The new Israeli combat vehicle is part Dakar Buggy, part McLaren F1

It’s a little hard to fathom where evolution has taken when you park an Oshkosh JLTV next to a 1941 Willys Jeep. They both do more or less the same job – hauling troops and equipment across the battlefield – but one is small, agile, cheap and basic, while the other is an 11-ton behemoth that’s more like a heavy truck than a featherweight combat transporter.

Plasan wants to change that. The Israeli defense company doesn’t necessarily want to turn back the evolutionary clock, but it does want to try to create an armored fighting vehicle that’s closer to the light and simple Jeep than the heavy and cumbersome JLTV or Humvee. For inspiration for Plasan’s new Wilder 4X4 Battleground Vehicle, Director of Design Nir Kahn turned to a few sources you might not have expected.

“In many ways, the Wilder is built like a Dakar racer,” says Kahn The War Zone via a zoom link. Photos and sketches of other vehicles can be seen behind him on the wall of his studio. Not military vehicles but beautiful sports cars like the original Ferrari Dino 246 GT and Mazda’s newer concept car RX-Vision. There’s also one of Gerry McGovern’s chunky Judge Dredd Land Rover concepts in the mix. So neither Kahn nor Plasan are exactly what you expect when it comes to military vehicle design.

“Of course a Dakar racer uses a tubular frame,” says Kahn, “but we don’t. We use a kitted hull which is a bolted and bonded monocoque. In our designs, armor is an integral part of the vehicle; This is not a frame buggy that armor plates stick to. So the central structure of the Wilder is an armored containment cell with front and rear subframes. It’s almost like a racing car really.” The Wilder’s crew compartment will receive Stanag 4569 Level 2 protection for up to 7.62mm armor-piercing rounds.

Front view of the Plasan Wilder with the remote weapon station mounted. plasan

The seating layout is more inspired by the world of racing cars, with the driver sitting front and centre, just like in the legendary Gordon Murray’s McLaren F1 supercar. Kahn chuckles when we suggest that he might want to copy Murray’s seating layout because he’s a racing fan, but there are valid reasons to go for a star-shaped seating layout.

“I get my inspiration from places like that,” Kahn admits. “But it’s not about changing things for the sake of change, it’s about not ruling things out, it’s about thinking maybe there’s another way to do it. The central driver’s seat has the advantage that it doesn’t matter where the vehicle is used. So US customers may want left-hand drive vehicles or UK buyers may want right-hand drive, but then those vehicles are used overseas so it might have been better to have the wheel on the other side. Or just put the driver in the middle like with the Wilder and then you don’t have to worry.”

A look inside the rear subframe of the Wilder prototype. plasan

There’s also a visual advantage, and not just for the driver. “The driver sits far forward and there’s no bonnet in front of him, so there’s a panoramic view. That’s very different from what you get in the larger, heavier military vehicles. There’s also an advantage for the other guys in the cab because you have two seats on the driver’s shoulders and those sitting there also have a good, clean view ahead. Usually in these vehicles you have a driver and a commander with a nice clear view ahead and the commander’s instructions, the guy sitting behind you really can’t see anything at all. We have three guys now who all have this good situational awareness.”

The Wilder’s fourth occupant gets the short end of the stick and sits directly behind the driver, but that person will likely be focusing on a screen or communications device anyway, so it’s not too much of a penalty. The diamond-shaped seating arrangement also means the Wilder uses just two doors, yet it’s easy to get crew in and out quickly.

“That also means that we can move the platform further forward,” says Kahn. “The Wilder is about the same size as a Jeep Wrangler or an old Land Rover Defender, but we have a 1.3 meter by 1.3 meter flatbed [4.3 feet by 4.3 feet], which is large enough for a standard NATO pallet. You can load the Wilder with 1,763 pounds of cargo.”

The flatbed platform on the Wilder. plasan

The Wilder is a mid-engined 2.0-liter turbodiesel four-cylinder mill that drives all four wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Even the drivetrain installation is clever, as Plasan turned the differential the ‘wrong’ direction, which coupled with the installation of extra-long driveshafts, gives a massive 14.5 inches of wheel travel and plenty of ground clearance, but without the added weight and cost of portal axes. The whole vehicle is comparatively neat at around £8,000.

Plasan’s idea is that the Wilder is the ultimate all-round military vehicle. “It’s not an esoteric special vehicle,” says Kahn. “It’s not just for special forces who do weird things with it. It can be a normal daily patrol vehicle. It can be a combat vehicle, it can be anything.”

It also has a few tricks up its sleeve, such as the ability to be fully remote controlled. Again, Kahn chuckles when I suggest he takes inspiration from R/C toys here… “Yeah, it’s basically a big Tamiya kit,” he admits with a smile. “You can dismount the Wilder and send it ahead as a remote-controlled recon vehicle. The weapon on the roof can also be controlled remotely. Or you can send it back to base, either for resupply or as a remote-controlled Casevac vehicle.” The Wilder comes fully integrated with drive-by-wire capability and associated cameras and sensors, making it ready for autonomous operation as well.

The Wilder certainly looks like the bigger brother of the company’s similarly futuristic-looking armored Yagu sidekick. plasan

“Efficiency is pretty low on the list of priorities when it comes to making the military electrified,” says Kahn. “But power is hugely necessary – they carry systems that use a lot of power, and the diesel engine is already really becoming a generator. A small portion of its energy is used to move the vehicle and a much larger portion is used to generate the electricity that powers all systems.

The idea behind ATeMM is that you can attach it to a tow vehicle – it was originally designed for the Wilder, but works with other vehicles as well – and take it out to a point where you can exit it. It arrives on site fully charged, being charged en route by regenerative braking, and you can then use it as a docking and charging station for drones or any other electrical device you need to power. You can undock it and strategically leave ATeMMs lying around as charge points. Or you can connect two, three, or four of these together and use them as autonomous or remote-controlled self-propelled trailers.” Given how effective small, lightweight drones and silent electric motorcycles can be in recent military operations, setups like this could be a game-changer .

A Plasan ATeMM trailer makes a water crossing, pulled here by a Humvee. plasan

How much for all this? Plasan isn’t saying it right now, but Kahn does allude to a price tag for the Wilder of around $200,000 to $250,000 a piece. “It won’t be a dirt cheap vehicle. It won’t be cost competitive with a Toyota pickup truck with some armor added to it. But it does things that all of these cannot do. And of course, when combined with ATeMM, it can start doing things that you would need a much more expensive vehicle to do. Combine that and you have a hybrid-electric 8×8 with plenty of power and payload, and the ATeMM can really carry quite a large weapon. It’s starting to become something that replaces a $3M IFV.”

Plasan will give the Wilder and the ATeMM their world premieres at the Eurosatory defense exhibition, which is now taking place in Paris. The company isn’t ready to talk about who’s ordering it, but says the Wilder isn’t a test-the-water concept – there’s interest, and it’s a finished and ready-to-drive vehicle. There is also the possibility that Plasan could team up with local contractors to build the Wilder under license.

The modular Wilder and the ATeMM can pack a punch. Seen here with what appears to be a cannon and a missile/drone launcher. plasan

Of course, Kahn would love to build a civilian version of the Wilder, but it’s incredibly difficult to come up with the numbers: “You just get into this spiral where the vehicles just keep getting more expensive and the potential sales go down and down and down. That’s why people like Gordon Murray are selling 100 vehicles for $3 million each. Because it allows you to create a business case that is much stronger than building 1,000 vehicles for $60,000. I would like to make a civilian version of this. If anyone can get the math working for me so we can do the commercial case, I’m in.”

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