June 01, 2012
Credit: Credit: Oto Melara
David Eshel•Tel Aviv, Andy Nativi•Genoa and Francis Tusa•London
As the pendulum of warfare swings from the Cold War to counterinsurgency and back again, medium, balanced mechanized infantry units are becoming popular as the most flexible capability in many armies. And while the tracked vehicle is not going away, these combat units increasingly are relying on wheeled infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) with modern sensor and communication technology, but with enough armor to prevail against anti-tank and improvised explosive devices (IED) and enough punch to fight back.
The forerunner of IFVs, the armored personnel carrier (APC), was merely a battle taxi, supposed to get infantry as close as possible to their objectives while protecting them against small arms fire and mortar and artillery fragments. But the IFV replaced the APC, usually with increased armor and firepower—typically a light cannon, and sometimes an antitank guided missile (ATGM)—as urban and asymmetric warfare demands clashed with lessons learned from decades of state-on-state combat. Not surprisingly, with underlying demand growing despite withering budgets, designers of new IFVs are exploiting the latest technologies in their quest to develop the ultimate vehicle to meet the dynamic yet stringent combat conditions seen in the 21st century.
With by far the largest market, the U.S. military has swung toward wheeled vehicles, such as the General Dynamics family of Strykers, which did sterling work in Iraq, as well as the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicle and its all-terrain variety, the MRAP-all terrain vehicle, better suited to work in the rougher conditions of Afghanistan. But quick glances around the world show several other IFVs reflecting different philosophies.
The Israelis—facing two widely different scenarios, policing the occupied territories and hybrid warfare in Lebanon, Syria and perhaps even Egypt—actually require two distinct vehicle classes. For urban policing actions, which can frequently turn into close-in hybrid combat, especially in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) need well-protected but agile vehicles. Wheeled options such as the Rafael Golan V-shaped mine-resistant vehicle, Israel Aerospace Industries RAM III and Plasan-Oshkosh Sand Cat could be the solution. But in fighting against an enemy equipped with the latest counter-armor systems, such as the Russian Kornet, or even more advanced ATGMs, only heavily armored vehicles could survive fire-saturated battlefield conditions. Thus, Israel's decision to opt for the Namer IFV.
Namer, pitched as an “infantry tank,” offers the firepower of at least one remote weapon station along with advanced electro-optical (EO) systems and laser designators. Its heavy and sophisticated protection from top to bottom, covering mines and IEDs, rockets and missiles, includes an active protection system. A powerful engine and an auxiliary power unit provide electricity for the hungry electronic and life-support systems, as well as sustaining extended operation. The interior space is filled with large-format displays for the crew and also some of the combatants, primarily the infantry section commanders.
Still, debate rages in the IDF. Experienced commanders argue the Namer is over-sophisticated and might malfunction or cause the crew to become overloaded in the heat of battle. They still search for an APC that renders adequate protection to carry the infantry to its target. Thus, a leaner Namer could yet be introduced, without the overhead remotely controlled firepower and sophisticated systems that make the Merkava main battle tank into a self-supporting fighting machine.
In Brazil, the Guarani program is slated to replace a number of wheeled vehicles in service with the army and then to equip the bulk of the medium infantry unit. The program started in the late 1990s when the army developed a requirement for a new family of wheeled vehicles to replace the Engesa Urutu and Cascavel. After lengthy discussions on the vehicle configuration, with the alternatives being a 6 X 6 or a bigger and more expensive 8 X 8, the army opted for the former. In 2007 Iveco Fiat do Brazil won the VBTP-MR (Viatura Blindada de Transporte de Pessoal-Media de Rodas) and developed a mockup, first shown in 2009. In December 2009 the army awarded Iveco a $3.2 billion contract to build 2,044 Guaranis through 2033. So far the army has identified nine variants, starting with the infantry combat vehicle, to be followed by a cheaper troop transport (fitted possibly with the locally designed Remax turret, mounting a 7.62-12.7-mm weapon), recovery vehicle, communications vehicle, ambulance, command post, artillery fire direction, mortar carrier (with semiautomatic 120-mm mortar), maintenance vehicle and possibly a combat reconnaissance vehicle.