Cubs into Lions: the tendency for AFVs to become lighter is best regarded as not so much a process of condensing tanks but to raising the lesser combat vehicles to a state where they can punch well above their weight.
That stage is the provision of guns that were once the remit of battle tanks, namely the 100,105,120 and 125 mm high velocity guns. Until only a few decades ago, armoured vehicles provided with such powerful ordnance had to be fairly sizeable and heavy to accommodate the considerable recoil stresses transmitted to them during firing. Recoil and recuperator mechanisms had to be correspondingly beefy for the same reasons.
That situation has changed. Low recoil mechanisms that absorb more and more recoil stresses have been around for some time. One of the first in this field was Rheinmetall with a family of 105 mm low recoil guns suitable for installation in vehicles weighing only fourteen tonnes. These guns can deliver recoil lengths of as little as 280 mm. Unfortunately for Rheinmetall, its products were for many years destined to pass no further than the testing ranges (other than a few tank retrofit programmes). Yet Rheinmetall persisted, and even extended low recoil capabilities to 120 mm guns.
It seems that the company's efforts were too far advanced and ahead of the market. The strategic and tactical scenario has now changed. Long-range air transport is a must for many armed forces, while the battlefield survival chances for smaller and lighter AFVs are now much improved. As a result, a new breed of heavily armed AFV is with us. Cubs have become lions.
One example of this transformation is the Swedish Alvis/Hagglunds CV 90 equipped with the Swiss 120 mm Compact Tank Gun.
As the original CV 90 hull is little altered to accommodate the new turret, some space remains available at the rear for three passengers in addition to the crew of four. This space would probably be occupied by extra ammunition during many combat missions - the usual combat load is 45 rounds.
Another turret that was at some time installed on the CV 90 is the Giat TML105, fully stabilised of course, which has since been equipped with a semi-autoloader.
The firepower has to be paid for in protection terms. The frontal armour is proof against projectiles up to 30 mm calibre only. The CV 90120 would not last in a full-powered armour punch-up, but the truth is that such encounters would be rare in the environments in which such vehicles would operate.
A Russian counterpart to the CV 90120 can be found with the 125 mm gun-armed 2S25 from the Volgograd Tractor Plant. This offering has been around since the mid 1990s but was not announced until 1999. The 2S25 is described as a tank destroyer but it more closely resembles a light tank. The 2A75 gun is a low recoil relative of the 125 mm D-81 smoothbore series and is provided with an autoloader. The gun can fire all existing 125 mm ammunition.
The 2S25 has numerous unusual features, not the least being the hydropneumatic suspension system that can be lowered when extra concealment is required. The vehicle is fully amphibious and, it is claimed, can be para-dropped with the crew of three seated inside. There can be few `tankies' who would like to physically check the veracity of this latter statement.
Originally designed to meet the requirements of the Russian Army's air assault divisions, the 2S25 has yet to enter series production. As the 2S25 is rather light at about 18 tonnes, it suffers from the same shortcoming as the CV 90120, namely a lack of protection. In fact the 2S25 has even less protection than the CV 90120, catering for armour-piercing projectiles only up to 12.7 mm. But again, bearing in mind the combat environments into which the 2S25 was designed to be inserted, this should not greatly affect its potential.
As mentioned elsewhere in these pages, the 105 mm L7/M68 rifled tank gun series remains a highly efficient anti-armour weapon and, thanks to low recoil mountings, can be readily installed in numerous existing IFV chassis. One of these with a rather protracted history is the 105 mm gun installation for the US Army's Light Armored Vehicle (Lav- a licence-produced Mowag), a vehicle primarily an APC but configured into numerous variants. The US Army has for some time had a requirement for a 105 mm Mobile Gun System (MGS) to support the other Lays in its Brigade Combat Teams. Until recently, every time the requirement has been given serious consideration, funding difficulties have arisen, the MGS project being repeatedly returned to the pending file.
General Motors Defense of Canada, the manufacturer of the Lav series, has displayed what it terms the 105 mm Low Profile Target (LPT) Assault Gun.
According to Rheinmetall, the US Army finally selected the LPT Assault Gun for its first production vehicles. However, the term assault gun hardly camouflages the potential for using the 105 mm gun as an anti-armour weapon; thus Rheinmetall, in partnership with General Dynamics Land Systems and Alliant Techsystems, is offering the German 105 smoothbore that would exceed the requirment to defeat a T-72.
Rheinmetall claims that its gun is capable of operating at pressures approximately 1000 bar higher than rifled barrels of similar calibre, resulting in better performances than those achieved by the first-generation Leo 2's L44 or the M1A1's M256 120 mm guns. Much of these virtues are credited to the advanced ultra-hard steel used for the 120 mm L55 gun. In addition, the German 105, in spite of its rifling, can fire smoothbore APFSDS munitions from Nato's large stock with a modification to the driving band, as proved during recent demonstrations. In fine, some 365 MGSs may be procured. It is understood that Australia and Canada have needs for similar gun/vehicle combinations.
Many other IFVs have assumed heavy gun armament, one of the more unusual being the Swiss Piranha II 10 x 10. This imposing vehicle has been tested with a Giat TML 105 G2 rifled gun (capable of firing all Nato-standard ammunition) in a Giat three-man turret, complete with a fully stabilised mounting and sighting system. To date this project has yet to achieve sales success.
The British Alvis Warrior IFV has for some time been proposed in a light tank configuration, with a 105mm rifled gun in a South African Denel LMT 105 turret. This proposal has remained a concept.
Then there is the Austrian/Spanish Ascod. One variant of this, offered to Thailand, is the Ascod 105 light tank with a 105 mm rifled gun in an OTOBreda low recoil turret. One item to note is that it has also been demonstrated with an external gun installation essentially the same as that for the US LPT Assault Gun on the Lav III. Another series of trials involved the same 105 mm gun turret used on the Italian Centauro wheeled reconnaissance vehicle.
One Russian development deserves mention, the BTR-90. In an attempt to convert what is normally a wheeled armoured personnel carrier into a more potent fire support vehicle, the turret and gun from a BMP-3 has been grafted onto the position normally occupied by a 30 mm 2A42 cannon. As on the BMP-3 IFV, the 100 mm 2A70 gun can fire the KBP 3UBK10-3 Bashnya gun-launched, laser-guided missile round in addition to high explosive rounds. As the BTR-90 is normally utilised by amphibious warfare units, the arrival of the 100 mm gun could transform many river-crossing or sea-landing missions.
Mention of the BMP-3 prompts recognition that it was one of the first infantry fighting vehicles to sport a heavy armament and it is already in widespread service all over the world. However, the 2A70 gun, although powerful, is primarily a low velocity weapon with a relatively short combat range, with the latest ammunition, of up to 7000 metres although 4000 is the norm.
In any survey of this nature the 90 mm guns should not be forgotten. Starting with the Belgian 90 mm Cockerill guns, usually utilising Mecar ammunition, these guns are often overlooked yet they form an important part of the AFV retrofit scene. The Cockerill Mk II and III guns provide all-round fire support rather than any form of anti-armour capability. The Cockerill KEnerga Mk 8 guns installed on Mowag Pirahnas sold to Qatar (in this context it must be said that the Piranha II is still in production at Kreuzlingen) and Saudi Arabia, and once again firing Mecar ammunition, can have a more viable anti-armour role thanks to their higher muzzle velocity and the provision of an APFSDS round. It is claimed that the KEnerga gun provides light vehicles with firepower equivalent to 105 mm tank guns.
More to Come
No one is suggesting that any of the above-mentioned heavily armed light AFVs are going to match any existing tank in a serious encounter. All of them suffer from inadequate protection for such an event, but they all possess firepower in abundance. On many past combat occasions firepower has won the day, and may well do so again. We will see more cubs, like the newly born ones described under the "Riding Light on Tread" section, growing into lions.