South African APCs


South Africa (1979)
Mine Protected Vehicle – +2800 built

Koevoet Casspir APC fighting group on patrol in Angola, 1984 – With permission from J. Durand

The African Mine Tamer

The Casspir Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV) is considered by many to be the father of all modern enclosed V-shaped monocoque hulled Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles which have been developed and deployed by many Western armies. The name Casspir was first coined by Eddie Caromba in May 1979 and is derived from the anagram of South African Police (SAP) and CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research). The Casspir was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was subject to ever more strict international embargoes because of its segregation policies (Apartheid). Set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw many anti-colonial wars, internal liberation conflict along political, ethnic and tribal lines, supported by Eastern Bloc and Western benefactors. Today, the Casspir is also widely used as the vehicle of choice for demining, which involves the removal of anti-personnel and anti-tank landmines, but also in humanitarian and peacekeeping operations by the United Nations around the globe.


During the mid-1970`s the Defence Research Unit (DRU) of the CSIR commenced work on a monocoque hull MPV concept. During the same time the South African Police (SAP) requested a vehicle with good off-road capability, mine protected, field repairable (if a mine is detonated), with sufficient armor against small arms fire and which could carry a sufficient number of counter-insurgency personnel. It was to be fielded by the SAP-Counter Insurgency (COIN) and South West Africa Police (SWAPOL)-COIN units. The latter SWAPOL-COIN unit was referred to as “Koevoet” (crowbar) operating in the northern part of South West Africa (Namibia) against the “South West Africa People’s Organization” (SWAPO). The Casspir also saw extensive use with the 101 Battalion and Romeo Mike (Reaksie Mag “Reaction Force”) units. From their bases in Angola, SWAPO insurgents would cross the border into South West Africa and conduct sabotage, intimidation and assassination raids. SWAPO often made use of landmines which were mostly sourced from Warsaw Pact countries such as the USSR. More often than not, innocent civilians would pay the ultimate price.
The first prototype named “Flossie” was delivered by CSIR in 1978. The design was somewhat primitive with numerous problems and shortcomings. Made from Bedford truck parts, the vehicle featured a V-bottom armored monocoque hull design with the suspension modules located on the outside to ease repair and replacement should the module be blown off by a mine. An attempt was made to install a Unimog 352 engine, but was unsuccessful. The UCCD which was the biggest importer of Mercedes Benz (MB) parts to South Africa was approached to assist in improving the design with MB parts. A  Mercedes Benz LA1113/42 driveline was fitted successfully in addition to 4×4 truck components which included the engine (OM352), axles, gearbox and transfer box. The first prototype was ready in May 1979 and after a brief trial period, the Casspir was accepted by the SAP who placed an order for 140 vehicles early in 1980. Ultimately, 190 Casspir MK1 vehicles were manufactured by Henred Fruehauf.
From 1981 production of the Casspir APC was transferred to TFM Limited who designed the MK2. On the outside, the MK1 and MK2 were very similar with the latter having the escape hatch located on the left side of the vehicle removed. Additionally, TFM Limited designed a whole range of support vehicles in 1982 based on the Casspir APC hull (to be covered later in the article). Being so impressed by the vehicle`s successful use against SWAPO insurgents, the South African Defence Force (SADF) showed interest as early as 1982/3 and came to incorporate the Casspir APC MK2 and MK3 into the 32 Battalion and the elite 5 Reconnaissance Regiment better known as Recces after the South African Border War.
The Casspir production companies have changed hands over the past 25 years on a regular basis. For clarity the sequence is as follow: TFM was taken over by Reumech. Reumech , in turn, was taken over by the UK-based Vickers Defence Systems and subsequently renamed Vickers OMC. When Alvis purchased Vickers Defence Systems to become Alvis Vickers, Vickers OMC became Alvis OMC. In 2004, British Aerospace (BAE) Systems acquired Alvis Vickers and Alvis OMC was renamed Land Systems OMC. In 2015, the South African defence firm Denel purchased a 75% controlling share in Land Systems OMC which brought the ownership of the Casspir back to South Africa so to speak. New hull designs have emerged such as the NG2000 and NG2000B, which will covered in another article. As of 2017, more than 2800 Casspirs` in various variants have been produced for the South African and the export market. Among the foreign users are Angola, Benin, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nepal, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and the United States.

Design features

Casspir MK3 APC, Waterkloof AFB – AAD2016 (Photo: Dewald Venter)
Interactive Casspir Mk2 with permission from ARMSCor Studios
The Casspir was designed primarily as a mine resistant APC which could operate in some of the most hostile terrains in the world, which in themselves could inflict severe punishment. The Casspir has several characteristics which have led to its success.  It is of 4×4 design coupled with differential lock, making use of four large run-flat tyres which are designed to resist the effects of deflation when punctured. It has a high ground clearance (365mm) which, coupled with the all-important V-shaped armored underbelly, helps disperse and deflect mine blast energy away from the hull. Making use of commercially available parts reduces its reliance on specialised logistical train (the process of producing and supplying parts) with the added benefit of decreasing the need for support vehicles for spare parts and specialized maintenance while deployed. The front of the vehicle is strengthened and optimized for driving through instead of around small trees and heavy brush popularly referred to as bundu bashing (bush breaking ability). It can travel long distances (800 km/500 mi on road) without having to refuel and at a comfortable pace of 90 km/h on road (56 mph), which arguably makes it one of the most versatile APCs ever fielded. The MK3 (and subsequent variants) used by the SADF has a thicker V-shaped hull, 14.00xR20 tyres and a different engine. The MK3 standard also includes structural alterations for improved mobility, with more robust axles.


The Casspir’s 4×4 configuration was designed for the African battle space and characterized by its versatility and cross-country capability. As with all wheeled vehicles, it requires less maintenance than their tracked counterparts. It has a ground clearance of 365mm and can ford 1 meter (3 ft 3 in) of water. The MK2 is equipped with the ADE 352T six-cylinder turbocharged, water cooled diesel engine which produces 166 hp (15.5 hp/t). The engine is located at the front of the vehicle and is coupled to a Mercedes Benz MB G5, five speed synchromesh manual transmission. It has five forward gears and one reverse. The transfer box is the Mercedes-Benz VG 500-3W. The power is transferred to axles (MK1 and MK2 used Mercedes-Benz axles and MK3 ZF axles) of which the rear has a differential lock.
The Casspir MK2C(I) variant makes use of an upgraded Tata driveline system developed by Denel Mechem in 2010. The power pack of the MK2C(I) consists of a Tata 697 TC diesel engine that develops 157 hp at 2,800 rpm coupled to a Tata GBS-50 transmission with five forward and one reverse gear as well as a Tata transfer case. The front axles are Tata FA 106 rated at 6,500 kg while the rear axles are Tata RA 106 rated at 10,000 kg. As with most other South African designed military wheeled vehicles, the Casspir was designed with the challenges of the African Bush in mind. The Casspir is incredibly stable and has excellent off-road mobility due to its simple and innovatively designed suspension and powertrain. It features a semi-elliptic leaf spring (front and rear) which allows for a great degree of deflecting. To improve stability and maximize comfort, check straps were incorporated to counter the axle rebound.

Endurance and logistics

The Casspir has a 200-litre fuel tank which grants it an operational range of 800 km (500 miles) via road and 400 km (250 miles) cross country. It has a road speed of 90 km/h (56 mph) and a cross-country speed of 28 km/h (17 mph). A modular design was chosen in order to ease maintenance and reduce logistical requirement. The Casspir makes use of interchangeable components which are easily accessible. The Casspir APC also featured a 200/220 litre water tank which is vital given the expected lengths and conditions the vehicle spend in the field.
Although the Casspir APC is not fitted with weapons as standard, a primary gun mount is sometimes added above the driver’s compartment. The armament usually consists of either a 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine-gun. During the South African Border War, some Casspirs were fitted with 20mm Hispano cannons originating from retired South African Air Force (SAAF) fighter planes such as the Spitfire MKIX and DeHavilland Vampire jets. Other units such as Koevoet made use of captured weapons which included KPV/KPVT 14.5mm heavy machine gun. The co-driver’s front window can also be equipped with a machinegun making use of a gimbal mount. Six gun ports are located on either side of the troop compartment as well as two in the rear doors for close in defense.

Koevoet Casspir APC armed with a 20mm Hispano cannon at Oluno Ovambo training base, Ondangwa 1984 – With permission from J. Durand

Vehicle layout

The engine and transmission are also located inside the armored hull to reduce major damage if a mine was detonated. The Casspir APC has a crew of two which consists of a driver and vehicle commander/gunner and can accommodate 10-12 passengers. The crew compartment is located in the front of the vehicle, behind the engine with the troop compartment extending right to the rear. The troop compartment has three rectangle bullet resistant windows and six firing ports on either side of the hull. Passenger seats face inwards and are equipped with a four-point safety harness.  Access to the troop compartment is provided via two air-operated rear doors which can be remotely opened by the driver. The doors are equipped with bullet-resistant window blocks. During the South African Border War, the roof hatches in the driving compartment where often left open especially during summer, allowing much needed air to enter. Early Casspirs had a small fan, retrofitted to keep on board equipment cool. Modern variants are often fitted with air-conditioning units.


Being a dedicated MPV, the Casspir could protect its occupants against a triple TM-57 mine blast under any wheel or a double mine blast under the hull. The success of the Casspir as an MPV lies in its V-bottom armored monocoque hull design which deflects blast energy and debris away from the hull. The fuel tank features a blast proof cap and is located on the inside of the armored hull to protect it from mine blasts thereby reducing the chances of a secondary explosion. The hull is rated to protect against 7.62x51mm NATO and 7.62x39mm AK-47 Ball.

Casspir MK2 APC with co driver’s front window equipped with gimbal mount for a light machine gun – Sandstone Heritage Estate – 2015 (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Operational doctrine

During the South African Border War, Casspirs APC operated by “Koevoet” would travel in fighting groups of four with a Blesbok (supply/logistics) and Duiker (diesel/fuel) in tow for between 5-7 days covering roughly 600-800km. Each Casspir has a built in 200L water tank, and two spare tires mounted either side of the lower troop compartment or either side to the rear of the troop compartment.

Koevoet fighting group on patrol Angola, 1984 – With permission from J. Durand

The Casspir Family

The versatility of the Casspir APC hull is best illustrated when evaluating the entire family of combat and support vehicles which have spawned therefrom. South African Motorized Infantry forces field a variety of these vehicles, built on the MK2 and MK3 hull, which includes the following variants: Dedicated weapons platform, artillery fire control, Blesbok cargo support, Duiker fuel bowser, Gemsbok recovery vehicle, Plofadder mine clearing, ambulance and vehicle mounted metal detection system, Groundshout psychological warfare system and law enforcement.

Dedicated weapons platform

Some interesting Dedicated Weapons Platforms (DWP) have evolved making use of the Casspir MK3. These dedicated weapons platforms include a 81mm mortar system and a 106 mm recoilless gun.

81 mm mortar weapons platform

The 81mm mortar weapons platform is based on the Casspir MK3 and is a rebuild of an existing vehicle. This version features a fully enclosed crew compartment at the front of the vehicle while the rear mortar section offers armor protection on the sides and rear. The sides and rear are fitted with bullet resistant windows for better all-round vision. It can carry a total of 192 mortar rounds, stored in ready to use racks with the associated number of charges and fuses. By combining an 81mm mortar with a Casspir, the time into and out of action is reduced which leads to quicker target engagement and a reduction in the possibility of the mortar weapon’s platform being located and neutralized through counter battery fire. To enhance its tactical flexibility, the mortar can be removed and used in the ground role should it be required or if the vehicle is disabled. A 7.62mm machinegun is mounted on the roof for all round defense.

81 mm mortar weapons platform based on Casspir MK3. Credit South African Defense Industry & Military Related

106 Recoilless gun weapons platform

Also based on the Casspir MK3 rebuilt from an existing vehicle, the Recoilless gun weapons platform features a fully enclosed crew (front) and troop (middle) compartment with the 106mm M40 recoilless gun located at the rear. The side and rear panels can be folded down allowing the gun to be laid on target (aimed). A total of 12 rounds of High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds are carried in a ready to use state. To enhance the tactical flexibility of the weapons platform, the gun can be removed and utilized in a ground role should it be required or if the vehicle is disabled. A 7.62mm machinegun is mounted on the roof for all round defense. There are 32 in operational service with the SANDF.

106 Recoilless gun weapons platform. Credit to D. Haugh

Artillery fire control

The SANDF has a several artillery fire-control vehicles based on the Casspir. Externally, they are set apart by the additional radio antenna and a larger telescopic mast.

Blesbok cargo support vehicle

A dedicated logistics vehicle used by the COIN units during the South African Border War. Each fighting group of four Casspir APC`s would be allocated one Blesbok cargo support logistics vehicle which would carry ammunition, rations, spares, fuel and camping equipment. This allowed the fighting groups to operate independently for up to a week without resupply. The Blesbok consisted of an armored two-man driving cab at the front with individual doors for the driver and commander. The cargo area was located at the rear and was equipped with drop sides for easy loading and offloading. It had a carrying capacity of 5 tones and could also be fitted with a 1000L water or fuel tank. A single 5.56mm Vector Mini-SS light machine gun could be mounted on the roof as well as in the front left window. A total of 160 vehicles were built for the SAP.

Blesbok, Sandstone Heritage Estate – 2015 (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Duiker fuel bowser

The Duiker is a dedicated diesel fuel bowser and consisted of an armored two-man driving cab at the front with individual doors for the driver and commander and a 3000L or 5000L bowser at the rear. It featured a gravity feed system with an optional electric pump. A single 5.56mm Vector Mini-SS light machine gun could be mounted on the roof as well as in the front left window. A total of 30 vehicles were built for the SAP.

Duiker fuel bowser. Credit to D. Haugh

SAPS Air Wing Duiker fuel bowser. With permission from D. Badenhorst

Gemsbok recovery

The Gemsbok is a dedicated 15-ton recovery vehicle with an extended armored five-man driving cab at the front. The cab has an individual door for the driver and commander with an additional side door fitted on the left-hand side. The recovery equipment is located at the rear of the vehicle. The vehicle itself weighs 15.8 tones. Some 30 Gemsbok were produced for the SAP.

Gemsbok recovery. Credit to M. Cameron

Casspir MK2 dark sand livery. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Casspir MK3 Ambulance

Casspir MK3

Casspir MK3 Koevoet Angola 1983

Casspir MK3 Command

Casspir MK3 mortar

Casspir MK3 in UN colors

Casspir MK2 based FK412 of a police unit
Visual references from the web

Plofadder mine clearing

The Plofadder serves as a dedicated mine clearing vehicle. It consists of an armored two-man driving cab at the front and makes use of a 160AT rocket-propelled mine clearing system which is slid into the back of the Casspir on rails from where it is launched through the open roof. Rails for loading the containers are carried on the side of the vehicle. The cable drum for the remote control system to fire the rocket is located on the right side of the vehicle.


Making use of the standard Casspir APC, the Casspir ambulance features an armored two-man driving cab at the front with individual doors for the driver and commander. The rear passenger compartment has been modified to carry two stretcher cases and three seats. Provision was made for storage of standard medical equipment such as a rack for drips. The rear compartment is also fitted with blackout curtains.

Casspir used as an ambulance by 61 Mechanized Battalion at Rooikop, Walvis Bay, 1991. – With permission from C. de Jager

Mechem vehicle mounted metal detection system (MVMMDS)

Developed by Denel Mechem, the Vehicle Mounted Metal Detection System (MVMMDS) makes use of a modified Casspir which tows a rubber mat containing the Vehicle Array Mine Detection System (VAMIDS) system which detects and marks the location of a landmine with white marking fluid. This system has had wide success in Sudan and Eritrea.

Vehicle mounted metal detection system. Credit Denel Mechem 

Groundshout psychological warfare system

The Groundshout psychological warfare system variant of the Casspir was used for psychological warfare by Chief of Defence Staff Intelligence (CSI) as early as 1986. It was assigned to 101 Battalion under the command of Cmdt Les Rudman in 1987 near Mavingo. The Casspir was equipped with 3600 Watts from 4 900 watt AEM amps that drove 32 speakers with a 45 volt 100 amp engine driven alternator using a 36 volt Gates SBS110 battery. The equipment was mounted on a steel chassis which was bolted onto the seat belt bolts. Making use of a hydraulic telescopic boom designed by Skyjacks the speakers were elevated for broadcast and could be turned left and right as well as up and down. According to sources, FAPLA was very disturbed by this Groundshout System especially those in the trenches on the Lomba who absolutely hated it. Their morale was already low from the constant fighting with the SADF followed at night by the screaming, animal (Hyaena) and armored vehicle movement emanating from the Groundshout System.  The system could be heard from as far as 8 km.

Groundshout psychological warfare system. Credit to A. Durand

Law enforcement

As the original user of the Casspir the South African Police (SAP) maintained a large contingent of Casspirs to maintain civil order during the pre-democratic South Africa. After the first democratic elections in 1994 the SAP was renamed the South African Police Service (SAPS). With less need for Casspir`s the SAPS sold a large number of the vehicles. The remainder were allocated to dedicated public order police units specializing in riot control. The present SAPS Casspir features larger bullet resistant windows for increased visibility in urban areas with added grills against rocks. The grill for the commander’s and driver’s windscreen can be pneumatically raised to increase visibility. An innovative feature is a front buffer (Bullbar) which can be lowered from inside the vehicle to bulldoze barricades and other obstructions. Additionally, a wire cutter can be mounted on the roof.

South African Police Casspir 1986 – With permission from T. de Klerk

South African Public Order Police Casspir 2015 – Credit to A. Mathey

The Sesspir Prototype

The Sesspir was a six wheel variant (hence the name “Ses” which is Afrikaans for “six”) for trials in 1984-85 based on feedback received from SADF troops whose Casspirs lost their front wheel in a landmine detonation which immobilised them during a contact situation. Featuring an extended nose to accommodate the additional front wheels the Sesspir, however, made use of the standard Casspir engine. Two Sesspirs were built and issued to 101 Battalion during 1987 for operational trials of which one was destroyed during Operation Firewood.  It was found that the additional wheels placed too much demand on the standard Casspir engine which needed to push along the front wheels. The remaining Sesspir was converted back to an ordinary Casspir.

Sesspir APC,  Owambo land near Mahnene, Northern Namibia 1988 – With permission from A. Swanepoel

The Casspir in Action

Since its introduction in 1984 and subsequent evolution variants, the Casspir family of MPV has formed an integral part of motorized operations by the former SADF during the South African Border War were it was used extensively by motorized infantry of the 101 Battalion. The 101 Battalion was a quick reaction unit stationed in north South West Africa (SWA) (Namibia), south of the Angolan border. Making use of the Casspir mobility and speed they would respond with force to insurgency raids by SWAPO from Angola into SWA. Each team in a company would consist of four Casspirs generally armed with 2 x Hispano Suiza 20mm cannons, 6 x 50 cal Browning machine guns, 4 x 7.62 Light Machine Guns (LMG) and 4 x 60mm patrol mortars. Expert Bushman trackers would follow the insurgent “spoor” (tracks) while the Casspirs with heavy armament would be a short breath behind to provide direct and overwhelming fire support as soon as contact was made with the insurgents.
The combination of speed, mobility and firepower made the Casspirs exceptionally effective against the insurgents. There were on average 200 contacts during a year with insurgent groups numbering between 5-200 members. The 101 Battalion was disbanded in 1991 when SWA gained its independence as Namibia. Casspirs were deployed during the 1998 Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention in Lesotho which was led by the SANDF. The Casspir has become the face of the United Nations peacekeeping forces in mine-riddled conflict zones in Africa. Exported Casspirs have seen extensive service in the Middle East, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan where they have saved countless coalition soldiers’ lives.
The notoriety of the Casspirs use by (COIN) units or Koevoet in the South African Border War was captured by the author Peter Stiff in his book “Taming the Landmine”.


The Casspir is the first enclosed monocoque hull MPV to enter military service anywhere in the world and is regarded by military analysts as the grandfather for all subsequent MPV designs. The Casspir set the standard for modern MRAP vehicles fielded by the United States of America and most Western nations. For its time it was one of the best MPVs in the world. The Casspir has left a 35-year legacy, and through continued research and modifications still maintain a defining benchmark against which other wheeled MPV can be measured. The Casspir family of vehicles became the backbone of the SADF motorized battalions and served with distinction during the 26 years South African Border War. Since 1993/94 no production of the Casspir family of vehicles took place for the SANDF. However, an extensive rebuilding programme of old series Casspirs was commissioned as part of Project Gijimain in 2004, with 174 MK2 being refurbished and upgraded to MK3 by 2007. The SANDF has an estimated 370 Casspirs in service primarily assigned to its Motorized Infantry Battalions. There is presently no foreseen replacement for the Casspir in the SANDF. Building on the success of the Casspir, Denel Mechem has introduced a new generation of Casspir originally designated as MK4 and re-branded as the Casspir NG2000 series of vehicles which is a complete improvement on the original using new production techniques. The NG2000 will be covered in a separate article.

Casspir APC Specifications MK2

Dimensions (l-w-h) 6.90 – 2.45 – 3.12 m
22.63 – 7.87 – 10.24 ft
Total weight, battle-ready 10.7 Tons
Crew + mounted infantry 2 + 12 mission dependent
Propulsion MK2: ADE 352T six-cylinder, four-stroke, water cooled, and turbocharged diesel engine, 166 hp (15.5 hp/t)
Suspension Semi‐elliptical leaf spring front and rear.
Telescopic double acting oil filled shock absorbers in the front and rear.
Front axle articulation limited by check straps.
Top speed road / off-road 90 / 40 km/h (56 / 28 mph)
Range road/ off-road 800 / 400 km (500 / 250 miles)
Armament 7.62 or 12.7 mm roof mounted Browning Machine gun
Armour 6-7 mm (all arcs)
Total Production (Hulls) +3000

Ratel Video Links

Casspir Mine-Demolition demonstration

Casspir marketing video

The South African Casspir Mk1-Mk3 Mine Resistant APC

Bibliography 2017. Casspir MK III – Date of access: 9 Jul. 2017.
Army recognition. 2016. Casspir.  Date of access: 9 Jul. 2017.
Baxter, P. 2015. Casspir appreciation group. Groundshout post: 6 Dec. 2015. Date of access: 27  Aug. 2017.
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.Defence Web.  2016.  SANDF projects – Date of access: 10 Jul. 2017.
Du Toit, C.G. Casspir appreciation group. Interview. 27 Aug. 2017.
Harmse, K. & Sunstan, S. 2017.South African Armour of the Border War 1975-89. Oxford, Great Britain: Osprey Publishing.
Sabatier, P. 2015. Casspir appreciation group. Groundshout post: 6 Dec. 2015. Date of access: 27  Aug. 2017.
Sabatier, P. 2019.  Casspir appreciation group. Groundshout post: 11 Jun. 2019. Date of access: 11 June. 2019.
SADF living history group.  2015.  Casspir – Date of access: 10 Jul. 2017.

South African Artillery Vehicles

G6 Rhino

 South Africa (1981) – Self-Propelled Howitzer-Vehicle – 145+ built

“Rhino”, the African Long Range Brawler

The G6 Rhino is named after the indigenous African Rhinoceros, an animal which is massive in size and extremely powerful stationary and even more so when charging a threat. Armed with a long protruding horn on its snout, a rhino can devastate any attacker. Unlike its animal namesake, the G6 Rhino is agile for its bulk.  As with many indigenous South African military vehicles, the G6 Rhino was designed and produced when South Africa was under strict international embargo because of its segregation policies, known as the “apartheid”.
The G6 was planned at the height of the Cold War by South Africa to replace its aging WW2 artillery pieces to counter Eastern Bloc supplied artillery used by Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) and People`s Armed Forces for the Liberation of Angola (FAPLA). The Rhino G6 is a three-axle, six-wheeled self-propelled howitzer vehicle which forms the backbone of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) artillery arm who can field 43 vehicles. The SANDF actively operates nine G6-45 vehicles while the remaining 34 are in storage during peacetime. Characterised by its impressive fire range, mobility, speed, accuracy and endurance, it remains at the front of the pack when compared to other wheeled and tracked self-propelled howitzer vehicle.

Rhino G6-45 during trials at Riemvasmaak, South Africa 1987 – With permission from HR Smith


During the 1960`s, the South African Defence Force (SADF) still employed WW2 artillery such as the 88mm quick-firing gun (25-pounder) which was designated G1, 140mm howitzers designated G2, Canadian M2 155mm towed howitzers designated G3, and the Sexton self-propelled artillery to name a few.
Needless to say, the SADF needed to upgrade its artillery inventory. Artillery gunners set the requirements to modernise their artillery inventory in 1968 which was formalised during 1973. Development of the G5-45 155mm advanced long-range field artillery system (known as the Leopard) began in 1976 under the project name Sherbett III, led by the Space Research Corporation under the famous Dr Gerald Bull. The responsibility for the design and development of the G6 carrier and turret was allocated to Sandock Austral and Ermatek. The integration of the G5-45 155mm advanced long-range field artillery gun control system into a turret was allocated to ESD. Littleton Engineering Works (LEW) produced the turret which was designed by Emetek. Naschem was responsible for ammunition sub-systems. The G6 Rhino is armed with the G5-45 gun and designated as the G6-45. A G6-52 version is currently undergoing advanced development by Denel Land Systems.
The development of the G6-45 self-propelled gun-howitzer began in earnest during 1979 at ARMSCOR under Project Zenula. The first advanced prototype was completed in October 1981 and by 1987 four G6-45 vehicles were built. They were pushed into service in the same year during the Angolan Border War (1968-1989). One G6-45 vehicle suffered an engine failure due to a broken connecting rod on one of the pistons. It was subsequently was towed to Mavinga while a new replacement engine was flown in. Three days later, after the new engine was installed the vehicle set out to join the other three G6-45 already deployed in the bush. All four vehicles returned to South Africa on their own power near mid-December 1987.
Full-scale production began in 1988 and lasted until 1994. A modernisation program codename “Vasbyt” (which means ‘hang in there’) was implemented in 1993 to ensure all G6-45 had the same equipment and characteristics. Variants of the G6-45 are operated by Oman (24) and United Arab Emirates (78). Denel Land Systems has continued to upgrade the G6 platform and unveiled the G6-52 in 2003, showcasing key improved features, such as mobility, speed, range, accuracy, ease of operation, rate of fire, full protection against counter-battery fire and adaptability. Two variants of the G6-52 were produced, one with a standard 23 lt chamber and the other with a larger 25 lt chamber.

Rhino G6-45 during trials at Riemvasmaak, South Africa 1987 – With permission from HR Smith

Design Features

The G6-45 sports a low-silhouetted hull fitted to a 6×6 wheeled romp designed and optimised for the distances and terrain it would operate in, which can be described as some of the most hostile in the world. The G6-45 is characterised by its six massive 21.00 x 25 MPT wheels, fast setup time, bush breaking ability and versatility as a howitzer platform. In skilled hands, during the South African Border War, the G6-45 proved itself more than capable of inflicting heavy losses and dictating enemy strategy. The G5 was designed with a secondary self-defensive direct anti-tank role in mind. It is thought that it could defeat any composite armoured MBT of the time. Conversely the same is true for the G6-45. It came as a nasty surprise to FAPLA, as it dominated the battle space by outshooting, outranging and outmanoeuvring enemy artillery.

The three pre-production Rhino G6-45 during trials in the Okavango Swamps, June 1987 South West Africa/Namibia- With permission from HR Smith


The G6-45’s 6×6 wheeled configuration is designed for the African battle space and characterised by its flexibility and cross-country ability. The large distances in Southern Africa and low force density necessitated a vehicle that could operate on its own power. The wheeled configuration subsequently grants the G6-45 strategic mobility, as it does not require heavy transport or trains to reach its destination. This was in line with SADF doctrine that called for mobile warfare.
The vehicle makes use of a central tire-inflation system which controls the six-run flat (designed to resist the effects of deflation when punctured) radial tire configuration. This offers more reliability and requires less maintenance than tracked self-propelled howitzer vehicles such as the American M109 and Warsaw Pact 2S19 Msta.
Wheeled vehicles have a great strategic advantage when compared to their tracked counterparts, as they are between 40-60% cheaper, have a 300% longer service life, use 60% less fuel and maintenance intervals are between 200-300% longer. Additionally, wheeled vehicles also require a smaller power pack to achieve the same performance as a similar tracked vehicle.
Tracked vehicles are much more susceptible to landmines which detracts and immobilises them whereas a wheeled configuration can be repaired more easily. The G6-45 can lose a rear or middle wheel and still remain maneuverable over rough terrain.
Such advantages, however, come at a cost. In order for wheeled vehicles (above 10 tonnes) to achieve acceptable cross-country mobility, overall large size and high levels of mechanical complexity are required when compared to tracked counterparts.
The G6-45 makes use of a German manufactured Magirus Deutz BF12L513 FC V12 air-cooled diesel engine which produces 477 hp. Compared to other wheeled artillery howitzer vehicles, it is uniquely located in-between the driver’s compartment and that of the crew compartment.
The turret bustle contains a two-cylinder air-cooled four-stroke Deutz F2L511 22 hp engine Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) with which the batteries are recharged and air-conditioning units are powered for crew compartment. The driver’s compartment air-conditioning is power by the main engine. The G6-52 features an upgraded 50hp turret mounted APU engine.
The G6-45’s electrical system consists of two 24-volt batteries that provide 175-ampere-hour for the hull while four 12-volt batteries provide 390-ampere-hour for the turret.
The G6-45 makes use of a BAE Land Systems OMC automatic gearbox (RENK family of gearboxes) with six forward and one reverse gear ratios. The gearbox can be manually overridden if the need arises. The vehicle features a permanent 6×6 drive configuration with selectable longitudinal and differential lock. The steering is hydraulically assisted.
Torsion bar suspension units with hydraulic shock dampers and bump stops are located on all six wheels. Its 6×6 wheeled configuration offers great operational and tactical mobility.

Rhino G6-45 power pack (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Endurance & Logistics

Despite its size, the G6-45 has an operational range of 700 km via road and 350 km over rough terrain, allowing flexible force movement in conjunction with mechanised formations. Although the G6-45 can reach road speeds of up to 100 km/h, its cruising speed is 85 km/h while off-road speeds of between 30 – 60 km/h can be maintained depending on the terrain.
As proven during combat operations during the South African Border War and in accordance with SADF/SANDF doctrine, the G6-45 can operate on long missions’ cross-country over rugged and variable terrain, bush-break new supply routes and provide superior long distance artillery support for nearly a month with very little technical and logistical support. Improvements made to the G6-52 chassis have simplified maintenance and lengthened the periods between service intervals.

Rhino G6-45 specifications

Dimensions (H,W,L) 3.4 x 3.5 x 10.4m
Total weight, battle ready 46.5 tons
Crew 6
Propulsion (Main) Magirus Deutz BF12L513 FC V12 air-cooled diesel
Engine 477 hp (10.25 hp/t)
Suspension A torsion bar suspension with hydraulic shock dampers and bump stops
Speed (road)/(off-road) 80 kph (49 mph) / 30 kph (18 mph)
Range (road) /(off-road) 700 km (435 miles) / 350 km (186 miles)
Armament 155mm G6 L/45 howitzer
7.62mm co-axial Browning MG or 12.7 MG
Armour 40 mm (frontal arc estimate), 7-12 mm (all other arcs)
Total production ~43 (South Africa)
~78 (United Arab Emirates)
~24 (Oman)



G6-52 Part 1 and G6-52 Part 2
G6-45 deploying rear stabilising legs
G6-45 AAD2016 Jane`s


Vehicle Layout

The G6-45 is manned by a crew of six consisting of a commander, layer, breech operator, loader, ammunition handler, and driver. During engagement, the ammunition handler and driver prepare and load the ammo from the outside rear to the loader inside the turret.
The driver’s compartment is located at the front-center of the vehicle between the two front wheel wells.  The driver has day/night viewing capabilities and an excellent 180-degree field-of-view through three large bullet-resistant windows. During a battle, the driver can activate an armored shield which pops-up and covers the front window for extra protection. When the armored shield is activated, the driver uses a day periscope with a view of the front to drive. Located behind the driver is the gearbox and engine (power pack). The driver can only enter and exit the vehicle through a roof hatch located above his seat. The driver’s station contains a comprehensive engine monitoring system.
The turret is mounted at the rear of the vehicle hull, above the two rear axles and is manned by the commander, layer, breech operator and loader. It features several viewing ports, Gyro laying sight for indirect fire and telescope for direct firing. The commander and breech operator are located on the right side of the ordinance while the layer and loader are seated on the left. The commander’s station has basic driving controls from where he can switch off the engine and apply an emergency brake to stop the vehicle. He also has access to a cupola which offers 360-degree viewing as well as roof hatch.
A pintle-mounted 7.62mm or 12.7 mm machine gun can be mounted on the left-hand side roof hatch. The machine gun’s primary function is to engage low flying enemy aircraft, lightly skinned armored vehicles and suppress enemy infantry. Up to 2000 rounds of 7.62 or 1000 rounds of 12.7 mm ammunition can be carried aboard. The rear-right of the turret features a hatch for crew access. A dedicated hatch for ammunition loading is located at the rear-center of the turret, near the floor.
Two banks of four 81mm electrically operated grenade launchers (smoke) are located on either side of the front of the turret.  The turret also has five firing ports (two left, two right and one rear) should the crew be forced to use their R4 rifles for close-in defense.

Rhino G6-45 – Left side view with central hydraulically operated stabiliser legs deployed (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Rhino G6-45 – Right side view with rear hydraulically operated stabiliser legs deployed  (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Rhino G6-45 – Rear view of outside fighting compartment artillery rounds storage racks (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Main armament

The G6-45`s primary armament is a 155mm-L/45 main gun while the G6-52 uses a longer 155mm-L/52 main gun. Much of the early long distance shooting success of the G6-45 was due to its blast chamber having a volume of 23 litres, as compared to the international 21 litres. The G6-52 also features a 23-litre blast chamber.
The G6-45`s 155mm gun uses a single-baffle muzzle brake and an upgraded hydro-pneumatic recoil system and rammer which grants it three rounds a minute rate of fire. The G6-52 features a barrel cooling fan system, a modified multi-baffle design, and a new rammer which increases the rate of fire to six rounds per minute. The G6-45 breech mechanism features an interrupted screw stepped-thread while the G6-52 makes use of a combination swingblock with mushroom head and sliding block. The elevation is maxed at +75 and -5 degrees with a traverse of maximum 40 degrees either left or right horizontally from the centre.
The G6-45 carries a total of 39 rounds (155 mm), 50 charges, 60 primers and 39 fuses (plus 18 backup fuses) are carried (as standard) in racks located at the interior rear of the chassis. The G6-52 makes use of a carousel with 40 projectiles and 40 charges. The 19 rounds carried inside the turret are for emergency use only, while the 8 rounds stored in the nose of the vehicle and the 12 rounds stored in the outside fighting compartment of the turret in special blast out magazines (for the charges) are used first when in a stationary firing position.
All ammunition used by the G6-45 was developed in South Africa and supplied by Rheinmetall Denel Munitions. The G6-45 can fire all standard NATO 155mm ammunition as well as the M1 series Extended Range Full Bore (ERFB) and Extended Range Full Bore-Base Bleed (ERF-BB) ammunition.
The G6-45 and 52 make use of the M64 Modular Charge System (MCS), the latter achieving a velocity of 909 m/s (HEBB) or 911 m/s (HE). Of note is the M9703 Velocity-Enhanced Long-range Artillery Projectile (V-Lap) which combines base-bleed and rocket motor technology developed under the Assegai project. The G6-52 Extended Range (ER) has achieved a range of 70km by combining the M64 MCS and V-Lap.

Ammunition G6-45
fire range
fire range
G6-52 ER
fire range
HE without base bleed 30 km
HE with base bleed 40.5 km 42 km 50 km
HE with V-LAP 52.5 km 58 km 73 km

Note: All firing ranges are at sea level.

Fire control system

The fire control system of the G6 is indirect in nature, as targeting data originates from forward observers, who pass it on through the Artillery Target Engagement System (ATES) to a fire control post before finally being transmitted to the individual G6 Launcher Management System (LMS) via frequency-hopping Very High Frequency (VHF) radio.
The G6-45 layer can only aim the ordinance via a telescopic sight for direct-fire missions while the G6-52 makes use of an automatic gun-laying system. The G6-52 features an automatic fire-control system (AS2000) which includes an automatic gun laying and navigation system (FIN 3110 RLG) designed by BAE Systems. The G6-52 features a new Launcher Management System (LMS) computer integrates the fire control computer system, GPS receiver and the ring laser gyroscope with a touchscreen display and DLS sensors. This, among others, enables the G6-52 to launch multiple round simultaneous impact fire. This involves the firing of several shots at different arcs towards a target so that they impact at the same time which ensures maximum surprise as shells impact their target at the same time. This can be done up to a maximum range of 50km.
Although the G6 is capable of firing from a wheeled stance, it is equipped with four hydraulically operated stabiliser legs two of which are located between the first and second wheel pairs and two located behind the rear wheels. These can be deployed for optimal stability. The G6-45 can deploy to fire in under one minute and can be mobile again in the same time which allows for a quick ‘shoot and scoot’ tactics, making it difficult to locate, target, and hit for example with a counter-battery fire.


The G6-45 features an all welded steel alloy armor which provides protection from small arms fire, ballistic fragments (shrapnel) and explosive concussion across the whole chassis. The frontal arc of the vehicle and turret offers protection from 23mm armor piercing rounds at 1000 m, while the sides and rear are vulnerable.
As with most South African produced military vehicles, the chassis is mine protected, with the floor of the vehicle being double layered for improved protection. This allows the G6-45 to withstand three TM46 anti-tank landmine explosions. The G6-45 incorporates an overpressure biological and chemical protection system while the G6-52 offers full nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) protection system.

The Rhino in Action

It was during the South African Border War that three preproduction vehicles experienced their baptism of fire as part of Operation Modular in 1987. Designated Juliet Troop under the command of Major Jakkie Potgieter, the four G6-45 preproduction vehicles accompanied by a team of civilian technicians traveled under their own power from Potchefstroom Artillery School (South Africa) to their designated assembly area in northern Namibia, a journey of nearly 2500 km. On route one vehicle developed mechanical problems and was towed to Mavinga while the remaining three continued to the operational area. A new gearbox and engine were flown in and the engineers (Tiffies) made the necessary repairs after which it rejoined the other three G6-45s.
There, they joined the expeditionary troops of the 4th South African Infantry Battalion (4SAI). Operating independently as a battery, the four G6-45`s bombarded strategic MPLA and FAPLA military targets. Of note is one instance where an airfield near Cuito Cuanavale was targeted. With special forces (Recces) serving as forward observers, accurate fire missions were given to the G6-45`s which subsequently destroyed four Angolan MIG-21s` taxiing for takeoff. Subsequently, the MPLA was forced to withdraw their airplanes to airfields further away and out of the G6-45 fire range. The end result was that MPLA aircraft had to fly further to execute their aerial mission and subsequently couldn’t spend as much time searching for targets.
On completion of their mission, the four G6-45s traveled under their own power 2500 km back to Potchefstroom without incident.
Rhino G6-45 during Operation Modular in Angola, 1987- With permission from HR Smith

Interactive Ratel 90 with permission from ARMSCor Studios


Few would disagree that the G6-45 was ahead of its time when it was first fielded in 1987. It subsequently proved its combat capabilities during the South African Border War and more recently when G6 variants were fielded by UAE armed forces in Yemen in August 2015. The original objectives of long-range fire, speed, mobility, flexibility, and easy logistics are complemented by the G6`s overall crew protection. Through continued upgrades, the G6`s can remain a force to be reckoned with within the field of self-propelled howitzer vehicles (which are actually fielded) in the foreseeable future.

G6-45,  African Aerospace and Defence 2016, Waterkloof Air Force Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Illustration of the G6 Rhino in SADF service by David Bocquelet
Illustration of the G6 Rhino in SADF service by David Bocquelet
Denel Rhino of the UAE
Denel Rhino of the UAE

South African Wheeled Vehicles


 South Africa (1975) – Infantry Combat Vehicle – 1400+ built

“Ratel”, the African Bush Fighter

The Ratel Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV) takes its Afrikaans name from the South African honey badger. This animal, despite its small size, is a fierce creature which is able to absorb a large amount of physical damage as well as dish it out with its long claws. The Ratel vehicle is therefore well named as it armament and mobility make it a formidable opponent. It was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was subject to ever more strict international embargoes because of its segregation policies (Apartheid). The historical background is also set in 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 the Soviet Union.
Ratel 20 during Operation Meebos, Angola 1982.
Ratel 20 during Operation Meebos, Angola 1982 – With permission from HC Hennie Le Roux


During the mid-1960`s there was a growing realization in the South African Defence Force (SADF) that foreign imported armoured troop vehicles, such as the Saracen, were not up to the task against modern threats and the requirements based on the challenges found in the Southern African environment. What was needed was a highly manoeuvrable, ultra-reliable and easy to maintain ICV armed to the teeth, which could fulfil the doctrine requirements being developed by the SADF for mobile warfare based on an indirect approach and low force density. The “indirect approach” is based on surprise and flanking attacks and avoids frontal attacks on well-prepared defended positions. “Low force density” describes the ratio between the number of troops and the ground they need to hold. In the SADF’s case, few troops over a large area necessitated quick movement, something the Ratel ICV was built for.
Design work on the 6×6 wheeled Ratel began in 1968. It was intended to carry troops rapidly into and out of battle, making mobility the primary characteristic, followed by firepower and armor. The first prototype Ratel was made of soft steel which allowed quicker modification work. The first four production Ratels were put through their paces at the Elandsfontein vehicle testing grounds near Pretoria in 1975. The first batch of 13 Ratels (Mk.1) was delivered from the production line at Sandrock-Austral in Boksburg from 1975 onwards.
After operational field trial tests, improvements were implemented which focused on enhancing the Ratel`s “bush breaking capability” such as large covers to protect external headlights (which were covered by mesh wire at first) and a screen cover to keep leaves from being sucked into the engine. These modifications were only later designated as the Mk.2 standard. The Ratel 20 was put into production and operationally deployed in 1976. The final upgrade of the Ratel to the Mk.3 standard was implemented in 1985 and included more than 135 modifications such as an improved cooling system, additional fuel filters, digital acceleration meter and more robust bush protection (moving the front exterior lights lower and the steps to enter and exit the Ratel were strengthened).
One of the first Ratel 20s during the 1975 evaluations
One of the first Ratel 20s during the 1975 evaluations – With permission from Tony Savides
The Ratel allowed the SADF to wage conventional warfare from 1976 onwards as the South African Border War escalated and cross-border operations became more frequent and more complex. The primary liberation movement for South West Africa (Namibia), the “South West Africa People’s Organization” (SWAPO) conducted increasing daring cross-border sabotage, intimidation and assassination raids from their bases in Angola into South West Africa. Ratels, with their high speed and endurance, were employed to intercept SWAPO raiders when they crossed the border. High-mobility operations saw Ratel formations often consisting of battalion-sized columns with mixtures of other South African produced military vehicles (Buffel, Eland, Samil etc.) leaving their bases located near the northern border of South West Africa to conduct deep incursions into Angola against SWAPO training and logistic camps.
These cross-border incursions by South Africa saw an alliance between itself and the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) which were engaged in a more conventional 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. The war escalated as Cuba, backed by Soviet advisors, sent troops and equipment into the fray. The SADF doctrine of mobile warfare made maximum use of the Ratel`s characteristics and allowed them to influence the flow of the war and hold the line against numerically superior adversaries until peace was declared in 1988.
Approximately 1400 Ratels were built. They were fielded with SADF units such as the 61 Mechanised Battalion Group, 32 Battalion and 4 South African Infantry Battalion. Other units that made use of the Ratel were Citizen Force Mechanised Infantry units as well as other branches of the then SADF such as artillery, engineers and signals. Ratels have also been exported to Cameroon, Djibouti, Ghana, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Rwanda, Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, Senegal, Yemen and Zambia.

Design Features

According to Major General Roland de Vries (retd.), who was closely involved with the Ratel design and doctrine development, the Ratel was the best vehicle ever made for the ultra-mobile African bush warfare. The terrain it operates in is some of the most hostile in the world, which alone inflicts harsh punishment. Characterized by its large wheels, swiftness, bush breaking ability, and versatility as a weapons platform, it was a fearsome adversary in skilled hands during the South African Border War.
Ratels on exercise
Ratels on exercise – With permission from Gerhard Höll 


The Ratel`s 6×6 wheeled configuration was designed for the African battle space and characterized by its versatility and cross-country capability. A six-wheel 14:00 x 20, run flat (designed to resist the effects of deflation when punctured) configuration offered more reliability and required less maintenance than tracked vehicle such as the American Bradley and Warsaw Pact BMP. The Ratel has 350 mm of ground clearance and can ford 1.2 m of water. Unintentional tests have proven that the Ratel is as amphibious as a brick. The Ratel makes use of the Büssing D 3256 BTXF six-cylinder direct injection turbocharged diesel engine which produces 282 hp (14.8 hp/t). The engine is located at the rear left of the vehicle and proved more than sufficient to navigate rough terrain and to push through dense bush and small trees.
The power pack can be field stripped and replaced in roughly 30 minutes by two men using a crane. The engine is coupled to an automatic powershift gearbox containing a hydrodynamic torque converter which eases driving. The gearbox can also be operated manually and had a mechanical emergency gearshift. The power is transmitted to the three axles in two stages with a final decrease using a planetary gearing which is located in the wheel hubs. Each of the three axles has their own lockable differential and longitudinal differential locks. The suspension utilized progressive acting coil springs as well as large hydraulic shock absorbers.

Endurance & Logistics

Remarkably, the Ratel`s operational range was a 1000 km via road and 600 km cross country, which enables flexible force movement in order to achieve surprise. This implies long missions over rugged and variable terrain with little logistical support. It needs to be well armed and self-sustaining, carrying its own supplies, spare parts and a section of infantry. All Ratels can operate over long distances and are loaded with all sorts of equipment and supplies. Spare wheels are lashed to the roof of the hull, while food is stored in every available space (as well as a few cases of beer). The average number of 7.62 mm machinegun rounds carried is at least 6000. All Ratels feature tactical radio communication which enables reliable command and control which further enhances the vehicle’s force multiplier effect. Spare whip aerials for the radio are always carried somewhere on the hull as they have a tendency to break when driving through the brush. The Ratel is equipped with two drinking water tanks as standard and each vehicle carries a cooking stove, tool kit, tow bar, cable and spare parts. One in every four Ratel’s carries a field shower kit. The overall emphasis is on self-sufficiency, from fire support to first aid.

Vehicle Layout

The Ratel was the first wheeled ICV to ever enter service. It featured a proper commander’s cupola which offered a 360-degree field of vision. The commander was located on the left side of the turret while the gunner sat on the right. The driver’s compartment is located at the front and center of the vehicle, from where he has an excellent 270-degree visibility through three large bullet-resistant windows. During the battle, the driver can activate three armored shields which pop up and to cover the windows for extra protection. When the armored shields are activated the driver uses three day-periscopes with a view of the front, left and right to drive. The driver can enter and exit the vehicle from either a roof hatch located above his seat or through the interior of the vehicle. All Ratels can be fitted with a small crane jib or tow bar at the rear which is used to tow a damaged vehicle out of action.
Ratel 90 - View from through commanders cupola
Ratel 90 – View from through gunners cupola (Photo: Dewald Venter)
The hull has entry doors on the left and right which are operated with a hydraulic system to ensure the doors close at any angle while the door at the rear of the hull is manu-matic. The Ratel has several roof hatches which can be used for loading and emergency exiting should the need require.
A Ratel 20 carries a standard complement of three crew and up to eight fully armed and equipped troops. The Ratel`s interior can be considered crowded and although not standard procedure, space can be found for an additional three passengers when required. The mounted troops sat back to back allowing them to shoot out of the four firing ports located on either side of the vehicle. The section leader was also the vehicle commander and sat on the left side of the turret from where he could see through the driver’s window. Located at the rear of the vehicle, another hatch could be equipped with a 7.62 mm Browning on a mount which was primarily used for local and air defense. The success of this air defense arrangement was useless but was sometimes used to great effect in the ground role. The Ratel carries four 81 mm smoke grenade launchers, two on either side of the turret.

Operational Doctrine

Ratels could either fight through an objective by firing its main weapon while the infantry fired out of the firing ports or alternatively, the Ratel would fire its main armament while the infantry dismounted from the entry doors on either side of the hull. While on operations, the roof hatches were often kept open due to the heat. The infantry often sat on top of the hull whenever safe to do so.


The Ratel was designed for speed and mobility at the cost of armor. The Ratel has effective thickness of 20 mm (at 60 degrees) over the frontal arc.  The upper hull sides are 8 mm (at 65 degrees), lower hull 10 mm (at 90 degrees), rear hull 10 mm (at 90 degrees), top hull 6 mm and floor hull 8 mm. The frontal arc offers protection against 12.7 mm armor piercing (AP) rounds while the rest of the hull is sufficiently protected against shrapnel and 7.62 mm AP rounds. Ratels are extremely susceptible to fire from Russian-supplied 20 mm and 23 mm anti-aircraft weapons (often employed in a ground defense role by the MPLA and Cuban forces). Contrary to popular belief, the Ratel, although designed with the threat of mines in mind, does not feature a V-shaped underbelly. It’s mine resistance is derived from the hull`s height above the ground, which is due to its large oversized wheels. The wheels are also designed to blow off and thereby disperse some of the explosive energy. Additionally, the wheel arches form a V-shape which helps deflect mine blasts. During the South African Border War, only one Ratel mine fatality was recorded when a Ratel drove over a double anti-tank mine which detonated under the belly of the vehicle during Operation Meebos in 1982.

The Ratel Family

The Ratel platform served as the basis for an entire family of fighting vehicles which forms the backbone of the South African Mechanised armed forces and includes the basic Ratel 20, Ratel Command, Ratel 60, Ratel 90, Ratel 81, Ratel ZT-3, Ratel Ambulance, Ratel Logistic, Ratel EAOS and the Ratel Recovery.

Ratel 20 – 1975

The Ratel 20 carries three crew members and can accommodate anywhere from eight to eleven mounted infantry (mission dependent). In line with the doctrine of offensive operations, which requires rapid closing with and destruction of the enemy, the main variant of the Ratel features a two-man turret with the first ever dual fed F2 20 mm quick firing cannon. This is a licensed copy of the French GIAT gun and produced in South Africa by LIW, which later became Denel Land Systems. The cannon’s primary purposes are to lay down sustained suppressive fire, engage enemy troops and to destroy soft skinned and lightly armored enemy vehicles. The canon can elevate +38 degrees and -8 degrees. The 20 mm cannon produces a high rate of fire to support dismounting infantry with high explosive (HE) rounds effectively up to 2000 m and armor piercing (AP) rounds up to 1000 m. The Ratel 20 also carries three 7.62mm Browning machine guns, one coaxial, one on the turret and one at the rear of the vehicle, which was primarily used for local and air defense.
Ratel 20 - Crew taking a break during training 1981
Ratel 20 – Crew taking a break during training 1981 – With permission from Stephen van Aardt

Interactive Ratel 20 with permission from ARMSCor Studios

Ratel 12.7 Command – 1979/1980

The Ratel Command is equipped with a turret which traditionally houses a 12.7 mm Browning heavy machine gun as well as the standard coaxial 7.62 mm Browning machine gun and an additional machine gun on top of the turret. The smaller main gun allows for a more spacious turret interior compared to the Ratel 20. The Ratel Command carries the standard three-man crew (vehicle commander, driver and main gunner) with space for six command post personnel. The troop compartment is fitted with map tables, communication equipment to fulfill its designed role specifications. To keep the additional communications equipment from overheating an air-conditioning system was fitted. Other variants included Ratel 20 Command and Ratel 60 Command.
Ratel Command
Ratel Command – With permission Jaco Rothmann

Ratel 60 – 1980/1981

One Ratel 60 is typically assigned to an armored car troop for the purpose of reconnaissance, fire support and anti-ambushing. It is fitted with a turret that carries a short 60 mm M2 breech-loading mortar and the standard coaxial 7.62 mm Browning machine gun. In the direct role, the 60 mm mortar is effective up to 300 meters, or 1700 meters in the indirect role. The 60 mm mortar can fire HE, canister, smoke and illuminating rounds. The vehicle most often operates from the rear to supply indirect fire.
Ratel 60 - Tempe Military Base
Ratel 20 (Barrel removed)- Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Ratel 90 – 1979/1980

The Ratel 90 is based on the Ratel 20, but mounts a turret with a low velocity 90 mm gun, all identical to the Eland 90 which it replaced. Further changes involve the reworking of the roof lining and a reduction of the troop compartment roof hatches from four to two. The Ratel 90 also carries one less passenger in order to make room for more ammunition for its main gun with the installation of extra ammunition racks.
The Ratel 90 serves as a fire support vehicle used to knock out strong points and, while not originally designed for the anti-tank role, proved more than a match for the T-34/85 encountered early on during the South African Border War. As from 1981, the stakes were raised when FAPLA received T-54, T-55 and T-62 tanks from the Soviet Union and Cuba. Mechanised Infantry Groups fielding Ratel 90s achieved success by skillfully outmaneuvering the newer Soviet tanks which required multiple hits with 90 mm high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) rounds from their 90 mm guns, often at point blank range at vulnerable points (engine vents, turret rings) in order to disable them.
Ratel 90 - Tempe Military Base
Ratel 90 – Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Interactive Ratel 90 with permission from ARMSCor Studios

Ratel 81 – 1986/1987

The first four prototypes of the Ratel 81 were delivered to 1 South African Infantry (1SAI) on 12 November 1985. The Ratel 81 has no turret and instead receives a commander’s cupola where the turret would have been located. It is equipped with an 81 mm mortar firing through the roof hatches located in the center of the vehicle. The 81 mm mortar is mounted on a turntable with can traverse a full 360 degrees. This version only has two firing ports on either side of the vehicle. Besides the standard three-man crew the Ratel 81 carries the three-man mortar team and 148 mortar rounds (although this can be increased through creative stacking). The vehicle mostly operates from the rear to supply indirect fire through shoot and scoot tactics.

Ratel 120 – 1993

The Ratel 120 was a Ratel 81 fitted with a 120 mm mortar with only a few modifications necessary. Successful tests were conducted in 1993 at Alkantpan which showed that the 120 mm mortar firing at maximum charge had no negative effect on the Ratel`s suspension system. No Ratel 120 vehicles were produced beyond the prototype.

Ratel ZT-3 – 1987/1988

The ZT-3 is a dedicated anti-armor, support, and reconnaissance vehicle and is equipped with a state of the art 127 mm anti-tank missile system. Due to international sanctions, the SADF had no anti-tank missile which could effectively deal with modern main battle tanks. The South Africans produced the Ingwe (Leopard) missile and launch system, which was developed to breach the said gap. The Ratel ZT-3 was the end result of the marriage of the Ratel and Ingwe missile system. This was the first truly modern anti-tank system in the South African military inventory which could engage and destroy modern military main battle tanks.
The Ingwe has a 5000 m standoff range and makes use of laser beam riding. It mounts a tandem warhead to counter explosive reactive armor. The missile system is mounted on a modified Ratel 60 turret and, unlike most dedicated AT platforms, carries three missiles instead of the standard two. A total of 12 missiles are carried inside the hull for manual reloading. The Ratel ZT-3 made its combat debut while still in preproduction, in September 1987 as part of Operation Moduler, when four ZT-3 vehicles were assigned to 32 Battalion. One of the ZT-3 vehicles destroyed three Soviet tanks at 2000 m in a space of 10 minutes. A sound bite of this engagement can be listened to by clicking here. The SANDF has 53 ZT-3 vehicles.
Ratel ZT3 Ingwe anti-tank missile (early version) penetration on steel block, SA Armour Museum
Ratel ZT3 Ingwe anti-tank missile (early version) penetration on steel block, SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Early concept sketch of what would become the ZT3 missile tank destroyer. Image courtesy of Len Bramwell.
Ratel ZT3-A2, Zwartkop AFB
Ratel ZT3-A2, Zwartkop AFB (Photo: Dewald Venter)

The Ratel in Action

Since its introduction in 1974 and subsequent evolution variants, the Ratel family of vehicles has formed the backbone of all mechanized operations by the former SADF during the South African Border War. It played an integral role during the 1998 Southern African Development Community (SADC) intervention in Lesotho which was led by the SANDF. Various United Nations peacekeeping forces make use of the Ratel in conflict zones. Exported Ratels have also been used during the Libyan Civil War, Yemeni Revolution and Yemeni Crisis (2011–present).


The Ratel was the first true wheeled ICV to enter military service anywhere in the world and for its time, was one of the best ICVs anywhere. It is regarded by most military analysts as the grandfather of all subsequent ICV designs. The Ratel became the backbone of the SADF mechanized battalions and served with distinction during the 26 years South African Border War. In an interview with LITNET (2013), Major General Roland de Vries (retd) summarised the Ratel (translated from Afrikaans):
“The Ratel was remarkable. If we didn’t have the Ratel in Angola during the 80`s, we would not now have peace in our land. The Ratel was much more than a weapon. The combination of firepower, mobility, armor protection and flexibility in its application allowed the vehicle itself to be an integrated combat system.”
The Ratel has left a legacy of 40-year service which few other military vehicles can overshadow. The Ratel is in its final operation service stretch. The SANDF, through “Project Hoefyster”, has chosen to replace two mechanized battalions worth of Ratels with the Patria family of ICV vehicles. These vehicles are patented and produced in South Africa as the aptly named “Badger ICV”.
Badger IFV, Waterkloof AFB
Badger ICV, Waterkloof AFB (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Ratel 20 specifications

Dimensions (H,W,L) 7.21m x 2.7m x 2.9m
Total weight, battle ready 18.5 tons
Crew 3 + 8 = 11 (mission dependent)
Propulsion Büssing D 3256 BTXF six-cylinder direct injection turbocharged diesel engine
282 hp (14.8 hp/t)
Suspension Progressive acting coil springs
Large hydraulic shock absorbers
Speed (road)/(off-road) 105 kph (62 mph) / 60 kph (37 mph)
Range (road) /(off-road) 1000 km (620 miles) / 600 km (372 miles)
Armament Dual fed F2 20 mm quick firing cannon.
7.62mm co-axial Browning MG
7.62mm turret Browning MG
7.62mm Browning MG in AA mount on rear of vehicle
Armour 20 mm (frontal arc), 8-12 mm (all other arcs)
Total production ~1400 (560 remain in service)

Concept sketch of a two-cannon SPAAG version based on the Ratel. Image courtesy of Len Bramwell.



Ratel 90 obstacle course
Ratel Infantry Fighting Vehicle
Anit-Tank Ratel ATGM


Ratel 90
Ratel 90

Ratel 90 - Late 1980`s colour scheme
Ratel 90 – Late 1980`s color scheme

Ratel Command Vehicle
Ratel Command Vehicle

Ratel 81
Ratel 81

Ratel 60
Ratel 60

Ratel 20
Ratel 20

Ratel ZT3