Sunday, 11 May 2014


In 1977 Canada began the continuing story of the LAV fleet by placing an order for 491 6x6 LAVs, which were referred to as Armoured Vehicle General Purpose (AVGP). They were based on the MOWAG Piranha family of light armoured vehicles. There were three variants built, the Grizzly, which was an infantry carrier, the Cougar, which had a 76mm gun turret and was used by units of the Royal Canadian Armoured Corps, and the Husky, a recovery vehicle.

Canada deployed this vehicle operationally to such areas as Cyprus, the Balkans and Somalia. The AVGP fleet has since been retired from service but it was the genesis of a successful military technology which has seen General Dynamics Land Systems, in London Ontario, become a pre-eminent manufacturer of light armoured vehicles. From an original design nearly 40 years old, GDLS and MOWAG have progressively developed the armoured vehicle into new variants with many capabilities. 

This success story started in 1964 with a Defence White Paper which called for the creation of a force equipped with a flexible, light, and air transportable vehicle to serve in UN missions.

At the same time the Militia, which had been seen as the traditional mobilization base for the Canadian army had withered during the Cold War. After the Second World War its ranks were flush with veterans and into the 1950s there was money for new tanks and vehicles. However morale declined as the Militia’s role became civil defence in the late 1950s, and it languished in the 1960s and 1970s as defence budgets shrank. The Militia reached a nadir of 15,000 by the late 1970s.

When introduced in 1976, wheeled AVGPs were meant to provide the Reserves with training vehicles that were less maintenance-intensive than tracked armour. It was also intended to give new purpose and opportunities for those Reserves. A total of 269 Grizzlies were built for the AVGP program and the vehicle was originally used mainly for reserves training in its prime role as an infantry carrier.

The 195 Cougars delivered were equipped with a 76 mm main gun and a 7.62 mm machine gun to support infantry and these vehicles were given to reserve armoured regiments.

The AVGP vehicles were welcomed by the reserves. The First Hussars regimental history describes the Cougar as a “godsend” because it was a credible tank-trainer in contrast to the machine-gun armed jeeps that had been used; it improved the morale and retention of personnel.

The same characteristics which made these AVGPs useful for Reserve use, that is good mobility and low maintenance, also made them appealing for overseas deployments on Regular Force peacekeeping missions. The vehicles went on to a long career with many modifications in the Regular Force.

In the 1987 Defence White Paper, the government announced that the strength of the Reserves would be brought up to 90,000 which would allow Canada to better meet commitments to NATO and continental defence. This increase in strength would be complemented by a package of improvements to bases and new equipment purchases. One of these was for a purchase of 200 armoured personnel carriers for the reserves. This was the background of the Bison APC.

The original plan was to buy 200 M113s from the American manufacturer and have some components license-built in Canada to fulfill requirements for Canadian content. At the same time, however, Canada’s only manufacturer of armoured vehicles, Diesel Division General Motors (DDGM), in London Ontario, was running out of work. With contracts drying up the company was facing a year with empty production lines.

The point was made that the reserves might have trouble operating M113s,. There were restrictions against putting tracked vehicles on roads in Canada, and the Reserves would likely not have the personnel or money to keep up with the maintenance burden. A hastily redesigned APC variant of the LAV was proposed and the army finally decided to buy the Bison in July 1989. DDGM produced four major variants – 149 armoured personnel carriers, eighteen command posts, sixteen 81 mm mortar carriers, and sixteen maintenance and recovery vehicles.

In the end the original rationale for the purchase, to increase the quality of Reservist training so that they could beef up Regular units and bolster Canada’s commitments, disappeared just as the first Bisons started rolling off the production lines. The Cold War was ending, but the disorder of the 1990s and the proliferation of peacekeeping missions that morphed into combat operations meant that few vehicles ever got to the Reserves. Most were requisitioned by the Regular Force and pressed into service. For example, Bisons were rapidly overhauled to serve as ambulances in Somalia, and they were also used as command posts in Bosnia.

The Bison fleet remains in service today: from 2000 to 2011, the entire Bison fleet was re-roled into thirty-two ambulances, eighty-three command posts, sixteen electronic warfare vehicles, thirty-two mobile repair teams, and thirty-two maintenance and recovery vehicles.

There is no question that the LAV programme has been successful for Canada, providing the armed forces with effective vehicles and creating a new Canadian industry.

Those AVGPs originally purchased by Canada in 1976 were 10.7 ton, 6 wheeled amphibious vehicles.  The Canadian LAV III which entered service in 1998 was 17-ton vehicle 8-wheeled armoured combat vehicle armed with a turret mounted M242 Bushmaster 25mm Gun. The PiranhaV variant which General Dynamics Land Systems Canada offered for the Canadian Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) programme in 2011 is a 26 + ton 8x8 fitted with Rheinmetall's LANCE 30mm Modular Turret System.

What has been less successful is the original ideal of procuring armoured vehicles for the Army reserves. There are no longer any kinds of armoured personal carriers in reserve formations. The First Hussars are back to using machine-gun armed jeeps. About the only new equipment available are the Militarized Commercial Off-the-Shelf (MilCOTS) vehicles (trucks) provided under the Medium Support Vehicle System (MSVS) program. Given the inability to fulfill the part of that program designed to provide badly needed new trucks for the regular forces it is probably only a matter of time before those vehicles are requisitioned by the regular force as well.

The reserves need to have the attention they reserve. They need to have relevant roles in today’s army. They need to be equipped with modern vehicles that suit those roles. Governments and the leadership of the CF understood that in the past, they need to understand that it still applies today. 

GP (Grizzly, Cougar, Husky)

The Success of the Light Armoured Vehicle: Frank Maas

Background – Armoured Vehicle, General Purpose – 6x6 AVGPs

“The Canadian Army and the Procurement of the Bison: A Short History” by Frank Maas

Canadian Close Combat Vehicle (CCV) programme

1st Hussars

 How not to buy a truck