Lock and load

26 October 2017

Major mobile and loader crane manufacturers have received significant orders from defence units around the world this year. Sotiris Kanaris looks into this market’s requirements and crane applications.

When people think of army operations, cranes are not the first machines that come to mind. However, cranes have become a key tool for defence units around the world, and are used for various jobs by different divisions.

All terrain and loader cranes are the most popular types in this market. Wolfgang Beringer, marketing manager at Liebherr- Werk Ehingen, says all terrain military cranes can be used for container handling, installation of military camps and hospitals, construction of temporary bridges and vehicle recovery.

Liebherr has developed two military cranes, the G-BKF and the G-LTM 1090-4.2. Earlier this year, the manufacturer received a €150m order for 33 G-BKFs and 38 G-LTM 1090-4.2 mobile cranes from the Federal Office of Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support (BAAINBw) for the German army.

The G-BKF is an armoured recovery crane on a four-axle chassis. Its 20.9m telescopic boom can handle loads up to 20t, while its two recovery winches and towing device at the rear enable it to recover and tow a wide range of different vehicles.

The G-LTM 1090-4.2 is a fouraxle mobile crane derived from the standard LTM 1090-4.2 version with an armoured driver’s cabin and an armoured crane cabin. It has a 35.7m telescopic boom and a recovery winch at the rear. The order from the German army comprises 17 G-LTM 1090-4.2 cranes with 8.4t of counterweight and 21 units of the same model with 22.5t of counterweight.

“These military cranes have protected cabins, which means that they can be used in conflict areas. The safety of the staff is very important,” says Beringer. Liebherr-Werk Ehingen has worked with European supplier of military equipment Rheinmetall, on the armoured driver’s cabins and armoured crane cabins.

The driver’s cabins protect the crew from ballistic, mine and improvised explosive device (IED) threats and also feature a nuclear, biological, chemical (NBC) ventilation system. The G-LTM and G-BKF cabins are identical.

This is not the first time Liebherr supplies cranes to the German army, a notable order was one for 459 two- and three-axle military cranes in 1990.

Beringer says the majority of standard crane models ordered for military use are from the LTM range because of their off-road capability. In 2014, the Armasuisse—the purchasing division of the Swiss Army—took delivery of four LTM 1055-3.2, while a decade earlier Liebherr supplied 50 LTM 1055/1 AF cranes to the French Army. The LTM 1055/1 AF machines were employed for handling of heavy loads such as 20ft and 40ft containers, engines, gear units and pallets with the regular army as well as with repair, supply and combat-engineer units of the Navy and the Airforce.

Manitowoc offers its entire product line to the defence sector, with all-terrains also being the most popular. In 2015, it was awarded a $192m contract to supply Grove all terrain cranes to the US Army over the course of five years.

The majority of the Manitowoc cranes sold to the military are standard or COTS (commercial off-the-shelf) cranes. Darryl Mellott, director government marketing at Manitowoc, says: “These cranes are standard design and are used in various applications which ultimately depends on the customer and the end users’ missions. For example,

the Navy may use the crane for shipboard use on its aircraft carriers, ship maintenance, moving munitions and loading ships. “The Air Force could use cranes for aircraft maintenance or loading equipment. The army has a number of uses which could range from dam maintenance, dredging, to loading equipment and bridge building. In these applications much of what the commercial market needs in a crane, will also fulfill the requirements of the military market.”

Mellott says that when it comes to Manitowoc’s standard crane or COTS cranes sold to the military, there are not many adaptations needed outside the manufacturer’s standard option list.

“However, we do in some cases need additional wire rope lengths to reach far below ground level in the case of dams. When working on barges or during shipboard use, we have to have special load charts developed.”

The $192m deal has the company provide customised GMK4100B cranes. This model is a COTS crane modified to have a 60USt capacity, and it features a 108ft boom.

Customisations to the crane, which were specified by the military, include the ability to ford water up to 48in; perform flawlessly in harsh conditions; and operate pile driver, clamshell, concrete bucket and concrete barrier lifting attachments. A crew protection system is also being installed to provide safeguards for soldiers operating or driving the cranes in high threat areas.

The Engineer Brigades division of the US Army will operate the GMK4100B cranes, but other branches of the military will be able to procure similar units.

For those cranes used in battlefields there are additional features on top of the standard GMK features and the customisations mentioned above. They have an onboard recovery system, which in the event of an electrical or hydraulic failure allows the cranes to continue functioning in order to return to a transportable configuration—for example the system can lower the boom.

Through on-board diagnostics, the cranes can self-diagnose malfunctions to alert the operator as well as walk through a step-by-step guide to repair and correct the issue. These machines have chemical agent resistant coating (CARC), a special paint to resist chemical and biological agents as well as the ability to decontaminate.

As sometimes military cranes have to operate in adverse weather conditions, certain features have to be added or enhanced. Manitowoc enhanced the air conditioning system of the GMK4060HC, to cool the cabs during extreme desert heat.

Mellott says certain features required for military cranes can lead to important design differences compared to standard cranes. “On military cranes, our design has to be focused on the intended use and not necessarily on the market as a whole.

“In the case of a feature like armor protection, as we offer on the all-terrain GMK4060HC, this adds a considerable amount of weight to the crane that has to be considered in the overall design to allow stability during lifts. Additionally, we have to look at the overall impact that these features have on the crane that could lead to increased maintenance intervals.”

Asked whether military customers are less affected by regulations on areas like engine emissions and axle loadings, he says: “As you can imagine, many of the cranes for military customers are used around the world. In doing so, fuel with low sulfur as used in the United States is not readily available. Therefore, engine emissions is exempt due to the crane needing the ability to deploy anywhere in the world and run using high sulfur.

“This can also be the case with axle loading to some degree. In many cases axle loadings are still important depending on the application. But, as we think of some of the areas these cranes are used in being underdeveloped, axle loadings can sometimes be a less important requirement.”

Apart from all terrains, Manitowoc has seen demand for rough terrains and crawlers from the US Army Corp of Engineers for use on dams and barges.

Mellott says the military market for cranes has been a rollercoaster since 2000. “We’ve seen spikes in the market as we went into areas of Iraq and Afghanistan to support the armed forces. Consequently, we have seen drops in the market as defence budgets have lessened or funding has been reallocated to other areas of need in the more recent years.”

Frank van Dongen, sales and marketing director at Hiab GBO, highlights that economical and political factors impact demand in this market. He adds that this market is characterised by individual, complex, and long-term investment projects.

“We see this as an important market and segment for Hiab, where we can offer our proven competence and solutions,” says Van Dongen. Apart from the Hiab loader cranes, the manufacturer offers Multilift demountables, Moffett rough terrain forklifts and Zepro tail lifts to this market. In July, it received an order to deliver 600 Hiab loader cranes to Tata Motors, India. The order follows the successful delivery of over 1,200 Hiab loader cranes to Tata Motors in 2016. The trucks and cranes will be used by the Indian Defence Forces for transportation and loading-unloading of supplies, spares and other operational equipment.

Over the past decade, Hiab load handling systems were also delivered to the Finnish Defence Forces, and those of many NATO countries including the US Army.

“As a world leader and standard setter for cranes in the defence industry, we have developed cranes with specific standards. We have a range of standard cranes and other loadhandling solutions to start from and then customized according the end user needs, hence there is a sort of standard in the base, but each customer do demand some type of customisation,” says Van Dongen.

An example of such customisation by Hiab, is a crane range designed to be low built— lower than the cab of the vehicle. With this characteristic it is possible to transport the crane vehicles on railcar and inside airplanes.

Multilift hooklifts are another popular Hiab product among military forces. They are capable of loading, transporting and unloading both ISO containers and military flatracks.

Van Dongen says when dealing with the defence industry, a company also needs to be able to provide long aftermarket support, as the expected in service time of the equipment bought is well above 20 years.

Atlas finds that operating in this industry is a great challenge for a research and development department, as it has to meet the requirements set by government procurement departments, who have clear-cut parameters for both crane and carrier.

“The engineers have to figure out how to implement all features of a crane and closely cooperate with the chassis manufacturer to make it fit. We are proud to say that Atlas benefits from long lasting partnerships with some of the leading suppliers of military vehicles,” says Atlas.

Customers can chose from over 50 basic Atlas models and 230 different varieties of boom and jib combinations with up to nine hydraulic extensions, 22m of reach with options for further reach via our range of fly jibs.

The manufacturer offers a full range of models—knuckle boom cranes as well as T-boom cranes— for the military market like recovery cranes, bridging cranes, cranes for maintenance and material handling. COTS versions of Atlas models can be slightly modified for military use. “This does not require major alterations to the machine, but just a different colour and some mounting of some small parts, which has no serious effect on the production line.”

Available are also Atlas military “project” cranes, which are tailormade for the job and meet the requirements and regulations of the Ministry of Defense in the country of destination.

A key differentiator between specially-designed military cranes and “traditional” cranes is the airportability feature.

In case of emergency, the truck fleet may have to be evacuated at short notice by air. But with a crane projecting beyond the cab roof, the vehicle cannot go through the door of the plane. For such events, an Atlas low-profile crane could be a solution.

The weight of the crane is also different for those mounted on military vehicles. As military vehicles are equipped with more armour, the extra weight has to be compensated by reducing the weight of the crane and of all equipment that goes along with this truck.

Other distinguishing features are the protection against radio interference and EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) as well as the use of special paint, for example CARC.

Another requirement from this market is the interchangeability of the cranes since they are going to be used on difference vehicles. “Therefore, the interface between the crane base and the installation area of the chassis has to be examined very carefully,” says the manufacturer.

The fact that the staff operating the crane changes constantly also needs to be taken into account during the design process. “It must be designed as user-friendly as possible, while on the other hand it has to meet the special technical requirements in the military field.”

The climate where the machine will operate is another parameter that crane engineers pay attention to. “Different climatic conditions the cranes have to work in may have a considerable effect on sensitive components such as electronics or even seals, and for operation at very low temperatures of for example -40°C , special low temperature steel becomes an issue,” says Atlas.

The German manufacturer offers slewing systems that match every application. From 350kNm it provides all cranes with fully continuous rotations through 360° and with power and precision movements to match.

Atlas says their cranes can fulfill many roles in the defence sector including simple material handling of ammunition boxes; self-repair and vehicle maintenance requiring lifting defective engines out of the vehicle; recovery and towing of trucks, tanks, busses, and other kind of vehicles. Equipped with a grab, the crane can be used for digging and trenching as well.

The manufacturer says that as the number of conflicts in the world is increasing, so is the requirement for military equipment: “Since every nation wants to protect and defend its country, this leads to a growing demand for new technology but also for refurbishment and repair of existing machines in order to save money.”

However, it highlights that export control regulations—especially in Germany—are getting stricter, and this can negatively affect the market.

Power projection

TII Group has enhanced its offering to the defence industry with the launch of the PTL 70-90 armoured tank flat-bed trailer.

This trailer is available with up to eight axles and can carry payloads, like military tracked vehicles, up to 115t.

“The robust design, tyre-preserving lifting axle and the automatic tyre pressure adjustment ensure minimal wear and tear when being used in the toughest operating conditions,” said TII.

An important feature of the PTL 70-90 is the hydrostatic Offroad Power Booster additional drive, which provides support for the truck tractor. For this, a diesel-driven unit produces oil pressure which is used to drive hydraulic motors in one or more axles as soon as the traction of the tractor is no longer sufficient. The driven axles can be switched to a fully automatic status as and when required.

TII says its new trailer with the Offroad Power Booster, can be the solution for those who need to transport battle tanks through the desert.  The PTL 70-90 trailer can be driven on sand, mud and gravel. 

The PTL 70-90 can accommodate several vehicles at one time. A wide range of winches and loading
Atlas 5003 M10 crane fitted to MAN truck for bridge building in the Far East.
Over the past three decades, Hiab has provided close to 40,000 load handling systems to the global defence market.
The Grove GMK4060HC military all terrain crane has an enhanced air conditioning system to cool the cabs during extreme desert heat.