By David Hambling, technology expert
In the past, armoured vehicle designers could count on most threats coming from the frontal arc.
This is why a Second World War tank like the Tiger had its thickest armour at the front, with rear armour being only half as thick, and the armour on the underside being half as thick again.
To increase protection levels, you just added more steel plate all around.
However, in modern irregular wars, the main threat may come from below, in the form of mines and IEDs.
That requires very different types of protection.
A case in point is the MR400 made by British firm Supacat, also known as the Mobility Weapon-Mounted Installation Kit, shortened to MWMIK, or more simply... The Jackal.
It’s a high-mobility reconnaissance vehicle, also used for rapid assault and fire support as well as convoy protection, and it’s designed to cope with the threat from mines and IEDs.
Its most unusual feature is an air suspension system which can be lowered right down to provide a stable firing platform, or to allow the vehicle to fit into a Chinook helicopter.
Out on the road, the suspension can be raised to give a ground clearance of 380 mm.
Combined with the Jackal’s 6.7-litre Cummins straight-six diesel Engine, this provides outstanding off-road mobility.
When Autocar magazine test-drove the Jackal, they compared it to the “indomitable, go-anywhere feel you get from a Land Rover Defender,” only the Jackal was “ten times better.”
This all-terrain capability means it can avoid commonly-used routes which are more likely to be mined.
The Jackal replaces the Snatch Land Rover, and scores over it in the crucial area of protection, especially against mines.
The first mine-resistant vehicles were developed by South Africa in the 1960s to counter the same type of threat experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
After extensive testing of different designs, they found that the blast from a mine could be effectively re-directed by having an elevated chassis and a V-shaped hull rather than a flat one.
The Jackal has mine protection built in, though as can be seen from its relatively low profile, the hull design is not as extreme as the US MRAP vehicles or the original South African Buffel which looks like a boat on wheels.
Mine protection also includes underfloor armour.
These have shock absorbers to reduce the upwards force of the blast, and a reset mechanism so the seat handles also ‘slam down’ when the crew come back down after the initial shock.
The Jackal has side armour and protection against small-arms fire and run-flat tyres, plus smoke grenade launchers which can screen the Jackal from any direction in seconds.
The wire-cutter in the bar which arches over the front seats may be less high-tech, but it could be a life-saver.
During the Second World War, retreating German forces in Normandy took to stringing piano wire across the road at neck-height to decapitate unwary drivers of open-top Jeeps.
The tactic has been copied by many others since, hence the need for the wire-cutter.
In addition to its mobility and protective features, the Jackal also boasts significant firepower.
There’s a General-Purpose Machine Gun for crew protection, plus either a Heavy Machine Gun or a Grenade Machine Gun as the main weapons system. This is mounted in a gun ring giving a 360-degree field of fire.
While The Royal Yeomanry D (Shropshire Yeomanry) Squadron is about to get their first Jackal, engineers are already working on future technologies to improve mine resistance.
One concept is a vehicle with independently-powered wheels designed to break off in a blast, absorbing the force.
The wheel modules can then be easily re-attached.
Another concept is a Vehicle Global Acceleration Mitigation System which prevents the vehicle from being thrown into the air by a blast.
In one test, the system cut the height from five metres to two, greatly reducing the risk of serious injury to the crew.
The threat does not stand still.
If vehicles are well-protected against one form of attack, opponents will switch tactics and attack from another direction.
The Jackal succeeds the armoured Land Rover, but the next generation will see new threats - and new technology to counter it.