As part of the Spike LR replacement process, German Waffenträger Wiesel 1 TOW armament carriers were upgraded to Wiesel 1 MELLS, writes Carl Schulze.
Within the German Armed Forces the modern Spike Long Range (LR) precision guided tactical missile/anti-tank guided missile system replaced the MILAN (Missile d’Infanterie Leger Antichar) and TOW (Tube launched, Optically tracked, Wire command-link Guided Missile) anti-tank guided missile systems in recent years. In the Bundeswehr the Spike LR weapon system is called MELLS / Mehrrollenfähiges Leichtes Lenkflugkörper-System (Multirole Light Guided Missile System). As part of the replacement process, the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 TOW armament carriers were upgraded to Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS. The first upgraded MELLS Wiesel entered operational service in 2022.
The Waffenträger (Weapons Carrier) Wiesel 1 is a lightly armoured, highly mobile, extremely agile and air transportable tracked vehicle. It was developed as armament carrier for the airborne forces of the German Army. Today the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 is fielded by the heavy companies of the Airborne, Light and Mountain Infantry formations of the German Army. The Wiesel 1 entered service back in 1990 in two different variants: one being fitted with a 20mm Rh 202 DM6 automatic cannon, the other with the Tube launched, Optically tracked, Wire command-link Guided Missile (TOW) system. In 2005 a third variant of the vehicle was fielded in form of the Aufklärungs Fahrzeug Wiesel 1 reconnaissance vehicle. This version is fitted with the Autonomes Optronisches Zielsystem 2000 (AOZ 2000) surveillance and observation system.
From Waffenträger Wiesel 1 TOW to Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS: With the retirement of MILAN and TOW and its replacement with MELLS, the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 TOW were upgraded to Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS by replacing the TOW system with the MELLS system. The modification work was conducted by Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft mbH (FFG). The company was issued a contract for the modification in November 2019. This contract not only covered the conversion to Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS but also incorporated a series of service life extension measures that are implemented into all three Wiesel 1 variants.
In case of the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS the following major modifications were carried out: integration of MELLS, including new storage brackets for seven MELLS missiles (five inside the vehicle to the rear, one each outside on the hull to the rear and on the right side), installing of a new rollover bar system (before this function was performed by the TOW launcher), integrating a mine protection kit, installing new sling seats for all three crew members, fitting a new periscope for the driver, installing a new domed driver’s hatch, fitting a rear-view camera system for use by the driver, fitting new LED headlights, adding new additional storage compartments on the left and right side of the vehicle and upgrading the brake system.
Mehrrollenfähiges Leichtes Lenkflugkörper-System: Basically, the MELLS system mounted on the Wiesel 1 consists of the following three main components: The Lenkflugkörper und Startgerät, Bodenziel, 105 mm, DM12, Panzerabwehr, MELLS missile in its launch container; the Integrated Command Launch Unit (ICLU); and the Smart Unit of Display for Operational Commanding Use (SUDOCU).
With its weapon system the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS can engage enemy armour and other targets, such as bunkers, out to a distance of 4,000m. Static as well as moving targets can be engaged, including low flying helicopters. The tandem-shape-charge of the MELLS missile is capable of punching through all known armour types, including reactive armour. The system can be employed by day and night, as it features thermal imaging technology, and operated in nearly every weather condition. The missile can be guided manually, in a fire-and-forget mode, or in a fire-and-observe-mode. MELLS is also capable of engaging Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) targets. The SUDOCU enables the vehicle commander to control the engagement conducted by the missile system operator and to give him new targets. It also allows recording of the engagement process.
The Lenkflugkörper und Startgerät, Bodenziel, 105 mm, DM12, Panzerabwehr, MELLS missile, including launch container, weighs around 14kg and is some 1.2m long. For loading purposes, the launch container is placed on a rail attached to the right side of the ICLU. The missile features an electro-optical guidance system and its warhead includes a tandem-shape-charge. The seeker, that features a daylight sensor and an IR sensor, is installed in the head of the missile. Video footage generated by the sensors is transmitted back to the ICLU via a thin fibre-optic cable during the whole engagement process / missile flight. When launched, an expulsion charge pushes the missile out of the container. In flight, after a short distance of being launched, the cruise engine of the missile is ignited, accelerating it to its engagement speed.
The Spike LR system, and therefore MELLS, belongs to a large family of guided missiles developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Limited, a company based at Haifa in Israel. In order to allow for better marketing of the Spike missiles in Europe, Eurospike GmbH was established in 2004. This company is a joint venture of the Diehl Defence GmbH & Co. KG, the Rheinmetall Electronics GmbH and Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Limited. It is based at Röthenbach an der Pegnitz in Germany. Missile production in Germany is conducted at the Diehl Defence GmbH & Co. KG facility in Überlingen.
Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS Technology: The hull of the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS is constructed of rolled homogeneous armour steel. The power-pack compartment is situated to the front left in the hull with the driver compartment to the front right. The fighting compartment is found in the rear of the hull. In this the vehicle commander is seated to the right and the missile system operator on the left. Behind their sling seats, five MELLS missiles can be stored. The roof of the fighting compartment carries two hatches connected to the hinged rear part of the roof, which can be opened up to the rear for missile handling. On top of the roof part, brackets for another MELLS missile are situated. The seventh missile is stored on the outside of the hull on the right side of the vehicle.
The Integrated Command Launch Unit (ICLU) of the MELLS system is mounted centrally on top of the roof in front of the two hatches. It can be stored away by folding it down to the right. A rollover bar is installed along the left and right sides of the fighting compartment on the outside of the hull. When the Smart Unit of Display for Operational Commanding Use (SUDOCU) is employed, this is placed on the roof of the fighting compartment in front of the vehicle commander’s hatch.
The Volkswagen 069.4/DE turbocharged 5-cylinder four-stroke diesel engine, the 3HP-22 hydro-mechanic epicyclic gear train automatic transmission, the ZF LGG10 steering transmission and other components form the power pack. For maintenance and repair purposes these can be removed in short time. Placed on a stand the power pack can be run outside of the vehicle for test purposes.
The running gear of the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS features a torsion bar suspension and on each side this consists of one front mounted drive sprocket, three road wheels, one large idler wheel at the rear, one return roller and the double-pin track.
Enhanced Capability: The upgraded Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS is fielded as an interim measure. From around 2030 it is planned to replace all Waffenträger Wiesel 1 variants with the Luftlande Waffenträger (LuWa). A first system demonstrator of the LuWa was revealed in July 2021. It is planned to equip one variant of the LuWa with MELLS.
In the meantime, however, the anti-armour capability of the Airborne, Light and Mountain Infantry units of the German Army has been greatly enhanced by the fielding of the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS. One major advantage that MELLS offers in comparison to the older MILAN and TOW systems is its capability to engage NLOS targets. In addition, with 4,000m of effective range MELLS features an extended range when compared with its predecessors.
The potential possibility of linking the MELLS system in the future with the command, control and information equipment of the Infanterist der Zukunft – Erweitertes System (IdZ ES) soldier system will enhance the network-centric warfare capability of the infantry of the German Army. All this combined with the high mobility and air transportability of the light tracked vehicle makes the Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS a formidable opponent for armoured vehicles.
Technical Data ~ Waffenträger Wiesel 1 MELLS
- Crew: 3, consisting of the driver, vehicle commander and missile system operator
- Combat weight: 3,300kg
- Length: 3,300mm
- Width: 1,800mm
- Height: 2,100mm
- Top speed: 80km/h
- Gradient: 60%
- Side slope: 30%
- Trench crossing: 1,200mm
- Fording: 500mm
- Climbing: 400mm
- Engine: Volkswagen 069.4/DE turbocharged 5-cylinder four-stroke diesel engine developing 64kW/87hp
- Transmission: 3HP-22 hydro-mechanic epicyclic gear train automatic transmission with three forward gears and one reverse gear
- Steering transmission: ZF LGG10
- Running gear: one front mounted drive sprocket, three road wheels, one large idler wheel, one return roller per side
- Suspension: torsion bar suspension and double-pin track
- Electrical system: 24 V
- Armament: Mehrrollenfähiges Leichtes Lenkflugkörper-System (MELLS)
- On board ammunition: 7x MELLS missiles
[Text and images © Carl Schulze 2023]