Wheeled armored vehicles – armored personnel carriers, BVP and armored cars – represent one of the most widespread categories of military equipment. Wheeled armored vehicles serve in large numbers in the armament of the world’s armies, including the Army of the Czech Republic. Compared to track technology, wheeled technology is significantly cheaper, has lower operating costs, usually weighs less than corresponding track systems, and last but not least, its higher speed and often easier air transport are also advantages. Although wheeled armored vehicles will never be able to replace tracked armored vehicles within their capabilities, as was predicted at a certain time, it can be assumed that individual armies will increase the numbers of this type of armored vehicles. It is therefore worth taking a closer look at developments in the field of wheeled armored technology.
Within its origin, there are two types of wheeled armored vehicles – armored or armored or armored vehicles (of course only up to a certain level), created on the basis of civilian off-road vehicles and armored vehicles, which were conceived as armored from the very beginning of development.
The first group is represented, for example, by various modifications of the now legendary Land Rover Defender (e.g. Snatch Land Rover). The British and other Commonwealth member states excelled in this, where similar reconstructions were created mainly for law enforcement units (police and army). Their use was most widespread in Northern Ireland. Similar designs are currently often used by the Israeli army (e.g. MDT David).
The second group, which we will discuss further in this article, includes vehicles whose development and construction were not based on any civilian vehicle, or only minimally. This group includes a whole range of vehicles, such as the Soviet BDRM, the French VAB, the German LGS Fennek, etc. Due to its design, this type of vehicle could be equipped with weapons of larger calibers, from 12.7 mm machine guns to cannons.
Their axle arrangement is often similar to ordinary civilian all-terrain vehicles, i.e. 4×4, but there are also vehicles with a 6×6 configuration, which allows for better cross-country ability, increases the interior space (e.g. for the transport of an infantry team) and generally enables a wider use of these vehicles. When it comes to wheeled infantry fighting vehicles (KBVP), which have the task of directly participating in the conduct of combat operations (and thus are not intended primarily for transport or reconnaissance), the most widespread axle arrangement is 8×8. The reason is sufficient internal space to allow the transport of an infantry team, including its organic weapons, and at the same time the capacity for its own larger-caliber armament (mostly a 30 mm automatic cannon) and the placement of sensor heads and other elements needed to conduct combat operations on the current modern battlefield.
Development of wheeled armored technology
As an example of the evolutionary development of wheeled armored technology, we can cite the Slovenian Valuk vehicle. From the original Valuk 6×6 armored personnel carrier with a 6-member swarm and armament in the form of a 12.7 mm machine gun or an automatic grenade launcher, later the wheeled BVP Pandur II 8×8 with an 8-member swarm and a 30 mm cannon, a PTŘS Spike and a 7.62 mm machine gun was created , all located in a remote-controlled tower (version for the AČR).
For many decades, the 8×8 (6×6) armored vehicle category was represented by armored personnel carriers, which were ridiculously light from today’s point of view. Their typical representatives were the well-known Soviet armored personnel carriers of the BTR series with a weight of approximately 12 tons and an armament consisting only of machine guns, or the Czechoslovak armored personnel carrier OT-64 with similar armament and a weight of approximately 14 tons. However, even Western transporters were very light in their time. Their typical representative was, for example, the Swiss armored personnel carriers of the Mowag Piranha series, which in their basic form weighed only about 13 tons. These armored personnel carriers thus fulfilled the role of a kind of “armored taxi”, and their role was only to transport soldiers to the battlefield.
However, experience from military conflicts has clearly shown that armored personnel carriers designed in this way are insufficient. Their big weakness was their weak armour, which provided protection only against small arms. This led to a gradual increase in armour, but this resulted in wheeled armored personnel carriers becoming significantly heavier (for example, Piranha III armored personnel carriers already weighed 18.5 tons, and Piranha V can even weigh 30 tons). Other wheeled transporters also had a maximum weight of 20 tons in the past, so that they could be transported by C-130 category aircraft.
However, today’s wheeled armored personnel carriers confidently cross this border. E.g. the Patria AMV in its latest versions weighs up to 32 tons. The French type VBCI also reaches a similar weight. The latest Israeli armored personnel carrier Eitan has a weight of about 36 tons. This weight factor alone shows that today’s wheeled armored personnel carriers are somewhere else.
A similar trend can also be observed in physical dimensions, when wheeled armored personnel carriers have significantly “grown”. To a large extent, this is the result of an increasing emphasis on the comfortable work of the airborne troops, on sufficient space for transported soldiers. It is also the current trend of increasing the number of infantry squads, where the formerly frequent 3+6 arrangement replaces the 3+8 arrangement, as soldiers controlling observation systems or drones are also included in the infantry squad.
The armament has also undergone changes. For armored personnel carriers, whose primary task is not to directly engage in combat as a support for infantry units, armament in the form of a large-caliber machine gun or an automatic grenade launcher is sufficient, when these weapons are intended primarily for self-defense. In the case of infantry wheeled combat vehicles, where their fire support to the infantry element and direct involvement in combat is expected, their armament is moving towards larger calibers, namely 30 mm and above, including PTŘS equipment, etc. The KBVP often then becomes a vehicle fire support, when due to the type and caliber of the weapon, this can no longer be used to transport an infantry element.
However, the trend of increasing the weight of wheeled armored vehicles and equipping them with heavier and heavier weapon systems is stopping, as the increase in the weight of armored personnel carriers is already reaching its technical limits, which is evident, for example, with the Israeli Eitan type. Although heavy, heavily armed wheeled vehicles are attractive in the media, they are already difficult to use for individual armies because they can only be deployed in certain terrain. Last but not least, these vehicles are expensive.
On all existing armored vehicle platforms (4×4, 6×6, or 8×8), various specialized superstructures are also increasingly appearing at the moment, on which air defense, REB, connecting, reconnaissance, or mortars (self-propelled mortars), to a lesser extent, are placed with PTŘS. In essence, it can be said that in this direction “fantasy has no limits”, when it depends on the needs of individual armies and the technical limitations of the chassis used.
If we look at the individual categories of wheeled armored vehicles, it is clear that several trends have taken place/are taking place in all of them. Probably the most significant is the overall increase in size and weight. This trend of gradually increasing weight has now partially stopped, but we can expect an increase in the production of heavy types designed in this way, also following the phasing out of older types of wheeled vehicles.
The use of modern software and modern observation devices, ensuring the most perfect overview of the battlefield, has become almost a matter of course for all categories. In connection with this fact, the price of individual vehicles also increases logically.
An important insight is the fact that the individual structures of wheeled armored vehicles complement each other on the battlefield and their functions often overlap.
Also, the Army of the Czech Republic today has a significant number of wheeled vehicles, especially wheeled BVP Pandur II 8×8, or TITUS 6×6 armored vehicles (only in specialized versions, not as a means of transporting infantry squads). It is likely that the ACR will want to continue to increase the number of its existing wheeled armored vehicles, among other things due to the deterioration of the security situation.
The advantage of the Czech Republic is the fact that it has its own powerful defense industry, which is capable of creating vehicles of all the categories mentioned above.
Source: Defense Technical Information Center, Military Today, Britannica