Defense Media Network

‘Unintended Consequences’ on the Horizon?

Now without its Leopards, the Royal Netherlands Army searches for 35 mm long rod penetrators to enable its IFVs to take on main battle tanks, Part 1 of 2

People use terminology involving “the law of unintended consequences” to describe how the alteration of one aspect of a complex system can have unforeseen or unplanned effects in overall system performance. With the certainty of some level of defense budget cutting over the next few years, it won’t be surprising to see a range of unintended consequences emerge across the complex system of warfighting capabilities.

An excellent example of such unintended consequences in the defense arena was highlighted at a recent joint munitions conference, where a representative from Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO) described some of the new munition efforts underway to address some recently identified capability gaps stemming from a combination of operational experience and a changing global environment, compounded by severe budget cuts.

In terms of budget cuts, one stark new capability gap resulted from the April 14, 2011 announcement by Minister Hans Hillen, outlining a number of significant Netherlands defense cutbacks, including the disbanding of the last two tank battalions of the Royal Netherlands Army.

At the height of the Cold War, the Netherlands had almost 1,000 battle tanks, forming the backbone of the Netherlands armed forces. However, after the end of the Cold War, the number of tanks was quickly reduced. By 2011 there were 60.

In late May 2011 ceremonies at the Bergen-Hohne firing range, the Dutch said farewell to the last of their Leopard 2A6 main battle tanks.

A Swedish CV-9035 that is one of five vehicles being assessed during the Army’s Ground Combat Vehicle Non-Developmental Vehicle Assessment effort at Fort Bliss and White Sands Missile Range, shown in May 2012. While there is little doubt about the excellence of the CV90 family in general, and the Netherlands’ CV9035 in particular, the Netherlands Ministry of Defense’s search for “silver bullet” ammunition for the vehicle in order for it to be able to take on modern main battle tanks just points to the capability gaps imposed by constrained budgets. U.S. Army photo

According to a release from the Netherlands Defense Ministry, personnel understood the need for the additional cutbacks, but “there was no sympathy for this measure among those present” at the farewell ceremonies.

“The commander of Bravo company of 11 Tank Battalion, Capt. Chiel Nieuwenhuis, pointed out that as a result the army can no longer implement its current doctrine,” the release added. “‘Without the tank, maneuvers such as a breach or a turning movement are no longer possible.’”

Other doctrinal implications resulting from the elimination of the main battle tanks have been explored by TNO. As an independent organization supporting the Netherlands Ministry of Defense and Dutch defense industry, TNO is involved in a range of defense projects, including evaluation of ammunition and concept developments.

One of those recent projects focused on expanding the capabilities of the Dutch Infantry Fighting Vehicle CV9035.

According to Martin van de Voorde, project manager at TNO, the CV9035 was procured as a replacement for the YPR Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicle.

“In comparison with the YPR, [the CV9035] is much better protected against IEDs and is also ballistically protected at STANAG level 4 and 5,” he said. “Another difference between the YPR and the CV9035 is a difference in caliber of the main gun system. Instead of the 25 mm [on the YPR] now the 35 mm Bush[master] III is integrated [into the CV9035]. After an extensive tradeoff study between the 30 mm and 35 mm, the Dutch decided to go this way, because [the 35 mm] has much enhanced performance compared to the 30 mm.”

Pointing to the three ammunition options currently available for the 35 mm x 228 – TPFSDS-T [Training Practice Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot – Tracer], APDS-T [Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot – Tracer], and KETF [Kinetic Energy Time Fuze (Airburst)] – he offered a graphical description of how the ammunition could be applied to four different notional target sets:

  • infantry;
  • BMP 1 – 3 armored vehicles;
  • main battle tanks; and,
  • helicopters.

“The KETF rounds in the airburst mode can be used against infantry groups as well as against armored vehicles,” he explained. “Although we have to say that it is more for ‘blinding’ the infantry fighting vehicles instead of really killing those types of vehicles. But if they want to kill the BMP 1 or BMP 2 they can use the APDS-T.”

“After selecting the KETF round we also supported the Dutch Ministry of Defense in examining the firing doctrine for the KETF in order to be as effective and efficient as possible,” he added. “Therefore we changed the initiation distance to the target; the initiation height; the distance between rounds – because we still need a burst of rounds – and we also explored the use of rounds at certain locations if that is beneficial to the effectiveness of the burst. And to make it hard on ourselves we also included all kinds of system errors. So we now have a well detailed designed firing doctrine now.”

“Nevertheless it has been a while since the Dutch have stated their requirements and there have been some changes over the last 12 years – from when the requirements were set. And these are, of course, because of the operational experiences and trends. We are now going into new types of missions with new targets. But also there are other trends, like budget cuts. That means that the infantry fighting vehicle will have to engage other types of targets than they were originally designed for,” he said.

“In the infantry [target] section there is not a lot of change, except that it’s not only infantry but also insurgents now – less protected people,’ he noted. “But that makes it easier so there’s not really a challenge there. But if we are talking about armored vehicles and battle tanks we see a lot of proliferation … A lot of countries are selling armored vehicles and battle tanks to each other. Also the old main battle tanks, for example, have to be defeated in the types of missions that we can go into. And also a lot of the armored vehicles are upgraded now. And the third change we now come up with is non-traditional targets. In urban operations we see infrastructure that has to be defeated. But we also see other types of asymmetric threats like pickup trucks and in some locations you also may see jet skis or powerboats that have to be defeated.”

“So I’ve introduced those non-traditional targets [into the target matrix],” he continued. “And the Dutch also want to defeat a wider range of armored vehicles now. First, because of the upgraded versions. But also they want to defeat all the main battle tanks because one of the budget cuts resulted in the fact that our main battle tank Leopard 2 is now out of service, so we want to defeat main battle tanks with our CV9035. Therefore the Dutch Ministry of Defense, together with Rheinmetall, is busy developing a 35 mm ‘long rod’ [penetrator].”


Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-53051">

    The CV-90NL with 35mm will never be able to copy the capabilities of the Leopard 2. Just putting more sand in the eyes of people and parliamentarians who have no clue how those things works.
    Will the Netherlands have a serious footprint and presentation in the direction of possible hostile countries (in the future) it simply needs to have serious tanks…no upgraded CV90s. So I deeply hope one day this big mistake will be corrected.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-53059">

    It is again an example of the “kaasschaaf” method…very popular in the Netherlands. Why not then drop all Mechbrigs?..when you don’t take that serious any more!!. And only keep Air mobile Brigade and Corps Marines? Or you choose for a real Mechbrig…so with tanks!!. And maybe give some CV90s left then a support role with the Marines…

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-53213">


    We’re just reporting on the attempts to fill the gaping hole in capability left by the retirement of the Leopard fleet. Governments across the West are wrestling with constrained budgets and making difficult decisions. That said, there’s no overcoming the physics of a 120 mm gun versus a 35 mm gun, nor is there a substitute for a platform that can carry a vastly greater amount of armor. Nevertheless, you have to admire the work that is being done to close that gap as far as modern technology will allow.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-54455">

    The problem is that deleting the tanks was a symptom of the “islands”-culture in our defence forces. Because they still want to invest many euro’s in an expensive plan as the F-35A. A Plan that becomes even more expensive. When making another more cheaper choice there the tanks had been still there. But this “purple” thinking is still not so developed here. Sadly. Because in some years we have no tanks and probably only 24 to 33 F-35’s (said an expert on it). Then both our army as air force are weakened and not ready for the tasks. A sad development.

    li class="comment byuser comment-author-chuck-oldham even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-54618">


    I’m not arguing with you. I wouldn’t disagree that the Netherlands would be better off with Leopards than in trying to make do with the CV9035s, but the only way such capability gaps are ever exposed is when the worst case scenario happens. Of course, when the worst case scenario happens, it’s then too late to correct the mistakes, which can have the most extreme consequences. If it helps, the debate over buying very expensive aircraft versus upgrading U.S. Air Force F-16s, for example, continues to range here as well.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-57054">

    Chuck, I know. But the worst case does not have to be an imminent war or fight. It can also be a show of force or flag towards a bigger country that does aggressive towards a smaller neighbour (Iraq Kuwait 2 scenario). I could image Netherlands then could sent forces to counter that plans…sending our future JSS ;-)… But when it are only CV90s and no tanks…I wonder if we make a big impression on that agressor ;-)…Ok then we can sent two of our 22 F-35A’s…only in air-to-air combat status still as of software…(sorry Chuck, I sound a little ironical now).