Tuesday, 7 December 2021

A Titan Among Trucks: Meet Turkey’s M4K ARV

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
Certainly, no equipment of the mechanised forces is as unappreciated as armoured recovery vehicles. Generally operating in the rear of an advance and only seen when something went terribly wrong, they are nonetheless vital for any mechanised campaign to succeed in its aims. This is reflected in the inventories of most modern militaries worldwide, which nowadays often include sizeable numbers of ARVs and other armoured supporting vehicles. Owing to their importance in the field, the concept of the ARV has continuously evolved to keep up with new challenges and security threats.
Initially thought of to keep the masses of armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) going during armoured breakthroughs on the plains of Germany during the Cold War, ARVs nowadays operate in support of smaller numbers of tanks. Nonetheless, the number of potential deployment zones has increased dramatically, and coupled with threats such as improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and the widespread usage of anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), the requirements for modern ARVs are higher than ever.
One specific area that comes to mind is Afghanistan, where NATO troops made large-scale use of both light and heavy armour to protect themselves against the threat of rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) and IEDs. Another region of conflict where armoured fighting vehicles have recently played an important role is Syria, where Turkish forces are deployed throughout the Idlib and Aleppo Governorates. Here they frequently venture out of their bases on patrols with BMC Kirpi and BMC Vuran mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs).
The armour and blast protection of MRAPs have saved the life of many soldier in the past. However, in the not too unlikely scenario of an MRAP getting stuck, a more powerful vehicle would be needed to pull it out of danger. The Turkish Army has deployed US-made M984 wreckers for this role to Syria, where these participate in joint patrols with MRAPs. The M984's crew largely sits unprotected in their vehicle however, and an armoured vehicle was urgently needed to accompany the MRAPs on their patrols through Syria or other future warzones: meet the MPG M4K.

The M4K project was launched by the Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) with the Machinery Production Group (which was responsible for designing the crane mechanism) to meet an urgent requirement by the Turkish Land Forces for an armoured wheeled recovery vehicle. [1] The vehicle that resulted seats up to four people and can reach speeds of up to 80km/h. Its armoured cabin provides protection against small arms fire and IEDs, and an IED jammer placed on top of the armoured cabin can neutralise improvised explosive devices before they have the chance to explode. 
A total of 29 M4Ks were ordered by the Turkish Land Forces, all of which were delivered in August 2020 after qualification tests of the M4K were completed in January the same year, a testament to the urgency and speed with which the project was conducted. [2] [3] The M4K shares most of its components with the Anadolu Seyit 8x8 tank transporter, which is also set to enter the inventory of the Turkish Land Forces in the near future. If Turkey is able to sort out the difficulties of producing an indigenous engine for its Altay MBT and commence production of the tank, the country will be in the posession of Europe's most modern MBT, tank transporter and wheeled ARV.

The Anadolu Seyit 8x8 tank transporter.

The M4K's main means of recovery is its giant crane, with which the vehicle can not only tilt stricken vehicles out of ditches or mud, but also change large vehicle components such as turrets and engines of AFVs. The ARV is also fitted with two hydraulic winches for recovery operations (one on the front and one on the rear), a tow device and stabilisation spades to stabilise the vehicle. [4] The M4K's Tatra chassis allows for high mobility in rough terrain, hopefully allowing it to escape the fate of the vehicle it was sent out to rescue. A video showing off some of the M4K's capabilities can be viewed here.

The M4K's capabilities were first put to the test internationally during the NATO-led exercise Steadfast Defender 2021 which took place in Romania in May 2021. [5] During the exercise, the M4K took part in recovery operations of friendly vehicles that could not be recovered by other wheeled assets. [6] In April 2021 it was announced that a $38.5 million contract had been signed with the Machinery Production Group for the delivery of 33 wheeled ARVs based on the M4K. The new vehicle will feature less armour than the M4K and the remote weapon station on the roof will be optional. [7] [8]

A M4K lifts a 'stricken' Vuran MRAP onto a flatbed trailer. Also note the towing device and and stabilization spades on the rear of the M4K.

The Turkish Land Forces has a long history of operating ARVs, beginning with the M74 ARV based on the chassis of the ubiquitous M4 Sherman tank. Received in sizeable numbers from West Germany starting in the late 1960s, the M74s for a long time constituted the only type of ARV in Turkish service. [9] However, with the delivery of large numbers of surplus tanks from the US and Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, Turkey came in the possession of several more ARV types (these being the Bergepanzer 2 and M88A1), again mostly from Germany. The 1990s also saw the introduction of the M578 light recovery vehicle based on the chassis of the M107 and M110 SPGs. Finally, the 2000s saw the introduction of the U.S. M984 wrecker and the domestic M48T5 ARV. What all of these ARVs have in common is that they are either based on a tracked platform, or in the case of the M984 a wheeled one but without any protection against small arms or improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

On the 2nd of January 1976 a DC-10 operated by Overseas National Airways crash-landed at Istanbul Yeşilköy Airport with no fatalities. The wreck of the aircraft was towed out of its dire position by M74 ARVs.

In recent years there has been a trend towards fielding larger and heavier armoured fighting vehicles on the one hand, and introducing large numbers of wheeled IFVs and APCs and light tactical vehicles on the other hand. The size and weight of some of these vehicles is hard to overstate (for example: the British Ajax reconnaissance AFV weighs 38 tonnes, some 30 tonnes more than the vehicle it is set to replace), and require wholly novel methods to deal with their recovery in the field. Conversely, light tactical vehicles operate with speed and manoeuvrability in mind, often in areas riddled with IEDs and ambushes, and need an ARV that can keep up with them in the field but still has the same amount of protection.

A M4K ARV tows a BMC Kirpi MRAP.

The armoured cabin of the M4K was designed by SECANT in accordance with NATO STANAG 4569 levels, providing protection against ballistic threats up to level 2 (7.62×39mm API) and mine threats up to level 2a (a 6 kg explosive mass activated under any wheel track location). [10] Although less well protected than an MRAP, the M4K's armour protection is still sufficient for most non-frontline situations in Syria and similar conflict areas.

To enable the M4K to fend off ambushes and attacks during recovery operations, it is fitted with an Aselsan SARP remote weapon station (RWS) on its roof. The SARP can be equipped with a 40mm automatic grenade launcher, a 12.7mm heavy machine gun or a 7.62mm light machine gun depending on the operational requirements. The addition of an IED jammer on the roof, CBRN protection and six smoke grenade launchers installed on the right side of the M4K do much to further enchance its survivability under hostile conditions, and arguably makes the M4K the best protected vehicle in its class.
The MPG M4K is one of the few pieces of glamorous new equipment in this chronically underappreciated field of defence engineering, and it is sure to serve Turkey well in operations at home and abroad. Development of the M4K will continue, taking into account lessons learned from its operational deployments, and the new lighter version could one day soon enter service in large numbers. With the number of countries operating wheeled AFVs increasing worldwide, many of which produced by Turkey, the MPG M4K might soon find itself a first export client as well.

[1] Another Vehicle Contributed by SECANT Enters the Inventory https://www.savunmahaber.com/en/another-vehicle-contributed-by-secant-enters-the-inventory/
[4] IDEF 2019: Multi-purpose armoured recovery crane for the Turkish Armed Forces https://youtu.be/C4vVLneX7vA
[5] Steadfast Defender-21 Tatbikatında 8×8 kurtarıcı araç M4K boy gösterdi https://www.defenceturk.net/steadfast-defender-21-tatbikatinda-turk-ispanyol-italyan-ortak-egitimi
[7] TSK, 8×8 M4K Tedarikine Devam Ediyor https://www.defenceturk.net/tsk-8x8-m4k-tedarikine-devam-ediyor
[10] Another Vehicle Contributed by SECANT Enters the Inventory https://www.savunmahaber.com/en/another-vehicle-contributed-by-secant-enters-the-inventory/