South African APCs

Mamba Mk 2 and 3

South Africa (1995)
APC/MPV – 582 built

The Mamba Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) is one of several South African Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) vehicles that have inspired the modern enclosed V-shaped Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles used by Western armies today. The Mamba was designed and produced when South Africa was still subject to international arms embargoes (UN Security Council adopted Resolution 418, 1977-1994) due to its segregation policies (Apartheid). This was set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa, which saw many anti-colonial wars and internal liberation conflicts along political, ethnic, and tribal lines, supported variously by Eastern and Western benefactors. The Mamba is still widely used as a vehicle of choice for humanitarian and peacekeeping operations by the United Nations and is used by several countries for low intensity conflict operations.

Mamba Mk2 – African Aerospace and Defence 2018, D Venter


With the South African Border War (1966-1989) still in progress, the rising threat of landmines and Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) and civil unrest brewing in the South African townships, the need for an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) was identified. This new vehicle had to be capable of operating in an urban environment while still retaining an anti-mine capability. The goal was to develop an affordable mine-protected APC to be used in a defensive role where needed. The Buffel MPV was well suited for the bush but was too vulnerable in an urban setting due to its open tub (troop compartment). Additionally, the Buffel did not provide its occupants with good situational awareness due to its lack of all-round windows. In the background (1988-1994), a debate was raging in the South African Defence Force (SADF), especially in the infantry branch, regarding the suitability of various wheeled configurations such as 4×2, 4×4 or 6×6.

The first Mamba 4×2 variant (Mk1) was developed by MECHEM (MECHanical and ChEMical Research), a subsidiary of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), which was tasked with the design of concept vehicles for later industrial production. This concept design was done under the leadership of Dr. Vernon Joint and his crew within 60 to 90 days. MECHEM reduced much of the limitations of 4×2 vehicles by placing 60% of the vehicle’s weight on the drive axle in conjunction with specialized Michelin tires. This is claimed to nearly equal a 4×4 design in performance.

MECHEM presented two Mamba APCs categorized as Mk1 to the South African Army for trial and evaluation. The Mamba Mk1 made use of Toyota Dyna 5-tonne driveline and parts. The rationale was to ease logistics as Toyota dealers would have been able to supply parts and services when required making use of off the shelf parts. TFM, an independent company making specialized trucks, was awarded the first industrialization contract in 1987 for around 157 vehicles. Mobility testing was done at various testing facilities and, once accepted by the SADF, the Mamba was tested at the ARMSCORs Gerotech testing facility in 1987. The mine blast testing was done at the Wallmansthal testing grounds.

Due to a dispute between MECHEM and TFM regarding royalties, MECHEM approached OMC Engineering, a Reunert subsidiary, in 1993 for assistance with vehicle production, which subsequently agreed to do so.

TFM began work on a 4×4 version which it designated RG31. MECHEM found out and immediately set out to produce their own 4×4 version making use of a Buffel Unimog 416-162 drivetrain (left-hand drive) and Mamba Mk1 chassis. MECHEM once again approached OMC/Sandock Austral, which at the time was being reorganized into Reumech (as Reunert had purchased Sandock Austral), for assistance, and the first prototype was produced in just 28 days and designated Mamba 4×4. The vehicle was taken to Gerotech and shown to the chief of the SADF, who immediately asked how many could be built, to which Sandock Austral responded “as many Buffels as you have”. The Mamba 4×4 would, in 1993, cost around R280,000.00 (R 1,370,000 equivalent to US$ 94,462 in 2020), which was just a tenth of the cost of the 6×6 APC Sandock Austral had developed at the time. A request for tender was issued in mid-1994 and ultimately Sandock Austral was awarded the contract. Sandock Austral awarded a contract to Mercedes Benz Trucks to strip the Buffel drivetrain (engine, gearbox, axles, drop down box etc.) to its bare components. These were then evaluated and refurbished where possible to the original manufacturer’s specifications in order for Mercedes Benz to be able to supply replacement parts in the future. The drivetrain was delivered to Sandock Austral which was part of the assembly line.

Preproduction vehicles were all right-hand drive, as driving in South Africa is done on the left side, making left-hand drive vehicles illegal to operate on roads as reduced visibility while overtaking other vehicles can be dangerous. An initial five vehicles were produced and taken on a roadshow around various infantry bases around South Africa to test the concept on all terrains and get user feedback. One of the pre-production Mambas was christened “Modder Varkie” (Mud Piglet) and, together with several other military vehicles, sent on a goodwill tour “Peace for Africa” from July to September 1993 with the end destination set at the BMW factory in Europe. The purpose was to test the vehicles in African conditions and promote the vehicles for possible sales. However, the tour was cut short due to trouble in Central Africa (Burundian Civil War and Republic of the Congo Civil War).

Armaments Company South Africa (ARMSCOR) drew up a list of requirements according to which the Mamba Mk2 would be tested including small arms fire and mine blast resistance. These mine blast tests were conducted on a pre-production vehicle at the Walmansdal testing range, which led to further refinement and improvements in safety that were incorporated into what would become the Mamba Mk2. Around 15 vehicles were produced a month and the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) took delivery of the Mamba Mk2 in 1994.

During testing, Gerotech found that the Mamba Mk2 engine had difficulty during standardized 60 degree Celsius ambient temperature tests which required redeveloping and was subsequently addressed in the Mk3. The Mk3 prototype was ready in 2002 and mine testing was done in the same year. Additional improvements included improved small arms ballistic protection, improved braking and better stability, improved interior layout, and an overall lower operating cost. In 2006, the contract was awarded for 220 Mamba Mk2 vehicles to be upgraded to Mk3 standard under “Project Jury”. These vehicles were delivered in two batches which consisted of 100 and 120. Between 15 and 20 vehicles were completed a month.

A total of 582 Buffel drivelines would be rebuilt to manufacture the Mamba Mk2. The Mamba Mk2 and Mk3 can be found in all branches of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF), and is extensively used by the SA Army. More than 20 other countries have purchased Mamba vehicles, with the UN being the lead customer for use in peacekeeping and demining operations globally. Current and former operators include the African Union (62), Democratic Republic of the Congo (18), Egypt (14), Equatorial Guinea (25), Estonia (7), Guinea (10), Iraq (115), Ivory Coast (10), Niger (6 – Mk7), Nigeria (25), Sierra Leone (5 – Mk5), South Africa (440), Saudi Arabia (25), South Sudan (10 – Reva-3), Sweden (6), Thailand (207 – Reva 3), Uganda (15), United Arab Emirates (56 – Reva), United Nations (17), United Kingdom (6 – Alvis 8) and Yemen (112 – Reva 3).

Design Features

The Mamba Mk2 and Mk3 are designed as all-terrain, all-weather MPVs which can operate in urban and rural areas for long-range patrol and transportation of personnel. The Mamba’s success is due to several key features. It does not have a chassis and the frame sits on the wheels at a height of 410 mm off the ground with a V-shaped armored underbelly which helps disperse and deflect mine blast energy away from the hull, thereby reducing the potential damage. It is of 4×4 design and pneumatically operated differential lock, allowing for effective cross-country use. Making use of commercially available parts reduces its logistical train as spare parts can be supplied easily off the shelf.

Mamba Mk3 – South African Army


The Mamba Mk3’s 4×4 configuration was designed for the African battlespace and characterized by its versatility and cross-country capability. It has a ground clearance of 316 mm (12.4 in) and can ford water one meter (3 ft 3 in) deep and can cross a 900 mm-wide (35 in) ditch at a crawl. Its 4×4 configuration allows it to climb a 70% gradient. The Mk2 has a combat weight of 6.8 tonnes and the Mk3 6.2 tonnes. Both the Mk2 and Mk3 are equipped with the Mercedes Benz OM 352, four-stroke 6-cylinder, water-cooled, direct injection diesel engine which produces 123 hp (18.1 hp/t for the Mk2 and 19.8 hp/t for the Mk3). The engine is located at the front of the vehicle and is coupled to a Mercedes Benz UG 2/30, four-speed manual transmission in the Mk2 and eight-speed synchromesh in the Mk3. The driveline has eight forward (four high and four low) and four reverse gears. It can accelerate from 0 to 60 km/h in 25.2 seconds on a level tar road.

The Mk2 was fitted with drum brakes while the Mk3 was improved by fitting disc brakes. The Mamba Mk2 and Mk3 are claimed to be very stable off-road due to the design of the suspension and powertrain. The Mk2 and Mk3 suspension feature a single coil spring on the front axle and double coil spring on the rear which allows for a great degree of deflecting. The four wheels mount 12.5 x 20 Michelin XSL all-terrain tires. Steering is made possible through a hydraulically-assisted recirculating ball.

Endurance and Logistics

The Mamba Mk2 has a 200-liter diesel fuel tank which grants it an operational range of 900 km (599 miles) via road and 450 km (280 miles) cross country. The Mk3 has a 160-litre fuel tank which grants it an operational range of 800 km (497 miles) via road and 400 km (249 miles) cross country. They have a maximum road speed of 102 km/h (64 mph) and can maintain 90 km/h on-road (56 mph) and 25 km/h (16 mph) cross-country.

A modular design and commercial nature of the components ease maintenance and reduce the logistical burden. The Mamba is equipped with a B46 internal radio for tactical communications and has a one-kilometer range. The Mk2 is fitted with a 100-liter fresh water tank and can be accessed via a tap underneath the front left wheel. The Mk3 only has a 50-liter fresh water tank located on the left rear of the vehicle. The Mamba is equipped with a pneumatic tire inflation system. The system is active when the vehicle is idling with positive air pressure available when the vehicle accelerator is pushed down. The exterior storage bins on both sides of the vehicle are used for vehicle equipment, crew and passenger kits, but are not armored. The weight of the Mk3 is less than the Mk2 and was achieved by reducing the number and size of the exterior storage bins. The Mambas lightweight makes it easily air transportable via C-130 airplane.

Vehicle Layout

The Mamba follows a traditional layout with the engine located at the front of the vehicle, driver’s compartment in the center, and troop compartment to the rear. The engine and transmission are protected by the armored hull to reduce the chances of fatal damage if a mine is detonated.

The Mamba has a crew of two that consists of a driver and commander/gunner. The troop compartment can accommodate nine fully equipped soldiers who are seated facing inward in two rows with five seats on the left and four on the right. Each seat is equipped with a four-point safety harness and a weapon’s mount for safe storage. The Mk2 has two large rectangular windows on either side of the hull. The Mk3, on the other hand, has smaller side-facing windows. Access to the driver’s compartment is through the troop compartment rear door which is opened manually. A hinged step below the door allows for easier access. The driver’s compartment has two roof hatches that open to the rear of the vehicle while the troop compartment has six which open to their respective left or right sides of the hull. These hatches can be used as emergency exit points.

Collective photo showing the engine on the left, driver’s position in the center, and a view into the rear of the vehicle on the right.


The Mamba is officially designated as a light armored vehicle. It can protect its occupants against a single TM-57 mine blast under the hull or two TM-57 (12 kg TNT equivalent) mine blasts under any wheel. This is achieved by its V-shaped bottom armored monocoque hull design which deflects blast energy and fragments away from the hull. The fuel tank is externally mounted on the right-hand side of the hull and features a blast-proof cap, thereby reducing the chance that mine blasts would cause a secondary explosion as well as minimizing the risk of catastrophic fire to the crew and passengers. The Mk2 and MK3 have a portable fire extinguisher in the driver’s compartment.

The Mk2 hull is rated to protect against 7.62 x 51 mm NATO Ball ammunition. The Mk3 saw an improvement to its ballistic protection level to also include 5.56 x 45mm NATO Ball ammunition at 30 m by adding a layer of fiberglass plates. All windows are bullet-resistant and can protect against multiple 12.7 mm rounds. The Mk2 and Mk3 driver compartment’s left and right window have a firing port each for close-in protection.

The front and rear lights are protected by steel mesh covers. In the center of the roof to the front, protruding upwards, is a wire cutting pole. The purpose is to protect the crew and passengers from wires which could decapitate them while being exposed above the roof hatches.


Although not fitted as standard, several barbettes or pintle-mounted weapon systems can be mounted. The weapon system is operated by the commander/gunner through a roof hatch in the driver’s compartment. The pintle mount is fitted to the roof, just forward of the commander’s hatch. An ammunition rack is located on the roof between the commander’s and driver’s hatches. Standard weapons include a 7.62 mm Browning Machine Gun (BMG) or 12.7 mm BMG and 40 mm Automatic Grenade Launcher (AGL).

Operational Doctrine

The Mamba is fielded by all South Africa`s Motorised Infantry Battalions. As a member of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU), South Africa is committed to peacekeeping missions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Sudan and South Sudan. The eastern part of the DRC, characterized by mountainous terrain, is plagued by rebel factions that are known for raping, pillaging and murdering civilians and aid workers. The UN Security Council resolution 2098 of 2013 and subsequent resolutions authorized the formation of a Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the DRC with a peace enforcement mandate. The FIB consists of three infantry battalions, one artillery and one Special Force and Reconnaissance company. South Africa makes extensive use of the Mamba for their duties as it excels as a quick reaction APC where the predominant threat is small arms fire and mines.

During late May 2019, a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) consisting of a platoon (Charlie Companie) of 7 SAI on rotation as part of the FIB, responded with four Mamba APC`s to an attack on a base at Ngite. While en route, they came under attack from Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) rebels who set up trenches. The lieutenant in command ordered the use of 40 mm AGL to dislodge the ADF rebels from their trenches. While exiting, the ADF rebels crossed the firing line of the Mamba`s mounted 12.7 mm BMG. A total of 23 ADF rebels died in the firefight and a large number of small arms, LMG and mortars with ammunition were recovered.

The Mamba Family

Mamba Mk1

The original 2×4 was produced by TFM Industries (later Reumech OMC) and over 500 were built. It was later modified into the Springbuck Mk1, and the Reva Mk1 by ICP. The Puma is yet another variant powered by a Toyota Dyna 7-145 powerplant and drivetrain, quite common in Africa.

Mamba Mk2

The 4×4 version built by Sandock Austral for the SADF/SANDF and in service with 18 countries. Additional sub-variants includes the Mk2 EE for the Estonian Army, a Mk2 SW for the Swedish Army. The Komanche is a short wheel base (SWB) variant of the standard Mk2 and can accommodate seven soldiers. Some 582 were built for the SANDF. The Sabre had a slightly enlarged driver’s compartment which could accommodate four with a rear cargo bay instead of a passenger compartment.

Mamba Mk3

An up-armored, ergonomically and technically enhanced version of Mk2. Some 220 SANDF Mk2`s where upgraded to Mk3.

SANDF Mamba Mk3 as part of UN Peacekeeping Force in the Democratic Republic of the Congo – T. Greyling

Mamba Mk4

The N4 Trucks (Pty) Ltd. company has designed and built a new Mamba designated Mk4 in their Pretoria factory. Blast testing by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) showed that the Mk4 could withstand the equivalent blast of 10 kg TNT under its hull and 14 kg of TNT under any wheel. It is marketed globally by Osprea Logistics and has been deployed by African Union (AU) peacekeepers in Somalia. Two variants are available, one built on the Magirius air-cooled drive train and the other on an Iveco Eurocargo drive train with a water-cooled configuration. In Iraq, it is used by private security contractors.


The Mk5 IVECO and MAGIRUS are fitted with an Iveco or Magirus drive train and provides improved ballistic and mine protection, improved performance, mobility and maneuverability compared to its predecessors. It retains all of the well-known design and performance capabilities of the Mamba family and is fitted with the latest improvements and modifications required for the new century.

Mamba Mk5 IVECO – OSPREA media page
Mamba Mk5 MAGIRUS – OSPREA media page

Mamba Mk6

No material or reference can be found on any Mk6 ever being produced.

Mamba Mk7 OSPREA

The latest version of the Mamba by Osprea is the Mk7 which builds on the success of the Mk5 IVECO and Mk5 MAGIRUS. The Mk7 provides even higher degrees of ballistic and mine-blast protection, excellent mobility, and more maneuverability than its predecessor. The vehicle is built in the United States of America and has more power, provides innovative tactical capacities, advanced technology, upgraded armor protection and makes use of US components.

Mamba Mk7 – OSPREA media page


The Mamba series of APC`s are arguably the trendsetters for the vast majority of MPV`s used today. It has been used by the AU and UN during peacekeeping missions as well as in the Middle East by various countries and military contractors. It can also conceivable that it is the most successful wheeled vehicle design produced to protect armed forces operating in mine-threatened environments in the world. The Mamba range of vehicles have been exported to dozens of countries and saw widespread use in UN, AU peacekeeping, peace enforcement operations in various conflicts. It has been widely copied and at least five types of derivatives are being sold worldwide under licence.

Springbuck Mk.1/Mamba Mark 1
Mamba Mk2
Mamba Mk.2
Alvis K
British Alvis K with IFOR in peacekeeping mission Bosnia 1997
Mamba Mk3
Mamba Mk.3
Mamba Mk5
Mamba Mk.5

Mamba Mk2 Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.39 – 2.21 – 2.43 m (17.68 – 7.25 – 7.97 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 6.8 tonnes
Crew 2 + 9
Propulsion Mercedes Benz OM 352, four stroke 6-cylinder, water cooled diesel engine which produces 123 hp (18.1 hp/t)
Suspension Single coil spring on the front axle and double coil spring on the rear. Additionally it has a hydraulic double-acting telescopic shock absorbers which provide damping for the springs
Top Speed On-Road/Off-Road 102 km/h (64 mph) / 25 km/h (16 mph)
Range On-Road/Off-Road 900 km (599 miles) / 450 km (280 miles)
Armament 7.62 mm BMG
12.7 mm BMG
40 mm AGL
Armor 5 – 6mm (all arcs) armored steel
Total Production +800

Mamba Mk3 Specifications

Dimensions (l-w-h) 5.46 – 2.1 – 2.5 m (17.91 – 6.88 – 8.20 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 6.2 Tonnes
Crew 2 + 9
Propulsion Mercedes Benz OM 352, four stroke 6-cylinder, water cooled diesel engine which produces 123 hp (19.8 hp/t)
Suspension Single coil spring on the front axle and double coil spring on the rear. Additionally it has a hydraulic double-acting telescopic shock absorbers which provide damping for the springs
Top Speed On-Road/Off-Road 102 km/h (64 mph) / 25 km/h (16 mph)
Range On-Road/Off-Road 800 km (497 miles) / 400 km (249 miles)
Armament 7.62 mm BMG
12.7 mm BMG
40 mm AGL
Armor 5 – 6mm (all arcs) armored steel
Total Production 220


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DEFENCEWEB. 2019. Mamba could be used by SAMHS as a combat ambulance. Date of access: 15 Dec. 2019.
DEFENCEWEB. 2019. South African soldiers repulse ADF rebels in DRC firefight. Date of access: 16 Dec. 2019.
De Villiers, A. 2019. Telephone interview. Former engineer at Sandock Austral Engineering: Mamba develop and production. Date 2 Dec. 2019.
Gardner, D. 2019. Telephone interview. Former Director OMC Engineering: Mamba develop and production. Date 25 Nov. 2019.
Mabulani. 2018. Personal interview: 21SAI Battalion at Mamba display at the African Aerospace and Defence 2018. Date 21 Sep. 2019.
OPSREA. 2019. Mamba Mk7.
OPSREA. 2019. Mamba Mk5 Iveco.
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SA ARMY. 2010. Weapon systems infantry: Grenade Launchers. Date of access: 7 Dec. 2019.
SA ARMY. 2010. Weapon systems infantry: Machine Guns Date of access: 7 Dec. 2019.
Sishuba. 2018. Personal interview: 21SAI Battalion at Mamba display during African Aerospace and Defense 2018. Date 21 Sep. 2019.
WORLD HERITAGE ENCYCLOPEDIA. 2019. Mamba APC. Date of access: 7 Dec. 2019.

South African APCs

Buffel APC/MPV

South Africa (1977) – Mine Protected Vehicle / Armored Personel Carrier – 2985 built

“Buffel” The African Buffalo

The Buffel was the first-ever mass-produced V-shaped hull, open-topped, Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) / Armored Personnel Carrier (APC). It was made and used by the South African Defense Force (SADF) at a time when South Africa was subject to ever more strict international embargoes because of its segregation policies (Apartheid). This was set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa, which saw many anti-colonial wars and internal liberation conflicts along political, ethnic, and tribal lines, supported by often competing Eastern and Western benefactors. The Buffel would become a staple vehicle for SADF motorized units in South West Africa (SWA), where it was primarily used for patrol duties along the Caprivi Strip along the northern border with Angola and Counter-Insurgency (COIN) operations. It was designed to be mobile and provide protection against anti-tank mines, small arms fire, and shrapnel. The Buffel was phased out of frontline SADF service during the late 1980s and was relegated to internal security use until it was replaced by the Mamba APC in 1995.

Buffel MPV/APC`s leaving Angola at the conclusion Operation Displace, August 1988. Published in PARATUS, September 1988. Photograph Martin Botha

South African Border War (1966-1989) political map (country names added). Created by GhePeU for Wikimedia Commons. Used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License


From 1973 onwards, there was a sharp increase in landmine usage by the “South West Africa People’s Organization” (SWAPO), which was fighting an insurgency against South Africa for the independence of SWA. SWAPO operated from bases inside Angola and crossed SWA border over the Caprivi Strip. The SADF at that time had no dedicated mass-produced border-patrol MPV/APC which could protect the occupants against anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines.

Given the increased threat from landmines, the Defence Research Unit (DRU) was tasked by the SADF with improving the crew survivability of its Unimog fleet. The SADF made use of Mercedes-Benz Unimog S trucks, which they bought during the 1960s, of which 200 were upgraded by Messrs United Car and Diesel Distributors (UCDD) during 1973/4 with more powerful OM352 6-cylinder water-cooled diesel engines. The improvement program resulted in the Bosvark (Bushpig).

Bosvark Mk1 APC. Source unknown
The Bosvark featured a V-shaped rear tub which replaced the standard seat section, whilst the driver’s frontal cab section received a Barber deflection plate (mine detonation blast deflection plates). These improvements, while successful, did not protect the occupants from small arms fire. A total of 56 vehicles were produced and used successfully during Operation Savannah (1976). Operation Savannah was the first major military incursion into Angola by the SADF in support of the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), which was fighting a war against the Cuban and Soviet-backed Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and the Angolan conventional army, the People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FAPLA), for control of Angola.

Post-Operation Savannah, the SADF conducted a needs assessment of their entire fleet. This would later lead to the SAMIL (South African MILitary) range of vehicles. These were specifically designed for the Southern African battle space which required long travel distances without logistical support and in which the terrain itself could damage the vehicle.

Messrs UCDD, who upgraded the Unimogs, came to hear of the new developments and feared a loss in future military contracts. Thus, they set out to redevelop the Bosvark into a dedicated MPV which would function as an APC. Under the leadership of Koos de Wet, who worked at Messrs UCDD, the Bosvark II would take shape. Several improvements were identified and a presentation was made to ARMSCOR early in 1976. A wooden mockup was completed by April 1976 and presented to officials from SADF, ARMSCOR, the Board of Trade and Industry, and the DRU.

ARMSCOR, with the development of the SAMIL range of vehicles, was planning to phase out the Unimog. Subsequent assistance from ARMSCOR for the Bosvark II dried up and the development team had to rely on their own wit and assistance from the DRU to pull the project through. The final prototype was ready by late August 1976, when it presented to ARMSCOR who quickly lost interest and left the demonstration when it came to light that the Bosvark II was not tested.

Bosvark 2 during mobility and wheel displacement testing. With permission from Koos de Wet

Despite this, Messrs UCDD continued its support for the Bosvark II, and via contacts in the SADF and DRU, the necessary tests were arranged on a farm near Zeerust. Representatives from interested groups attended and put the Bosvark II through its paces from dusk until dawn. Some improvements were identified by the development team, but the Bosvark II was certified as tested. Nine more test vehicles were built and delivered to the SADF for testing in the then Northern Transvaal and Ovamboland. A quotation was requested for more vehicles from UCDD. The Defence Research Council (later Chemical Defence Unit) of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), led by Dr. Vernon Joynt, made further improvements.
In 1976, a live blast test was arranged and Koos de Wet was invited to attend to witness the proceedings. Explosives were placed under the front left wheel of the vehicle. In place of a human occupant, an unlucky male baboon was drafted for SADF service, drugged, and strapped into the driver’s seat. After a massive explosion, the vehicle’s left wheel was nowhere to be found. The baboon survived and was given first aid for a cut on its lip. Whether the baboon received a medal for his bravery is unknown. Attendees were impressed and the experts agreed that the driver and passengers would survive a mine detonation. Koos de Wet was informed that the vehicle would be called the Buffel (Buffalo) if it were placed in SADF service. Both Messrs Busaf Border and Messrs Transverse, which contributed to the development, were excluded by the SADF and ARMSCOR from the Buffel production with no compensation given. Further tests were conducted by the SADF and ARMSCOR throughout early to mid-1977 and improvements made.

61 Base General Workshop (BGW) was often called upon to assist in projects and even at times to manufacture and develop prototypes. 61 BGW would become responsible for the disassembly of the SADF Unimog fleet and preparation for its conversion to the Buffel. The first 19 Buffels left Voortrekkerhoogte in Pretoria, South Africa for the major military logistics and supply base at Grootfontein in SWA during the latter half of 1977. The first Buffels were deployed operationally by late 1978 and some 2985 vehicles would be built over a period of 17 years.

Buffel MPV/APC at Etali military base in South West Africa, 1983/84. Was used during Ops Askari. With permission from Petrus Wiese.

The Buffel Mk1 was fitted with the same Mercedes Benz OM352 6-cylinder water-cooled diesel engine as had been used on the Unimog-based Bosvarks and received a bush guard on the front of the vehicle which helped protect it from damage caused by driving through the bush. The Mk1A was improved by being equipped with drum brakes and an Atlas Diesel OM352 6-cylinder water-cooled engine (a licensed copy of the Mercedes Benz engine). The Mk1B and subsequent variants used the same licensed engine and had the drum brakes replaced with disc brakes. The Buffel Mk2 saw the passenger tub being redesigned to feature all-round visibility through bullet-resistant windows, an armored roof, and a rear entry and exit door.

The Buffel would come to serve in virtually all the branches of the SADF until its retirement in 1995. The only country to ever buy Buffels from South African government directly was Sri Lanka (185). All other users either bought them through private sector auctions or from the United Nations. Only a handful of countries still use the Buffel (or variants thereof), which include Malawi, Sri Lanka, Uganda, and Zambia.

Design features

The Buffel was designed to maximize its occupants’ chances of survival when a mine was detonated anywhere under the hull. This was achieved through several key design elements which included high ground clearance, a V-shaped underbelly, and a purpose-built strengthened design which reduced the risk of shattered or buckled hull plates which could become debris.

The African terrain, which in and of itself can inflict severe punishment on a vehicle, necessitates a robust design. The Buffel’s design and simplicity made field repairs post-mine detonation possible. Most parts could be obtained commercially, which made the Buffel’s logistical train shorter and specialized maintenance support in the field unnecessary. The front of the vehicle was strengthened with a bush guard for driving through instead of around small trees and heavy brush, popularly referred to as bundu bashing (bush breaking ability).

Buffel MPV/APC at the War and Peace Revival 2019 show. With permission from Craig Moore


The Buffel’s 4×4 configuration was designed specifically with the African battlespace in mind, which necessitated excellent cross-country mobility. Being wheeled, it also required less maintenance than a tracked vehicle. The suspension consisted of single-coil spring on the front wheels and a double coil springs on the rear wheels. The Buffel had a ground clearance of 420 mm (16.5 in) and could ford 1 meter (3 ft 3 in) of water. The high ground clearance and small width made the Buffel somewhat top-heavy, which occasionally caused problems for inexperienced drivers who would roll the vehicle over if they turned too sharply while at speed, or on uneven or wet and slippery terrain. For those not used to the vehicle’s sway and motion, the passenger tub would be nicknamed the “kots koets” (vomit carriage).

The engine produced 125 hp (20.4 hp/t) at 2800 rpm and was coupled to an eight-speed (eight forward and four reverse) synchromesh manual transmission, the transfer box of which was integrated with the gearbox. The transmission design allowed for in motion changing between 2×4 and 4×4 wheel drive and featured an equal 50% front and rear axle power distribution. The four wheels were 12.50 x 20 in size. They were often filled with water to help absorb the explosive force from a landmine. Conversely, this added around 1.2 tons of weight which negatively affected the vehicle’s range but helped make it more stable to a small degree.

Endurance and logistics

The Buffel had a 200-liter fuel tank which granted it an operational range of 1000 km (600 miles) via road and 500 km (300 miles) cross country. Its maximum road speed was 96 km/h (60 mph) and 30 km/h (19 mph) cross country. A modular design allowed for easier maintenance and reduced logistical requirements. Additionally, the commercial nature of the components made replacement easy and lowered the cost for parts.

Vehicle layout

The Buffel consisted of three main parts: chassis, armored driver’s cab at the front left of the vehicle, and an armored passenger tub at the center rear. The engine was located on the front right-hand side of the vehicle and the transmission in-between the engine and the armored driver’s cab. The engine and transmission placement facilitated easy replacement in the event of damage due to a mine detonation.

Buffel MPV/APC driver’s cab at the War and Peace Revival 2019 show. With permission from Craig Moore
The driver’s cab was surrounded by three rectangular bullet-resistant glass windows and an open-topped roof. The base was wedge-shaped and secured to the chassis via a cable. Early models had no door on the left-hand side, which required the driver to enter through the open-top roof. A single door would be installed on the left side of the driver’s cab to breach this shortcoming, as well as two steel steps. Later variants would also receive a high-density polyethylene roof cover over the driver’s cab. The gear selection was located on the right-hand side of the driver and a spare wheel was kept to the right of the driver’s cab. The driver’s and passenger’s seating was blast resistant and designed to protect the user’s spine in case of a mine detonation under the vehicle.

Access to the passenger tub was gained via two incremental pairs of steel steps on either side. The passenger tub seating was arranged in two rows of five seats, facing outward from the center. All seats were equipped with harnesses to secure the occupants in the case of a mine detonation or accidental rollover, which would otherwise see them thrown clear of the vehicle. A further feature was an anti-roll bar over the top of the passenger tub which would stop the passenger tub rolling over completely. The left and right sides of the passenger tub contained a horizontal panel with circular grooves to allow rifle fire from the passenger’s seating. During contact, the passengers would debus by jumping over the side of the vehicle. The panels were horizontally hinged which allowed them to be opened to ease disembarking. This was, however, rarely done while on the move, as the panels had a tendency to flip back up while crossing uneven terrain at speed, which could lead to injury.

Buffel MPV/APC passenger tub seating visible at the War and Peace Revival 2019 show – With permission from Craig Moore

Traditionally, the section leader would sit on the front left to facilitate communication with the driver. The section machine gun team sat at the rear left with the second-in-command (2IC), who operated the rear-facing machine gun. The number one rifleman sat in the front right and manned the front-facing machine gun, while the remainder of the section sat on the right.

On the rear of the passenger tub was a sizable storage box. The front was used by the passengers to store spare kit, while the top was for the driver’s use. On occasion, a road-killed warthog would be thrown in the storage box for later consumption. At the rear of the chassis was a water tap that was connected to a 100-liter freshwater tank.

Buffel MPV/APC with storage bin visible at the War and Peace Revival 2019 show. With permission from Craig Moore


The Buffel could protect its occupants against a single TM-57 anti-tank mine blast under the hull, which was equivalent to 6.34 kg of TNT, or a double TM-57 anti-tank mine blast under any wheel. Its V-shaped bottom armored hull design deflected blast energy and fragments away from the driver and passenger tub. The driver’s cab windows were all bulletproof (bulletproof is a misnomer, and should rather be called bullet-resistant). A plastic fuel and water tank was located above the V-shaped underbelly of the passenger tub, to the rear. These tanks would help absorb explosive blast energy from a mine detonation. The armored driver’s cab and passenger tub protected against common small arms fire in theater, which included 7.62 x 51mm NATO and 7.62 x 39mm AK-47 Ball as well as explosive fragments.

Buffel MPV/APC after it hit a TM57 double cheese mine (stacked mines), 1981. With permission from Granger Korff


The Buffel’s standard armament was either a single or dual pintle-mounted 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm Light Machine Guns (LMG), which were located on the forward right-hand side of the passenger tub and/or rear left-hand side. Twin mountings have also been observed, with the gunners receiving a gun shield as well. In open terrain, this placement was convenient, but when the Buffel entered the thick bush, the primary armament being located forward would get turned around by branches, making their effective use difficult.

Rear-facing pintle-mounted 7.62 mm LMG. With permission Japie Oberholster


The Buffel spawned several variants, which includes a 2.5 ton Cargo Carrier and an Ambulance.

Cargo Carrier
Based on the Buffel Mk1B, the Cargo Carrier was produced in the early 1980s. It retained the one-man driver’s cab, however, the personnel tub was replaced with an open load bed. It could carry 2.6 tons of cargo over 900 km. A total of 57 were produced.

Buffel Mk1B Cargo carrier. With permission Steyns 4×4, Strand, Western Cape

Making use of the standard Buffel Mk1B, the Ambulance variant prototype retained the armored one-man driver’s cab at the front. The passenger tub was redeveloped to be enclosed and could accommodate two medical staff, four lying and one sitting patient. Access was gained to the passenger tub via a rear door. It was, however, concluded that the swaying motion of the passenger cab would make the treatment of casualties difficult and very uncomfortable. Subsequently, no orders were placed.

When the Buffel was deployed in urban operations to quell the ever-increasing civil unrest and factional fighting (1991-1993) in South Africa, a redesign was needed to improve all-round safety. This involved enclosing the driver’s cab and passenger tub, which were vulnerable to petrol bombs and other dangerous flying objects. The passenger tub’s horizontal drop-down panels were replaced with bullet-resistant glass windows with two firing ports each. A rear access door with a bullet-resistant window was added to facilitate entry and exit from the tub. Additionally, a bullet-resistant window was fitted on the forward right side. The passengers could open hatches on the top of the cab. The subsequent redesign of the passenger tub reduced the available space from ten to eight passengers and the seating faced inwards. The overall improvements allowed better all-round visibility while vastly improving the safety of the passengers. The Moffel was not produced in great numbers, as the Mamba APC was already being developed.

Moffel MPV/APC, photo from Pinterest Solomon

Operational Doctrine

During the South African Border War, the Buffel was used as a dedicated transport, as well as for logistics and COIN operations as part of fighting groups. Sections were transported to designated points, from where they would conduct patrol on foot for between three and seven days before being picked up again or receive replenishment for a further seven days.

A fighting group consisted of between four to six Buffels, which would carry a platoon between them, with one or two Buffels serving as supply/logistics vehicles. Enough food, water, and ammunition were carried for seven days, which covered roughly 600-800 km. Replenishment would be done every six days if the patrol was to extended.


The Buffel was such a versatile MPV/APC vehicle that it was used by every SADF infantry battalion which served in SWA as well as every major military operation from Operation Rheindeer (1978) to the secession of hostilities in 1989. Additionally, it was used in vast numbers for internal security.

32 Battalion, an elite light infantry unit consisting of Angolans under the command of SADF officers and NCO`s, received Buffels. Three-two, as they were better known, was most often used for reconnaissance and offensive operations in Angola. Having received Buffels, they became a light motorised unit and, during Operation Protea (1981), three motorised companies were attached to Battle Group 40. This consisted of one armored car squadron (Eland 90), a 120 mm mortar battery, four anti-tank teams, and two protection platoons (1 Platoon from B company of 202 Battalion and 1 other platoon). Battle Group 40 was tasked to find and destroy SWAPO command, training and logistical bases around the town of Xangongo (70 km north of the SWA border), secure the town and its bridge.

The attack would be carried out by Combat Team 41 from the northeast and Combat Team 42 from the southeast at around 1250 on 24 August. The town was defended by layers of trenches and bunkers which needed to be cleared first, followed by the fort and water tower. By 1730, the bridge was reached and prepared for demolition by the engineers. During the attack, FAPLA and PLAN officers, together with their Soviet military advisors, quickly fled, leaving the soldiers behind. By 25 August, all Battle Group 40`s objectives were reached. On 26 August, they set out to join Task Force Bravo, which was operating to the east against PLAN bases.

BTR-60 captured during Operation Rheindeer on display at the SA Armour Museum. Photo Dewald Venter


SADF soldiers from 32 Battalion and 61 Mechanised Battalion preparing for a patrol near Onjiva with their Buffel MPV/APC during Operation Sceptic. With permission M. Beyl

Operation Sceptic was launched on 10 June 1980 as a lightning attack on a SWAPO base 80 km (50 mi) into South Angola and was supposed to conclude on 16 June 1980. Due to additional arms caches being found in SWAPO territory, it developed into an extended operation and lasted until 30 June 1980, with all SADF personal back in SWA on 1 July 1980. The operation saw the first serious clash be­tween the SADF and FAPLA as well as mechanised elements of SWAPO. SWAPO lost its forward base facilities and 380 dead. Several hundred tons of equipment and sup­plies, as well as many vehicles, were captured by the security forces. Seventeen SADF members lost their lives.

I was part of 1 Parachute Battalion – C Company. That operation was easily six weeks of living on a Buffel. I can’t remember all the details anymore, but we were the last unit still in Angola and the UN told SA at that time that the SA troops must get out of Angola.
 That “last morning” we went a few miles north to clear a “village” .. upon returning, we took turns to lead the Buffel convoy. The leading vehicle’s troops had to buckle up as mines were a real threat and any mine detonated would most probably be done by the lead Buffel.
 As the convoy progressed, it became our Buffel’s turn to lead the convoy. We probably only drove 5 km, when we detonated a landmine. It was deafening…with dust and sand everywhere…in your ears, nose, and mouth. The Buffel’s front left wheel was thrown clear about 30 m to 40 m and the vehicle itself a few meters in the air… luckily landing on its remaining three wheels. After a few seconds, we looked at each other and asked if everyone was ok. No one was seriously injured.., except for sore backs.
 The Buffel really is a special vehicle. We dismounted and moved to another Buffel, who turns luckily it wasn’t to lead the convoy. An hour later we made contact with FAPLA at Mangua where they set up an ambush with BTR vehicles. The battle lasted a couple of hours, with FAPLA taking more than 200 casualties.

A. Myburg


The Buffel is the first-ever mass-produced V-shaped hull, open-topped MPV/APC that was mine-protected. Although not very comfortable, it fulfilled its role as an MPV by saving the lives of countless SADF soldiers whose vehicles detonated landmines. It became the backbone of many SADF border patrol and COIN operations. The Buffel served for 17 years until it was replaced by the Mamba MPV/APC in 1995. Some 582 Buffels would be rebuilt around its driveline to manufacture the Mamba MPV/APC.

Buffel MPV/APC Specifications Mk1B

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h) 5.10 m – 2.05 m – 2.96 m (16.73 ft – 6.72 ft – 9.71 ft)
Total weight, battle-ready 6.1 Tons
Crew + mounted infantry 1 + 10 mission dependent
Propulsion Atlas Diesel OM352 6-cylinder water cooled engine 125 hp (20.4 hp/t) at 2800 rpm.
Suspension Single coil spring on front wheels and two double coil springs on the rear wheels
Top speed road / off-road 96 km/h (60 mph) / 30 km/h (19 mph)
Range road/ off-road 1000 km (600 miles) / 500 km (300 miles)
Armament 1 x single or double 5.56 mm or 7.62mm pintle-mounted machine gun forward right and/or rear left
Armor 6-7mm (all arcs)

Buffel Videos

Buffel Mine-protected APC

South African Buffel, The War & Peace Revival 2014
ANGOLA THE WAR Documentary Teaser

SANDF Buffel, left view, open bay. The “buffalo” certainly is in the top three world’s ugliest AFV ever designed, but its only raison d’être lays with pure functionality. Dependable and Replaceable, it was for 20 years SANDF’s reference mine-proof APC.
Buffel, left view
SANDF Buffel, left view, closed bay, pale olive livery.
SANDF Buffel with closed bay. In the 1980s MkII was maintained in service with a rear compartment fully enclosed.
Sri Lanka Unicorn
Sri Lanka Unicorn (local Buffel). The Unibuffel is a locally modify, fully enclosed version.
All Illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s David Bocquelet.


  • 2019. Buffel. Date of access: 20 Sep. 2019.
  • Barnard, C. 2019. 61 Base Workshop, Buffel production. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 20 Oct. 2019.
  • Beyl, M. 2019. Operation Sceptic. Facebook correspondence SMOKESHELL. 10 JUNE 1980. Date 22 Oct. 2019.
  • Bouwer, M. 2019. Buffel operation doctrine. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 20 Sep. 2019.
  • Camp, S. & Heitman, H.R. 2014. Surviving the ride: A pictorial history of South African manufactured mine protected vehicles. Pinetown, South Africa: 30° South Publishers.
  • Harmse, K. & Sunstan, S. 2017.South African Armour of the Border War 1975-89. Oxford, Great Britain: Osprey Publishing.
  • Hattingh, D. 2019. Cover photo context. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 4 Oct. 2019.
  • Heitman, H.R. 1988. Krygstuig van Suid-Afrika. Struik.
  • Joubert, K. 2019. Former ARMSCOR head of procurement. Number of Buffels sold internationally. Telephone interview. Date 23 Oct. 2019.
  • Myburgh, A. 2019. Operation Sceptic 1980. Facebook correspondence. 1 Oct. 2019.
  • 2019. Buffel. Date of access: 20 Sep. 2019.
  • Savides A. 2019. Brig Gen (Ret) – 61 Base Workshop. Facebook correspondence. 4 Oct. 2019.
  • Stiff, P. 1986. Taming the Landmine. Alberton, South Africa: Galago Publishing.
  • Swanepoel, D. 2019. Buffel operation doctrine. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 20 Sep. 2019.
  • van der Linde, S. 2019. Buffel operation doctrine. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 20 Sep. 2019.
  • van der Merwe, C. 2019. First 19 Buffels. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 4 Oct. 2019.
  • Widd, P. 2019. Buffel operation doctrine. Facebook correspondence GRENSOORLOG/ BORDER WAR 1966-1989. Date 20 Sep. 2019.

South African Armoured Fighting Vehicles

South African Armoured Fighting Vehicles: A History of Innovation and Excellence, 1960-2020 ([email protected])

By Dewald Venter

During the Cold War, Africa became a prime location for proxy wars between the East and the West. Against the backdrop of a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union, southern Africa saw one of the most intense wars ever fought on the continent.

Subjected to international sanctions due to its policies of racial segregation, known as Apartheid, South Africa was cut off from sources of major arms systems from 1977. Over the following years, the country became involved in the war in Angola, which gradually grew in ferocity and converted into a conventional war. With the available equipment being ill-suited to the local, hot, dry and dusty climate, and confronted with the omnipresent threat of land mines, the South Africans began researching and developing their own, often groundbreaking and innovative weapon systems.

The results were designs for some of the most robust armored vehicles produced anywhere in the world for their time, and highly influential for further development in multiple fields ever since. Decades later, the lineage of some of the vehicles in question can still be seen on many of battlefields around the world, especially those riddled by land mines and so-called improvised explosive devices.

South African Armoured Fighting Vehicles takes an in-depth look at 13 iconic South African armored vehicles. The development of each vehicle is rolled out in the form of a breakdown of their main features, layout and design, equipment, capabilities, variants and service experiences. Illustrated by over 100 authentic photographs and more than two dozen custom-drawn color profiles, this volume provides an exclusive and indispensable source of reference.
Buy this book on Amazon!

South African Wheeled Vehicles

Eland Armoured Car

South Africa (1962)
Armoured Car – 1600 built

“Eland” The African Antelope

The Eland armored car, more affectionately known by its nickname, “Noddy Car”, (with reference to the popular Noddy in the Toyland TV program of the time) takes its Afrikaans name from the African Eland, the largest antelope in the world. Similar to its namesake, the Eland evolved to adapt to the tough Southern African environment. Its design, adaption, and production happened just before South Africa became the subject of international embargoes (1977) because of its racial segregation policies (Apartheid). Against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Eland 90 Mk7 troop – Grootfontein mid-1980s, with permission from Eric Prinsloo


Up until the late 1950s, the Union Defence Force (UDF), which would become the South African Defence Force (SADF), made use of the Ferret armored car. A subsequent macro environmental study in the early 1960s showed that the most likely conflict South Africa would become involved in would take the form of expeditionary missions and counter insurgencies for which the Ferret was not suited. This shortcoming necessitated the acquisition of more modern lightweight, lightly armored, well-armed, long-range reconnaissance vehicle. Initially, three armored cars were considered namely the Saladin, Panhard EBR (Panhard Engin Blindé de Reconnaissance: Armored Reconnaissance Vehicle), and Panhard AML (Auto Mitrailleuse Légère: Light Armoured Car). Ultimately, the four-wheeled AML was deemed the most appropriate to fulfill the desired role South Africa had in mind.

Eland 90 Mk6 troop – Grootfontein mid-1980s, with permission from Eric Prinsloo

The initial testing of the AML 60 with it’s 60 mm Brandt Mle CM60A1 breech-loading was deemed lacking in firepower and South Africa requested more firepower. This led Panhard to design a new turret which would accommodate a DEFA 90 mm low-pressure quick-firing gun. South Africa purchased 100 AMLs as well as additional turrets, engines, and parts for the assembly of 800 more armored cars. The manufacturing of the AML 60 and 90 (rebranded the Eland 60 and 90) would become one of South Africa’s most ambitious weapons manufacturing programs, post-World War 2. Production by the South African industrial firm Sandrock-Austral of the AML 60 and 90 subsequently began in 1961 with the first batch entering service trials in 1962 as the Eland Mk1. In essence, they were still French AML 60 and 90s. These armored cars contained 40% local content, with the majority of parts being purchased from Panhard.

South Africa acquired the licenses to produce the vehicle chassis and turret independently from Panhard in 1964. The turret was manufactured by Austral Engineering in Wadeville and the hull by Sandock-Austral in Boksburg and Durban. What followed was a series of improvements which would make the armored car more suited for the African terrain. The Eland Mk2 featured an improved steering system and brakes, of which 56 were delivered. The Eland Mk3 saw the installation of a new custom-built fuel system. The Eland Mk4 incorporated two more modifications which included the replacement of the electric clutch with a more reliable conventional model and the movement of the fire control from the gunner’s feet to the turret hand crank. Additional smaller improvements were made, such as replacing the chain holding the fuel cap with a cable which made less noise. By 1967, the South African manufactured armored cars resembled their French counterparts externally while making use of 66% South African produced parts.

Eland 90 Mk6 outside Grootfontein 1977. With permission from Neville Bowden

From 1972, 356 Eland Mk5 armored cars would be built. They featured a new Chevrolet 153 2.5 liter, water-cooled four-cylinder inline petrol engine which was mounted on rails to facilitate quicker replacement in the field (40 minutes) and reduce maintenance. Additional improvements included new communication equipment, spring shock absorbers, wheels, and run-flat tires.

In 1975, the Mk6 upgrade brought 1,016 (all the previously produced Eland Marks) up to the Mk5 standard. The final version of the Eland, the Mk7, was put into production in 1979 and featured a new raised commander’s cupola derived from the Ratel ICV, movement of the headlamps from the lower glacis to a raised position, new power brakes, improved transmission, and a lengthened frontal section to make the drivers station more comfortable for taller than average South African soldier.

The Eland 60 and 90 became the standard armored car for the SADF`s (South African Defence Force) armored car regiments and served in a reconnaissance role when assigned to the tank regiment. The SADF deployed the Eland with the permanent forces at the School of Armour, 1 Special Service Regiment and 2 Special Service Regiment. With the reserve forces, the Eland was used by Natal Mounted Rifles, Umvoti Mounted Rifles, Regiment Oranje Rivier (Cape Town), Regiment Mooirivier (Potchefstroom), Regiment Molopo (Potchefstroom), Light Horse, President Steyn, Prince Alfred Guards, 2 Armoured Car Regiment, 8th Division (Durban), Head of the Armed Forces Mobile Reserve and Armed Forces Mobile Centre (formerly 7th Division) . In South-West Africa, the Eland was used by the South West Territorial and 2 South African Infantry Battalion Group (Walvisbay) Forces.

The Eland was removed from frontline service in the late 1980s, when its indigenously produced replacement, the Rooikat 76 armored car, began to enter service. The Eland was officially retired from South African National Defence Force( SANDF) service in 1994. In South Africa, the Eland can be found at most military bases as gate guards and several pairs, in working condition, are preserved at military museums which includes the SA Armour Museum in Bloemfontein. Several Elands have also found their way into the hands of private collectors and foreign museums.

By the end of its production, more than 1600 vehicles were built. The Eland family of armored cars which also includes a 20 mm quick-firing cannon are still in service with foreign armies which include, Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Gabo, Ivory Coast, Malawi, Morocco, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Eland 90 Mk7 Ditsong National Museum of Military History. S. Tegner

Design features

The Eland saw continued design improvements over the original AML throughout its production, making it more adept to the African battlespace. In line with its role as a lightweight, heavily armed reconnaissance vehicle, the Eland could pack a decisive punch when needed, making it a versatile weapons platform for its time. The following sections will specifically cover the Mk7 variant unless otherwise stated.


The Southern African battlespace favours a wheeled configuration, in which the Eland’s permanent 4×4 configuration is well suited. It is fitted with four split rims 12:00 x 16 track grip tubeless run-flat Dunlop tyres (designed to resist the effects of deflation when punctured) which resulted in more reliability and mobility. The Elands suspension consists of fully independent trailing arm type, single spiral coil springs and double action hydraulic shock absorbers on each wheel station.

The Eland has a manual transmission with a constant mesh gearbox. The gear selection range consists of both low and high range, with six forward, one neutral, and one reverse gear. For off-road use, the two low gears, one top gear, and reverse are used. When in low range, the normal drive’s four ratios of the high range are used for the three upper gears of the range (4-6). The high range is used for road driving and has three low gears and overdrive.

The Eland is not amphibious, but it can ford 82 cm of water with preparation (fitting plugs in the floor). It is powered by a General Motors 4-cylinder, 2.5- litre petrol engine, which can produce 87 hp (65 kW) at 4600 rpm. This provides a 16.4 hp/t power to weight ratio for the Eland 60 and 14.5 hp/t for the Eland 90. The maximum road speed is 90 km/h (56 mph) with a recommended safe cruising speed of 80 km/h (50 mph). Over terrain, it could achieve 30 km/h (18.6 mph).

A 0.5 m wide ditch can be crossed at a crawl, and it can climb a 51% gradient. On the front of the vehicle are two ditching crossing channels which allow the Eland to cross a ditches up to 3.2 meters wide when using four channels. The Eland is equipped with fully independent active trailing arms, coil springs, and shock-absorbers. Steering is via a steering wheel with rack and pinion assisted power gearbox. The mechanical power steering box improves the drivers steering ability on rough terrain. Steering is controlled with the front two wheels and foot pedals for acceleration and braking. The Eland 90 has a ground clearance of 380 mm and the Eland 60 400mm which in combination with only four wheels sometimes resulted in it becoming stuck when travelling off-road, which is far from ideal.

Eland 90 Mk6 outside Grootfontein 1977. With permission from Neville Bowden

Endurance and logistics

The fuel capacity of the Eland is 142 liter (37.5 US gallons) which allows it to travel 450 km (280 miles) on road, 240 km (149 miles) off-road and 120 km (74.5 miles) over sand.

The Eland 90 and 60 are equipped with two 7.62 mm BGM, one mounted co-axially and the other on top of the turret structure, above the commander’s station for close protection from ground threats. The Eland 90 carries 3,800 rounds for the machine gun, and the Eland 60, 2,400 rounds. It should be noted that creative stacking would allow for more machine gun rounds to be carried. The co-axial machine gun is mounted on the left side of the main armament in both variants.

At the rear right-hand side of the turret, behind the gunner, is a B-56 long-range and B-26 short-range radio set for tactical communication which allows for reliable command and control, enhancing the armored car’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield. This communication combined with well-trained crews resulted in co-ordinated (but nail-biting) attacks on T-54/55 MBTs during various Border War operations (mentioned later).

The Eland Mk7 received a much-needed storage bin at the rear of the turret. Pre-Mk7 Elands did not have a built-in drinking water tank and crews subsequently had to carry water in a 20 litre (5.2 gals) jerry can which is carried on the outside of the driver’s left entry door in a bracket. Crews improvised and kept non-drinking water in the used ammunition boxes and spent main gun casings on the outside of the hull. The Mk7 featured a built-in 40 litre (10.5 gals) drinking water tank which is installed at the rear of the vehicle from where the crew could access it via a brass push tap.

The crew of an Eland 90 Mk7 at work freeing their vehicle, after it bogged down in a flooded shona (flood plain) during the annual rainy season in Owamboland – South West Africa/Namibia. With permission from Chris van der Walt.

Vehicle layout

The Eland carries a standard complement of three crew members, consisting of the commander, gunner, and driver.

The commander’s station is located on the left side of the turret while the gunner is seated on the right. Visibility for both is achieved through four L794B episcopes which provide all-round visibility. The gunner can also use the M37 sighting episcope which provides x6 magnification. Entry and exit for the commander and gunner of an Eland 90 are via a single-piece hatch cover for each which opens to the rear. The Eland 60 had one elongated hatch for both commander and gunner which also opened to the rear. In case of emergency, the gunner and commander can escape through the driver’s entry doors located on either side of the hull in-between the forward and rear wheel. Of interest is the pistol port located in the front left side of the hull through which the commander could shoot if necessary.

Eland 90 Mk7 view from commanders seat, facing forward. Visible on the left is where the co-axial BMG would be. In the middle is the main armament. S. Tegner.

Eland 90 Mk7 view from gunners seat, facing forward. Visible on the left is the main armaments breech block. The crank on the right side of the breechblock is called the vertical aim drive and on the right is the gunner`s turret hand crank and firing switches.  S. Tegner.

The driver’s station is situated in the front center of the hull and is accessible through the side entry doors as mentioned above or a single-piece hatch which opens to the right above the driver’s station. The driver’s station has limited adjustability making it difficult for tall drivers to operate. The single-piece hatch contains three integrated periscopes for enhanced visibility and situational awareness. The central periscope can be replaced with a passive night driving episcope (manufactured by Eloptro) allowing full day/night capability.

Eland 90 Mk7 driver’s station. S. Tegner

Main armament

The Eland 90 is armed with a GT-2 manufactured by Denel Land Systems. For combat, it could fire a low-velocity High Explosive (HE), High Explosive Anti-Tank Tracer (HEAT-T) round, White Phosphorus Smoke (WP-SMK), and Canister rounds. The HE was accurate up to 2200 m and the HEAT-T 1200 m and could penetrate up to 320 mm of Rolled Homogeneous Armor (RHA) at zero degrees and 150 mm at a 60-degree angle. The penetration and after armor effect of the HEAT-T round was devastating against the T-34/85 the South Africans faced in the early stages of the South African Border War. When the T-54/55 entered the conflict, South African Eland 90 crews had to make full use of their vehicles small size and speed to flank them. Multiple shots by the Eland 90 were necessary to disable and destroy the new tanks.

The HE round weighed in at 5.27 kg and was very effective against lightly armoured vehicles, trenches, and bunkers. To control the recoil of the main gun a single-cylinder with permanent stress spring and a hydropneumatic recuperator is used to return the main gun to its original position after firing. A well-trained crew could fire the main gun either when static or at a short halt every 8-10 seconds. The turret could be rotated a full 360 degrees in under 25 seconds although the standard practice was not to exceed 90 degrees left or right of centre. The main gun can elevate from -8 degrees to +15 degrees. Due to its small size, the Eland 90 carries 29 main gun rounds. A total of 16 is stored in the rear of the turret, five behind the vehicle commander and gunners seat respectively and a further three at the bottom right of the turret basket.

Eland 90 Mk7 view from gunners seat, facing back. Visible on the left and right are two sets of six ammunition racks. On the far right is other rack which holds 4 gun rounds. The empty space in the middle was where the radio equipment was kept. Photo with permission from S. Tegner.

The Eland 60 retained the original AML 60 turret and made use of the South African manufactured 60 mm M2 breech-loading gun-mortar. It could fire a 1.72 kg bomb at 200 m/s up to 2000 m in the direct role. A total of 56 bombs are carried which consisted of a combination of bombs and illumination rounds. The main armament can elevate from -11 to +75 degrees. The rate of fire was on average 6-8 bombs a minute. It was primarily used in the counter-insurgency and convoy protection role as its main gun was devastatingly effective against infantry and dug in positions such as bunkers and trenches. It primarily served in South West Africa (SWA) (Namibia) northern operational areas.

Fire Control System

The gunner makes use of an Eloptro 6x gunner’s day sight. Laying the Eland 90s gun is accomplished via hand-crank while sighting by the gunner is done via telescopic sight which was linked to the main gun. The Eland 90s main gun was not stabilized due to the lack of a turret drive. This required exceptionally skilled Eland 90 crews who had to work in concert to engage enemy targets as quickly as possible while minimizing their exposure and then withdrawing before they could be shot at.


The Eland consisted of a welded steel plated hull which is between 8 and 12 mm thick providing all-round protection against rifle fire, grenades, and medium artillery velocity fragments. It is, however, susceptible to anything bigger than 12.7 mm. Two banks of two electrically operated 81 mm smoke grenade launchers are located on the rear left and right side of the turret and are used for self-screening in an emergency. There are two tubes to the rear of the left smoke grenade launchers which are often confused with the former. These tubes are however used to house the main gun cleaning brush. The frontal headlamps are under armoured covers and located on the frontal glacis where they are raised to protect against damage when driving through the bush. Due to its small size, it was never equipped with a fire suppression system. Crews had at their disposal several hand-held fire extinguishers, one on the front right exterior of the vehicle, above the right wheel and one inside the crew compartment.


Eland 20
In 1971, the SADF placed the requirement for an Eland fitted with a 20 mm main gun. An Eland 60 (named Vuilbaard [Dirty beard]) was fitted with a Hispano-Suiza 20 mm as a feasibility test. The results were not satisfactory and, in early 1972, the same was done but by fitting a F2 20 mm (imported for the Ratel 20 ICV project) to a turret. Both turrets were tested in a shoot-off against one another and the F2 came out on top. By that time, the SADF dropped the requirement and focused on the Eland 60 and 90. The Eland 20 made use of the exact same turret as used on the Ratel 20. The 20 mm F2 cannon can fire on single, single-automatic (80 rounds per minute) and automatic (750 rounds per minute). It had the added advantage of being dual fed, which meant that the gunner could switch between HE and AP with the flick of a switch. It also retained the co-axial 7.62 mm machine gun and could also mount an additional 7.62 mm machine gun on its roof. Morocco purchased several vehicles. Ultimately, Morocco purchased several Eland 20 armored cars around 1980-1982.

Interactive Eland 20 with permission from ARMSCor Studios .
During the late 1960s, the SADF conducted a war game simulating an invasion of SWA. One of the shortcomings identified was that the Eland 90 lacked the punch necessary to engage potential enemy MBTs. To overcome this shortcoming, two external rails were added to the Eland turret, each of which could accommodate an ENTAC wire-guided anti-tank missile. The plan never went past the testing phase.

Eland 90TD
With the Eland phasing out of SADF service, Reumech OMC saw an opportunity to further improve the Eland Mk7 with the aim of achieving foreign sales. The Eland 90TD was fitted with a turbocharged, water cooled 4 cylinder diesel engines which produced similar HP to the petrol engine but was much more reliable and much less flammable. It is unclear if any Eland TD variants were ever sold.

Interactive Eland 90 with permission from ARMSCor Studios .

Operational History

The Eland served with distinction in the SADF for nearly three decades, the majority of the time spent during the South African Border War. As predicted, the conflict took the form of cross border insurgency and the Eland was subsequently deployed to the northern part of SWA in 1969 to counter the threat. People’s Liberation Army of Namibia (PLAN) insurgents then began a campaign of mine warfare to disrupt the South African transportation and logistics network which lasted for two decades. Elands were tasked with escorting convoys and it soon became apparent that they were vulnerable to landmines. This resulted in South Africa’s drive to develop mine-resistant vehicles such as the Buffel Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) and Casspir Armoured Personnel Carriers (APC), which would take over the patrol and counter-insurgency role. This need for mine-resistant vehicles inadvertently led South Africa to become a world leader in the field out of necessity.

The Eland 90 played a valuable role as a reconnaissance, anti-armor, and fire support platform during the conventional phase (1975 onwards) of the Border War. It was involved in various SADF operations which include Savannah (1975-1976), Reindeer (May 1978), Sceptic (June 1980), Protea (August 1981), and Askari (December 1983). It was during Operation Askari that the limitations of the Eland 90s were reached. The introduction by People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) of T-54/55 MBTs stretched the Eland 90 crews to their limit, as the MBTs required multiple hits from several armored cars to set them ablaze. The limited number of main gun rounds carried made such engagements problematic and hastened the fatigue of the main gun’s recoil system. Additionally, the Elands 90 could not match the cross country performance of the Ratel 90. A review panel post-Operation Askari noted the advancing age of the Eland 90 among the shortcomings of the operation. The subsequent anti-armor role was passed on to the Ratel 90, which made use of the same turrets as the Eland 90 but who’s height advantage gave it better situational awareness in addition to its better overall performance. The Eland 90 was subsequently withdrawn from front line service in Angola and gradually placed in the role for which it was intended, counter-insurgency. The Eland 60 and 90 were again relegated to escorting convoys, conducting joint patrols, guarding strategic installations, man roadblocks, and conducting search and destroy operations in SWA. The Eland 90 was also used as training vehicles for Ratel 90 crews.

The last major use of the Eland took place at the height of the Border War during Operation Modular (August 1987). On 5 October, Eland 90s supported by infantry equipped with anti-tank weaponry set up an ambush north of Ongiva. The ambush was a success and the SADF forces ambushed and destroyed a FAPLA motorized contingent consisting of BTR-60, BTR-40 APCs, and truck-mounted infantry as they advanced to Ongiva.


With the conclusion of the Border War in 1989 and subsequent peace, defense spending was drastically cut. Having been succeeded by the Rooikat 76, the Elands’ end was on the horizon. The SADF, for a brief period, considered keeping at least one squadron of Elands active, should the need arise for an air-portable armor capability. This was however quickly set aside as the need for deploying forces outside the border was very remote and the continued pressure to reduce the number of older equipment. Subsequently, the new SANDF retired the Eland from service in 1994. This decision would be proven wrong, as the SANDF would deploy across Africa as part of UN peacekeeping missions. The Eland is still in service with various African countries.

Eland 90 Mk7 Specifications

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h) 4.04 m (13.2 ft)– 2.01 m (6.59 ft)– 2.5 m (8.2 ft)
Total weight, battle-ready 6 Tons
Crew 3
Propulsion Chevrolet 153 2.5 liter, water-cooled four-cylinder inline petrol engine which produces 87hp @4600 rpm. (14.5 hp/t)
Suspension Fully independent active trailing arms
Top speed road / off-road 90 kph (56 mph) / 30 kph (18.6 mph)
Range road/ off-road 450 km (280 mi) / 240 km (149 mi)
Armament 90 mm GT-2 quick-firing gun
1 × 7.62 mm co-axial Browning MG
1 x 7.62 mm in front of commanders hatch
Armor 8 and 12 mm thick providing all-around protection against rifle fire, grenades, and medium artillery velocity fragments


Eland 60 Mk7 Specifications

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h) 4.04 m (13.2 ft)– 2.01 m (6.59 ft)– 1.8 m (5.9 ft)
Total weight, battle ready 5.2 Tons
Crew 3
Propulsion Chevrolet 153 2.5 liter, water-cooled four-cylinder inline petrol engine which produces 86hp @4600 rpm. (16.4 hp/t)
Suspension Fully independent active trailing arms
Top speed road / off-road 90 kph (56 mph) / 30 kph (18.6 mph)
Range road/ off-road 450 km (280 mi) / 240 km (149 mi)
Armament 60 mm M2 breech-loading gun-mortar
1 × 7.62 mm co-axial Browning MG
1 x 7.62 mm in front of commanders hatch
Armor 8 and 12 mm thick providing all-around protection against rifle fire, grenades, and medium artillery velocity fragments

Eland Videos

Eland 90 Armoured Car

Eland 60 Mobility track

The author would like to give a special thanks to the curator of the South African Armour Museum, Seargent Major Sieg Marais, for his assistance with the Eland research.

SADF Eland 60 Mk7

Eland 90 Mk7, Rhodesian camouflage

Eland 20 Mk6

Eland 90 of the FAR (Royal Moroccan Armed Forces) dealing with Polisario, 1979.
All Illustrations are by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.


  • Abbot, P., Heitman, H.R. & Hannon, P. 1991. Modern African Wars (3): South-West Africa. Osprey Publishing.
  • Ansley, L. 2019. Eland 20 armoured car. Facebook correspondence on Pantserbond/Armour Association. 30 Jun. 2019
    Bowden, N. 2019. Cpt SANDF. Eland armoured car. Facebook correspondence on Pantserbond/Armour Association. 12 Jun. 2019
  • Camp, S. & Heitman, H.R. 2014. Surviving the ride: A pictorial history of South African manufactured mine protected vehicles. Pinetown, South Africa: 30° South Publishers
  • Combat and Survival. 1991. On Externals with the Eland. Volume 23. Westport, Connecticut: H.S. Stuttman Inc.
  • Foss, C.F. 2004. Jane’s Armour and Artillery. Volume 25. Macdonald and Jane’s Publishers Ltd.
  • Gardner, D. 2019. Lt (Ret). Eland hull and turret development. Facebook correspondence on Pantserbond/Armour Association. 12 Jun. 2019
  • Heitman, H.R. 1988. Krygstuig van Suid-Afrika. Struik.
  • Marais, S. 2019. Sgt Maj SANDF. Curator SA Armour Museum. Eland armoured car. Telephone correspondence. 14 Jun. 2019.
  • Moukambi, V. 2008. Relations between South Africa and France with special reference to military matters, 1960-1990. Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch University.
  • Oosthuizen, G.J.J. 2004. Regiment Mooirivier and South African transborder operations into Angola during 1975/76 and 1983/4. Historia, 49(1): 135-153.
  • Savides A. 2019. Brig Gen (Ret). Eland hull and turret development. Facebook correspondence on Pantserbond/Armour Association. 12 Jun. 2019
  • Selfe, A. 2019. Eland lights. Facebook correspondence on Pantserbond/Armour Association. 12 Jun. 2019
    Schenk, R. 2019. SSgt (Ret). Eland turret rear tube uses. Facebook correspondence on Pantserbond/Armour Association. 12 Jun. 2019
  • Steenkamp, W. & Heitman, H.R. 2016. Mobility Conquers: The story of 61 mechanised battalion group 1978-2005. West Midlands: Helion & Company Limited
  • Viljoen, C.R. 2019. Cpl (Ret). Eland 60 driver. Interview. 9 Jun. 2019
Modern South African Prototypes

Tank Technology Demonstrator (TTD)

South Africa (1992) – Main Battle Tank – 1 built

“Tank Technology Demonstrator” The Tank That Could Have Been

Years of technological development in South Africa have culminated in a locally-built prototype Main Battle Tank (MBT) called the ‘Tank Technology Demonstrator’ (TTD). As there was no perceived external threat the TTD served as a test bed for the most modern technologies of the time in the areas of firepower, mobility, and survivability. According to the then Defence Minister Kobie Coetsee (1993-1994), “the tank compares well with overseas systems such as the Leopard 2 and American Abrams“.

TTD on parade with rubber tracks. With permission from SA Army Armour Formation


The South African Defence Force (SADF) identified, in the early 1980s, the need for a completely new generation of indigenous MBT.  This project, code-named “Loggim”, was assigned to the Reumech Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC), which produced the hull and Lyttleton Engineering Works (LEW), which designed the turret and main gun. Other companies involved in the project were KENTRON (which later became Denel Dynamics), integrators of Systems Technology (iST) (now IST Dynamics), Grinaker Electronics, Eloptro (specializes in optics), Booyco Engineering (air conditioning systems for armored vehicles), M-TEK (specialises in the design, development, control and manufacture of precision electro-mechanical components and sub-systems), Prokura Diesel Services (PDS)(supply or develop powerpacks for armoured vehicles).

With the end of the Border War (1966-1989), defense spending was no longer a priority and funding was cut for the project in the early 1990s. Not wanting the technological advancements and effort to go to waste, the SADF and the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR) decided to produce one vehicle to showcase the TTD`s potential capability and serve as a development platform. The TTD was completed in 1992.

By 1994, South Africa held its first free democratic elections, subsequently, sanctions were lifted and South Africa was again allowed to purchase and sell arms on the international market. It was argued by the new South African National Defence Force (SANDF) that a modern MBT could just as easily be purchased from an international supplier and at a far more competitive price than it would be to build locally. The TTD served as a culmination of all the technological research and industrial capacity available in South Africa during the early 1990s with subsequent comparisons to be made with other MBTs of the era. At the time of its development, the chief opposing MBT was considered the T-72M with its 125 mm main gun. It could be argued that, if the decision was taken to produce the new MBT, the final variant would have been strikingly similar to the TTD. It was envisaged that 282 of these MBT`s would be built on completion of the project in order to replace the Olifant Mk1A and Mk1B.
With the subsequent cancellation of the MBT project and no acquisition on the table, the TTD was donated to the South African Armour Museum in 1996/7.

TTD mobility demonstration. With permission from SA Army Armour Formation

Design features

The design, development, and production of the TTD were undertaken to showcase what would be possible if an indigenous MBT was produced. The TTD design made it easily possible to optimize the vehicle according to mission requirements, as subsystems could be tailor-made.


One of the key design requirements of the TTD was that it had to be able to self-deploy quickly via road over distance if transports weren’t available. The TTD is powered by a twin-turbo intercooled V-8 diesel engine that delivers 1234 hp (920 kW) at 1200 rpm. This translates into a power-to-weight ratio of 21.16 hp/t. The maximum torque that can be produced is 4400 Nm at 1500 rpm, which allows the TTD to accelerate from 0 to 30 km/h (18.6 mph) within 5.1 seconds. It has a top speed of 71 km/h (44 mph) on road and 35 km/h (22 mph) cross country. The engine is cooled by a water-to-air system which involves splitting the air and water to the intake manifold. Additionally, the warm exhaust gasses are mixed with the cooled air to reduce the TTD`s Infrared (IR) signature. Doing so makes the TTD less visible to enemies using IR vision which detects thermal energy. The power pack is equipped with a Management System (MS) which regulates the power output at 100% at ambient temperatures of up to 48o C (118 °F). Higher temperatures require the MS to reduce power output to protect the powerpack, which subsequently aids in increasing its service life.

The engine is driven through an automatic 4F 2R cross drive gearbox with four forward and two reverse gears. The final drives incorporate a planetary gear reduction with an offset configuration which can handle up to 1500 hp (1120 kW) at 1200 rpm. With fuel efficiency in mind, the powerpack would switch from 8 to 4 cylinders when the TTD stood still. The steering allows the TTD to pivot turn and is infinitely variable for large, fixed and tight turns. A turning circle at low speed is 15 m (49 ft) wide and 36 m (118 ft) at high speed.

The suspension consists of a torsion bar with friction rotary dampers and hydraulic bump stops and makes use of live track which produces lower noise and lower transmission vibration which intern provides more stabilized fire while on the move. The live track runs over seven rubber-tired dual road wheels with a front idler, a rear driving sprocket and four return rollers. The TTD`s ground pressure is 0.93 kg/cm2. The TTD can climb a gradient of 60%, a side slope of 30% and can cross a 3.5 m (11.5 ft) trench. Unprepared, the TTD can ford 1.5 m (4.9 ft) of water.  

TTD live firing exercise. With permission from SA Army Armour Formation

The TTD had a minimum of 102 and a maximum of 112 track links, depending on the required track tension. The road wheels are mounted on a torsion bar system with 500 mm (19.7 in) of vertical travel (320 mm up and 180 mm down). The impact energy on the road wheels is absorbed by wear resistant, maintenance free hydraulic variable-resistance friction dampers and hydraulic bump stops. The braking system is integrated into the gearbox and comprises a primary retarder and double disc serve brakes. This allows the TTD to come to a complete halt from 56 km/h (35 mph) in 6.8 seconds. The resulting heat generated by the friction is dispersed through the brakes’ air-cooled system.  In case an emergency engine start is required, a hydraulic start system is incorporated should the electrical one or the starter fail.

Endurance and logistics

Another key design requirement was that the TTD had to be able to operate far away from any workshop support and was to be maintained by reservists. The TTD has a 1600L (422 gals) diesel fuel tank which gives it a road range of 400 km (249 mi) at 50 km/h (31 mph). Cross country range is 300 km (186 mi) at 35 km/h (22 mph). On sand, the range is reduced to 150 km (93 mi). The TTD has a maximum reverse speed of 32 km/h (20 mph). The TTD featured the most modern tactical radio communication equipment of the time, which allowed for reliable command and control, enhancing the tank’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield. The overall interior design assisted in reducing acoustic noise, thereby improving situational awareness and reducing crew fatigue. The TTD is fitted with a 7.62 mm coaxial Browning machine gun which is fed from a 2000 round bin. Additionally, a 7.62 mm General Purpose Machinegun (GPMG) can be fitted to the roof. The tank is equipped with an 80 liter (20 gals) internal drinking water tank for the crew which could be accessed at the loader’s and driver’s stations. A fume extractor fan helps clear the interior crew compartment of excess fumes produced when firing the main gun.

Vehicle layout

The TTD carries a standard complement of four crewmen, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The fighting compartment was designed with ergonomics in mind, which would maximize efficiency and reduce crew fatigue.  The commander’s station is located on the right side of the turret and is equipped with a sunken cupola which offered a 360-degree field of vision through six periscopes. The sunken cupola reduced the overall height of the vehicle as well as the chance that a partial hit could deflect into the crew compartment.  The commander’s station consisted of traditional mechanical sights. It was, however, planned that digital screens be installed at a later point, which would have linked to the gunner’s sight. The commander has at his disposal a CS60N primary stabilized commanders sight offering a 360-degree panoramic detection, recognition and identification view via a periscope in the cupola, which has x3 and x10 magnification options. It features a two-axis, gyro-stabilized mirror head. Additionally, a 3rd generation image intensifier night channel is incorporated, which significantly enhances situational awareness and combat ability in low-light conditions. The MBT variant would have seen a thermal imaging intensifier added.

CS60N commander’s-sight – From Denel marketing poster “Armoured Sighting System – CS60 – Primary Stabilized Commanders Sight”

Just below the commander’s station, on the right side of the turret, is the gunner’s station, which is equipped with day/night capabilities. This station would also have received digital display screens if the final MBT variant was built. Entry and exit for the commander and gunner are through the commander’s hatch. The loader’s station is on the left side of the turret and has a dedicated episcope for better situational awareness. Entry and exit for the loader were through his own dedicated hatch.

The driver’s station features an ergonomic design, with an analog instrument panel and a yoke-type steering stick which improved comfort and reduced driver fatigue. The driver’s station would also have received a digital screen overhaul in the final MBT variant. The driver makes use of three episcopes, allowing better visibility, thereby increasing situational awareness. The central episcope can be replaced with a passive night driving periscope allowing full night capability. The driver can enter and exit his station through a single-piece hatch above their station while an emergency escape hatch is located underneath their seat in the floor.

Main gun

For testing purposes, the TTD is fitted with a standard 105 mm GT3 QF semi-automatic main gun developed by LEW in South Africa. The 51 caliber barrel is rifled and is encased in a thermal shield. A total of 54 main gun rounds are carried, of which 6 are kept in the turret basket, 16 rounds are kept in a rotating carousel and 32 in ammunition racks to the left of the driver. Available main gun rounds consist of Armor Piercing Fin Stabilised Discarding Sabot-Tracer (APFSDS/T) with an effective range of 4000 m, High Explosive Anti Tank (HEAT) and High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) with an effective range of 2000 m and High Explosive Tracer (HE/T) with a range of 4500 m.
The production variant main gun would have been a LEW 120 mm smoothbore barrel or as part of its planned upgrade evolution a 140 mm smoothbore barrel. According to sources, three 120 mm main guns were built. The main gun can depress -10 degrees and elevate 20 degrees. The breech slides horizontally and is semi-automatic. Tests revealed that first-round hit probability of a T-72 sized target at 2 km is greater than 84% while static and 75% while in motion.

LEW 120 mm smooth-bore gun testing for the Tank Technology Demonstrator (Photo credit: Walter Volker)

The gun drive makes use of a 48 V compact brushless DC motor, two pinon azimuth drive and linear extension elevation drive. The azimuth drive can rotate the turret a full 360 degrees in less than 10 seconds with an acceleration of 0.6 rad/s. Elevation speed and acceleration are rated at 0.6 rad/s. Also included is a two-axis primary stabilized GS60 gunner sight with an x3 and x8 magnification. Additionally, a laser range finder with a 200 – 8000 m (218 – 8749 yd) range is integrated together with a 120 element thermal imager which is projected on monitors at both the commander and gunner stations. The gunner also has at his disposal a mechanical telescopic auxiliary backup sight.

GS60 Primary stabilized gunner sight – From Denel marketing poster “Armoured Sighting System – GS60 – Primary Stabilized Gunners Sight”

The main gun ammunition is stored in the turret and floor. The ready rounds are kept on the turret floor and turret bustle via a loading port. Ammunition is provided by a rotating carousel which supplies ammunition to the loader who can load between 6 and 8 rounds a minute.

Fire Control System

The Fire Control System (FCS) makes use of an RS485 serial databus linking all the sub-systems to allow for effective hunter-killer mode, allowing the gunner and commander to hunt for enemy targets independently. Once a target has been identified, the main gun is slaved on to the target by the gunner or by the commander with an override facility.

The fire directing system makes use of a compact 48VDC electro-mechanical gun drive with a fully integrated digital FCS. Reaction time from target acquisition to round on target is less than 9 seconds. The FCS calculates ballistic offsets and improves first-round hit probability by incorporating the TTD`s tilt angle and forward speed, the target moving speed, crosswind, barometric pressure, outside temperature, ammunition temperature, and target distance drop and flight speed. Additionally, the incorporated muzzle reference system allows for more accurate calibration purposes. The FCS computes a ballistic calculation in 0.01 mrad and has a cycle time of 5 ms.


The TTD`s passive armor comprises of multiple layers of spaced armor with the effective thickness of the frontal glacis being 750 mm. The turret thickness and composition are classified. Both the frontal hull and turret are said to protect against 125 mm APFSDS and HEAT rounds. The crew and critical subsystems are protected against 23 mm Armour Piercing (AP) round attacks from the flanks and rear. Top armor is rated against 155 mm air-burst rounds. The bottom hull is rated against anti-tank mine blasts under a track. Additional reactive armor packages were to be added to the turret and hull to counter anti-tank missiles.

The TTD`s onboard fire explosion suppression system is automatically activated by optical detectors which are fitted in the turret and driver’s compartment. Should an explosion occur in the turret bustle magazine, blow off panels allow the explosive energy to be directed outwards, thereby reducing the risk to the crew. The crew compartment is also isolated from the bustle, thereby maximizing survivability in case of a hit on the bustle.
The engine compartment has its own dedicated fire extinguishing system which activates automatically when a fire is detected. The system can also be activated manually. The fuel tank is filled with “Explosafe” which prevents the formation of destructive pressure after the ignition of vapors or gases.

The TTD has Biological and Chemical (BC) protection via seals and overpressure system at 600 Pa in addition to an air filtration system. The interior ergonomics allow for individual crew Biological-Chemical protection as well. Crew comfort in warm weather conditions is assured through an interior cooling system which consists of a 12 kW macro and 5 kW micro cooling which enhances crew durability.
The interior of the TTD is fully lined with an anti-spalling layer to reduce the chance of ricocheting shrapnel. The integrated cooling measure significantly reduces the TTD`s exterior IR signature. On either side of the turret, behind a sheet of armor, is a bank of four 81 mm smoke grenade launchers. The TTD is fitted with an exhaust smoke generating system.

TTD front-top-down view, notice the position of the smoke grenade launchers. With permission from SA Army Armour Formation


Lt Col. Coenraad Klopper of the SA Army Armour Formation, R&D summarises the TTD as follow:

“TTD consisted out of a well-advanced suspension, tracks and drive lines that were very much based on the Leopard 2 suspension. The gun drive system and to a smaller extent the power pack did have certain shortcomings. The power pack was MTU ship generator engine which generates 1234hp (920Kw) at 1200 rpm. This engine was upgraded and modified intensively to limitations to deliver optimal output for this specific application, which causes a risk in the long run. The transmission will be obsolete in the modern environment of MBTs. The turret did experience certain shortcomings with a sub-standard stabilizing system, with a 1.2 mills standard deviation. The acceptable standard deviation specification is 0.4 mills or better. The fire control system is inferior to the current world trend and not completely developed to its full potential. It can be believed that the TTD was much superior regarding his suspension, drive lines and power pack; however, the gun drive and fire control system did not meet specifications and expectations. I am of the opinion that TTD can still be a factor on the modern battlefield with the upgrade of its fire control system and gun drive system.”

The TTD embodied the most sophisticated technologies, technical expertise, and manufacturing capabilities available to South Africa in the mid-1990s. MBTs are very expensive to operate, maintain and even more so to deploy. They serve as a deterrent against aggression and are often only deployed during times of war which makes the justification to fund them very difficult to the general public. With the cancellation of the “Loggim” project and no orders placed for a new MBT by the SANDF, the TTD was donated to the SA Armour Museum where it is on display. In 1998, the South African government announced that no new MBT was to be funded in the foreseeable future, as the Air Force and Navy required a complete overhaul. This announcement sparked some heated concerns from South Africa’s neighbors. It could be argued that, if the envisaged 282 new MBTs were ordered domestically, their strategic influence on Southern Africa would have been significant and could very well have sparked a regional arms race. Between 2000 and 2005 South Africa upgraded 26 of its Olifant Mk1B to Mk2 standard which makes extensive use of various TTD subsystems.

TTD Specifications

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h): 7.78 m (25.5ft) x 3.62 m (11.9ft) x 2.99 m (9.8ft)
Total weight, battle ready 58.3 Tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Twin-turbo intercooled V-8 diesel engine which produces 1234 hp (920Kw) @ 1200 rpm. (21.16 hp/t).
Suspension Torsion bar with hydraulic dampers
Top speed road / off-road 71 kph (44 mph) / 35 kph (22 mph)
Range road/ off-road 400 km (249 mi) / 300km (186 mi)
Armament 105 mm GT3 QF semi-automatic main gun for the testing version
120 mm GT6 QF semi-automatic smooth-bore main gun for production variant upgradable to 140 mm QF semi-automatic smooth-bore main gun
1 x 7.62 coaxial Browning machine gun
Armor The effective thickness of the frontal glacis is 750 mm.
Turret thickness and composition classified. Multiple layers of spaced armor to protect against 125 mm APFSDS and HEAT rounds.
Additional reactive armor packages can be added to the turret and hull to counter anti-tank missiles.
Total Production (Hulls) 1

Tank Technology Demonstrator Video

The author would like to thank the team at DENEL VEHICLE SYSTEMS: OMC for digitizing the TTD videos and allowing Tank Encyclopedia to feature them in the article.


DEFENCEWEB. 2009. SANDF projects: past, present & future.  Date of access: 20 Jan. 2019

DENEL. Date unknown. Armoured Sighting System: CS60 – Primary Stabilized Gunner Sight. of access: 20 Feb. 2019

DENEL. Date unknown. Gunner Armoured Sighting System: GS60 – Primary Stabilized Gunner Sight. of access: 20 Feb. 2019

Citizen Reporter. 1993/4. The Citizen: SA tank ‘compares with the best in the world’. Date of publication: unknown.

Harmse, K. 2019. South African tank gun designations. Facebook correspondence. 6 Mar. 2019
Klopper, C. 2019. SO1 R&D SA Army Armour Formation. Email correspondence. 20 Feb. 2019

Malan, D. 2019. ARMSCOR. Email correspondence. 20 Feb. 2019

Reumech-OMC. Date unknown. TTD technical specification brochure. Date of access: 12 Sep. 2018

Savides A. 2019. Brig Gen (Ret) – TTD company acronyms. Facebook correspondence. 5 Mar. 2019

Volker, W. 1994. PARATUS: LEW smooth-bore gun for the Tank Technology Demonstrator. Feb, page 67.


Tank Technology Demonstrator Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.