 2022.” “This involved stringent testing in harsh conditions, on gravel roads, in desert and wadis,” he continues, “They were wonderful tests and trials for us to do, as they enabled us to quickly pick up on any issues and drive evolutionary changes to make our vehicles fit for customers. It is a process of testing, trialling, improving and qualifying.” The AJBAN MK2 is now fully tested, having substantially improved its level of protection against all types of threat, so NIMR is now focused on industrialising the production process so that the new model is ready for delivery. A little further behind in the production process is the MK2 HAFEET, which has been configured to carry a higher payload and offer more protection without increasing the price tag.

“The testing of AJBAN helped us realise that we can’t develop both vehicles at the same pace,” says du Plessis. “We are now using what we learned from AJBAN and bringing them to the HAFEET MK2, which will be ready for production by the end of the year.”

“For the JAIS MK2, we worked less on protection, as it already provides a very high level of protection,” he continues. “The focus is more on enhancing and improving the electrical systems, which will use the same open architecture as all our other vehicles. We expect the MK2 to go into production in Q2 2023.”

Bigger, better, faster, stronger

One of the key changes in the MK2 versions of NIMR’s fleet is the move away from chassis-based designs. All vehicles now use monocoque designs, in which the chassis is integral with the body. This results in a saving on weight as well as higher levels of protection. Similarly, NIMR has been tweaking variables such as axle load to enable each vehicle to carry more empty mass and a bigger payload capability, while maintaining or improving manoeuvrability. Crucially, these improvements must be consistent in any environment – from desert sands to the snows of northern Europe. “When you do these trials, you very quickly see where you need better cooling in extreme heat,” says du Plessis. “To keep vehicles cool enough to operate – including the internal environment and the ergonomic performance of the vehicle – in more than 50°C – and keep elements such as drivetrain cool is a big challenge.”

“These kinds of trials also test the reliability of a new vehicle,” he adds. “We need to know whether a vehicle will last for the next 15 or 20 years, so we need to quickly spot areas where potential failures might occur. We also get to work with the armed forces to evaluate the maintainability and serviceability of the vehicles, all of which now have the new feature of powerpack protection. We need to know that, with this new feature, the vehicle is still easy to service and maintain.”

The many small changes that have been made across the NIMR range because of the trials with the UAE armed forces have resulted in new models that are ready for production and can be handed over to customers with the confidence that they will perform with high levels of reliability in any environment.

The next step for NIMR is to take this new fleet to a wider audience by building on its existing network of technology transfer relationships. Joint venture partner NIMR Algeria is currently engaged in that transfer of technology, and a new licence agreement for JAIS in Saudi Arabia is providing new insight into that process.

“We have now identified a few countries where the environment is ripe for this kind of technology transfer, and some will serve as entry points into the European market,” du Plessis explains. “We must have a local partner and do a technology transfer to enter that market, and there are some opportunities in Eastern Europe for vehicles in our weight class and with our level of protection, so we are actively in discussion with a number of potential partners.”

A platform for progress

As it reaches out to new markets, NIMR can leverage its membership of the EDGE Group, which exists to bring innovative technologies and services to market with greater speed and efficiency. With more than 20 entities across four core clusters, NIMR can benefit from cross-collaboration opportunities. For instance, it can call upon the skills of LAHAB in the design, development and production of medium and large-calibre munitions and weapons systems, or work with HALCON to integrate its precisionguided missile systems.

Currently, EDGE Group entity, AL TAIF, the UAE’s leading provider of maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services for military equipment, is developing enhanced power distribution units (PDUs) for NIMR vehicles. “Within this network, we can also focus on creating variants of the AJBAN and HAFEET to expand the product range by leveraging the MK2 versions while keeping the family connections between the vehicles,” explains du Plessis. “For example, we could develop a utility version with a container or shelter on the back.” “We are also looking at emerging technologies including in electrification, where there is still a long way to go,” he adds. “Like most of our competitors, we are also looking at the possibility of unmanned vehicles and we are working with the automated robotic vehicle (ARV) concept. The ideas are not mature yet, but we have to look to the future and see what is beyond the horizon.”

Change is always coming but NIMR has shown itself ready to adapt while bringing an updated range of vehicles to market. Versatility and adaptability are its core values, and never were they more urgently required.