One of the lesser-known mobility platforms for U.S. Army special operations missions is the ranger special operations vehicle (RSOV).
Originally fielded in 1992 as a replacement for the M151-series "gun jeeps," the RSOV design is based on the Land Rover Defender Model 110. Currently fielded in multiple configurations, the vehicles provide each of the three battalions in the U.S. Army's 75th Ranger Regiment with a versatile tactical transportation platform capable of moving Rangers and their equipment in a variety of operational environments.
In citing the advantages of the RSOV systems over the old M151s, Rangers identify improvements in a number of areas. For example, while the RSOV meets the same mission parameters and requirements as the M151 -- it fits on all aircraft that might be used in Ranger operations -- the vehicles are more dependable, have superior suspensions, carry larger numbers of Rangers "to the fight" and provide a superior firing platform for accommodating the Rangers' larger gun systems.
As summarized by one RSOV operator, "The most important asset that the RSOV provides us is the capability to move combat power [Rangers and heavier weapons] around the battlefield quickly."
The RSOV chassis measures 173.8 inches long, 70.5 inches wide, 76 inches high (without gun mount) and possesses a ground clearance of 10 inches. When fully loaded, the vehicle weighs 7,734 pounds. A four-cylinder turbocharged diesel engine provides the RSOV with a fully loaded range of 200 miles, extended by 50 miles per extra five-gallon fuel can.
Stowage and configuration features include a Mk19 or .50-caliber main weapon, M60/M240G mount, Stinger missile stowage rack, multiple storage compartments and straps, concertina mounts, vehicle lashing points and a 7,000-pound-capacity winch.
In addition to being transportable by all U.S. Air Force tactical cargo aircraft, the RSOVs are internally transportable in both MH-47 and MH-53 helicopters.
The basic RSOV crew configuration includes a driver/team leader, a truck commander (TC) and a top gunner. However, capacity can range up to seven Rangers depending on mission requirements. Additional positions might include an antitank operator, radiotelephone operator or a dismount team typically consisting of an M249 squad automatic weapon gunner, M203 gunner and rifleman.
Antiarmor capabilities can come from the M3 84 mm Carl Gustav rifle, Javelin, AT-4 or light antitank weapons.
In addition to the advantages cited above, in the RSOV's seating configuration Rangers face out in all directions, providing greater security than any other platform currently in the Army's inventory.
In terms of tactical signature, operators note that the RSOV's four-cylinder turbodiesel engine runs more quietly than other similarly sized platforms. "Force-on-force engagements have proven that the enemy normally does not hear the RSOV coming until it's too late to set up an ambush," adds one operator. "As a result, most of our engagements using RSOVs could be considered chance contacts' with an unprepared enemy force."
There are 12 RSOVs in the "Alpha Company" of each of the three ranger battalions. The vehicles are fielded in three platoons, each platoon encompassing two sections of two RSOVs and two Kawasaki KLR 250 motorcycles.
For a typical operation, both vehicles in an RSOV section would be equipped with M240-series machine guns at the forward TC station with one vehicle carrying a .50-caliber machine gun and the other sporting a Mk19 grenade launcher at the top gunner position. In the words of one RSOV TC, "It certainly is a lot of firepower rolling up on the enemy."
Yet in spite of the firepower capabilities, Ranger tactical planners are quick to clarify the vehicle's combat limitations:
"The RSOV is not a fighting platform," explains 1st Lt. Chris Ayers, an RSOV platoon leader in Company A, 1st Ranger Battalion. "It's a means of transportation. It's a means of moving people around quickly with crew-served weapons. The whole idea is to move out quickly and put the equipment in position to defend somewhere with those heavy weapons."
In addition to the RSOVs with their crew-served weapons, each Ranger battalion has two medical variants of the Defender known as medical special operations vehicles (MEDSOVs). Instead of the weapon mounts found on standard RSOVs, the MEDSOV variant has fold-down racks capable of carrying six litter patients. Along with its transported casualties, a typical MEDSOV crew would include a driver, a TC and two or three medics to treat the wounded.
A third variant of the RSOV is used by the Ranger battalion mortar platoon. Known as MORTSOVs, the platoon's two Defenders -- they also have three Humvees -- replace the top-gun configuration with storage boxes and guy wires that allow the vehicle to carry thirty 120 mm mortar rounds along with the extra equipment required by the platoon. In addition to its onboard carrying capacity, the MORTSOVw can be used to tow the platoon's 120 mm mortars.
Ranger fleet planners indicate that RSOVs have a projected 20-year life cycle. Battalions plan to keep the vehicles in their inventories throughout this period. To ensure their continued tactical viability, the systems will likely undergo a near-term upgrade to improve the suspension, to equip them with a wider tire for a more stable ride and to reposition the spare tire on the front of the vehicle.
Longer-term consideration for a future replacement vehicle has already started, but planning remains in its early stages. No specific designs have been released at this time.