Unit History: ATDU (Armoured Trials and Developement Unit)
The Armoured Trials and Development Unit is based in Bovington in Dorset. Bovington has been the home of the Royal Armoured Corps since the first World War and, in the last 10 years, its role has expanded such that it is now responsible for all armoured vehicle training in the Services. The Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers have long since trained their crews there, and the Royal Marines now have their Viking armoured vehicle team in Bovington as well. The nearby gunnery ranges at Lulworth are also invaluable.
The role of the Armoured Trials and Development Unit (ATDU) is to carry out user trials and development tasks on armoured vehicle equipments in order to provide cost-effective support to the Equipment Programme. It is worth emphasising that it is not limited to armoured vehicles – it is more than that. It could include looking at fuel for armoured vehicles, clothing for their crews or even the food that they eat. The remit is a broad one.
ATDU is one of seven Trials and Development Units in the Army, and is the biggest by a considerable margin. The Royal Engineers Trials and Development Unit (RETDU) is based at Minley, but suburban Surrey is not the ideal location for armoured vehicles and the heavy metal part of RETDU is co-located with ATDU for mutual benefit. The all-up strength of ATDU (including the RETDU team) is around 80 people, of whom 85% are military. They are highly experienced: a Regiment has a Regimental Sergeant Major (WO1) at the top and many Troopers at the bottom. In ATDU, there are five WO1s and no Troopers! Every Regiment in the Royal Armoured Corps and the Armoured Engineers is represented, which means that a tremendous wealth of experience can be brought to bear on a trial.
The Unit is tasked through the TDU Programme Office, which is based in Larkhill. It co-ordinates the work of all of the TDUs on behalf of ACGS and will provide additional manpower for a particular trial if required. The majority of ATDUs work is with industry, the DECs in London, the DPA and the DLO. Good links are also maintained with Dstl when specialist scientific input or instrumentation is required. ATDU is involved in every stage of armoured equipment procurement, from providing informed comment on draft User Requirement Documents (URDs) to working closely with the DPA and industry during development and after production. Once an item is in service, it will then work closely with the appropriate Integrated Project Team in the DLO. It can also carry out short notice work on Urgent Operational Requirements for both LAND and PJHQ.
ATDU has a number of component parts. It has a highly experienced REME Support Squadron, which provides the maintenance support and the specialist technical input as required. Again, it is top heavy with a Major, an ASM and a full set of Artificers – Weapons, Electrical and Vehicle. ATDU also has a Trials Squadron, which looks after its fleet of vehicles and provides the skilled manpower to crew the vehicles during the trials and maintain them. The fleet is comprehensive and all major vehicle types are represented. The RETDU fleet includes the Chieftain-based Royal Engineer vehicles, as well as TITAN and TROJAN, undergoing Reliability Growth Trials for the manufacturer. It is the three Trials Planning Teams, however, which make up the core of the organisation.
The Weapons and Heavy Systems office looks after all armoured vehicle weapons, as well as those vehicles that are too heavy to fit in a C-130 aircraft. This office therefore has the lead on Challenger 2. Following the salutary (and valuable) Challenger 2 learning experience of Ex Saif Sareea in Oman in 2001, the Weapons and Heavy Systems team was given the task, in mid-2002, of overcoming the problems caused by the fine desert sand and dust that was clogging filters so completely. A trial began almost immediately in the Canadian dust of BATUS and the idea of extended sideskirts began to evolve. This idea was gradually developed over a period of five months, working closely with Alvis Vickers and the Tank Support Systems IPT in the DLO. When the go ahead for UORs was finally given in late 2002, industry swung into production and the finished items were shipped direct to Northern Kuwait. ATDU had already briefed the Regiments that were about to deploy on this and other UORs that they would be getting upon arrival. It deployed a senior team into theatre and was able to work closely with the Regiments themselves, deployed contractors, IPTs and the chain of command. It was an arrangement that was to work extremely well. Nonetheless, there was an audible sigh of relief when it was apparent that the dust problem had been overcome!
The second major Trials Planning team in ATDU is the Automotive and Light Systems office. As the name implies, it looks into all things automotive (engines, gearboxes, drivetrains and so on), as well as those armoured vehicles that will fit into a C-130. This office therefore has responsibility for the Future Command and Liaison Vehicle (FCLV), as well as the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES). All five FCLV contenders were at ATDU in early 2002 and were each subjected to a number of rigorous battlefield missions on the local training area. The results were passed to the Close Armour IPT and enabled informed decisions to be made in the DPA down-select process. More recently, an improved track for Challenger 2 has been submitted to a demanding eight month period of testing. This has been conducted in close co-operation with the manufacturer and is about to result in a greatly enhanced track being issued to all Challenger 2 regiments.
The third Trials Planning team is the Communications and Vehicle Systems office. It is responsible for armoured vehicle communications, as well as many of the loose ends that do not readily find a home elsewhere. These include NBC, AFV crew clothing, combat identification and even small arms. The workload of the offices can fluctuate considerably from year to year. At the moment, with BOWMAN-isation under full steam, this office is the busiest. ATDU receives the first vehicle of each type and works closely with all of the various organisations associated with it. Detailed comment (and criticism, where appropriate) is forwarded to all of the agencies involved. A bracket may require modifying here, a box re-located there and the result is an improved vehicle, which has hopefully satisfied a demanding set of users. It is this improved fit that then goes into production.
There are three main ways in which projects arrive at ATDU. The majority (and certainly the larger tasks) are allocated by the TDU Programme Office on behalf of an IPT, be it DPA or DLO. ATDU will conduct the trial and submit a detailed report afterwards. Some work is done for industry directly, however. They will produce an item, and then ATDU will either trial it for them or provide informed user comment. Other projects are talent spotted – a useful looking item can be seen in the media or at an exhibition, and the company is then approached to provide an example for trial. An example is the US-based company that has developed a system to generate drinking water from diesel exhaust. If this can be put into mass production, it has the potential to reduce our logistic tail on operations significantly and would greatly enhance the independence of the more forward armoured vehicles.
There are well in excess of 60 projects under way at present. These range considerably in size and scope, but all retain the common theme of armoured vehicles and their crews. Recent enquiries have discussed fire suppression gases in crew compartments, combat identification, new natures of ammunition and even flame-retardant underwear! It is clearly incumbent upon the senior staff to remain abreast of the latest developments and we retain excellent relationships with industry, both nationally and internationally. Members of the key offices have visite