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The M15 Force Application Vehicle, commonly known as the Bobcat, was a multipurpose force application vehicle in limited service with the UNSC.
During the Human-Covenant War, some of the design features of the Warthog were being questioned in the light of infantry losses within them to Covenant snipers. Chief among these was the open-air cabin, which was originally designed as a boon to visibility on remote worlds and as a cost-savings measure. Its large size was also considered to be a hindrance for its ability to maneuver in difficult terrain, especially with regard to the number of troops it could carry. However, the ubiquitous presence of Warthogs throughout UNSC space combined with a highly influential lobbying organization funded by AMG Transport Dynamics to monopolize the use of their vehicles in UNSC operations meant that the Warthog was not replaced, even as demands to do something about the seemingly avoidable deaths increased in number as the war went on. It wasn't until a revised model called the M12B entered limited service in the Battle of Mombasa during the Battle of Earth that demands for a new UNSC force application vehicle began to be taken seriously, as the M12B was largely considered to be worse than the older Warthog it replaced. Therefore, a design order, codenamed "Bobcat," was placed in early 2553 for a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle with an enclosed cabin intended to part-replace the Warthog in UNSC service starting in 2555.
While many manufacturers lacked the ability to produce vehicles because their factories had been built on now-destroyed worlds, several manufacturers were able to develop prototypes capable of undergoing the tests the UNSC had in store for the prospective vehicles. These prototypes were assigned the designations XM13 to XM20. Two particularly notable examples were TurboGen's-derived XM14 and Kabord's XM17, which was essentially an up-armored . Zetec Motors, a small, Earth-based manufacturer, entered the XM15 as sort of a "dark horse" candidate, and in early trials it was overshadowed by the off-road capabilities of the XM14 and the utility of the XM17, although the former was eventually ruled out because of its need for methane fuel - which would require expensive logistical changes within the UNSC to support - and the latter proved to be underpowered with the stock Dewmax engine. What sold the UNSC on the XM15 was its multitude of engine options that could easily be configured to its chassis, as compared to most other manufacturers' policies of equipping a chassis with a single type of engine (usually because of optimized packaging and production reasons). This meant that lighter-duty utility vehicles could utilize the same chassis as combat-duty vehicles, which would reduce repair costs from not requiring spare parts for a larger variety of vehicles. This, when combined with the XM15's above-average performance in most fields of the competition, earned it victory in the competition and the designation of "M15."
By this time, executives at AMG Transport Dynamics had become concerned about the successes of the M15, and that their role as one of the chief suppliers of military patrol vehicles for hundreds of years would be abruptly usurped by a small manufacturer of utility trucks. Additionally, they had been forbidden from entering a vehicle into the Bobcat competition, partially because their Warthog represented the "incumbent" and partially because the M12B had practically been dropped onto the UNSC's lap unannounced for the Battle of Mombasa. Nevertheless, AMG Transport Dynamics filed official complaints to the procurement offices of the UNSC Army and UNSC Marines, officially claiming that Zetec would be unable to produce the Bobcat in large enough numbers to supplant the Warthog in any significant number while producing a supply of replacement parts for it at the same time. However, any attempts by AMG to cancel their contract outright would look bad for the civilian arm of the company, whose civilian-market utility Warthog competed with, and was being largely outsold by, Zetec's utility truck. AMG had been focusing much of its production output on military Warthogs, and the civilian versions had been losing sales because of outcry related to war deaths in Warthogs at the hands of Covenant snipers. AMG therefore recommended that the M15 be assigned as the primary vehicle for potential long-distance worldbuilding operations, and as a result the M15 was kept away from the bulk of UNSC activity, including - in a victory for AMG's advertising department - the UNSC Infinity.
The M15 Bobcat was designed as a militarized derivative of the Zetec Trigger utility vehicle, which was already fairly successful on the civilian utility market (although both it and and the utility Warthog with which it primarily competed were heavily outsold by the TurboGen Spade). Compared to the Trigger, it had a more angular appearance because of its armor plating, although it kept the donor truck's overall front fascia. This drew derision for not being aggressive-looking, a quality which was thought of as necessary for a military vehicle. However, its large, spaced headlights were revealed to provide better forward illumination than the tightly spaced headlights the Warthog had.
The Bobcat came equipped with any of a variety of engines.
The M401 was a 3.3-liter turbocharged inline-four-cylinder hydrogen internal combustion engine. It had direct injection and produces 271 horsepower at 4900 RPM. Compared to other engines fitted to Bobcats, the M401 lacked power but made up for it with decent torque output and efficient fuel usage.
The M602 was a 4.8-liter turbocharged V6 hydrogen combustion engine. It had direct injection and produced 456 horsepower at 5200 RPM. The M602 was the most commonly used Bobcat engine, as it had the power to carry three infantry and a weapon at speed while maintaining a decent fuel economy level.
The M815 was a 7.2-liter naturally aspirated V8 hydrogen combustion engine. It was designed for use in the M-15R range, which was a series of vehicles designed to be unaffected by EMPs to a significant degree. Being a large-displacement engine with carburetors, the M815 had dismal fuel economy compared to the M401 and M602, but its inbuilt resistance to EMPs was considered to be an acceptable trade-off.
- ↑ Intended to be an equivalent to "reassignment to Alaska" in the modern US military