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Big guns, small platforms: developments are underway to provide light vehicles, both wheeled and tracked, with firepower similar to existing main battle tanks.

The present generations of main battle tanks, such as the General Dynamics Land Systems M1A2, the Nexter (formerly Giat) Leclerc and the Krauss Maffei Wegmann Leopard 2, are expected to remain in service until 2030 or even 2040. Several armies are already planning projects to enhance the effectiveness of their fleets, particularly for urban operations. All armies with aspirations to project power agree with the need to replace heavy tanks with smaller platforms that are easier to deploy by air and sea yet offer the same, if not better, firepower. Several vehicles, such as the French Army's Nexter 6 x 6 AMX-10RC reconnaissance vehicle and the Iveco-Oto Melara 8 x 8 Centauro tank destroyer, already combine a smaller chassis with a 105 mm gun; and the trend to fit 105 and 120 mm guns on lighter armoured fighting vehicles is gaining momentum. Nexter had developed a fire-on-the-move version of the TML105, which underwent thorough testing on the Vextra 8 x 8 demonstrator in the late 1990s. The turret was also mounted on a Piranha 10 x 10 for test purposes.

Latest Developments

At Eurosatory 2006 Giat displayed a weapon that resembled that of the Leclerc's main armament. Designated the '120 Fer', this is in fact a modified Leclerc F1 gun system intended for a demonstrator which the company started to develop on its own funds in the early 2000s. Armada recently spoke to Beatrice Crenn, an advanced studies engineer at Nexter who explained that this was part of a two-stage programme: the first will see the weapon being tested, and the second will culminate with the system actually mounted in a demonstrator turret known as the 120 Pole and put through its paces on a light vehicle around 2011. Once the acronyms are deciphered, the aim of the project becomes quite clear: Fer stands for 'Faible Effet de Recul' (or low recoil effect) and Pole for 'POrteur LEger' (light carrier)--a vehicle in the 25-tonne class.

With such tonnages in the crosshairs, the fist challenge is, quite naturally, to reduce the recoil. This is being achieved by the adoption of a high effect muzzle brake with an efficiency of over 40% and the redesign of the cradle which incorporates a single (and already patented) recoil brake resulting in a recoil stroke of about the <<length of an {human} arm>>, according to Crenn.

With the project still at definition stage it is almost by definition impossible to anticipate on what the configuration, the materials and the systems that will eventually be used. Nevertheless, the Pole turret will have an autoloader. Initially this will be an almost standard Leclerc unit, but there is no doubt that the demonstrator will show which modifications will be required for a production unit. Indeed, the rather long recoil of the gun will undoubtedly pose interesting integration challenges.

The Pole is quite clearly aimed at the EBXX vehicle programme, but there is, on the other hand, no reason not to believe that it could find its way on the roof of the VBCI, which is much closer to us on the calendar.


In August 2006 the US Army fielded its first production General Dynamics M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun Systems (MGS) to the 2nd Infantry Division's 4th Brigade at Fort Lewis, Washington. It is the last of the ten Stryker variants ordered in November 2000 under a $ four billion contract to equip six brigades with 2131 Strykers by 2009. The army has recently ordered additional vehicles to equip a seventh brigade. The Stryker MGS is equipped with a General Dynamics Low Profile Turret (LPT) armed with an M68A1 105 mm gun (recycled from early production M1 tanks) fed by an automatic loader, thus enabling the vehicle to operate with a crew of only three (commander, gunner and driver). The LPT offers significant weight savings over a conventional turret and provides a much smaller target, but getting the autoloader to function properly was one of several problems that delayed the vehicle's entry into service. In the latest design the autoloader's eight-round carousel magazine feeds shells into the breech and a ten-round replenisher mounted in the rear of the Stryker's hull refills the magazine.

The largest unit to be equipped with the Stryker MGS will be the platoon of three vehicles that forms an integral part of each Stryker infantry company, thus giving each brigade a total of 27 M1128s. The service continually stresses that the role of the Stryker MGS is not to engage tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles but to provide direct fire for the infantry. <<Its primary function is blowing a hole in the wall or blowing up bunkers,>> stated an MGS instructor from the Armor School at Fort Knox. The Mobile Gun System will use four types of 105 mm tactical ammunition: high explosive/high explosive plastic (HE/Hep) rounds to blow holes in walls, canister rounds for use against dismounted infantry in the open, kinetic energy (KE) ammunition to defeat Level II armoured vehicles and high explosive, anti-tank (Heat) rounds to defeat other armoured vehicles.

Engaging main battle tanks will, however, remain the primary function of the US Army's 120 mm M1 to well beyond 2030. Within the Future Combat Systems project General Dynamics is developing the Mounted Combat System (MCS), which is intended to begin replacing the M1 from the second half of the next decade. The project is intended to provide better lethality, survivability and mobility than the 70-tonne M1A2 in a vehicle weighting about 25 tonnes. A high level of automation is crucial to the design, as the MCS will only have a two-member crew, although that provision may allow it to carry two passengers.

Under a co-operative research and development agreement between the manufacturer and the army's Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, the US Army's Benet Laboratories is developing the XM360 lightweight 120 mm gun for the MCS. This is intended to provide both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight fire capability and will fire the same ammunition types as the M1A1/ M1A2. The XM 360's features include: a gun mount with a modular recoil mechanism, an electrically actuated multi-lug breech, a cannon tube with integral pepperpot muzzle brake to reduce recoil forces, a blast deflector to reduce the overpressure directed back toward the vehicle and a gun tube shroud to mitigate the effects of environmental conditions.

Under an Advanced Technology Demonstration programme a prototype began firing tests at Aberdeen Proving Ground in November 2004. Under present plans for the System Development and Demonstration phase nine guns will be delivered between 2007 and 2009 for further testing and six guns will be delivered between 2009 and 2010 for integration into pre-production vehicles. The weapon will have the capability to destroy beyond-line-of-sight targets at ranges up to eight kilometres. The secondary armament will consist of a 12.7 mm machine gun and a 40 mm grenade launcher.

The US Army came close to fielding an autoloader in the mid-1990s onboard the United Defense (now BAE Systems Land Systems) M8 Armored Gun System (AGS) developed as an easily air-transportable vehicle that could replace the M551 Sheridan light airborne tank in service with the 82nd Airborne Division. The M8 was armed with a 105 mm M35 soft recoil rifled gun mounted in an all-welded aluminium turret. The autoloader carried 21 rounds of ready-to-use ammunition and a further nine rounds were stowed in the vehicle. Three armour packages were available, depending on the anticipated threat: level one weighed 18,052 kg, level two 20,820 kg and level three 23,586 kg. Although the M8 was declared 'production ready' in October 1995, the project was cancelled the following year. The company continued to market the system in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. BAE Systems has further developed the M8 to produce the 120 AGS Thunderbolt armed with a 120 mm Low Recoil Force smoothbore gun fed by an autoloader with 18 ready-to-use rounds. A computerised FCS provides a high first-round hit capability by both day and night. The vehicle has a combat weight of 20,142 kg.

Oto Melara 105/52

As early as 1984 the Italian Army developed a requirement for a wheeled tank-destroyer armed with a Nato standard 105 mm rifled tank gun--following this the first of 400 Iveco-Oto Melara 8 x 8 Centauros was delivered to the Esercito in 1991, with deliveries continuing until 1996. The Centauro is armed with a stabilised, 105 mm/52-calibre, long recoil, rifled tank gun, designed by Oto-Melara, which fires Nato standard ammunition. The vehicle is fitted with the same Galileo Avionica Turms (Tank Universal Reconfigurable Modular Systems) fire control system as the service's 120 mm-armed Ariete tank. The last 150 vehicles produced for Italy were modified so that the standard 40-round ammunition load can be reduced to enable four troops to be carried in the rear compartment. In standard configuration the Centauro weighs 25 tonnes, although up to three tonnes of additional passive or reactive armour can be added if the threat warrants. The Centauro showed its worth during Nato-led peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo during the 1990s, when the combination of firepower and tactical mobility meant that Centauro units were often assigned the role of theatre reserve. The Centauro will be the primary armoured fighting vehicle of the Italian Army's three medium brigades that are now being organised. Five additional Centauro variants are under development: an IFV fitted with an Oto Melara Hitfist turret armed with a 25 mm Oerlikon KBA cannon, a 120 mm mortar carrier, a command post, a recovery vehicle and an ambulance. The Spanish Army has bought 88 Centauros that were delivered in two batches from 2000. For the export market Oto Melara developed a prototype Hitfact turret for the Centauro armed with the company's 120 mm smoothbore gun, thus making the Centauro the first wheeled vehicle to offer main battle tank firepower. The new all-welded aluminium turret, which has a layer of applique amour, retains a crew of three but is lighter than the original all-welded steel turret.

Pandur II

Steyr-Daimler-Puch Spezialfahrzeug, the Austrian component of General Dynamics European Land Combat Systems, has sold its Pandur II vehicle to the Czech Republic and to Portugal. The 6 x 6 Pandur II is offered with a 90 mm gun turret while the 8 x 8 vehicle can carry a 105 mm gun. The Portuguese Ministry of Defence became the launch customer for the Pandur II when it awarded Steyr a 365 million [euro] contract in February 2005 for 260 8 x 8 vehicles to equip its army and marine corps. Deliveries will begin in 2007 and continue until 2010. Variants on order include infantry carrier vehicles, infantry fighting vehicles, 120 mm mortar carriers, 16 command posts and anti-tank vehicles. The contract also includes an option, which expires in February 2007, for 33 105 mm Mobile Cannon Systems but the army has yet to define its turret requirement. The 6 x 6 Pandur II is offered with a range of turrets that can be armed with weapons as large as a 90 mm gun, while the 8 x 8 version can carry a 105 mm gun turret. Ascod, a joint venture of Steyr and Santa Barbara Sistemas (also now part of General Dynamics), has demonstrated no fewer than three 105 mm turrets on the Ascod infantry fighting vehicle: the Oto Melara 105LRF turret, the Denel LMT-105 turret developed for the South African Army's Rooikat 8 x 8 as well as the General Dynamics LPT.

Cockerill LCTS-90

In February 2006 the Belgian Army announced that it will replace its fleet of 132 Leopard 1A5BE tanks, Armored Infantry Fighting Vehicles and M113 armoured personnel carriers with 242 Piranha IIIC 8 x 8s in seven variants, including 40 vehicles fitted with a Cockerill LCTS-90 turret mounting a Mk 8 90 mm gun. The LCTS-90 was developed by the Belgian company to provide vehicles in the 10- to 20-tonne class with "similar anti-tank capabilities as heavier tanks using 105 mm weapons>>. The Mk 8 fires a complete family of high-performance ammunition including APFSDS-T and Hesh-T. It originally was anticipated that the army would select the company's new CT-CV turret armed with the recently developed CV 105 mm/53-calibre low-recoil rifled gun.

An autoloader with 16 ready rounds in the standard configuration allows a maximum rate of fire of six to eight per minute. The gun can be elevated up to 42[degrees] providing a beyond-line-of-sight capability of up to 10,000 metres firing Hep-T ammunition. The modular design of the CT-CV turret allows it to be tailored to match a customer's requirements. For example, secondary armament choices include a 7.62 mm or .50-calibre coaxial machine gun and a remote weapon station armed with a 7.62 mm machine gun, a .50-calibre machine-gun or a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher. The turret weighs less than 4000 kg, without add-on armour or ammunition, thus enabling a vehicle such as the Piranha III to ride in a C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

BAE Hagglunds has received orders for 1125 tracked Combat Vehicle 90 (CV90) variants from six customers, although the CV90120-T tank is still awaiting a launch customer. Developed as a private venture in the late 1990s the vehicle mounts a three-person turret armed with a Swiss Ruag Land Systems 120 mm low-recoil smoothbore L50 Compact Tank Gun on a strengthened chassis. The gun can fire all types of current and projected 120 mm ammunition. Twelve ready-to-use 120 mm rounds are carried in a semi-automatic magazine located in the turret bustle with a further 33 carried in the rear of the hull. The vehicle is fitted with three sights: a Thales Optronics Day/Night Gun Sight for the commander, a SaabTech Vetronics Universal Tank and Anti-Aircraft System for the gunner and a SaabTech Vetronics Panoramic Low Signature Sight System, which can be used by the commander or the loader. The first CV90120-T prototype was completed in 1999 but work has continued to incorporate development in such areas as electronics and active protection culminating in the latest prototype exhibited at Eurosatory 2006 in June. With a combat weight of about 32 tonnes, depending upon the level of protection fitted, the vehicle could be carried by the Airbus Military A400M transport aircraft. The project remains at the prototype stage.

The Ruag L50 Compact Tank Gun is central to two projects being undertaken by Jordan's King Abdullah II Design and Development Bureau (KADDB). In collaboration with Mechanology Industries and IST, both of South Africa, KADDB developed the Falcon II 120 mm overhead weapon system. An eleven-round autoloader developed by FHL in Britain is mounted in the bustle and an additional 17 rounds can be stowed below the turret ring. The Falcon was developed as a possible upgrade for Jordan's fleet of ex-British Army Challenger 1s (known as the Al-Hussein). However, at Jordan's Sofex exhibition in March 2006 it was announced that the Jordan Armed Forces had awarded KADDB a contract to fit its Al-Hussein Hybrid Turrets (AHT) to four tanks. The project involves replacing the tank's original L11 120 mm rifled gun with the L50 120 mm smoothbore and the Integrated Fire Control System developed by Raytheon. The AHT demonstrator was unveiled at Sofex 2004 and successfully completed live fire integration trials in Switzerland later that year. Improvements since then include the installation of a 21-round loader-assist device, also developed by FHL, mounted in the turret's bustle. If trials, scheduled to begin late 2006, are successful the army hopes to award a production contract early in 2007.

KADDB is collaborating with Mechanology and IST to develop a new modular family of wheeled and tracked vehicles named World Conqueror. The heaviest variant of the tracked World Conqueror family is expected to be able to carry a 90 mm, 105 mm or 120 mm high-velocity gun, although it has a projected maximum weight of only 22 tonnes. This could provide an application for the Falcon turret.
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Title Annotation:Armour: turrets
Author:Biass, Eric H.
Publication:Armada International
Date:Dec 1, 2006
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