Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC)

Argentina Argentina (1982-present)
Armored Command Vehicle – 9 built

With the introduction of the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP) in the early 80’s and the infrastructure to produce more vehicles using the same technology, Argentina was in a unique position to produce a family of vehicles based on the same chassis. After a mortar carrying vehicle and plans for a Self-Propelled Gun, the next step was a command vehicle to coordinate the units of the Ejército Argentino: the Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC).

Context – The Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP)

Whilst working on the TAM for Argentina, Thyssen-Henschel delivered another vehicle, effectively just a modified Marder 1 IFV, known as the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP). The VCTP’s role was dual: Armored Personnel Carrier and Infantry Fighting Vehicle. Armed with a 20 mm autocannon in a fully rotatable turret and two machine guns, the VCTP had considerable firepower and carried a contingent of 10 infantry. Initially, these vehicles would have also been used as command vehicles by reducing the offensive capabilities. However, to be effectively used as a command vehicle, there had to be an increase in logistic and communication capabilities.

The VCTP ploughing through the Argentinian Pampa – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 65

The first plans to adapt the common TAM family chassis into a command vehicle were drawn in 1982, and production began in 1984. Only 9 would be built in addition to 2 VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and 4 VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro) artillery fire control variants.

Design

External Appearance and Armor

The VCPC is essentially a turretless VCTP with a command cupola. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull are a set of 4 Wegmann 76 mm smoke launchers. On the left of the frontal section is an antenna for the radio equipment. The VCPC carries several pieces of pioneer equipment on the sides of the hull and on top of the frontal chassis.

When static, for added camouflage, the VCPC can deploy a camouflage net held by two poles placed on the top of the vehicle. There are several hatches on the vehicle: one on top of the driver’s position on the front left; one behind this position; a command cupola on the right towards the middle of the vehicle with 1 episcope; and a large hatch in the middle rear, which consists of two outwards opening doors. Armament consists of a single 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun placed in the commander’s cupola. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard ammunition for the machine gun fired has a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry consists of the crew’s personal weapons and 9 hand grenades.

A VCPC acting as a command post. Notice that only one of the poles for the camouflage net has been employed. Note the radio antenna at the forefront – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 52

Although not meant for combat, the VCPC’s armor is made of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm.

Additionally, the VCPC is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours. The NBC system feeds the main and driver’s compartments with filtered air that can absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle is able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as high as 42ºC, ideal for the varied terrain in Argentina. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system which can also be manually triggered from the interior or exterior.

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCPC retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock dampers, a legacy of the Marder 1 design.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted with snow cleats if required.

Interior

The interior of the VCPC is divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these sub-sections, occupying 2/3 of the frontal space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and another one behind for another of the crew members or one of the passengers with 1 episcope. The whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The bigger rear section occupies the central and rear part of the vehicle and is where command operations are carried out. It is divided in two compartments by a metal screen: a smaller one for the VCPC’s commander; and a larger one for the passengers. In the middle of this larger section is a map table with seats on both sides.

The interior of the VCPC. Notice the map table in the center – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 52

In addition to the VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and the SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor on all TAM family vehicles, for command duties, the VCPC has an SEL UHF and SEL unique multi-band radio systems provided by Fabricaciones Militares with Israeli aid. The UHF radio has a 4,000 km range and was allegedly used to communicate with an Argentinian base in the Antarctic from a VCPC based in Buenos Aires. The multi-band radio system is used to communicate with airborne units, such as planes and helicopters, allowing modern cross-branch cooperation and communication.

The crew is either 3 or 4: driver, commander, and up to two radio operators. Additionally, 6 regimental staff are carried. An improved air conditioning system not seen in other TAM family vehicles was incorporated on the VCPC.

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCPC is the MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine, a six-cylinder rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 36.67 revolutions per second or 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute. This, alongside a weight of under 25 tonnes compared to the VCTP’s 28.2 tonnes, gives the vehicle a power-to-weight ratio of 21.2 kilowatts per tonne or 28.8 hp per tonne.

The engine is kept cool by two ventilators at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.

The gearbox on the VCPC is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three are epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth is a clutch disc.

The maximum road speed is 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The VCPC carries 650 liters of fuel for a maximum range of 590 km. This can be supplemented with 200-liter fuel tanks on each side of the hull for a total of 1,050 liters extending the maximum operating range to 840 km. However, these are not often added to the VCPC.

Among other performance indicators, the VCPC can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles, and 2.9 m trenches. It is capable of fording 1.5 m deep water without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.

Organization and Service

Each of the Regimentos de Infantería Mecanizados (RI Mec) [Eng. Mechanized Infantry Regiments] equipped with TAM family vehicles has a VCPC leading it. In the RI Mecs that are not equipped with TAM family vehicles, this role is carried out by M577A2. The regiments have two companies, each with three sections. Each section has four VCTPs plus an additional one for section command (total of five). The regiment’s headquarter section has the aforementioned VCPC, a VCTP for the second in command, and four Vehículos de Combate Transporte Mortero (VCTM) for fire support. The VCPC of each RI Mec has the role of coordinating the regiment’s infantry, VCTPs and VCTMs during operations with the regiment’s commander and headquarters staff being on board. The advanced radio and communications equipment on board allows for constant communication and coordination with other regiments and units.

There are almost no details for the VCPC’s service, but they may have seen action in 1989 during the attack on La Tablada barrack in Buenos Aires province. In this incident, the left-wing Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP) [Eng. All for the Fatherland Movement], which was heavily inspired by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, took over the La Tablada barracks of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 3 on January 23rd. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the reasons behind this attack, but during the subsequent court hearings, MTP members claimed that they were attempting to prevent another carapintada military coup, of which there had already been three between April 1987 and December 1988. Others would claim that the attack on the barracks was a failed attempt to instigate a popular uprising. To quell the revolt, the VCTPs and infantry of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde» were sent to La Tablada, thus it is easy to assume that there would have been one VCPC among them. In the end, after several hours of fighting, MTP was defeated after losing 32 fighters.

A VCPC leading forces during Ejercicio Reconquista in July 2006 – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 52

Variants – The VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro)

Two almost identical vehicles derived from the VCPC were built for artillery fire control in the mid-90’s. The main difference between them and the VCPC comes down to their roles; whereas the VCCDF is used by artillery groups, the VCCDT is used at battery level. An easy way to identify them is by looking at the top of the vehicle. The VCPC has two antennas and the VCCDF and the VCCDT have four. They were built in small numbers: there are 2 VCCDFs and 4 VCCDTs.

Both vehicles are used in the armored artillery groups Grupo de Artillería Blindado 9 and Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne», both of which are equipped with the TAM-based Vehículo de Combate Artillería (VCA). GA Bl 9 is based in Chubut province in the middle of the Patagonian plateau, whilst GA Bl 11 is based in the town of Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, Santa Cruz province, the southernmost point of Patagonia. Each GA consists of two batteries of 4 VCAs. Additionally, each battery has a VCCDT to command operations at battery level, whilst there is a single VCCDF per GA to command the operations of the whole group.

A battery of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne», showing 4 VCAs, a VCCDT and a VCCDF – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 44
A VCCDF unloading from a tank transporter. Notice the VCA in the background – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 49
A VCCDT followed by a VCCDF which a part of a battery of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne» – Cicalsei & Rivas, p. 49

Conclusion

The VCPC is proof of the flexibility demonstrated by the Ejército Argentino in procuring new equipment. It is a simple yet effective conversion on tested and trusted technology to fulfill new roles without reducing the number of TAMs and VCTPs already in service. There is no reason the VCPC will go out of service soon, even if the TAM, VCTP or VCA are substituted for more modern equipment.

Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC), EA 435196, ‘KELLER’ illustration produced by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCPC specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.83 x 3.29 x 2.03 m
Total weight 25 tonnes
Crew 3-4 (driver, commander and one or two operators) + 6 regimental staff
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Maximum speed 75 km/h
Range 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament Main – 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP)

Argentina (1976 – present)
Infantry Fighting Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier – around 124-216 built

Whilst the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) has become the most celebrated armored vehicle of the Argentine Armed Forces, the Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP) has, perhaps unfairly, not achieved such fame. Despite the fact that the development of both vehicles took place at the same time, much information regarding the history of the VCTP is hard to come by. This is quite surprising given that the VCTP is the only vehicle of the TAM family to have seen service outside of Argentina.

Context – Plan Europa

Argentina had remained neutral during most of WWII. Although it declared war on Germany and Japan in March 1945, the country had previously held strong sympathies towards Germany. On June 4th, 1943, a coup took place which, in time, gave rise to Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, the most divisive character in Argentinian history, becoming the country’s president in 1946.

In military terms, Argentina had a large army for its region. Taking advantage of the end of WWII and the availability of a large stock of surplus and extremely cheap US and British armored vehicles, Argentina became a considerable military power in the zone. Between 1946 and 1949, Argentina purchased or acquired at least 250 Universal Carriers, around 360-400 Shermans (M4A4’s and Firefly tanks), 18 Crusader II, Gun Tractor Mk I, 6 M7 Priests and 320 M-series Half-tracks.

By the mid-1960s, these vehicles were becoming obsolete and a plan to replace them was put into action. Led by General Eduardo J. Uriburu, the intention of this project was to modernize and diversify Argentina’s armored vehicles with the purchase of European vehicles. The ultimate goal, however, was to avoid dependence on any foreign power to provide armored vehicles. As set out by the Estado Mayor General del Ejército (EMGE), the plan would be to not only acquire the vehicles but also the authorization to produce them under license in Argentina. Before the end of the decade, the purchase of 80 AMX-13’s armed with a 105 mm gun, 180 AMX VCI Armored Personnel Carriers, 14 AMX-155 F3 and 2 AMX-13 PDP (Poseur De Pont) Modèle 51’s from France and around 60 or 80 Mowag Grenadiers and possibly a number of Mowag Roland from Switzerland was agreed. Additionally, 60 Mowag Rolands and 40 AMX-13’s were assembled under license in Argentina.

The main purpose was to find a modern and adequate replacement for the Sherman Firefly as the main battle tank for the Argentinian armed forces. In 1973, EMGE set out the requirements for a medium tank to equip Argentinian forces from the 1980s onwards.

The Tanque Argentino Mediano, the VCTP’s tank cousin, which since 1979 has been Argentina’s main battle tank – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 27

Enter Thyssen-Henschel

The company which met EMGE’s requirements for a new tank was the West German Thyssen-Henschel. This would be an agreement for co-production and technology-sharing with Argentine engineers collaborating from the very beginning.

At some point, once Thyssen-Henschel had got involved, the West German company decided to also produce an Infantry Fighting Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier which would become the VCTP. It was built with the purpose of mechanizing the infantry whilst also being able to provide fire support.

It was agreed by both parties that, for ease of production, speed of development, and presumably cost, it was best to base the new vehicles on pre-existing and tested technology. To that end, the Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which equipped the West German Army, was chosen as the basis for the new vehicles. In essence, the VCTP is an up-gunned and higher troop capacity Marder.

Thyssen-Henschel finished the first VCTP in 1977.

Trials

The VCTP was tested at the Thyssen-Henschel facilities along with two TAMs before being sent to Argentina for further testing and evaluation under the supervision of EMGE. The vehicle was shown to the public for the first time on May 25th 1977. Thyssen-Henschel built another prototype and improved it with more expensive equipment. This vehicle, the TH-302, was intended for the export market, but unfortunately for the West German company, it was unable to find any additional customers. It is very important to establish that, like the TH-301 and the TAM, the TH-302 was not a prototype for the VCTP, but rather a development of the prototype by Thyssen-Henschel.
Over the next 2 years, the VCTP and TAM drove almost 10,000 km over all the types of terrain and in all the climates found in Argentina. For context, Argentina has very varied geography: mountainous and very high peaks in the west, arid deserts across the middle of the country, wetlands in the northeast and polar tundra in the south.

The TAM and VCTP prototypes during trials – source: Mazarrasa, p. 14

The tests were deemed very satisfactory and, during the trials, EMGE ordered the construction (though this was most likely more of an assembly job) of 4 more prototypes (2 TAM and 2 VCTP) in the General San Martín and Río Tinto factories to carry out more tests and evaluate the factory’s capacities before producing the serial version. One of the main changes from the prototype to the serial production version was the reduction of the crew from 3 to 2, with the vehicle’s commander giving way to an extra infantry trooper. Additionally, the rear weapons station was changed.

The VCTP prototype. Note the different weapons platform at the rear to that of the serial production vehicle – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Towards Serial Production

EMGE wanted to produce, or at least assemble, the new vehicles in Argentina. So, a whole new infrastructure had to be created, incorporating state-run enterprises and also private companies. Although the industrial development Argentina put into motion was mainly for the purpose of assembling and producing elements of the TAM, due to the nature of the VCTP, which used the same components and was based on the same chassis, these were also essential in the production of the VCTP. For example, the General San Martín factory built the hulls for the VCTP and TAM, and Río Tercero was put in charge of building the turrets and armament. The Argentinian Company Bator Cocchis SA produced the torsion bars and rubber pads. However, many components were still manufactured in West Germany or other countries, with several different companies working on different elements, including:

– Motoren- und Turbinen-Union (MTU) GmbH – engine
– Renk – transmission
– Diehl – tracks
– Standard Elektrik Lorenz – communications
– Carl Zeiss – optics
– Tensa
– Bertolina
– Pescarmone and Fiat – some elements of the undercarriage

In all, according to Mazarrasa and Sigal Fagliani, by 1983, 70% of all TAM components were being produced in Argentina, so it can be estimated that a similar percentage was also applicable to the VCTP.

In March 1980, with the objective of having one company that would coordinate the whole program, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE) was created. TAMSE was established as the main contractor of the TAM and VCTP and given the task of overseeing the final assembly, delivery integration of the tanks into the army, trials, homogenization of the optics and armament and potential exports.

TAMSE was given a 9,600 km2 covered assembly plant in Boulogne sur Mer, just outside Buenos Aires. The installations at Boulogne sur Mer also housed two warehouses to stock vehicle components, offices, laboratories for quality control evaluation, engine test benches, a pit for trials and a shooting range.

Production had begun beforehand in April 1979, with most components coming from West Germany and assembly taking place in already existing factories. The initial order was for 200 TAM and 312 VCTP, though this would not initially be fulfilled.

Numbers Built?

One of the hardest facts to establish about the VCTP is the exact number built, as there are widely differing figures. In his book La Familia Acorazada TAM, Spanish author Javier de Mazarrasa states that, in 1995, as many as 216 VCTPs and Vehículos de Combate Puesto de Comando (VCPC) had been built. A much more conservative estimate is given by Juan Carlos Cicalesi and Santiago Rivas in TAM (published in 2012), who state that only 124 were built, in addition to 9 VCPCs.

A veteran of the wars in Yugoslavia. Note the remnants of UN whitewash paint on the wheels – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Design

External Appearance and Armor

As stated previously, externally, in appearance and design, the VCTP is very similar to the Marder IFV. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull are a set of 4 Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers.

In the center of the vehicle is the turret. On the front of the right-hand side of the turret is a small hatch to dispense used cartridges. On top of the turret are two hatches, one for an infantry commander and the vehicle’s gunner.

The VCTP’s armor is made out of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm. Turret armor is 35 mm at the front.
Additionally, the VCTP is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours. The NBC system feeds the main and driver’s compartments with filtered air that can absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle is able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as much as 42ºC, ideal for the varied terrain in Argentina. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system which can also be manually triggered from the interior or exterior.

Armament

The VCTP has a variety of armaments. Its main gun is located in the fully rotating turret and consists of a Rheinmetall Mk 20 Rh-202 20 mm autocannon, which has a total length of 2,612 mm (2,002 mm barrel length) and a weight of 75 kg. The gun’s depression is -11º, whilst its elevation is +60º. Effective firing range is deemed at 2,000 m, though maximum firing range far exceeds this. The Mk 20 Rh-202 fires 880 rounds a minute, which can be increased to 1,030 rounds a minute on quick-fire mode.

Some sources (Sigal Fagliani) suggest that Argentina encountered issues with Rheinmetall regarding a weapons embargo and turned to the Swiss Oerlikon KAD 20 mm autocannon, the new name of the Hispano-Suiza HS.820 following Oerlikon’s purchase of Hispano-Suiza, as the main weapon for the VCTP. Regardless, the Oerlikon KAD and the Rh-202 could fire the same projectiles.
A total of 1,000 cartridges of two types of ammunition for the main gun are carried in the VCTP: the High Explosive DM81 and the Armor-Piercing DM63. These are placed in ammunition clips with 325 DM81 cartridges and 75 DM63 cartridges.

Name DM81 DM63
Muzzle Velocity (m/s) 1,045 1,150
Weight (g) 120 108

The fire control system for the main gun on the VCTP is hydraulic. The gunner has a Zeiss PERI-Z11A1 sight with ×4 magnification and an LRP-2100 panoramic periscope.

Secondary armament consists of two 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine guns, one placed on top of the turret and a second-placed in a TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station at the rear of the vehicle. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard ammunition for the machine guns has a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. A total of 5,000 rounds are carried inside. Additional weaponry for the crew includes their personal weapons and 9 hand grenades.

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCTP retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock dampers.
The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted by snow cleats if required.

Interior

The interior of the VCTP is divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two subsections. The bigger of these subsections, occupying 2/3 of the frontal space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and another one behind for one of the passengers. The whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The driver’s position inside the VCTP – source: Wikipedia Commons

The bigger rear section occupies the central and rear part of the tank and is where the 10 infantry (1 commander and 9 troopers) the VCTP carries sit. Bizarrely, the infantry platoon commander also acts as the vehicle’s commander and usually sits in the turret, where there are seven episcopes and one periscope to observe the vehicle’s surroundings. The infantrymen are seated on a central bench back-to-back with five on each side. Furthermore, they can provide fire from inside the vehicle through the three hatches placed on each side of the hull. One of the infantry also has the task of operating the TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station at the rear. This role is assisted by four periscopes and 3 episcopes, crucial to know where and what to fire at.

At the rear of the vehicle, there is a small door for the crew and infantry to enter and exit and to replenish ammunition and other things the VCTP may need.

Infantry exiting the rear of the VCTP prototype – source: Top Gun
The VCTP prototype with its crew of 3 (changed to 2 in the serial production vehicle) and 9 infantry passengers (later increased to 10) – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and a SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor.

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCTP is the MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine, a six-cylinder rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 36.67 revolutions per second or 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute. This gives the vehicle a power-to-weight ratio of 17.6 kilowatts per tonne or 24 hp per tonne.

The engine is kept cool by two fans at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.

The gearbox on the VCTP is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three are epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth is a clutch disc.

The maximum road speed is 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The VCTP carries 650 liters of fuel for a maximum range of 590 km. This can be supplemented with two 200 liter tanks for a total of 1,050 liters which extends the maximum operating range to 840 km. However, these are not often added on the VCTP. Other capacity fuel tanks have also been used.

Among other performance indicators, the VCTP can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles and 2.9 m trenches. When it comes to fording, it is capable of fording 1.5 m deep waters without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.

Operational Service

When production began in April 1979, it was expected that 200 TAM and 312 VCTP would be completed by April 1985, when the project was expected to terminate. However, economic difficulties meant that production was stopped at 150 TAM and 100 VCTP in 1983. Additionally, 70 unfinished vehicles were left in the factory. The first serial production vehicles left the factory in 1980.

Having built the facilities and invested a considerable amount of money but with production terminated, it was decided to try to seek success in exporting both types of vehicles. However, several deals with Arab and Latin American countries fell through and, to date, no vehicle has been exported. In the meantime, the Ejército Argentino incorporated 20 TAMs and 26 VCTPs which had been built for export to Peru.

The VCTP would see its combat debut in January 1989 during the attack on La Tablada barrack in Buenos Aires province. In this incident, the left-wing Movimiento Todos por la Patria (MTP) [Eng. All for the Fatherland Movement], which was heavily inspired by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas, took over the La Tablada barracks of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 3 on January 23rd, 1989. There is a lot of controversy surrounding the reasons behind this attack, but during the subsequent court hearings, MTP members claimed that they were attempting to prevent another ‘carapintada’ military coup, of which there had already been three between April 1987 and December 1988. Others would claim that the attack on the barracks was a failed attempt to instigate a popular uprising. To quell the revolt, the VCTPs and infantry of the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde» were sent to La Tablada. In the end, after several hours of fighting, MTP was defeated after losing 32 fighters.

Two VCTPs belonging to Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde» which intervened during the assault on La Tablada barracks in January 1989 – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 60

Extract of a video showing a VCTP and infantry advancing on La Tablada barracks in January 1989

The VCTP would also see some action during one of the ‘carapintada’ military coups which shook Argentina between 1987 and 1990. In the last of this series of coups (December 3rd, 1990), rebellious forces under Captain Gustavo Breide Obeid took over a series of military installations, among them TAMSE. The officer who took the factory, Colonel Jorge Alberto Romero Mundani, ordered 9 or 10 TAM in the factory to head to Buenos Aires. On route, the tanks ran over a group of civilians, killing 5 of them before heading off to Mercedes. Seeing that the attempted coup was heading for failure, Romero Mundani committed suicide, one of 8 military casualties of the failed coup.

In 1992, 15 VCTPs were sent to Yugoslavia as part of the United Nations Protection Force (UNPROFOR). The vehicles were painted in UN white and departed Argentina on March 24th, 1992 on the ship ARA Cabo de Hornos, arriving in Bar, in modern-day Montenegro, in May. Within Yugoslavia, they were sent as part of the Batellón Argentino to Western Slavonia, on Croatia’s northern border with Bosnia. En route to Slavonia, when the contingent was outside Osijek, two VCTPs were shelled by enemy forces resulting in the deaths of some civilians. In October 1982, VCTPs were deployed to prevent Croat militias from attacking Serb civilians. Most of the actions in late 1992 involved controlling the large groups of refugees. No exact details are known of the exact role the VCTP’s played, but starting in January 1993, the Batellón Argentino and other UNPROFOR units in the sector were kept busy during the Croat Operation Maslenica to retake territory in northern Dalmatia and Lika from Krajina Serb forces.

Unfortunately, not much more is known about their actions in the crumbling former Yugoslavia, but they finished their service and returned to Argentina in 1995 when UNPROFOR was ended and replaced by three different missions.

The 15 VCTPs which were sent to Yugoslavia undergoing maintenance – source: Wikipedia Commons
One of the VCTPs sent to Yugoslavia representing the Batellón Argentino of UNPROFOR – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 62

Since then (as of April 2020), the VCTP has served alongside the M113 as the main armored personnel carrier of the Ejército Argentino. In 2008, a small number of VCTPs were refurbished by Comando de Arsenales in the former TAMSE installations at Boulogne sur Mer.

As of 2019, there was a plan to modernize the VCTP by bringing some of its components up to date, including its hydraulic, electronic and optic systems, fire control system and ballistic computer. Exact details are unknown and neither is how many, if any, have been modernized.

A VCTP post-2008 refurbishment at Comando de Arsenales – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 61

Organization

The VCTP equips the Regimentos de Infantería Mecanizada of the Ejército Argentino, in other words, the mechanized infantry regiments. Those regiments equipped with VCTPs, such as the Regimiento de Infantería Mecanizado 7 «Coronel Conde», have two companies each divided into three sections, with 4 VCTPs per section and an additional one for the company commander. This is a total of 29 VCTPs per regiment. Additionally, each regiment is led by a VCPC and is accompanied by 4 Vehículos de Combate Transporte Mortero. Other mechanized infantry regiments use M113’s under the same organization.

A column of VCTPs led by a VCPC. Note the overhead hatches for the infantry inside to fire from – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 59

Export Failure

As with the TAM, once production of the VCTP was terminated two years early, EMGE unsuccessfully attempted to export the vehicles. Their intention was to try to make TAMSE financially viable to recoup the heavy investment in its set-up and infrastructure.

In mid-1983, Peru made an effort to purchase 100 TAMSE vehicles (TAM and VCTP). However, financial reasons meant that they canceled the order and stuck with vehicles already in service. The 20 TAM and 26 VCTP already built for this delivery were transferred to the Argentinian Army.

In 1984, Panama ordered 60 vehicles, again, divided between TAMs and VCTPs. However, this would not materialize. It is possible that the sources about this are incorrect, and that the tanks for Panama were actually for Iran.

The closest Argentina got to selling a TAMSE vehicle was to Ecuador in 1988-89. Ecuador was looking for a tank for its armed forces and had a competition between different tanks to inform and determine their decision. The TAM’s competitors were the Austrian SK-105, the American Stingray, and the French AMX-13. The TAM was the comfortable winner, scoring 950/1000 points. The deal was going to be for the purchase of 75 vehicles (TAMs, VCTPs and VCRTs) for US$108 million. It fell through, according to Sigal Fagliani, because of the threatened closure of TAMSE. In the end, Ecuador did not purchase any tanks.

Variants

Since its inception, the VCTP has played a variety of roles in the Argentinian Army. Mainly due to financial constraints, purpose-built or modified vehicles for those roles have been unavailable.

Ambulance

Originally, several VCTPs had their turrets removed, thus becoming Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia (VCA). In 2001, there was an effort to create a purpose-built ambulance vehicle, the VCAmb, but after only one wooden mock-up, the project was canceled. As a consequence, the VCTP continued to be used in this role, either without its turret or just without the main armament. It is possible only the driver is retained, as the gunner is no longer needed. In addition, in its ambulance configuration, the VCTP, or VCA, carries two medics and medical equipment. The vehicle carries 4 people on stretchers, two on stretchers and four sitting down, or eight sitting down.

A VCTP in ambulance configuration during Ejercicio Reconquista 2006. Note the main armament has been removed and a big red cross has been painted on the turret – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 61

Mine Clearing

All vehicles in the TAM family, more often than not, the VCTM, can carry an Israeli-built RKM mine-roller for mine-clearing duties.

Engineering

A small number of VCTPs have been repurposed as engineering vehicles by having their turrets and TPA-1 rear weapons platforms removed. The interior has been reconditioned so as to act as a small workshop. Additionally, a ladder has been added on the left-hand side of the hull.

Derivatives, the TAM family

One of the most distinguishing factors of the TAM family is how flexible a platform it is, having spawned several derivatives, including recovery vehicles, self-propelled guns and mortar carriers. Whilst this flexibility was not one of the initial requirements set by EMGE, it was very much appreciated and was in line with the initial wishes of the Argentinian military authorities, to reduce or limit the reliance on foreign vehicles. Several of the vehicles belonging to the TAM family seem to be direct derivatives or variants of the VCTP itself.

VCTM (Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero)

Produced from 1980’s onwards, it was the first TAM family vehicle to have been designed in Argentina. Eliminating the turret of a VCTP, it carries a 120 mm Brandt MO-120-RT mortar which fires through the hole where the turret once stood. 36 VCTMs have been built and are still in service.

Two VCTM firing during a military exercise – source: Thai Military and Asian Region

VCPC (Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando)

A variant of the VCTP developed in 1982, the VCPC is a command vehicle that substitutes the turret of the VCTP for a hatch for the commander. It has additional radio and communications systems and a map table in the middle of the vehicle. Only 9 have been built.

Entering service in 1982, the VCPC has served as a command vehicle – source: Taringa

VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and TAM VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro)

Two identical vehicles derived from the VCTP were built for artillery fire control in the mid-’90s. The difference between them comes down to their roles; whereas the VCCDF is used by artillery groups, the VCCDT is used at the battery level. They were built in small numbers, there are 2 VCCDFs and 4 VCCDTs.

Conclusion

The VCTP has played an important role in the Ejército Argentino since it first entered service at the beginning of the 1980s. It has also been the only TAM family vehicle to have seen service outside of Argentina given its role as part of the Batellón Argentino in Yugoslavia. However, whilst not as urgently as the TAM, the VCTP should soon be replaced with more modern equipment, as it is heavily based on the 1960’s technology. The chances of this happening are slim, as there is no imminent threat to Argentina where the VCTPs age would show, and the limited budget will probably be used on finding an alternative to the TAM. As such, it is likely that the VCTP will continue to see service with Argentina for the foreseeable future.

A VCTP plowing through the Argentinian Pampa. Whilst mostly based on 1960’s technology, short of some minor modernizations, the VCTP is still going to provide support for the Argentinian infantry for the foreseeable future – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 65
VCTP in two-tone green camouflage – illustrated by David Bocquelet
VCTP in a rare green-pink camouflage pattern – illustrated by David Bocquelet
VCTP call sign 313, serial number EA 434036, ‘MTE LONGDON’ in traditional sand-green camouflage with open rear entry door – illustrated by Pablo Javier Gómez
VCTP in UN livery as part of UNPROFOR in Slavonia, Croatia 1992-1995 – illustrated by David Bocquelet
Another view of a UN VCTP, this time with external fuel tanks, a UN and Argentinian flag at the rear and one painted on the hull – illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

Anon., “Advierten que Panamá podría embargar la fragata Libertad,” Clarín, 09 September 1999

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report]

Guillermo Axel Dapía, El Desarrollo de la industria de blindados en Argentina y Brasil: un estudio comparado de integración económico-militar, Thesis, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2008

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)

Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)

Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008

Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)

Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCTP Specifications

Dimensions (L/w/h) 6.83 x 3.29 x 2.68 m
Total weight, battle ready 28.2 tonnes
Crew 2 (driver and gunner) + 10 infantry (1 commander and 9 troopers)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cylinder diesel, 720 hp
Range 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament Main – 20 mm Rheinmetall Mk 20 Rh-202 / Oerlikon KAD
Secondary – 2 x 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40 (one on top of turret, one in TPA-1 weapon platform in rear)
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Turret – 35 mm
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero (VCTM)

Argentina Argentina (1980-present)
Mortar Carrying Armored Vehicle – 36-50 built

As early as the Great War, the British Army experimented with mounting a mortar between the rear horns of a Mark IV Tadpole. Placing a mortar on an armored vehicle has the advantages of the extra protection offered by the armor and the mobility of the platform. These vehicles became more common in the Cold War era and continue to be used by modern militaries. Among the many nations around the world developing their own mortar-carrying armored vehicles is Argentina. Using the development of the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP) carried out by Thyssen-Henschel, the Argentinians designed their own vehicle, the Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero (VCTM).

The VCTM during a military exercise – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 56

The Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP)

In the 1970s, Argentina set up an ambitious program to find an adequate replacement for its aging fleet of WWII vintage armored vehicles. After several previous programs, including the up-gunning of its Shermans to ‘Repotenciado’ standard and purchasing French AMX-13s, including the licensed production of a small number of them, Argentina reached an agreement with the West German company, Thyssen-Henschel. Thyssen-Henschel then proceeded to develop a tank, the TAM, and an Infantry Fighting Vehicle/Armored Personnel Carrier, the VCTP, based on tried and tested components on a Marder 1 IFV chassis. Whilst the technology and many of the components would be produced in West Germany, assembly would take place in Argentina, along with the construction of armament, turrets and hulls.

In March 1980, with the objective of having a single company that would coordinate the whole program, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE) was created. TAMSE was established as the main contractor of the TAM and VCTP and was given the task of overseeing the final assembly, delivery and integration of the tanks into the army, trials, homogenization of the optics and armament and potential exports.


The TAM (left) and the VCTP (right) – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 21 and 61

TAMSE was given a 9,600 km2 covered assembly plant in Boulogne sur Mer, just outside Buenos Aires. This installation also housed two warehouses to stock vehicle components, offices, laboratories for quality control evaluation, engine test benches, a pit for trials and a shooting range.

Even at this early stage, it was decided to use these facilities and acquired technologies and know-how to develop a family of armored vehicles based on this common chassis and components, easing production and familiarity. The first of the Argentinian produced vehicles, soon to be known as the TAM family, was a mortar carrying vehicle, the VCTM. With the design dating from 1980, the VCTM is essentially a turretless VCTP which carries a large 120 mm mortar. It is not known exactly when the project began, however, it originated with an order from Jefatura III del Comando del Ejército [Eng. Army Headquarters]. 2,000 blueprints were produced by the engineering department, apparently without foreign assistance. Nevertheless, Michael Scheibert, author of SPz Marder und seine Varianten, states that the VCTM was also a Thyssen-Henschel design. Sigal Fagliani, who adamantly defends this as the first TAM Argentinian project, gives the figure of 30 months between the production of the first prototype and the serial production vehicles. Unfortunately, most of the relevant authors do not provide dates.

Design

External Appearance and Armor

Externally, in appearance and design, the VCTM is very similar to the VCTP, and thus, the Marder IFV. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull is a set of 4 Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers. In the center of the vehicle is a large hatch for the mortar to fire. This hatch consists of three sections, one opening to the front and two opening to the sides.

The VCTM’s armor is made out of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm.

Additionally, the VCTM is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours, although they cannot fire without losing NBC protection. The NBC system feeds the main and driver’s compartment with filtered air that can absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle is able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as much as 42ºC. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system that can be triggered from the interior or exterior.

All vehicles in the TAM family, though more often than not, the VCTM, can carry an Israeli-built RKM mine-roller for mine-clearing duties on a fitting placed on the front of the hull. Mortar vehicles are not often used in these duties, but Argentina seems to have. However, if Argentina were to ever actually enter any real conflict, it may be unlikely that the VCTMs continue to carry out these duties.

A VCTM carrying an RKM mine-roller during a test on a minefield – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 57

Armament

The VCTM carries a French 120 mm Brandt AM-50 mortar as its main armament, which is 1,746 mm long and weighs 242 kg. It has a maximum elevation of 85º but is limited to 17º horizontal traverse, meaning that to fire at different angles, the VCTM has to move. The aiming optic is an AOP-1. These figures are those given by Mazarrasa, whilst Sigal Fagliani produces different data. To start with, Sigal Fogliani denominates the mortar as LR and claims ‘it is completely constructed by Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares’. The dimensions and weight provided by Sigal Fogliani are a tube length of the mortar of 1.5 m weighing 44 kg, with an additional 22.5 kg from the mount, 35.6 kg from the base plate, and 1.3 kg from the aiming optics. Sigal Fogliani also assesses that the mortar is on top of a rotating base which allows it to fire at 360º with an elevation of between 45º and 80º. Sigal Fogliani’s claims are spurious as he designates the mortar wrongly and mentions that there are only two crew members operating the mortar. All photographic evidence points towards 5 mortar operators. Regardless, the AM-50 fires between 8 and 12 rounds a minute. A total of 49 rounds are carried inside the VCTM behind the mortar stored in 7×7 racks. There are four ammunition types:

  • PEPA-LP (Projectile Empané à Propulsion Aditionale-Longue Portée): a long-range rocket-assisted high explosive shell weighing 13.4 kg, with a range of 9,500 m and an initial firing velocity of 240 m/sec.
  • M44: a high explosive shell weighing 13 kg and limited to a 6,650 m range.
  • M62: a smoke round also weighing 13 kg.
  • M62ED: an illuminating shell weighing 13 kg.
Fire! By pulling a long lanyard, the mortar operator is firing the 120 mm Brandt AM-50 mortar inside the VCTM – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 58
Photo showing the ammunition racks inside the VCTM. Also note the episcopes for the remote-controlled weapon station – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 58

Secondary armament consists of a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun placed in a TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station at the rear of the vehicle. The 7.62×51 NATO-standard bullets the machine guns fire have a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry for the crew includes their personal weapons, an 88.9 mm Instalaza M65 rocket launcher, and 9 hand grenades.

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCTM retained the suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, a torsion bar-type suspension with six rubber-tired paired roadwheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations have hydraulic shock dampers to absorb a significant part of the stress created by firing the mortar.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted with snow cleats if required.

Interior

The interior of the VCTM is divided into two main sections with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two subsections. The bigger of these subsections, occupying 2/3 of the space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms to his left. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, a hatch, and a periscope for the vehicle’s commander, and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The central area is open-topped and houses the large mortar. This area is also occupied by four of the five mortar operators, with the other one, the aimer, positioned behind them with a hatch of his own. Behind the mortar are the ammunition racks. One of the mortar’s operators is also in charge of operating the TPA-1 remote-controlled weapon station and has 2 episcopes to assist in those duties.

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and an SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor.

The rear of a VCTM showing the ramp for entry and exit from the vehicle and two additional fuel tanks – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 58
Six of the seven crew members aboard a VCTM. Note the numerous VCTPs in the background – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 55

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCTM is the MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine, a six-cylinder rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 36.67 revolutions per second or 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute and with a power-to-weight ratio of 17.6 kilowatts per tonne or 24 hp per tonne.

The engine is kept cool by two ventilators at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.

The gearbox on the VCTM is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three are epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth is a clutch disc.

The maximum road speed is 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The maximum range is limited to 590 km, but it can be increased by 350 km to 840 km with the additional 200 l fuel tanks. The fuel capacity inside the tank is a meager 650 l, but with the addition of two 200 l fuel tanks on the back of the tank, this can be extended to over 1,000 l. However, these are not usually added to the VCTM. Fuel tanks with other capacities have also been used.

Among other performance indicators, the VCTM can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles, and 2.9 m trenches. When it comes to fording, it is capable of fording 1.5 m-deep waters without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.

Service

Not much is known about the service of the VCTMs, but it can be assumed that, as with the TAM and VCTP, they were used during several of the attempted coups that rocked Argentina in the late 1980s and early ’90s, the ‘carapintada’ military coups. In the last of this series of coups (December 3rd 1990), rebellious forces under Captain Gustavo Breide Obeid took over a series of military installations, among them TAMSE. The officer who took the factory, Colonel Jorge Alberto Romero Mundani, ordered 9 or 10 TAM in the factory to head to Buenos Aires. On route, the tanks ran over a group of civilians, killing 5 of them before heading off to Mercedes. Seeing that the attempted coup was heading for failure, Romero Mundani committed suicide, one of 8 military casualties of the failed coup. Some sources (Cicalesi & Rivas) claim that Romero Mundani was actually commanding a VCTM.


Video showing a number of TAMs, a VCTP, and a VCTM at the front of the TAMSE installations during the 1990 ‘carapintada’ coup. The officer commanding the VCTM which appears mid-way through the video may well be Romero Mundani – source: DiFilm on YouTube

There is a slight divergence in the sources over the numbers built, with Cicalesi & Rivas putting the number at 36 and Mazarrasa at 50. Notwithstanding, each of the mechanized infantry regiments equipped with VCTMs have them in groups of 4 to provide fire support to infantry units. In other mechanized infantry regiments without VCTMs, this duty is carried out by the M106 mortar carrier, which instead of the usual 107 mm mortar, has a 120 mm mortar.

A column of VCTMs during operations – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 55

Conclusion

Whilst experiencing a not too noteworthy career, the VCTM provided a valuable lesson to the Argentinian military authorities, and that was that they could apply their newly acquired technology to produce their own vehicles with a commonality of mechanisms and pieces for different roles. This not only supposed an easier retraining of crews and more common and faster production of replacement parts but eliminated reliance on foreign military hardware. However, as with other vehicles of the TAM family, the resources have not always been there to domestically sustain the production of these specialized vehicles, thus vehicles have to be imported to make up the numbers.

VCTM, call number 132, ‘CARAPANGUE’, with its ramp open
VCTM with RMK mine-roller. Both illustrations produced by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report] Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM (Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008)
Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCTM specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.83 x 3.29 x 2.59 m
Total weight, battle ready 26 tonnes
Crew 7 (driver, commander and 5 gun servants)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Maximum speed 75 kmh
Range 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament 120 mm Brandt AM-50 mortar
7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40 in TPA-1 weapon platform in rear
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Vehículo de Combate Artillería (VCA)

Argentina Argentina (1983-present)
Self Propelled Artillery – 20 Built

The Vehículo de Combate Artillería (VCA) is an elongated Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) chassis that carries a large OTO Melara turret housing a powerful 155 mm gun. This has allowed the Ejército Argentino (Eng: Argentinian Army) to have its heaviest artillery piece on a mobile and tested platform that is able to cover the vast areas of terrain in the potentially conflictive southern tip of the country.

Context – Lessons from War

The late ’70s and early ’80s were a period of great international instability for Argentina. In 1978, Argentina’s long-standing border dispute with Chile over the strategic Picton, Lennox, and Nueva islands off the southern tip of the continent almost got violent. An eleventh-hour papal mediation halted Operation Soberanía, the Argentinian invasion of Chile, in its tracks. Four years later, in 1982, Argentinian forces landed on the Falkland Island/Las Islas Malvinas to claim them from the British. After a short war, The British ejected the Argentine forces from the islands.

The area of operations for both confrontations was the southern part of the country, a large, flat sparsely populated area. Border disputes with Chile would not be fully solved for another decade and the ultimate goal of successive Argentinian governments was to take over Las Malvinas. Argentina had found that it lacked the capacity to transport large-caliber weaponry over such long distances. Argentina did have some vehicles capable of playing this role: a small number of AMX-13-based Canon de 155 mm Mle F3 Automoteur, but these were in limited numbers and were very limited due to their small size. The solution would be to put such heavy weaponry on a mobile platform. With the introduction of the TAM and VCTP in the early ’80s, it seemed that the platform would be available if adapted.

A Canon de 155 mm Mle F3 Automoteur in Argentinian service – Sigal Fogliani, p. 47
The Tanque Argentino Mediano – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 27

Development

The exact details behind the VCA’s development are unclear. According to Mazarrasa (La Familia Acorazada TAM), in 1983, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE), the company which had been set up in March 1980 to coordinate the development and assembly of the TAM program, began thinking about adapting a TAM to mount a heavy 155 mm gun. A first prototype appeared in 1984, but delays meant that an initial serial production for 25 vehicles would not begin until 1990.

Cicalesi and Rivas (TAM) on the other hand, propose that the VCA’s development began as an offshoot of the abandoned Tanque Argentino Pesado (TAP) project. The TAP was to be a heavier version of the TAM with a stretched chassis and a 120 mm gun. Once the TAP project was canceled, the elongated chassis was used on the VCA instead. Cicalesi and Rivas also suggest that the VCA was not presented to the public until July 9th, 1989, when a prototype took part in a military parade to celebrate the nation’s independence day. According to these authors, only 20 vehicles were built.

Assembly took place at the TAMSE facilities in Boulogne sur Mer. It is worth noting that some early sources refer to it as VCCñ, or Vehículo de Combate Cañón.

The TAP, according to Cicalesi and Rivas, the starting point for the VCA – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 11
The first public appearance of the VCA, Buenos Aires, July 9th, 1989. Note that this first vehicle had a sand camouflage scheme not adopted in service – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 47
A recently assembled VCA in the TAMSE facilities in Boulogne sur Mer – source: Sigal Fogliani, p. 113

Design

External Appearance and Armor

The most distinguishable aspect of the VCA in respect to the TAM is its large size. Whereas the TAM’s chassis is 6.75 m long, the VCA was elongated by 860 mm to take the larger turret, gun and ammunition. As with the TAM it was based on, and by extension, the Marder 1, the frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors.

The VCA’s armor is made out of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm.

As with all vehicles of the TAM family, the VCA is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours, although they cannot fire without losing NBC protection. The NBC system feeds the main and driver’s compartment with filtered air that can absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle is able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as high as 42ºC. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system that can be triggered from the interior or exterior.

Turret

One of the biggest changes for the VCA was the much larger turret, which could hold a 155 mm gun. The turret was of the Palmaria type developed by the Italian company OTO-Melara. A private venture purely for export, OTO-Melara began development of the turret in 1977 to mount on the OF-40 platform. Argentina took delivery of the last of 25 Palmaria turrets in 1986. The turret is made of duralumin of an unspecified thickness and weighs 12 tonnes. The turret’s drives are hydraulic with manual backup and are operated by a Siemens System 300S Programmable logic controller (PLC).

On the top-right of the turret is a circular hatch for the commander with eight episcopes and a machine gun mount. The top-left side has the gun optics. The left side of the turret has a large hatch/door which opens backward, whereas, on the opposite side, a smaller door/hatch opens to the front. These hatches/doors serve as entrances/exits for the VCA’s crew. Behind the smaller door, there is a rectangular hatch that serves to load the VCA’s ammunition. At the rear, there is a smoke evacuator and two baskets to carry the crew’s equipment. On each side of the frontal cheeks of the turret are a set of 4 Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers.

The large OTO-Melara Palmaria turret during tests in Italy – source: Mazarrasa, p. 46

Armament and Gun Optics

The main armament on the VCA is the 155 mm howitzer also developed by OTO-Melara. The gun has a monobloc tube with a double-baffle muzzle brake and a fume extractor. The gun depression is -5º and the elevation +70º, whilst it can fire 360º horizontally in a fully rotatable turret.

Ammunition capacity consists of 28 shells, 23 of which are in the rear part of the turret and 5 in the hull according to Mazarresa, or 30 shells, 23 in the turret and 7 in the hull according to Cicalesi and Rivas, and are of a variety of NATO-standard types produced by Simmel Difesa:

Name P-3 P-3BB P-3RAP
Type High Explosive High Explosive hollow-base High Explosive Rocket Assisted Projectile
Explosive charge 11.7 kg Over 11.7 kg 8 kg
Total Weight 43.2 kg Over 43.2 kg ?
Range 24 km 24.6 km 30 km
Name P-4 ILUM P-5
Type Illumination Smoke
Operating Inside the shell is a flare ‘package’ which burns for 65 seconds descending at 5 m/s with a non-flammable parachute illumination and 1,600 diameter circle Inside the shell are four smoke canisters weighing 7.9 kg each which burn for 2.5 minutes providing a smokescreen 200 m long, 50 m wide, 10-15 m deep at a distance of 150 m from the point of impact

According to Cicalesi and Rivas, Argentina has developed its own rounds of ammunition, too.

Most sources do not mention the automatic loader originally designed by OTO-Melara being retained on the VCA. Four rounds per minute can be fired, but the sustained rate of fire is just one per minute. However, Sigal Fogliani does mention an automatic loading system with three modes: a round every 15 seconds for 3 minutes; 1 round a minute for an hour; and 1 round every 3 minutes. He also notes a round every 30 seconds for when the process is done manually.

The 155 mm howitzer is aimed using an Aeritalia P170 thermal sight with two settings (x1 and x8 magnification) or an Aeritalia P164 during nighttime. To correctly establish the angle to fire, a Aeritalia P186 goniometer with one setting (x4) is used.

Secondary armament consists of a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun placed on the commander’s cupola at the top of the turret. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard bullets the machine guns fire have a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry for the crew includes their personal weapons and 8 hand grenades.

The VCA, Argentina’s heaviest armored vehicle – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 45

Suspension and Undercarriage

The VCA had a modified suspension to that of the TAM. Two torsion bars were added, totaling fourteen for the suspension with seven rubber-tired paired road wheels and four return rollers on each side. All except for the fourth road wheel station have hydraulic shock dampers which were also features present on the Marder 1, the vehicle the TAM was based on. On the VCA, they have the important role of absorbing the VCA’s firing recoil force of 55 tonnes.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 102 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted by snow cleats if required.

A VCA crosses an M4T6 pontoon bridge during a training operation in Patagonia – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 46

Interior

The interior of the VCA is divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these sub-sections, occupying ⅔ of the space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms to the left. There is a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes, and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance.

The central and rear sections contain the fighting compartment and the turret where the other four crew members are: the commander, sat in a foldable chair to the right of the gun breech; the gunner, in the same position as the commander but to the left; and two loaders sat behind the commander and gunner.

The rear of the vehicle has a door for the crew to enter and exit and resupply the vehicle. In the hull, there is an auxiliary engine which provides energy for the turret’s rotation and the gun, meaning the VCA can fire even if its main engine is off or non-operational.

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems, and a SEL SEM-170 receiver.

Engine and Performance

The engine on the VCA is the German-built MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine. This six-cylinder engine is rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute. This engine is used on all TAM family vehicles, with a power-to-weight ratio of 13.3 kilowatts per tonne of 18 hp per tonne.

The engine is kept cool by two ventilators at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.

The gearbox on the VCA is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three are epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth is a clutch disc.

The maximum road speed is 55 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed is limited to 40 km/h. The maximum range is limited to 520 km, but it can be increased by 350 km with additional 200-liter fuel tanks, though these are hardly ever used. The fuel capacity inside the tank is 873 liters, more than in other TAM family vehicles, and the fuel consumption is 1.7 liters per km.

Among other performance indicators, the VCA can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles, and cross 2.9 m wide trenches. When it comes to fording, it is capable of fording 1.5 m-deep waters without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.

Despite the fact it has more fuel capacity than other TAM vehicles, the VCA still needs some help getting places. Pictured, a VCA being carried by an Iveco Euro Trakker truck – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 46

Organization

The VCAs of the Ejército Argentino equip two units of the armored artillery groups, the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 9 and the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne». GA Bl 9 is based in Chubut province in the middle of the Patagonian plateau, whilst GA Bl 11 is based in the town of Comandante Luis Piedrabuena, Santa Cruz province, the southernmost point of Patagonia. Each GA consists of two batteries of 4 VCAs. Additionally, each battery has a Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro (VCCDT) to command operations at battery level, whilst there is a single Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego (VCCDF) per GA to command the operations of the whole group. Originally, the plan was to equip each battery with 4 VCAmun to carry and supply the VCA with ammunition. However, after 2 VCAmuns entered service in 2002, no more of these vehicles have been built. Thus, the VCAs are supplied by modified M548A1s.

A battery of the Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 «Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne», showing 4 VCAs, a VCCDT and a VCCDF – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 44


Two photos showing a VCA being resupplied from a VCAmun during a training exercise. Note the open hatch in the picture to the right – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, pp. 44 and 48

Service

After a long development process, the VCA was first presented to the public in a military parade celebrating Argentina’s independence day on July 9th, 1989. Serial production took some time, and in May 1997, the first of 20 VCAs equipped their designated armored artillery groups stationed in the southern part of Argentina. They have not been engaged in any action since they were brought into service.

Two VCAs operating in the vast open Patagonian meseta – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 45

Modernization

Despite only entering service in 1997, the VCA has already been subject to some modifications. In November 2014, a single VCA of the GA Bl 11 was modernized with a more advanced gun optic. In October 2016, 18 VCAs were transferred to Boulogne sur Mer, the former headquarters of TAMSE, for more widespread modifications. The older turret hydraulic drive was replaced with a Siemens System 300S PLC and a new LCD Touch Screen replaced the older touch sensors.

Conclusion

The VCA has proved to be a successful development for the Argentinian forces, far surpassing the older Canon de 155 mm Mle F3 Automoteur in range and self-sufficiency. It is unlikely that enough will be built to fully equip the remaining armored artillery groups of the Ejército Argentino, but they will undoubtedly continue in service for many decades, providing Argentina with a match to the M109s of its most important regional rivals, Brazil and Chile.

Illustration of the VCA number EA 437290 call sign “SUIPACHA” by Pablo Javier Gomez

Sources

Anon., Desarrollo y Defensa, Concluyeron los trabajos de modernización en los primeros VCA Palmaria, (28 October 2016) [accessed 24/04/2020] Anon., GRUPO DE ARTILLERIA BLINDADO 9 RESEÑA HISTORICA [sic], (17 May 2008)  [accessed 24/04/2020] Anon., Grupo de Artillería Blindado 11 “Coronel Juan Bautista Thorne” Reseña Histórica de la Unidad, (23 May 2016) [accessed 24/04/2020] Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
Luís María Maíz, “Nuevos Integrantes de la Familia TAM”, Revista Defensa, No. 74 (June 1984)
Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

Specifications

Dimensions 7.69 without gun x 3.29 x 2.85 m
Total weight, battle ready 40 tonnes
Crew 5 (commander, driver, 2 x loader and gunner)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Speed 55 km/h
Operational range 520 km
Primary Armament 155 mm OTO-Malera howitzer
Secondary Armament 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG 60-40
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Turret – Aluminium
Categories
Argentina Cold War

Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM)

Argentina Argentina (1979-present)
Light Main Battle Tank/Medium Tank – 231 Built

The Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) has, since the early ’80s, equipped the forces of the Ejército Argentino [Eng. Argentinian Army]. Designed and developed by the West German company of Thyssen-Henschel, the TAM’s history is full of inconsistencies and exaggerations, primarily the fact that it is an Argentinian indigenous tank. Whilst some important components have been produced in Argentina and most assembly took place there, too much of it is dependent on foreign companies to consider it fully indigenous.

Old and new. A TAM races a horse during an exhibition. Source: Fagliani, p. 103

Context – Plan Europa

Argentina had remained neutral during most of World War Two. Although it declared war on Germany and Japan in March 1945, the country had previously held strong sympathies towards Germany. On June 4th 1943, a coup took place which in time gave rise to Colonel Juan Domingo Perón, the most divisive character in Argentinian history, who became the country’s president in 1946.

Perón would be overthrown by a military coup in 1955. For the following two decades, there were several other military coups, stagnating Argentina.

In military terms, Argentina had a large army. Taking advantage of the end of WWII and the availability of a large stock of surplus and extremely cheap US and British armored vehicles, Argentina became a considerable military power in the region. Between 1946 and 1949, Argentina purchased or acquired at least 250 Universal Carriers, around 400 Shermans (M4A4 and Firefly tanks), 18 Crusader II, Gun Tractor Mk I, 6 M7 Priests and 320 M-series Half-tracks.

By the mid-1960’s, these vehicles were becoming obsolete and needed replacing. Tensions with the USA following the 1966 military coup meant that the purchase of a large number of M41 Walker Bulldogs failed, leading Argentinian military officials to launch ‘Plan Europa’ [Eng. Plan Europe] in 1967. Led by General Eduardo J. Uriburu, the intention of this plan was to modernize and diversify Argentina’s armored vehicles with the purchase of European vehicles. The ultimate goal, however, was to avoid dependence on any foreign power to provide armored vehicles. As set out by the Estado Mayor General del Ejército (EMGE) [Eng. General Staff of the Army], the plan would be not only to acquire vehicles but also the license to produce them in Argentina. Before the end of the decade, the purchase of 80 AMX-13’s armed with a 105 mm gun, 180 AMX VCI Armored Personnel Carriers, 14 AMX-155 F3’s and 2 AMX-13 PDP (Poseur De Pont) Modèle 51’s from France and around 60 or 80 Mowag Grenadier and possibly a number of Mowag Roland from Switzerland was agreed. Additionally, 60 Mowag Rolands and 40 AMX-13’s were assembled under license in Argentina.

Despite this, none of these vehicles were sufficiently powerful to replace the Sherman Firefly as the main tank for the Argentinian forces. During the trips to Europe, the AMX-30 and the Leopard 1 were studied and considered, but for whatever reason, negotiations for their purchase were not continued. In 1973, and still without a tank, EMGE got serious and outlined the requirements for a medium tank to equip Argentinian forces from the 1980s onwards.

‘Potencia de Fuego, Movilidad y Protección’

Potencia de Fuego, Movilidad y Protección’ [Eng. Firepower, Mobility and Protection] were the three main basic criteria determined by EMGE for this new tank in 1973. In a document, they established the requirement priorities:

    • A modern canon of at least 105 mm
    • Secondary armament consisting of two machine guns and smoke dischargers
    • Integrated automatic fire-control system
    • Over 500 km range
    • 70 km/h speed on roads
    • A power to weight ratio of 20 hp/t
    • Weight under 30 t
    • Low silhouette
    • Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare protection
    • Crew of 3 or 4

The low weight needed for the new tank was determined by the existing infrastructure. A heavy tank would not fare well on the roads and bridges of the likely deployment areas (in the south and along the border with Chile), so weight had to be limited. Additionally, the rail network, though extensive, was quite old and again would not have been able to carry heavy vehicles.

A TAM driving through a stream at top speed in La Pampa province in central Argentina. Argentina’s varied terrain was a consideration in the design of the TAM. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17

At the end of 1979, the Jefatura IV Logística [Eng. Logistics Headquarters IV] of EMGE, following the set requirements, created the Proyecto de Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) [Eng. Argentinian Medium Tank Project] which set out to study the feasibility of designing and developing the new tank.

They soon found out that a project of that magnitude and with such strict requirements could not be developed in Argentina. Argentina had very limited know-how of the development of tanks, having only previously built the Nahuel in 1943 and done some minor to major modifications of British and US vehicles, but this was another matter altogether.

In 1974, the Argentinian Ministry of National Defense reached an agreement for co-production and technology sharing with the West German company Thyssen-Henschel. Thyssen-Henschel, with the participation of Argentinian technicians, would design the tank based on EMGE’s requirements, build three prototypes (including one for the Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal – VCTP) and carry out the construction of a pre-production series and of the production series in Argentina.

It was agreed by both parties that, for ease of production, speed of development and presumably cost, it was best to base the new vehicles on pre-existing and tested technology. To that end, the Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicle, which equipped the West German Army, was chosen as the basis for the new vehicles.

The following two years were dedicated to the design and development of the TAM, until September 1976, when the first prototype was completed, followed by the second in January 1977. The prototype for the VCTP was finalized in 1977.

The TAM being presented to the Argentinian public at the Plaza de Mayo on May 25th 1977. The commander in charge is General Suárez Mason. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 8

Trials

The vehicles were tested at the Thyssen-Henschel facilities before the VCTP and at least one of the TAM’s were sent to Argentina for further testing and evaluation under the supervision of EMGE. Thyssen-Henschel would keep one of the prototypes and improve it with more expensive equipment. This vehicle, the TH-301, was intended for the export market, but unfortunately for the West German company, it was unable to find any additional customers. It is very important to establish that the TH-301 was not a prototype to the TAM as many sources state, but rather a development of the TAM prototype by Thyssen-Henschel.


The TAM A PROTOTIPO, in other words, the first prototype of the TAM, during military trials. Note that “E.A. TAM A PROTOTIPO” is written beneath the Sun of May. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 8

Over the next 2 years, the VCTP and TAM drove almost 10,000 km over all the types of terrain and in all the climates found in Argentina. For context, Argentina has a very varied geography: mountainous and very high peaks in the west, arid deserts across the middle at all lengths of the country, wetlands in the northeast and polar tundra in the south.

Left, The first TAM during trials at what would become TAMSE, in Boulogne sur Mer. Right, the same vehicle, accompanied by the first VCTP, during one of the extensive trials before being accepted into service- source: Mazarrasa, p. 13 & p. 14

The final assessment by EMGE was satisfactory and it authorized the series production of the TAM, though it recommended a total of 1,450 modifications.

Whilst trials were taking place, EMGE ordered the construction (though this was most likely more of an assembly job) of 4 more prototypes (2 TAM and 2 VCTP) in the General San Martín and Río Tinto factories to carry out more tests and evaluate the factory’s capacities before producing the serial version.

Industrialization

Although designed abroad, the whole idea EMGE had in mind was to be able to produce, or at least assemble, the new tank in Argentina. So, a whole new infrastructure had to be created incorporating state-run enterprises and also private companies. Arms factories were repurposed to produce the TAM components to be developed in Argentina, with General San Martín factory building the hulls and Río Tercero factory building the turrets and armament. The Argentinian Company Bator Cocchis SA also produced the torsion bars and rubber pads. However, many components were still produced in West Germany or other countries with several different companies working on different elements, including:

    • Feinmechanische Werke Mainz GmbH – electro-hydraulic system for gun stabilizer
    • Motoren- und Turbinen-Union (MTU) GmbH – engine
    • Renk – transmission
    • Diehl – tracks
    • Standard Elektrik Lorenz – communications
    • AEG-Telefunken – fire-control system
    • Carl Zeiss – optics
    • Tensa
    • Bertolina
    • Pescarmone and Fiat – some elements of the undercarriage

In all, according to Mazarrasa and Sigal Fagliani, by 1983, 70% of all TAM components were produced in Argentina.

Two photos of a turret for the TAM being produced at Río Tercero. Source: Fagliani, p. 103

In March 1980, with the objective of having one company that would coordinate the whole TAM program, Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad del Estado (TAMSE) was created. TAMSE was established as the main contractor of the TAM (and VCTP) and given the task of overseeing the final assembly, delivery integration of the tanks into the army, trials, homogenization of the optics and armament and potential exports.

TAMSE was given a 9,600 m2 covered assembly plant in Boulogne sur Mer, just outside Buenos Aires. The installations at Boulogne sur Mer also housed two warehouses to stock vehicle components, offices, laboratories for quality control evaluation, engine test benches, a pit for trials, and a shooting range.

Production had begun beforehand in April 1979, with most components coming from West Germany and assembly taking place in already existing factories. The initial order was for 200 TAM and 312 VCTP, though this number would not initially be fulfilled.

Design

External Appearance and Armor

The TAM is simply a modified Marder IFV hull with a turret to occupy the role of a medium tank or light Main Battle Tank. Thus, externally, in appearance and design, they are very similar. The frontal plate is at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates are positioned at 32º. The turret is rear mounted. The sides have several attachments for tools, spare tracks, spare machine gun ammunition, water cans, medical kits, and various other ancillary equipment. At the front of the tank, on each side, are headlights. Behind these, also on each side, are wing mirrors.

Some early TAM prototypes retained the side-skirts of the Marder 1, but these were removed on the series TAM. The TAM’s armor is made out of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate is 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm. With such feeble armor, the tank’s best protection is its speed, mobility and low silhouette.

Additionally, the TAM is equipped with an NBC protection system allowing the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours. The NBC system feeds the main and driver’s compartment with filtered air that can absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle is able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as much as 42ºC. There is also an automatic fire extinguishing system that can be triggered from the interior or exterior.

Turret

The turret for the TAM was what took Thyssen-Henschel the longest to design and develop, as it was a new element. A simple glance at it demonstrates the heavy influence of the Leopard 1 and 2 on the design, combining two elements: low silhouette and ample internal volume.

It is shaped as a frustum and, like the hull, is made out of sheets of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front of it is 50 mm thick, the sides 22 mm and the rear and top 7 mm. All of it is at a 32º angle. Full turret traverse takes 15 seconds.

The turret of TAM ‘EA 435498 GRL ROCA’ being removed by a crane. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 19

The top of the turret houses several mechanisms. At the front right, the gunner’s gyro-stabilized panoramic periscope, behind which is the commander’s own PERI-R/TA periscope. On the opposite side to the latter is the loader’s periscope. Behind the commander and loader’s periscopes were their respective hatches. The commander’s hatch, serving as a cupola, has an anti-aircraft machine gun on it. The commander’s cupola has eight angular periscopes.

The rear of the turret housed the electrical unit for the commander’s periscope, which could be accessed from the exterior. On the rear of the left side wall, at the same height as the loader’s hatch, was another hatch through which to insert ammunition, but more importantly, eject spent shells. Each side has four Wegman 77 mm smoke launchers.

Armament and Fire Control System

Initially, the TAM was equipped with the rifled Rheinmetall Rh-1 105 mm gun, a German variant of the British Royal Ordnance L7A1. However, this was deemed insufficient and Argentina upgraded it to the more modern FM K.4 Modelo 1L, similarly rifled, itself also a license production variant of the L7, in this case, built in Argentina by Río Tercero.

The barrel of a TAM (EA 435388) which has blown-up after a malfunction whilst firing. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 32

The whole gun weighs 2,350 kg and the barrel is made out of one forged steel piece. There is no muzzle brake on the barrel, but rather a bore evacuator in the middle. The gun has a maximum depression of -7º and a maximum elevation of +18º, a somewhat limited arc of fire and the consequence of having the turret so far back. Maximum effective range when firing is 2,500 m. The rate of fire for the TAM is 10 rounds per minute. The recoil distance is between 560 to 580 mm at a recoil force of 300 kN.

In total, 50 rounds are carried, 20 in the turret and the remaining 30 in the hull. 13 of the turret rounds are carried on holding brackets for immediate use. The TAM carries five different types of rounds, all NATO standard:

.
A column of TAMs belonging to the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 6 «Blandengues» heading to a shooting range at Monte Caseros, on the Uruguayan border, in September 2005. Note the distinctive pinkish camouflage pattern. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 18

The fire control system on the TAM is quite austere to keep costs down. The main gun is stabilized with four gyroscopes designed and built by Feinmechanische Werke Mainz GmbH. It operates via an electro-hydraulic system controlled by the gunner or commander, who also has the capacity to override priority over the gunner. Gunners on the TAM have at their disposal a TZF-LA sight designed and produced by Zeiss weighing 40 kg and 1,320 mm in length. It is situated on the gun mantlet to the right of the gun with a 6,000 m range (9,000 m according to Mazarrasa) laser-rangefinder which is stabilized with the gun and has a precision of up to +/-5 m. If the commander is firing the gun, he has an independently stabilized periscope that can align with the gunner’s sight, aim the gun or observe the surroundings. This is done with the commander’s periscope, the PERI-R/TA, also produced by Zeiss. Its control panel can be used instead of the ballistic computer, but only as a last resort. The ballistic computer in the TAM is a FLER-HG produced by AEG-Telefunken, which makes calculations for firing the gun considering the ammunition being used, distance to target, gun elevation, and other relevant factors. The ballistic computer is connected to the four gyroscopes that stabilize the main gun and the gunner’s control panel. The fire control system has three modes: manual, electro-hydraulic and stabilized.

The different elements of the fire control system in the TAM . Source: Mazarrasa, p. 27
Inside of the turret showing different components of the fire control system. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 43

Secondary armament consists of a coaxial 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun and a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-20 for anti-aircraft duties placed on the commander’s hatch, both of which are license-produced in Argentina by Dirección General de Fabricaciones Militares. The machine guns have a 1,200 m range and are able to fire between 600 and 1,000 rounds per minute. Between the hull and turret, 5,000 rounds for the machine guns are carried. Inside the TAM, 8 hand grenades are carried.

Two TAMs (231 and 234) of Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 8 «Cazadores General Necochea» using their 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine guns during a firing exercise. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 21

Each side of the turret has four Wegman 77 mm launchers which can launch anti-personnel grenades or the more conventional smoke grenades, the latter creating a smokescreen 200 m wide, 40 m deep and between 8 and 20 m high.

Close-up of one of the two sets of Wegman 77 mm launchers on the side of the TAM’s turret. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 42

Suspension and Undercarriage

The vehicle’s lightweight means that there is substantial recoil from the powerful gun. A solution to these issues can be found in the original suspension and running gear of the Marder 1, which consisted of a torsion bar type suspension with six rubber-tired dual road wheels and three return rollers on each side. The first, second, fifth, and sixth road wheel stations had hydraulic shock dampers that absorb a significant part of the stress created by firing the main gun.

The tracks are of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These can be substituted by snow cleats if required.

Interior

The interior of the TAM is divided into two main sections with the frontal section being further sub-divided into two subsections. The bigger of these subsections, occupying 2/3 of the space, houses the engine, whilst the smaller one is for the driver and driving mechanisms to his left. The driver has a hatch above his position and the whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine can be opened for engine maintenance. The bigger rear section occupies the central and rear part of the tank and houses the combat area and turret basket, with the commander, gunner and loader sitting on folding seats in this area, along with all the ammunition.

The crew positions inside the TAM. Conductor = Driver; Tirador = Gunner; Jefe de Carro = Commander; and Cargador = Loader. Source: Mazarrasa, p. 26
The driver’s seat inside the TAM. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 43
An overturned TAM after an accident. Note the escape hatch at the bottom of the tank. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 32

At the rear of the vehicle there was a small door for the crew to enter and exit and to replenish ammunition and other things the tank may need.

The small door at the rear of the TAM, in this case ‘EA 433998 Perdriel’. It is used for entry and exit of the crew and replenishment of ammunition and other equipment the tank may need. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 42

Communications are by means of VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and a SEL SEM-170 radioreceptor. For communication between the different crew members, each has intercom headphones and a telephone to communicate externally.

The telephone on the rear of the TAM for infantry to communicate with the tank’s crew. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 42

Engine and Performance

Mobility was one of the most important aspects considered by EMGE when setting the TAM requirements. The engine on the TAM is the MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine, a six-cylinder rated at 537 kilowatts (720 hp) at 36.67 revolutions per second or 2,200-2,400 revolutions per minute and with a power-to-weight ratio of 17.6 kilowatts per tonne or 24 hp per tonne.

A TAM with its engine deck open and its MTU MB 833 Ka 500 diesel engine by its side. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 19

The engine is kept cool by two ventilators at its rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own. The gearbox on the TAM is the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three are epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth is a clutch disc.

The maximum road speed is a very impressive 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed was limited to 40 km/h. The maximum range is limited to 590 km, but can be increased by 350 km to 840 km with the additional fuel tanks. The fuel capacity inside the tank is a meager 650 l, but with the addition of two 200 l fuel tanks on the back of the tank, this can be extended to over 1,000 l.

Due to its small size, the TAM carries only a small amount of fuel. This can be increased by using external fuel tanks, as with these two TAMs of Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 2 «Lanceros General Paz» near their headquarters in Olavarría, Buenos Aires province. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 21

Among other performance indicators, the TAM can overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles and 2.9 m trenches. When it comes to fording, it is capable of fording 1.5 m deep waters without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation and 4 m with a snorkel, which takes 45 minutes to set.

The TAM prototype using its snorkel to ford a river. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 9

Additional Optional Equipment

While it is uncommon for TAMs to be equipped with one, all vehicles in the TAM family can carry an Israeli-built RKM mine roller for mine-clearing duties; however, this task would more likely be given to a VCTP or, especially, a VCTM.

Rare sight of a TAM equipped with a RKM mine roller. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 36

One of the TAM’s main disadvantages resulting from its small size is its meager fuel capacity. Argentina is a large country with extensive plains and a long border with its potential adversary, Chile. Therefore, an Argentine tank needs either a good road or rail network and an extensive operative range. The TAM has just a 650 l fuel capacity, so this is extended by additional fuel tanks carried on the TAM’s rear. These are not standard and there are many variations. There are two types of fuel tanks: 200 l and 175 l, and tanks carry either one or two, or as already stated, none at all.

A bright, rudimentary additional fuel tank on a TAM. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 36

Some of the TAM prototypes built in Argentina were equipped with Marder 1-style side-skirts. On a small number of TAMs, non-standard side-skirts have been added by their crews.

Two early TAMs with Marder 1-style side skirts. These have not been widely adopted. Source for both photos: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 10

Operational Service

When production began in April 1979, it was expected that 200 TAM and 312 VCTP would be completed by April 1985, when the project was expected to terminate. However, economic difficulties meant that in 1983 production was stopped at 150 TAM and 100 VCTP. Additionally, 70 unfinished vehicles were left in the factory. The first serial production vehicles left the factory in 1980.

Having built the facilities and invested a considerable amount of money in them but with production terminated, it was decided to try to find success in exporting both types of vehicles. However, several deals with Arab and Latin American countries fell through and to date no vehicle has been exported. In the meantime, the Ejército Argentino incorporated 20 TAM and 26 VCTP which had been built for export.

During the 1982 Falklands War, the recently introduced to service TAM were deployed to the southern region of the country to deter a potential invasion by British forces.

Although the TAM’s were never used for their intended purpose, they were kept busy by the multiple military coup attempts (levantamientos carapintadas) which shook Argentina between 1987 and 1990. In the third attempt, between December 1st and 5th 1988, TAMs were used by the loyal government forces to break the siege at Villa Martelli where the uprising was strongest and detained the leaders of the uprising.

In the last of this series of coups (December 3rd 1990), rebellious forces under Captain Gustavo Breide Obeid took over a series of military installations, among them TAMSE. The officer who took the factory, Colonel Jorge Alberto Romero Mundani, ordered 9 or 10 TAM in the factory to head to Buenos Aires. On route, the tanks ran over a group of civilians, killing 5 of them before heading off to Mercedes. Seeing that the attempted coup was heading for failure, Romero Mundani committed suicide, one of 8 military casualties of the failed coup.

In 1994, after an effort from the Ministry of Defense, TAMSE was repurposed to build a total of 120 vehicles – TAM and VCTP – to phase out older equipment, among them Sherman Repotenciados. According to Mazarrasa, by 1995, there were a total of 200 TAM. During this period, other variants of the TAM family were built. Total production numbers are often cited at 231, but the exact number is far from clear.

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The state of what was once TAMSE in 1999 with uncompleted TAM hulls. Many of these chassis were used to create TAM derivatives. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 11
Abandoned and forgotten, this early TAM was repurposed in the early 2000’s after decades of neglect. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 9

After a few more years of negligence, the Argentine company Champion SA worked on a series of maintenance and modernization programs on the TAM in the early 2000’s.

Organization

The TAM of the Ejército Argentino are divided among six tank regiments in two brigades:

      • I Brigada Blindada «Brigadier General Martín Rodríguez» based in Buenos Aires province.
        • Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 2 «Lanceros General Paz» (RC Tan 2)
        • Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 8 «Cazadores General Necochea» (RC Tan 8)
        • Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 10 «Húsares de Pueyrredón» (RC Tan 10)
      • II Brigada Blindada «General Justo José de Urquiza» based in Entre Ríos province, on the Uruguayan border.
        • Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» (RC Tan 1)
        • Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 6 «Blandengues» (RC Tan 6)
        • Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 7 «Coraceros Coronel Ramón Estomba» (RC Tan 7)

Each regiment is equipped with three squadrons of 13 tanks each, sub-divided into three sections of 4 vehicles plus an additional command vehicle.

A TAM of the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» in the early 80’s with a two-tone camouflage. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 9

Modernization

All things considered, the TAM is a product of its time, a late-70’s tank based on mostly 1960’s technology and so it has become seriously outdated. When first introduced, the tanks equipping the armies of its neighbors were the M41 Walker Bulldog and M-51 Sherman, for Brazil and Chile respectively. At this point, the TAM could claim to be the most advanced tank of the region. However, by the late 90’s, Brazil had the M60A3 and would go on to purchase the Leopard 1A5 and Chile had several variants of the AMX-30 and Leopard 1V. By this point, the TAM was lagging behind its regional rivals and was in desperate need of modernization.

A group of TAM of the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» at the end of a military exercise in Corrientes province, on the border with Brazil and Paraguay in September 2005. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17

TAM S 21

In 2002, the Argentinian military and political authorities decided that it was a matter of urgency to reorganize the military industrial capacity. In a document titled Simposio sobre la Investigación y Producción para la Defensa, a project for the modernization of the TAM and other TAM-based vehicles was outlined in a project designated ‘TAM S 21’ – the TAM for the 21st Century. The Argentinian company Champion SA was put in charge of this modernization project. Due to the closure of TAMSE, many TAM had fallen into a state of disrepair and repairs were being carried out in regimental and battalion workshops. The initial projections were for 20 TAM to be maintained and modernized each year.

Four different features were to be modernized:

    • Fire Control System: To make the TAM able to perform and fire in all weather conditions and times of day, a thermal sight was to be installed. The selected model was Israeli and was built in Argentina by CITEFA. Fitted to the right of the main gun, it significantly increased the TAM´s range, being able to detect enemy targets at 7 km, recognize them at 2.8 km, and identify them at 1.6 km. Curiously, the improved TH-301 by Thyssen-Henschel was equipped with a thermal sight from the very beginning.
    • Device for stationary battery maintenance: Improved performance of the tank’s batteries by extending their lifespan.
    • GPS: The incorporation of a GARMIN 12 GPS and outside antenna.

The initial projection for 20 was reduced to 18, before the project was canceled after only 6 vehicles had been modified, 3 per regiment of the first brigade.

Close-up of the CITEFA thermal sight equipped on 6 TAM after the modernization by Champion SA. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 15
The TAM S 21 built by Champion SA. This much needed modernization was supposed to bring the TAM feet up to date, however, only 6 vehicles were modernized before the project was canceled. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 15

TAM 2C

By the mid-2000’s, the age and obsoleteness of the TAM was beginning to be a major concern for the Argentinian political and military authorities, who set out several plans to bring the main battle tank of the Argentinian forces up to date. This was especially a concern when Chile, historically Argentina’s major rival, acquired Leopard 2A4’s in 2007. There were two options: either modernize the TAM (A) or acquire a new vehicle (B).

With option B, the M1 Abrams, Challenger 2 (despite the fact that since 1982, Britain had an arms embargo placed on Argentina), Leclerc, Merkava Mk. I and T-90 were all considered and the plan was to buy 231 tanks and allow technology transfer. With an estimated cost per unit of $8,185,517 for a new tank, option A became financially the most viable, with a unit cost of $3,446,800.

EMGE laid out the requirements in 2010 in a document titled Documento de Requerimiento Operacional, stipulating many compulsory requirements, most of which were intended to increase the TAM’s lethality by modernizing and improving the tank’s fire control system and gun stabilization. There were several optional and preferable requirements including improved armor and more modern communication systems, among others.

Three foreign companies put in bids for the TAM’s modernization: Carl Zeiss Optronics with ESW GmbH, Elbit Systems, and Rheinmetall with ESW GmbH. Elbit Systems was the cheapest option, and was given a contract at some point between 2010 and 2011 with the initial plan for the modernization of one prototype vehicle and 108 serial vehicles, almost half of the total TAM in service, for a total of $133,460,000.

In March 2013, the first prototype was presented. Some of the principal characteristics on this vehicle not present on the TAM were:

    • All-round vision for the commander and gunner with the addition of a COAPS (Commander Open Architecture Panoramic Sight)
    • All-round vision for the driver
    • Automatic target tracking
    • Auxiliary power unit allowing the TAM’s mechanism to work without the need of the engine being on
    • ELBIT laser threat detection system
    • Digitization of the firing control system
    • Electric drive for azimuthal rotation of turret and barrel elevation instead of the old hydraulic system
    • Battle management and state-of-the-art communications and intercom equipment
    • Automatic fire suppression system in the fighting compartment
    • Thermal sleeve on the FM K.4 Modelo 1L main armament
    • Addition of side skirts for increased protection

In short, the modifications were mainly in the fire control system in an attempt to bring the TAM closer to modern standards.
Despite one prototype being satisfactorily presented, the project with Elbit Systems did not go ahead. However, on June 26th 2015, the project was revived when the Argentinian government, now under the leadership of Mauricio Macri, reached an agreement with the Israeli government for the modernization of 74 TAM along the lines presented by Elbit two years previously with some extra additions, such as the substitution of the FLER-HG analogic ballistic computer with a digital one.

In March 2019, Minister of Defense Oscar Aguad highlighted the fact that the modernization of half the TAM fleet to the TAM 2C standard would prolong the TAM’s service life for another 20 years. However, as of March 2020, only one tank has been fully modernized. The latest communications from Argentinian state officials suggest that the modernization is going to be canceled, and instead, Argentina will look into substituting the TAM with a wheeled vehicle.

The TAM 2C parading in front of units of the Argentinian Army dressed in traditional uniforms. The TAM 2C was designed by Elbit Systems as a modernization of the TAM which mainly focused on improving the fire control system, thereby increasing the tank’s lethality. Source: r/TankPorn

TAM 2IP

At the same time as the TAM 2C project stalled, in May 2016, Argentina presented a new modernization pack for the TAM, the TAM 2IP. Whilst the TAM 2C was an improvement in the fire control system and general performance of the TAM, the TAM 2IP was intended to overcome one of the TAM’s greatest weaknesses, its armor. Fulfilling EMGE’s initial requirements in the mid-70’s, the TAM was light and fast, which was achieved with thin armor, 50 mm at its thickest. The TAM 2IP was designed by the state-owned Israeli IMI Systems. This project presumably originated following the TAM 2C negotiations between the Argentinian and Israeli governments in June 2015. The main improvement was the addition of an add-on armor kit all along the hull and the front and sides of the turret. Side skirts were also added. It is unclear if the upgrades from the TAM 2C were also continued on the TAM 2IP. As far as can be established, only the one prototype of the TAM 2IP was ever built and it was mainly used to test and evaluate the possibilities of add-on armor on the TAM.

The TAM 2IP, the up-armored modernization project on the TAM developed by IMI Systems, as presented in May 2016. Source: defence-blog.com

Export Failures

Having invested large amounts of money into the development of the facilities for assembling the TAM but with production for the Argentinian Army finished, the state-owned TAMSE was an expensive asset funded by the state. So, it was decided that rather than waste the facilities and run at a loss, the TAM should be offered for export. Several countries were interested and Peru and Ecuador even trialed it. Several other countries allegedly negotiated or showed interest in the tank, but sources are inconsistent and vague. As things stand, no other country apart from Argentina uses the TAM or any of its derivatives.

Peru

In mid-1983, Peru made an effort to purchase 100 TAMSE vehicles (TAM and VCTP). However, financial reasons meant that they would cancel the order and stick with the T-54’s and T-55’s already in service. The 20 TAM and 26 VCTP which had been already built for this delivery were canceled and transferred to the Argentinian Army.

A TAM during its unsuccessful trial with Peru. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 34

Panama

In 1984, Panama ordered 60 vehicles, again, divided between TAM and VCTP. However, this would not materialize. It is possible that the sources about this are incorrect, and that the tanks for Panama were actually for Iran.

Iran

In the mid-80’s, an ambitious order was allegedly placed by Iran for 100 TAM, or even as many as 1,000, which seems extremely disproportionate, and these numbers and dates seem confused.

What is known is that in 1983, Diego Palleros, whose company Agrometal was based in Panama, offered to act as an intermediary between TAMSE and Iran in an operation worth $90 million for the purchase of 60 TAM. Palleros himself may have been in line for a $9 million commission. In 1984, the Argentinian government tried to alter the deal which prompted the Iranian delegation to cancel the purchase. Presumably, the use of an intermediary would have been because West Germany would not have sanctioned the selling of West German technology and components to Iran.

Rumors that as many as 10 TAMs made their way to Iran are most likely untrue.

Ecuador

The closest Argentina got to selling the TAM was to Ecuador in 1988-89. Ecuador was looking for a tank for its armed forces and had a competition between different tanks to inform and determine their decision. The TAM’s competitors were the Austrian SK-105, the American Stingray and the French AMX-13. The TAM was the comfortable winner, scoring 950/1000 points.

The deal was going to be for the purchase of 75 vehicles (TAM, VCTP and VCRT) for $108 million, but fell through, according to Sigal Fagliani, because of the threatened closure of TAMSE. In the end, Ecuador did not purchase any tanks.

The TAM and some of its competitors (Stingray – top, SK-105 – bottom) during trials in Ecuador. Ecuador ended up not purchasing any tanks after all. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 34

Saudi Arabia and Kuwait

Allegedly, during a tour of the Middle East in 1990, an Argentinian delegation offered the TAM to different countries of the region. Saudi Arabia was in line to make an offer for 400 tanks and went as far as extensively testing a vehicle. However, no purchase was ever made, and there are two versions of the events: 1. Israel protested to Germany that German technology was being sold to Saudi Arabia and Germany blocked the transfer. This seems very unlikely as Germany sold a number of TPz Fuchs Armored Personnel Carriers to Saudi Arabia in 1991 without any Israeli protests. 2. The USA, which had Saudi Arabia as a traditional weapons customer, did not want competition. In the same period, the USA was negotiating a deal worth $1.5 billion including investments in the Saudi arms industry and Saudi production of some components for the M1A2 Abrams. This latter explanation is the most likely reason why Saudi Arabia did not purchase the TAM, but it is hard to determine if they were even interested in buying the TAM in the first place.

On this same tour, another potential customer was Kuwait, who again, allegedly, was interested in acquiring 200 tanks. A TAM was tested in Kuwait where it impressed with its ability to overcome gradients and was required to fire 400 consecutive shots, which it achieved. Regardless, Kuwait did not end up purchasing the TAM and bought 149 M-84’s from Yugoslavia instead.

It is unclear how much truth there is in the negotiations to sell the TAM to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, however, it is known for certain that the government of Carlos Menem did make an effort to sell the TAM in the Middle East. In 1998, when being tried for his involvement in selling weapons contraband to Ecuador and Croatia in the mid-90’s (both nations were involved in wars at the time), the former Ministry of Defense, Oscar Camilión, admitted that the Argentinian government had used the Syrian arms trafficker Monzer Al Kassar to sell the TAM to the Middle East.

United Arab Emirates

Just before the Gulf War, a relative of the sheik of Abu Dhabi supposedly visited Argentina with the intention of purchasing weapons. Whilst convinced by the TAM, he requested some modifications so it could also carry 4-6 troops. Roberto Ferreiro, a senior engineer at TAMSE, was put in charge of carrying out these modifications, which were achieved by installing a bench from the VCTP instead of the electric batteries and the ammunition racks. This would have meant that the TAM’s ammunition capacity would have been severely reduced. In the end, no order was placed and the modified TAM was put back in its normal configuration. Some of the sources regarding the TAM purchase by the UAE are inconsistent, and it is possible that the UAE negotiations were actually with Kuwait.

Others: Iraq, Libya, Malaysia and Taiwan?

There are other alleged potential customers of the TAM for which information is very limited.

In Bartrones’ thesis, he claims Iraq was interested in purchasing 400 TAMs in the early 80’s but international pressure made the deal impossible.

According to Sigal Fagliani, in early 1986, TAMSE contacted Libya to try to sell the TAM, but were unsuccessful.

Cicalesi and Rivas state that the TAM was “exhibited and tested” by Malaysia. No other source mentions Malaysia, apart from Wikipedia in English (as of February 23rd 2020) which claims the South East Asian country “signed a contract for 102 vehicles of the TAM family, including the tank, VCTP and VCRT (renaming these Lion, Tiger and Elephant, respectively)”. This seems very unlikely, as it goes on to claim that the PT-91 ‘Twardy’ was acquired instead, which is completely untrue, as this purchase was not done until the mid-2000’s.

In 1993, Admiral Fausto López, with the knowledge of the Argentinian government, offered the TAMSE installations and 500 vehicles to Taiwan, an offer that was not accepted by Taiwan.

La Familia TAM – Derivatives

One of the most distinguishing factors of the TAM is how flexible a platform it is, having spawned several derivatives, including recovery vehicles, self-propelled guns and mortar carriers. Whilst this flexibility was not one of the initial requirements set by EMGE, it was very much appreciated and was in line with the initial wishes of the Argentinian military authorities, to reduce or limit the reliance on foreign vehicles.

VCTP (Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal)

Hardly a derivative, the VCTP is an infantry fighting vehicle and personnel carrier developed alongside the TAM by Thyssen-Henschel. Very similar to the Marder 1, on which it was based, it is equipped with a 20 mm Oerlikon KAD 18 automatic cannon in a turret and can transport 10 troops. 124 vehicles have been built, with a number seeing service in Bosnia and Croatia as part of UNPROFOR peacekeeping forces.

The VCTP was developed alongside the TAM and has been the main tracked infantry fighting vehicle of the Argentinian Army since the early 80’s. Source: www.military-today.com

VCTM (Vehículo de Combate Transporte Mortero)

Produced from 1980’s onwards, it was the first TAM family vehicle to have been designed in Argentina. Eliminating the turret of a VCTP, it carries a 120 mm Brandt MO-120-RT mortar which fires through the hole where the turret once stood. 36 VCTM’s have been built and are still in service.

Two VCTM firing during a military exercise. Source: thaimilitaryandasianregion.wordpress.com

VCPC (Vehículo de Combate Puesto de Comando)

A variant of the VCTP developed in 1982, the VCPC is a command vehicle which substitutes the turret of the VCTP for a hatch for the commander. It has additional radio and communications systems and a map table in the middle of the vehicle. Only 9 have been built.

Entering service in 1982, the VCPC has served as a command vehicle. Source: www.taringa.net

VCA (Vehículo de Combate Artillería)

One of the most adventurous derivatives, development for the VCA began in 1983, though production would not start until 1990. Designed to overcome a dependence on towed artillery, the VCA is an elongated TAM chassis where the main turret is substituted by one designed by OTO Melara. Equipped with a powerful Palmaria 155 mm gun, 20 VCA have been built and are in service.

A VCA in 2002 showing off its impressive 155 mm main armament. Source: www.military-today.com

VCAmun (Vehículo de Combate Amunicionador)

With a limited load capacity and the weight of its ammunition, the VCA was found to be impractical in some aspects. Thus, in 2002 a vehicle to transport and load the VCA’s ammunition was built. Only 2 VCAmun have been built to date. Due to these low numbers, M548A1’s are used in a similar fashion.

Developed to assist the VCA, the VCAmun has not been built in large numbers. Source: www.fundacionsoldados.com.ar

VCCDF (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Fuego) and TAM VCCDT (Vehículo de Combate Centro Director de Tiro)

Two identical vehicles derived from the VCTP were built for artillery fire control in the mid-90’s. The difference between them comes down to their roles; whereas the VCCDF is used by artillery groups, the VCCDT is used at battery level. Built in small numbers, there are 2 VCCDF and 4 VCCDT.

VCRT (Vehículo de Combate Recuperador de Tanques)

Originally envisioned in 1982 for the support and recovery of TAM and VCTM equipped units, the VCRT has a long crane, a winch, an auxiliary winch and a dozer blade. Only one was built and it is still in service.

The VCRT was intended to have been the recovery vehicle that would assist the TAM, however, only one was ever built. Source: razonyfuerza.mforos.com

VCLC (Vehículo de Combate Lanza Cohetes)

Developed in 1986 at the request of EMGE to have an armored vehicle equipped with rocket launchers. Originally intended to have two versions equipped with light CAL-160 rockets or medium CAM-350 rockets, only a prototype for the light version was built. Budget limitations meant that this example, which survives to this day as a static display, is the only one.

The CAL-160 armed VCLC never entered service and only one prototype exists. Source: www.military-today.com

VCA (Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia) and VCAmb (Vehículo de Combate Ambulancia)

Two different derivatives were manufactured to fulfill the role of an armored ambulance.The VCA was developed in the 80’s and is a turretless VCTP with internal modifications to carry stretchers. Several VCTP retained the turret but had their armament taken away.

One mock-up VCAmb was built in 2001 sharing a chassis with the VCAmun, but not even a prototype was built.

The mock-up of the VCAmun. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 10

TAP (Tanque Argentino Pesado)

It is unclear when the TAP was envisioned, but it is possible that it dates as far back as the early to mid-80’s. Using the elongated TAM chassis as in the VCA, its main armament was a 120 mm gun in a Leopard 2-like turret. No prototypes were built and there is very little trace of a design.

Artist’s impression of what the TAP may have looked like. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 11.

VCDA (Vehículo de Combate Defensa Aérea)

The VCDA was a TAM derivative designed for air defense and would have been equipped with twin 35 mm guns. Almost no details exist about this derivative.

VCLM (Vehículo de Combate Lanza Misiles)

The VCLM was to be a TAM derivative intended to launch Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs). Roland and locally-designed Halcón missiles were considered. Almost no details exist about this derivative.

VCLP (Vehículo de Combate Lanza Puentes)

The VCLP was to be the armored vehicle-launched bridge derivative of the TAM. Again, hardly any details exist about this derivative.

Conclusion

The TAM has become a piece of Argentinian folklore and a source of pride. Although claims that it is an indigenous tank are untrue, the TAM has hugely benefited Argentinian industry and limited the dependence on foreign suppliers to equip its armed forces. When first introduced in 1980-81, the TAM was a decent tank, packing a strong punch with its 105 mm main armament and a mesmerizing speed and mobility which would have served it well along the vast Argentinian plains. Put simply, at the time, in the region, it was unrivaled. However, financial difficulties meant that the TAM was never built in the numbers intended and the failure to export it doomed any future progress on the tank. By the 1990s, the TAM’s age, and more importantly the technology it was based on, meant that other nations in the region had caught up or surpassed Argentina and the TAM. This is even more accentuated the further we go into the new millennium. Modernization programs, as sound and well-intended as they may have been, have been stuck by Argentina constantly being held back due to a lack of liquidity and corruption. Taking this into consideration, a 20-year prolongation of the TAM may not be what Argentina’s armored forces necessarily need, and issues such as weak armor are never going to be fully resolved. The time may be coming to bid farewell to the TAM and find a more suitable replacement for the Argentina of the twenty-first century.

A TAM recovering another TAM which has become bogged-down during a military exercise. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17
Still going strong. Two TAMs taking part in Exercise Reconquista in 2006. Source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 27


Tanque Argentino Mediano, Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1 «Coronel Brandsen» two-tone green camouflage. Illustrated by David Bocquelet


TAM call sign number 224, serial number EA 435488, ‘GBD ACUNA’, of the Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 8 «Cazadores General Necochea». Illustrated by David Bocquelet with modifications by Brian Gaydos, funded by our Patreon campaign


TAM call sign number 322, serial number EA 435506, ‘CHACABUCO’, with snorkel and different ammunition types. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez


TAM S 21 call sign number 200, serial number EA 433836, ‘TCRL AGUADO BENITEZ’, in Magdalena (Buenos Aires province) September 2005. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez


TAM 2C prototype, 2013. Illustrated by David Bocquelet


The TAM 2C prototype in a slightly different livery. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez


TAM 2IP prototype. Illustrated by Pablo Javier Gomez

TAM specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.26 (6.75 without gun) x 3.29 x 2.66 m
Total weight, battle ready 30.5 tonnes
Crew 4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
Maximum speed 75 mph
Range (Fuel) 590 km without external fuel tanks
Armament Main – 105 mm (4.13 in) FM K.4 Modelo 1L
Secondary – 2 x 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG GMPG (0.3 in) coax/AA
Armor Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm
Front turret – 50 mm
Side turret – 22 mm
Rear turret – 7 mm
Top turret – 7 mm
Production 231

Sources

Agustín Larre, Infodefensa.com, Aguad destaca el avance en la modernización de los tanques argentinos (27 March 2019) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., “Admiten que el sirio intentó vender tanques,” Clarín, 03 June 1998

Anon., “Advierten que Panamá podría embargar la fragata Libertad,” Clarín, 09 September 1999

Anon., Infodefensa.com, El Ejército de Argentina presenta el TAM modernizado por Elbit (09 May 2013) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., Infodefensa.com, El Ejército Argentino presenta un segundo prototipo mejorado del TAM (03 June 2016) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., “Involucran a Menem y a Kohan en una venta de submarinos a Taiwán,” Clarín, 16 June 2001

Anon., Military Vehicle Forecast, TH 300 (TAM – Tanque Argentino Mediano) and TH 301 [archived report]

Anon., Zona Militar, TAM 2C: más incertidumbres que certezas (19 February 2020) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Anon., Zona Militar, TAM 2C momento de definiciones (5 February 2020) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Diego F. Rojas, VC TAM Vehículo de Combate Tanque Argentino Mediano (Buenos Aires: Monografías Militares, 1997)

Dylan Malyasov, Defence Blog, Argentine Army has unveiled upgraded model of TAM 2IP medium tank (1 June 2016) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Fernando A. Bartrons, “Modernización del Vehículo de Combate TAM 105 mm”, Thesis, Ejército Argentino Escuela Superior de Guerra, 2012

Gabriel Porfilio, Infodefensa.com, Argentina firma un convenio con Israel para modernizar 74 tanques TAM (30 June 2015) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Gabriel Porfilio, Infodefensa.com, Fabricaciones Militares y Elbit Systems modernizan el TAM 2C (29 September 2015) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Guillermo Axel Dapía, “El Desarrollo de la industria de blindados en Argentina y Brasil: un estudio comparado de integración económico-militar”, Thesis, Universidad de Buenos Aires, 2008

Irene Valiente, Infodefensa.com, Argentina avanza en la modernización de sus TAM (10 August 2017) [accessed 01/03/2020]

Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)

Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, TAM The Argentine Tanque Argentino Mediano – History, Technology, Variants (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)

Marcelo Javier Rivera, El Tanque Argentino Mediano – TAM, Universidad Federal de Juiz de Fora, 2008

Michael Scheibert, SPz Marder und seine Varianten (Friedberg: Podszun-Pallas-Verlag GmbH, 1987)

Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)


Categories
Argentina Cold War

Sherman Repotenciado

Argentinian armor Argentina (1978) – Medium Tank – 120

After World War 2, Argentina decided that buying surplus tanks would be more economical than mass-producing their domestic Nahuel D.L.43 tank. Between 1946 and 1948, Argentina would acquire 360 American-built M4 Shermans from Belgium, of which 206 were Ex-British Sherman Fireflies and 154 were Shermans armed with the 75 mm gun (some sources state a total of 500 tanks). With the arrival of the Sherman tanks, Argentina became the most powerful force in Latin America at that time. The Argentine Shermans would see service in the various coups and uprisings which Argentina suffered throughout the mid-twentieth century.

In the 1960s, Argentina tried to replace its aging Sherman tank fleet. After failing to acquire American M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks, Argentina turned to Europe, where it acquired licenses and tanks from France, such as the AMX-13 light tank and the French CN-105-57 gun. In the 1970s, the Argentine government started the ‘Tanque Argentino Mediano‘ or ‘TAM’ program in order to have a domestically assembled main battle tank instead of light tanks.

In 1978, during the development of the TAM, tensions between Argentina and Chile started to rise because of a border dispute over the Beagle Channel. Realizing the TAM could not be produced in sufficient numbers to match the Chilean M-50s, M-51s and M-60s among others, the Argentine Government decided to rapidly modernize 120 Shermans to the Sherman Repotenciado [trans. repowered] version as a stop-gap solution. The most notable modernization is the greatly increased firepower achieved by mounting a 105 mm gun. Argentina built its own M-51.

A Sherman Repotenciado Reg. EA 01195, gate guardian of La Agrupación de Comunicaciones 601 “Tcnl Higinio Vallejos”, City bell, Province of Buenos Aires in 2016. Photo: Roberdigiorge of Deviant Art

Development

The plans to modernize the Argentinian tank fleet were already around when tensions between Chile and Argentina started rising in 1978. The idea of improving the gun on the Shermans started around the acquirement of the AMX-13 tanks. Argentina ordered a technical commission to do feasibility research on what the most advantageous upgrade in firepower would be. The commission concluded that up-gunning the current fleet of Fireflies with the same 105 mm gun that was mounted on the AMX-13 was the best option. This would limit the logistical burden by standardization of ammunition and it also meant Argentina could manufacture their own canons. All the ammunition on the Repotenciado was compatible with that of the 105 mm armed AMX-13 and the SK-105 Kurassier, which began equipping Argentinian units from 1978 onwards.

Sherman Repotenciado prototype, a Firefly armed with the 105 mm gun Reg. EA010360, location unknown, march 1975. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”

The prototype was delivered in 1975 by Fabrica Militar. It mounted the 105 mm gun and had a Ford GAA V8 gasoline engine. The prototype would mainly function as a testbed for the 105 mm gun as the Sherman Repotenciado brought a considerable amount of additional upgrades over the prototype instead of just a more powerful gun. The Sherman Repotenciado would go into production in 1977.

Not long after the production of the Repotenciado started, it would be kicked into high gear when Chile and Argentina were on the brink of war. Chile had around 50 M-50’s, 150 M-51’s, 60 M41 Walker Bulldogs and was in the process of acquiring the AMX-30. Meanwhile, Argentina owned between 56 and 80 AMX-13/105 tanks and had probably less than 126 75 mm Shermans and 140 Sherman Fireflies. Argentina started to rapidly modernize the Fireflies in order to field a capable armored force against Chile.

The Sherman Repotenciados were modernized from 120 Sherman Fireflies. The Sherman Firefly was the preferred variant for modernization because the internal configuration allowed for easier adoption of the 105 mm ammo racks. Among the changes were an improved running gear, improved tracks, storage baskets on the turret, smoke dischargers, new radios, new engine and the mounting of the 105 mm gun and a counterweight. During 1968, the Argentinians had decided to develop an additional 200 litres fuel tank for their gasoline Shermans, which could be mounted on the back of the turret to increase its operational range. The Argentinians decided to retain this idea by introducing the ability to mount the 200 litre fuel tank, filled with diesel, for the Repotenciado. By adding an extra fuel tank, the Repotenciado could cover more ground with less refueling which was essential for the large areas of Argentina which the tank had to cross.

A Sherman Repotenciado with the extra fuel tank installed on the turret, Reg. unknown, location unknown, date unknown. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”

Design

Armament

A 105 mm L44/57 FTR gun produced by Fábrica Militar de Río Tercero. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”

The Sherman Repotenciado was armed with the 105 mm L44/57 FTR gun produced locally at the Fabrica Militar de Río Tercero in the province of Córdoba, which was a copy of the French CN-105-57 gun. The CN-105-57 was mounted on some of the AMX-13 tanks Argentina had bought from France in 1967. The gun had an effective range of 1,500 meters and had multiple types of ammunition at its disposal, being able to fire, on average, 5 rounds per minute. These included a high-explosive (HE) EF FMK-1 shell, the FMK-3 hollow charge shell, with a penetration of 360 mm at a muzzle velocity of 800 m/s, the SCC Mod 1 ES similair to the FMK-3 shell but used for training purposes, and the FMK-5 smoke-illumination shell. The latter could create a smokescreen covering 40 m which could last up to a minute and project a flare ‘package’ 20 m in diameter. Although it did have some issues with the recoil system, the gun was said to be accurate and efficient. The turret was, interestingly enough, quite spacious when compared to the original Sherman Firefly. This is because the breech block of the 105 mm gun is smaller than the 17 pounder.

An interior shot of a Sherman Repotenciado’s turret. Photo: 3-A-202 www.zona-militar.com

The turret was reinforced to accommodate the gun and a counterweight was placed to compensate for the extra weight. Furthermore, the aiming system was upgraded along with new sights. Four smoke dischargers were installed on the turret (two on each side) and the Shermans were equipped with 7.62 MAG coaxial machine gun. A 12.7 mm Browning M2HB machine gun was installed on top of the turret. A new gun travel-lock was installed on the mudguards.

A side view of the Sherman Repotenciado Reg. EA 01195. Note the smoke canisters on the side of the turret and the added turret basket. Gate guardian of La Agrupación de Comunicaciones 601 “Tcnl Higinio Vallejos”, City bell, Province of Buenos Aires in 2016. Photo: Roberdigiorge of Deviant Art

Mobility

The Argentinians also decided they wanted to upgrade the Repotenciado with a more powerful engine. Multiple proposals were made by companies, including a FIAT 221-A V6 diesel engine which was equipped on a dozen regular Argentinian Shermans. Eventually, the decision was made to install the French Poyaud 520 V8 diesel engine which could, depending on sources, deliver 450 hp or 500 hp at 2600 RPM. The Poyaud 520 gave the Sherman Repotenciado a power to weight ratio of either 14 hp/ton or 16 hp/ton, which meant that the Repotenciado had a better power to weight ratio than the Firefly (12 hp/ton).

The tank could reach a top speed of 48-50 km/h. At a lower speed of 20 km/h, it had a fuel consumption of 2.5 liters per kilometer. The fuel tanks on the Repotenciado had a capacity of 604,8 liters and a supplementary tank could be placed at the back of the turret with a capacity of 200 liters. This meant that the tank had an operational range of 322 km (400 km according to some sources) or 240 km depending on if the supplemental fuel tank was used.

The Repotenciado also received nationally produced tracks as an upgrade for better ground resistance, an improved running gear and an improved suspension. According to some sources, the tracks of the Repotenciado had some parts that were interchangeable with the TAM to simplify logistics and production.

The French Poyaud 520 hp V8 diesel engine. Photo: Blindados De Argentine, Uruguay y Paraguay

Hull and Protection

The Repotenciado did not get any upgrades to its armor. Given the mix-match of Shermans used, the Repotenciado had two different hulls. Some were converted from M4A1 tanks with composite hull and others on the M4A4 hull.

However, the hull interior was extensively redesigned. The engine compartment had to be redesigned to fit the new Poyaud 520 engine. Apart from enlarging the engine compartment, a new inspection door and exhaust pipes were designed. The new gun and changes to the hull meant the electronics were changed, and additionally, new intercoms were installed along with an external phone on the back of the hull. For other communications, a Philips VCR 4622 transmitter and a Philips 3620 intercom control system were equipped on the Repotenciado. All these changes meant that the weight of the vehicle rose to 29,66 tonnes and 31,61 tonnes combat-ready.

The Sherman Repotenciado had a crew of 4: a commander, driver, gunner and loader/radio operator.

An M4A4 Sherman Repotenciado, Reg. EA 01195 gate guardian of La Agrupación de Comunicaciones 601 “Tcnl Higinio Vallejos”, City bell, Province of Buenos Aires in 2016. Photo: Roberdigiorge of Deviant Art
An M4 Hybrid Sherman Repotenciado, Reg. EA 09294, gate guardian of La Agrupación de Comunicaciones 601 “Tcnl Higinio Vallejos”, City bell, Province of Buenos Aires in 2016. Photo: Roberdigiorge of Deviant Art

Variants

Several Repotenciados have been converted as combat engineering vehicles and have been in service supporting regular Repotenciado and TAM units, among them:

Mine-Clearing Repotenciado

Argentina acquired 8 RKM mine rollers (Urdan) at the beginning of 1978. The mine roller systems appear to be installed exclusively on the M4A1 hulls. The mine rollers severely affected the maximum speed from 50 km/h to 20 km/h. In order to completely clear a path of mines, two sweeps were needed. The first sweep was to detonate the mines that could immobilize the tracks and the second sweep was to clear the middle path of any mines. The mounting system of the Repotenciado is compatible with VCTP of the TAM family. The mine-clearing vehicles are still in service.

Sherman Repotenciado with Urdan mine roller, Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1, location unknown, date unknown. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”

Armored Bulldozer Repotenciado

In 1978, Argentina decided to equip a single M4A4 Sherman Repotenciado with a bulldozer. The bulldozer variant was equipped with a dozer blade produced locally at the Talleres Metalúrgicos de Paraná. The tank was meant to serve at the 1st Tank Cavalry Regiment. Whether the bulldozer variant actually saw service and how long is unclear. It is currently on display at the Argentine Army Museum.

Sherman Repotenciado with bulldozer, Regimiento de Caballería de Tanques 1, location unknown, date unknown.

Service

The first 15 Sherman Repotenciados would be delivered on January 31st 1978. On July 9th of that year, the tank was revealed to the public in a parade in which 2 squadrons of the 8th Tank Cavalry Regiment participated. By 1979, the second Armored Cavalry Brigade was fully equipped with Sherman Repotenciados.

An M4A4 Repotenciado during a parade, a soldier greets a child, location unknown, date according to the page 1977 but according to other sources this shouldn’t be possible so it would most likely be 1978. Photo: IG: @ejercito_de_argentina

Diplomatic alternatives for the resolution of the Beagle conflict with Chile failed. Throughout 1978, the Argentinian military junta began mobilizing its military forces, and by the end of the year, was ready to launch ‘Operación Soberanía’, the invasion of Chile. In early October 1978, the 1st Tank Cavalry Regiment was ordered to move from Santa Fe to Punta Quilla and from there a squadron of Shermans was deployed at El Calafete, around 60 kilometers from the Chilean border. Two other squadrons in Esquel were ordered to move to Villa La Angostora, around 20 kilometers from the Chilean border in late October and await further orders. Fortunately, before any blood was spilled, Pope John Paul II intervened and offered to mediate between the two countries. As a result, the invasion was called off and, in 1984, a friendship treaty was signed between the two countries, settling the territorial dispute.

A Sherman Repotenciado of the B squadron, Esquel, July 1978. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”

Because of this, the Sherman Repotenciado never saw service as it was intended. Nonetheless, the vehicle was in service in the Argentinian Army until 1994, by which point the last units were being phased out and its formal retirement would take place in May 1998, when the Sherman Repotenciado with the registration EA0060 fired its cannon for the last time on the Magdalena Shooting range. A total of 67 Shermans would go into storage, with 12 Shermans as reserve per armored cavalry unit, of which one was a mine roller Repotenciado. The Shermans were kept in open air storage. As an attempt to at least preserve the canon, the Argentinians covered up or sometimes screwed off the muzzle brakes of the barrels.

Four years after the official retirement, the Argentinians started to notice premature wear on their TAM vehicles which used the mine rollers. In order to better preserve the VCTP vehicles used for mine clearing, the Argentinians decided to reactivate the Sherman Repotenciado mine roller variant in 2002, the mine-roller variants were well maintained as they never really retired as an engineering vehicle. As of 2002, 67 Sherman Repotenciados remain in storage. Five Repotenciado’s are still in service as so called ‘Historical Vehicles’, for parade and ceremonial purposes, in addition to still being used as mine clearing vehicles in the Argentinian regiments.

An M4A1 Repotenciado used for a ceremony of the 8th Tank Cavalry Regiment. Magdalena Beunos Aires, date unknown. Photo: Guillermo E. Sentis

Continued Service in Paraguay

Paraguay received 3 M4A4 Shermans in 1971 from Argentina, which they would return in 1988 in exchange for three Repotenciados. The Shermans Paraguay received were two M4A4s and one M4A1 Sherman. Their registration numbers were 030-01,02,03 with the M4A1 being 030-02. A Paraguayan general wanted to use the Repotenciados as passive onlookers during his coup in February 1989, but when the government was overthrown on 3rd February 1989, the tanks did not leave their barracks because all the crews were on vacation. The Paraguayan Sherman Repotenciados were retired from service in 2018.

Paraguayan Repotenciado of the Presidential Escort Regiment, Reg. 030-02, location Helio Higuchi in Asunción, date May 2016. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”

The Journey of the Czech Repotenciado

The journey of this particular Sherman Repotenciado started in the Detroit Tank Arsenal in 1943 where it was built. After its construction, it would be shipped to the United Kingdom and converted to a Sherman Firefly. Then, the Sherman would go to Belgium before being sold to Argentina in 1947. In Argentina it would receive the registration EA 03055 and later be converted to a Sherman Repotenciado in 1977. After the Repotenciados were phased out, an Argentinian dealer would acquire this particular vehicle. It was later bought by the KVH 16th Armored Division CZ and transported to the Czechia in 2018 where it would be reconverted to the original M4A4 variant and continue its service as a reenactment tank with the KVH 16th Armored Division CZ.

The Czech Repotenciado on the 4th of May 2018, EA 03055, Czechia exact location unknown. Photo: KVH 16th Armored Division CZ

Conversion and Continued Service With the KVH 16th Armored Division CZ

In 2014, the Czech reenactment club KVH 16th Armored Division CZ discovered a Sherman Repotenciado for sale by an Argentinian dealer. It took three and a half years to finish up the paperwork and the tank would then be transported as a whole to the Czech Republic. The arrival of the Sherman Repotenciado was made public on the 4th of May 2018 on the 16th Armored Division Facebook page.

The Repotenciado was to be reconverted to the original M4A4 with a 75mm gun. The reconversion process would begin on 1st August of that year by removing the gun from the turret and subsequently removing the turret from the hull the day after. The removal of the turret revealed the poor state of the Repotenciado as the bearings and the turret drive gears were rusty and starting to rot away. The poor state of the tank when it was acquired is most likely due to outside storage for years after the Argentinian Army phased out the Repotenciado. Suspension restoration would begin on 17th August and work on the hull would start on 23rd October.

The engine was surprisingly well preserved compared to the turret and repairs would start in February 2019 and were completed in April of the same year. The repaired engine would be placed into the tank in May and the first test drive would be done on 1st August. The conversion was completed on 12th August 2019, and subsequently, the M4A4 would be accepted into service by the 16th Armored division on the same day. The M4A4 would see its first deployment just four days after it was accepted into service on the 2019 Friend Fest in Pardubice, Czechia.

The reconverted M4A4 of the KVH 16th Armored Division CZ, Friend Fest in Pardubice, Czechia, 16th of August 2019.
Photo: KVH 16th Armored Division CZ

Conclusion

Although the Sherman Repotenciado would be woefully inadequate against Western and Russian MBTs of the 1980s, it was adequate in South America. At the time, the most advanced tanks in South America were the M-51’s and 20 AMX-30s from Chile and the SK-105 light tank owned by both Bolivia and Brazil. The Repotenciados gun was powerful enough to fight against all these tanks. The Argentinians managed to further extend the Repotenciados service life by turning some of them in engineering vehicles which is a testament to the longevity and adaptability of the M4 Sherman.

The factory workers could not screw on the muzzle brake far enough to fix it in a horizontal position. Displayed at the Argentine Army Museum in 2006. Reg. 44742, built by Chrysler in October 1943. Photo: Link
An M4A1 Repotenciado during the ‘Monte Caseros’ mutiny of 1988, Monte Caseros, 15th of January 1988. Photo: Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”


A standard Sherman Repotenciado converted from an M4A4 with a turret basket and a 105 mm gun. Converted from the famous World War Two M4 Sherman, 120 Repotenciados were produced. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.


Sherman Repotenciado converted from an M4A4 hull with an external fuel tank.


Sherman Repotenciado EA102264 ‘’Cain’’. Note the mounting point for a mine roller on the front of the vehicle.


Tank Cavalry Regiment ”Colonel Brandsen” / II Armored Cavalry Brigade, 1989. This unit, based in Villaguay (Entre Ríos), had the only Armored bulldozer Repotenciado.

These three illustrations were produced by Pablo Javier Gomez.


Example of a Repotenciado in Paraguayan Service. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

Specifications

Dimensions 6 x 2.6 x 2.7 meters
Total weight, battle-ready 31.61 tons
Crew 4 (commander, driver, gunner, loader)
Propulsion Poyaud 520 8-cyl diesel
Maximum speed 48 km/h (30 mph)
Suspension Vertical Volute Springs (VVSS)
Range on road 200km or 280km (124 or 174 miles)
Armament 105 mm (4.13 in) L44/57 FTR
1x 7.62 MAG coacial
1x 12.7 Browning M2HB
Armor Hull: Front 51 mm (2 in)
Side 38.25 mm (1.5 in)
Rear 38.25 mm (1.5 in)
Turret: Front 76.5 mm (3 in)
Side 51 mm (1 in)
Rear 51 mm (1 in)
Total production 120

Sources

Sherman Repotenciado links & resources
Blindados De Argentine, Uruguay y Paraguay
Serie Terrestre N°2 “M4 SHERMAN”
El Sherman en el Ejército Argentino
M4 Sherman: Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives
KVH 16th Armored Division
www.thevintagenews.com
nationalinterest.org
the.shadock.free.fr/Surviving_Shermans_Repotenciado.pdf
www.taringa.net
patriciodelfosse.ar.tripod.com


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Categories
Argentina Cold War

TAM 2C Main Battle Tank

Argentina (2013)
MBT – 1 Built

The Tank with the Sun of May

As the name suggests, the Tanque Argentino Mediano, or TAM, is the main battle tank of Argentina in South America. Originally designed by a German company in the 1970’s, the TAM entered service in 1980, almost 30 years ago. The vehicles were built in Argentina, but with a substantial percentage of imported parts, including the engine and transmission.
However, after several decades without any upgrade, the original TAM is obsolete by modern standards. In this light, a program was started along with a number of Israeli companies, creating the TAM 2C, with the first vehicle being ready in 2013. As of the end of 2017 production had not yet started.
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The TAM 2C upgraded prototype. Photo: SOURCE

New Tank or Upgrade?

While several maintenance and upgrade programs had been proposed before, it was only in 2009 that the Argentinian Ministry of Defense prepared a Pre Feasibility Study.
The study included the possibility of buying foreign tanks and considered the German Leopard 2A4, French Leclerc, Israeli Merkava and the Russian T-90. However, it was decided that an upgrade of the TAM would be more suitable, due to the Argentinian terrain and infrastructure and serious financial constraints. Also, a modernization of the TAM would keep the existing supply and maintenance circuits, while also minimizing the amount of crew retraining needed.
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The upgraded TAM 2C features added sideskirts, thermal camera in front of the driver’s station, thermal sleeve on the gun, rear turret stowage basked and commander’s camera. This is also one of the few photos where the commander’s cupola MG is fitted. Photo: SOURCE
The Carl Zeiss (through its Forger SA subsidiary), Rheinmetall and Elbit companies were asked for bids for the modernization of the TAM tanks. The Israeli Elbit company was chosen in August 2010 by the Ministry, citing monetary reasons, among others.
A memorandum was signed between the Israeli and Argentinian Ministries of Defence for this modernization program. The first prototype was ready in March 2013, entirely done by the Israelis.

Design

Equipment

The TAM 2C upgrades mostly revolve around improved electronics and equipment. One of the most important additions is that of an Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) mounted on the back of the tank externally. The APU is basically a small turbine engine which provides the vehicle with electrical power while the main engine is turned off. This allows for lower fuel consumption and quieter operation when static.
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The APU added to the rear of the vehicle. Photo: SOURCE
The turret traverse mechanism was also changed from a hydraulic system to an all-electric system, which offers a higher rotation speed. The crew compartment also received an automatic fire suppression system, while another one is in the engine compartment.
The driver received a short-range thermal camera, allowing the TAM 2C to be driven at night or in low-visibility conditions. Both the gunner and the commander received a TV and a thermal camera with built-in laser rangefinders. Both of them also received new digital displays. The onboard computer system has also been significantly upgraded. A new meteorological station was added, giving information to the onboard computer and improving long range accuracy.
Also, a new external stowage basket has been added to the rear of the turret, allowing the crew to transport their belongings and essentially without occupying vital interior space.
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The driver’s new thermal camera that complements his usual viewing ports. On the right is the new commander’s camera system, which can rotate 360 degrees. Photo: SOURCE
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An excellent view of the gunner’s and commander’s stations in the TAM 2C. Photo: SOURCE

Armament

While the old FMK.4 Mod.1L 105 mm gun (based on the legendary British L7) was not changed, it received significant improvements on the 2C standard. The main gun is better balanced through the addition of counterweights, which should improve vertical sighting. Also, a thermal sleeve was added to protect against uneven thermal variations along the barrel, which can lead to small distortions and affect long-range accuracy.
The 2-axis stabilization of the gun has been replaced. The new system allows the temporary locking of the gun into position in order to allow the loader to insert a new shell, while the aiming system still keeps track of the target. Once loading is completed, the main gun is put back on target by the targeting system. If not, the main gun would be nearly impossible to load the gun on the move while tracking an enemy, because the gun would continuously move inside the tank in order to remain on target.
The gun has received a new APFSDS (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot) shell, a modern high-penetration round also used by other top-of-the-range MBTs around the world. Other additions include a new I-HEAT-T shell and a new training shell which will be produced in Argentina by Fabricaciones Militares. These complement the already existing supplies of APFSDS, APDS (Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot, HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank), HESH (High-Explosive Squash Head) and a smoke shell.
It is also claimed that the TAM 2C can now fire the LAHAT (Laser Homing Attack/Laser Homing Anti-Tank) ATGM (ANti-Tank Guided Missile) also used by the Merkava tanks. This missile has a range of up to 8 km and can penetrate up to 800 mm of RHA (Rolled Homogenous Armor). However, it is unclear if the Argentinian army will buy any such ammunition.
When traveling in quiet zones, the gun rests on a travel lock placed at the front of the vehicle.
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Three new types of 105 mm shells for the 105 mm gun of the TAM. These are, from left to right, a training shell, an APFSDS shell and a HEAT shell. Photo:SOURCE
The secondary armament consists of two MAG 7.62 mm machine guns. One is mounted coaxially with the main gun, while the other is mounted next to the commander’s hatch and can be used for close defense or low-level AA (Anti-Aircraft) protection.
The TAM 2C also retained the two banks of four grenade launchers on the sides of the turret. The grenades can be either anti-personnel or smoke, meant to cover the retreat or the attack of the vehicle.

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The TAM 2C prototype showing off its gun wrapped in a thermal sleeve. Photo: SOURCE

Protection

The armor of the original TAM was retained. It consists of welded plates made from a special alloy of steel, nickel, and molybdenum. The upper glacis is 50 mm thick, angled at 75 degrees from the vertical, with 35 mm at 32 degrees on the sides. The turret is also quite thin, with a maximum of 35 mm of all-around offers all-around protection against small arms fire and shrapnel, with the frontal part probably being able to stand up to 20 mm autocannon fire. However, any tank-caliber gun or AT missile would have no problem passing through this protection.
The only change is the addition of side skirts with the TAM 2C. These are not meant to provide additional armor, but to lower the amount of dust kicked up during traveling.

Mobility

The 2C upgrade had little to do with the powertrain or drivetrain of the original TAM. The engine is a German MTU MB 833 Ka-500 developing 720 hp, coupled to a Renk HSWL-204 forward-mounted transmission. The engine itself is mounted at the front right of the vehicle, in an arrangement identical to the original Marder vehicle on which the TAM is based.
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The engine of the TAM, which was kept for the TAM 2C. Photo: SOURCE
The suspension consists of seven pairs of rubberized roadwheels connected to torsion bars on each side. The first three pairs and the last one also have hydraulic shock absorbers. The idler is at the rear, the drive sprocket at the front and 3 return rollers support the track.
Given the lack of changes, with the exception of a small increase in weight, the TAM 2C probably retained the 70 km/h maximum speed and 500 km range on road. The extra fuel tanks, which could increase the range to 900 km, are probably not an option anymore due to the addition of the external auxiliary power unit. The power to weight ratio remains in the area of 20 hp/ton.
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TAM with extra fuel tanks at the rear, which extended the range to 900 km. On the TAM 2C, their place was taken by an external auxiliary power unit. Photo: SOURCE

The State of Production

The initial TAM 2C prototype was unveiled in April 2013, the upgrade having been completed one month prior by Elbit Systems. After a technical evaluation, a contract was signed in June 2015 for the upgrade of 74 tanks to the TAM 2C standard. The whole investment was announced as being worth US$111 million.
However, since that point, little work seems to have been done on the actual upgrade. A change of government has led to an internal audit of the program and this caused delays. This is related to a series of austerity measures put in place in order to tackle the country’s inflation and public deficit. The engineers at Elbit are working with their Argentinian counterparts at the 602nd Battalion Arsenal.
According to the latest news from July 2017, a 3rd vehicle entered the shop for upgrade and all the other 71 vehicles will follow suit as funds become available. Also, some minor changes are also on the table. Production is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2018.
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The TAM 2C prototype being studied in an Argentinian workshop. Behind it is the TAM 2IP prototype with improved protection. In the background is a row of VCA Palmaria SPGs. Photo: SOURCE

Potential Rivals

While the 2C standard does not make the TAM one of the top MBTs in the world, it is sufficiently adequate for its role and possible adversaries. Of Argentina’s neighbors, Chile possesses 200 upgraded Leopard 2A4CHLs, which are well superior to the TAM in all aspects except mobility. These have been upgraded with modern equipment as well. The Leopard 2A4CHL, with its 120 mm gun, can easily dispatch the TAM 2C, while the Argentinian tank might struggle with the frontal armor of its adversary. However, the Chilean-Argentinian border, while one of the longest in the world, also goes along the Andes mountain chain, where the TAM’s higher mobility is of utmost importance.
Brazil also has a large fleet of M60 Pattons, Leopards and wheeled tank destroyers, all of which have armament that can deal with the TAM. However, the TAM 2C’s armament is also sufficient to deal with these vehicles and the Argentinian vehicle should have a small edge due to its more modern upgraded equipment.
The Falkland/Malvinas islands remain a point of potential conflict for Argentina. Despite losing the 1982 war, the South American country did not renounce its claim and has actually restated it on numerous occasions, including during a presidential visit to the United Kingdom. Should such a conflict rekindle, both nations would have to bring in any armored vehicles by sea, which is especially problematic for the UK due to the large distances involved. This would probably also forbid the deployment of any Challenger 2 tanks, but not of the Warrior or Ajax IFVs.

Conclusion

This upgrade is a welcome addition to Argentina’s aging fleet of tanks. However, it does not significantly improve the armament, armor or mobility of the vehicle, which are the main characteristics of any MBT. The 2C upgrade will help keep the TAM in service for at least another decade, but it will only postpone the inevitable need for a new modern MBT. The AMX-13s and SK-105s in Argentinian service will also need some attention or replacement in the near future.
Also, it is important to note that, due to the financial problems Argentina is currently going through, the TAM 2C program might still be canceled, despite a large amount of work and progress done on it.

TAM specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 8.23 (6.77 without gun) x 3.12 x 2.42 m
27′ (22’2″) x 10’2″ x 7’9″
Total weight, battle ready 30.5 tons (61,000 lbs)
Crew 4 (commander, driver, loader, gunner)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp (540 kW)
Maximum speed 75 km/h (47 mph) on road
Suspensions Torsion bar
Range (Fuel) 370 miles/590 km or 500 miles/800 km with external FT
Armament 105 mm (4.13 in) FM K.4 Modelo 1L
2 x 7.62 mm NATO FN MAG GMPG (0.3 in) coax/AA
Armor Nose glacis, turret mantlet 50 mm (2 in)
Production 280

Links, Resources & Further Reading

Army Recognition Group, 2017. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
Defense.com team, 2013. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
Charly Borda Bettolli for Zona Militar, 2017. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
Federico Luna for Zona Militar, 2016. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
Maquina de Combate team, 2017. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
Parabrisas magazine, 2001. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
User Twisted 19 on Taringa.net, 2015. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
User Twisted 19 on Taringa.net, 2016. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
User Panzer_Arg on Taringa.net, 2015. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
User badchopper on Taringa.net, 2016. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
User juancho_98 on Taringa.net, 2012. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE
Wikipedia team, 2017. Accessed 31 November 2017
SEE HERE

The TAM 2C
The original TAM Main Battle Tank. 

The TAM 2C
The TAM 2C, modernized by Elbit Systems. Illustrations by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

The TAM 2C
The TAM 2C prototype in a slightly different livery. Illustration by Pablo Javier Gomez