Categories
South African Tanks

Olifant Mk2 Main Battle Tank

 

 South Africa (2005)
Main Battle Tank – 26 built

“Olifant” The African Elephant Mk2

The Olifant Mk2 takes its Afrikaans name from the African Elephant. The Elephant is the largest land animal and, conversely, the Olifant Main Battle Tank (MBT) is aptly named as it is the heaviest military vehicle in service with the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Olifant Mk2 was adapted for the African battlespace based on the lessons learned from the South African Border War (1966-1989). It was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was no longer subject to international embargoes. Set against the backdrop of a relatively stable Southern Africa, the need for large numbers of new MBTs was put aside in favour of agiler and air transportable vehicles for peacekeeping missions in Africa under the umbrella of the United Nations (UN) and African Union (AU).

Olifant Mk2 – African Aerospace and Defence 2016, Waterkloof Air Force Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Development

The official planned replacement of the Olifant Mk1A was evaluated in the 1990s. Possible contenders were the French Tropicalised AMX-56 Leclerc (developed for Saudi Arabia) and the British Vickers Defence Systems Challenger 2E. Initial SANDF requirements asked for 96 new MBTs, six armored recovery vehicles and four armored vehicle-launched bridges on a similar chassis. However, in 1998, the South African government announced that no new MBT was to be funded in the foreseeable future, as the Air Force and Navy required a complete overhaul. Originally an entire new hull would have been build but due to a lack of funds the only solution available to the SANDF was to upgrade the existing Mk1Bs which were on hand to the desired specifications sought by the South African Armoured Corps. The Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC) was tasked with improving on the shortcomings of the Mk1B with the Mk2.
Externally, the Mk2 looks identical to the original Mk1B but features an upgraded Continental 29 Litre turbo-charged V12 diesel engine that produces 1040 hp. The only prominent identification feature is the box-shaped commander’s sight. Additional improvements included an upgraded Fire Control System (FCS) and Computerised Battle System (CBS) which gave the Mk2 a fire-on-the-move, all-weather, day or night fighting capability. Furthermore, the Mk2 features the much sought after hunter-killer mode which enables the commander and gunner to hunt for enemy targets independently, thereby maximising the chance of achieving the first hit probability as well as better target tracking and management. This makes the Mk2 superior to any other MBT currently in Southern Africa. 
A total of 26 Mk2 were built from 2005. The Mk2 is in service only with the SANDF, which is using four for training at the School of Armour at Tempe while the remaining 22 are in storage.

Olifant Mk2 – African Aerospace and Defence 2014, Waterkloof Air Force Base  (Photo: Johannes Botha)

Design features

The design, development and production of the Mk2 were undertaken to correct the shortcomings of the Mk1B. It was particularly feared that T-72M MBTs would be acquired by some of its neighbours, which would require a much more lethal South African MBT.

Mobility

Although the African battle space favours a wheeled configuration, the Mk2 would retain its predecessor’s role as an MBT. The Mk2 can ford 1.5 m of water without preparation. With regards to the mobility, the Mk2 kept the Continental 29 Litre turbocharged V12 diesel engine of the Mk1B, but improvements to the engine raised the overall performance to 1040 hp, with an increase of the power-to-weight ratio from 14.4 hp/t in the Mk1B to 17.19 hp/t in the Mk2. This is a significant improvement considering that the Mk2 only weighs 1.5t more than the Mk1B. 
The Mk2 retained the Mk1B’s automatic transmission (AMTRA 3) which was manufactured by Gear Ratio and provided double-differential steering (four forward gears and two reverse), two-speed mechanical steering drive and hydraulic retarder. The additional 190hp, coupled with the automatic transmission, allowed the Mk2 the same top speed of 58 km/h (36mp/h) on road as the Mk1B, albeit accelerating 25% quicker than the Mk1B. The Mk2 also retains the Mk1B’s torsion bar suspension system with hydraulic dampers and bump stops fitted to the first and last pair of road wheels which dramatically improved off-road mobility. The overall result is a less taxing driving experience, especially over rough terrain. The steering of the Mk2 also remained the same as the Mk1B, which is done via a yoke. 

Endurance and logistics

The fuel capacity was reduced from 1382L (328 gal) in the Mk1B to 1285L (339 gal) in the Mk2. The reduction in fuel capacity had little impact on the overall range the Mk2 could travel and remained the same as the Mk1B, namely 360 km (224 mi) on-road and 260 km (162 mi) off-road. Having retained the same engine as the Mk1B, no further changes were made to the size of the engine compartment. The road wheels retained the polyurethane surface, which has an operational range of 1200 km. The Mk2 also retained the same number of track links (109). The grease nipples on the road wheels were reduced from 108 in the Olifant Mk1A to 12 in the Mk2, which significantly reduced crew fatigue. 
The Mk2 is equipped with one 7.62 mm coaxial machine-gun which has a 2000 round ready bin with 6600 rounds of 7.62 mm being carried. The Mk2 features tactical radio communication, allowing for reliable command and control and enhancing the tank’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield. Improvements were made to reduce acoustic noise, thereby improving situational awareness and reducing crew fatigue. 
Based on the lessons learnt during the South African Border War with the Mk1A, the Mk2 is equipped with two drinking water tanks (one left and one right) inside the turret with a combined capacity of 101 litres. The water can be accessed from the commander’s and loader’s stations and reduces the necessity to leave the tank and continue water replenishment from the echelon.  The addition of a fume extractor fan helped clear the interior crew compartment of excess fumes.

Vehicle layout

The Mk2 carries a standard complement of four crew, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader and driver. Further changes were made to the interior layout to enhance the ergonomics of the fighting compartment to maximise efficiency and reduce crew fatigue.  
The commander’s station is located on the right side of the turret and is equipped with a more modern cupola, offering a 360-degree field of vision. The commander’s station also features a digital screen which is linked to the gunner’s sight. The commander received a Commander’s Observation Platform (COP) which is fully stabilised and equipped with thermal imaging which significantly enhances situational awareness and combat ability. The COP located on the turret roof is the most prominent feature distinguishing the Mk2 from the Mk1B. It should be noted that the COP is removed when not in operational use.
On the right side of the turret, below the commander’s station, is the gunner’s station which is equipped with day/night capabilities that are displayed on a digital display screen. The loader also sports an episcope for better situational awareness. Entry and exit for the former and latter are through the commander’s hatch and, in case of emergency, the loader can escape through a hatch above his station.
The driver’s station retained the ergonomic overhaul, digital instrument panel and a yoke-type steering stick from the Mk1B which improved comfort and reduced driver fatigue. Driver visibility consists three episcopes, allowing better visibility, thereby increasing situational awareness. The central episcope can be replaced with a passive night driving periscope allowing full night capability. The driver can enter and exit his station through a single-piece hatch above their station while an emergency escape hatch is located under his seat in the floor.

Main gun

The Mk2 retained the South African produced 105 mm GT3B rifled gun barrel manufactured by Lyttleton Engineering Works (LEW). A standard thermal sleeve and fume extractor helps sustain accurate fire and reduces barrel droop due to heat by as much as 70%-90%. The Mk2 is issued with four types of main gun rounds. The High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) (effective against soft and lightly armoured targets) and White Phosphorus round (used to mark targets and making a smoke screen to mask movement ) has a muzzle velocity of 730 m/s and an effective range of 7.5 km (4.6 mi). The M9210 High Explosive (HE) round (used against infantry and soft targets) has a muzzle velocity of 700 m/s and an effective range of 7.5 km (4.6 mi).  The M9718 Armour-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds travel at 1455 m/s (4774 ft/s) with a maximum effective range of 3 km (1.86 mi) can penetrate 580 mm (22 in) of Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA) at 10 m (3 ft) range and 450mm (17 in) RHA at 3 km (1.86 mi).
The fighting compartment saw safety improvements with a total of 64 main gun rounds carried, some in protected stowage bins below the turret ring, while a number is kept in ready bins for immediate use. The extended bustle (compared to the Olifant Mk1A) not only allowed for more room for crew equipment but also helped balance the overall turret weight distribution. This, in turn, puts far less strain on the new solid state electrical gun control system and turret drive which could traverse the turret a full 360 degrees in 16 seconds.

Fire Control System

The Mk2 features a completely integrated FCS. The FCS allows to gunner or commander to target an enemy which engages the auto-tracking feature to keep the main gun on target while the tank is moving. The gunner makes use of a digital display screen to select a target and which displays the results of the integrated ballistic computer. The laser rangefinder is integrated into the system and is accurate to up to 10 km. Data from the rangefinder was by design fed into an integrated ballistic computer, which applied elevation to the main gun. Tests revealed that the system was accurate within 30 mm x 30mm at 2 km which was perfect for the South African Lowveld (open stretches of grass plains).
An additional feature that makes the Mk2 so lethal is its hunter-killer capability. This allows the commander and gunner to independently scan for targets thereby maximizing the chance of spotting and engaging an enemy first. The commander can override the gunner’s aim with the flip of a switch to put the main cannon on target.  A well-trained crew could lase a target, load the main gun round and fire every 8 seconds.

Protection

The Mk2 retained the Mk1A armor, which consisted of 118 mm (4.64in) on the frontal glacis at 60 degrees, 152 mm frontal turret (6in), 51mm (2in) on the sides, 40 mm (1.57in) on top and 19 mm (0.7in) in the rear. An armor upgrade program took the form of several passive composite armor packages, one over the frontal glacis plate and several on the turret (front, sides and top). A gap was left in-between the original Centurion turret and the added armor package to act as spaced armor. The total thickness and composition of these armor packages are classified. However, given the threat level posed, it would be reasonable to argue that they would be sufficient to stop a 115 mm HEAT rounds used by the T-62 tanks. 
The entire hull can shrug off the feared 23 mm armour piercing (AP) rounds. The threat posed to the Olifant Mk1A by Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG-7) is negated with the mentioned upgrades to the Mk2 armor. Additionally, the armored steel skirts of the Mk1A were redesigned for the Mk2 to protect the running gear from incoming missiles by prematurely detonating incoming HEAT rounds.  The constant threat of landmines in Southern Africa necessitated the addition of a double armored floor (with the torsion bars between the floor plates). A new fire suppression system (automatic and/or manual) was installed in the crew and engine compartment to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire or explosion if hit.
The Mk2 has two banks of four smoke grenade launchers fitted to the rear of the turret, which lessens the possibility of damage when “bundu bashing”. Additionally, the Mk2 can also generate a smoke screen by injecting fuel into the engine exhaust. The hull headlamps are armored, and a V-shape bush basher bar can be added to the nose of the hull.

Olifant Mk2 – AAD 2018, Air Force Base Waterkloof (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Conclusion

The Mk2 addresses the shortcomings originally found in the Mk1B to make the tank fightable by incorporating the hunter-killer capability. Furthermore, a more powerful engine improves the tank’s overall performance. The Mk2 is a leap forward in protection, mobility and firepower and is currently the pinnacle of tank technology in Southern Africa. The role of MBT’s is essentially to act as a deterrent to outside aggressors. MBT’s are prohibitively expensive to operate and maintain, are often only deployed during times of war which makes the justification to fund them very difficult to the general public. The South African defence industries ingenuity has stretched the life expectancy of the Olifant MBT impressively. It should, however, be noted that the fleet needs to be replaced as the hulls are essentially nearing 50 years.  

Olifant Mk2 Specifications

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h): 8.30 m (26.3 ft.)– 3.43 m (10.8 ft.)– 3.04 m (9.64 ft.)
Total weight, battle ready 60.5 Tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Continental 29 litre turbo-charged air-cooled V12 diesel engine produces 1040 hp @2400rpm. (17.19 hp/t)
Suspension Torsion bar with hydraulic dampers
Top speed road / off-road 58 kph (36 mph) / 30 kph (18.6 mph)
Range road/ off-road >350km (217 miles) / 240km (149 miles)
Main armament
Secondary armament
105mm GT3B semi-automatic quick firing gun (L7)
1 × 7.62mm co-axial Browning MG
Armour 118mm (4.64in.) glacis @ 60 degrees + add-on armour package
152mm (6in.) turret + add-on ceramic armour package
51mm (2in.) sides
40mm (1.57in.) top
31mm (1.22in.) rear
Total Production (Hulls) 26

Olifant Videos

Olifant Mk2 Mobility Track

Bibliography

Carroll, S. 2017. Olifant Mk2. Date 2-4 Oct. SA Armour Museum, Bloemfontein.
DEFENCEWEB. 2011. R96.8m for Olifant, Rooikat ammo. 
Erasmus, R. 2017. Olifant Mk2. Date 2-4 Oct. SA Armour Museum, Bloemfontein.
VEG Magazine. 2005. The development of the Olifant Mk1B & Mk2. Issue 8. Victor Logistics.
Voortrekker Monument Military Festival. 2018. SANDF information display: Olifant Mk2 Main Battle Tank.

Olifant Mk2  Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

 

Categories
South African Tanks

Olifant Mk1B Main Battle Tank

South Africa (1991)
Main Battle Tank – 44 built

“Olifant” The African Elephant Mk1B

The Olifant Mk1B Main Battle Tank (MBT) takes its Afrikaans name from the African Elephant. The Olifant is the largest land animal and in a similar vein the Olifant MBT is the heaviest military vehicle in the then South African Defence Force (SADF) and its successor the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Olifant Mk1B is a complete rebuild of the Olifant Mk1A, adapted for the African battlespace and the lessons learned from the South African Border War (1966-1989). It was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was still subject to international embargoes because of its racial segregation policies (Apartheid). Set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union.

Olifant Mk1B left hand view- SA Armour Museum, Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Development

Unlike the Mk1A, which is an upgrade from the Centurion Mk.3/5 hull, the Mk1B was a complete rebuild and in doing so left behind the legacy, features and outer look of the Centurion MBT. Development of the Mk1B commenced soon after the Mk1 went into production in 1981. The Olifant Manufacturing Company (OMC) set out to design and build an interim MBT that would improve on the shortcomings of the Mk1A which were exposed during the South African Border War such as poor armor, poor mobility, improved firepower and taxing maintenance requirements. The Mk1B was designed to face off against T-55, T-62, and T-72A MBTs, which are equipped respectively with 100mm, 115mm and 125mm main guns. The primary focus, therefore, was placed on protection followed by improved firepower capabilities, then mobility, and lastly reduction of vehicle maintenance and crew fatigue.

A total of 44 Mk1B (2 x prototype + 42) would be built starting in 1991. South Africa is the sole user of the Mk1B of which 26 were upgraded to Mk2 standard in 2005. Presently 12 Mk1Bs are in storage with 1 South African Tank Regiment.

Olifant Mk1B front view- SA Armour Museum, Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Design features

The design, development and production of the Mk1B were undertaken due to the increasing number of Soviet-supplied tanks in Southern Africa. It was particularly feared that the Soviet-backed Cuban forces in Angola would ship T-72A MBTs to the Angolan theatre. The possible deployment of T-72A MBTs necessitated a much better protected, mobile and lethal South African MBT than the  Mk1A.

Mobility

Although the African battle space favours a wheeled configuration, the Mk1B was envisaged to retain its predecessor’s role as an MBT. The Mk1B can ford 1.2m of water without preparation. With regards to the mobility question, the Mk1B kept the Continental 29 litre turbo-charged V12 diesel engine of the Mk1A. Improvements to the engine enabled an additional 100hp which totaled 850hp and raised the horsepower per tonne from 13.39hp/t to 14.4hp/t. A necessary improvement considering that the Mk1B weighed 3 tons more than the Mk1A. A new automatic transmission called AMTRA 3 was assembled by Gear Ration and installed in the Mk1B which provided double-differential steering (four forward gears and two reverse), two-speed mechanical steering drive and hydraulic retarder. The additional 100hp and new automatic transmission allowed the Mk1B to achieve a top speed of 58km/h (36mp/h) on a road which was a further improvement over the Mk1A’s 45km/h (28mp/h).

The old Centurion Horstmann suspension was replaced with a new torsion bar suspension system with hydraulic dampers which provides an overall 300-400% improvement in wheel travel if compared to the Mk1A. Bump stops where fitted to all the road wheels in order to improve off-road mobility while telescopic dampers were fitted to the front and two back stations to reduce rocking when stopping the tank.  Steering is done via a yoke instead of tillers. The overall result of the improvements is a less taxing driving experience for driver and crew, especially over rough terrain.

Continental 29 litre turbo-charged air-cooled V12 diesel engine, SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Endurance and logistics

The fuel capacity remained the same as the Mk1A, 1240 litres (328 US gallons). Subsequently, the Mk1B can travel 350km (217mi) on road, 240km (149mi) off-road and 150km (93mi) on sand. With the redesigning of the hull, the engine compartment was extended, allowing more space for easier maintenance and if required, removal and replacement of the entire power pack. In an effort to reduce the frequency of road wheel replacements an outer polyurethane surface was applied which increased the road wheel life from 300km (of the Mk1A) to 1200km on the Mk1B. With the extended engine compartment which lengthened the overall hull, an additional track link was added which brought the total to 109 track links on each side.
The Mk1B is equipped with one 7.62mm coaxial machine gun with a 2000 round ready bin that replaced the 200 round boxes used in the Mk1A. At least 6000 rounds of 7.62mm are carried. The Mk1B features tactical radio communication which allows for reliable command and control, enhancing the tank’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield.

Based on the lessons learned during the South African Border War with the Mk1A, the Mk1B features two drinking water tanks (one left and one right) inside the turret with a combined capacity of 101 litres. The water can be accessed from the commander’s and loader’s station and reduces the necessity to leave the tank to fetch water. Less logistical tasks reduced the need for replenishment from an administration and logistic support vehicles from the echelon.  The addition of a fume extractor fan helps clear the interior crew compartment of excess fumes from the main gun. New and more comfortable seats were also installed to help reduce crew fatigue.

Vehicle layout

The Mk1B carried a standard complement of four crew members, consisting of the commander, gunner, loader, and driver. The commander’s station is located on the right side of the turret and features a newly designed cupola also offering a 360-degree field of vision through six vision blocks. Entry and exit from the commander’s station are achieved through a hatch. On the right side of the turret, just below the commander`s station is the gunner’s station which is fitted with a day and night sight and to the left of the turret is the loader’s station. The loader also sports a periscope for better overall situational awareness. Entry and exit for the former and latter are through the gunner’s and commander’s cupola and in case of emergency, the loader can escape through a hatch of his own. The driver’s station received a more ergonomic overhaul and a new digital instrument panel and a yoke-type steering stick which improved comfort and reduced driver fatigue. Driver visibility was improved with the addition of a third driver’s periscope thereby increasing situational awareness. The central periscope can be replaced with a passive night driving periscope allowing full day/night capability. The driver can enter and exit his station through a new single-piece hatch or in emergencies escape hatch in the floor.

Main gun

The Mk1B retained the South African produced 105mm GT3B rifled gun barrel manufactured by Lyttleton Engineering Works (LEW). A new thermal sleeve and fume extractor help improved sustained accuracy when firing and reduce barrel droop due to heat by as much as 70%-90%. The M456 High Explosive Antitank (HEAT) rounds could effectively penetrate 420mm of Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA) at any range. Armour Piercing Fin-stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) rounds with the ability to penetrate 580mm of RHA is also used. All the main gun rounds were imported with the exception of the High Explosive (HE) round which is manufactured by Denel in South Africa. The Denel M9210 HE round contains a TNT/HNS filling with an effective blast radius of 17m. The round is fired with a muzzle velocity of 700m/s to a maximum range of 9km. Dispersion at 3 km is within 0.3m x 0.3m.

The fighting compartment saw safety improvements with a total of 65 main gun rounds carried in protected stowage bins below the turret ring. The turret bustle was extended which added more room for crew equipment. The bustle extension also helped balance the overall turret weight distribution, putting much less strain on the new solid state electrical gun control system and turret drive which could traverse the turret in a full circle in 16 seconds (an improvement of 10 seconds over the Mk1A). An infrared/white searchlight was added above the main gun.

Fire Control System

In 1990 the SADF tasked Reutech Systems to develop a new fire control system to replace the 30-year-old system on the Mk1A. The fire control system was known as the High Frequency Tank Fire Directing System (HIFF) and consisted of a state of the art (for the time) ballistic computer system and sight drive electronics coupled to a touch button control system and sensors which accurately measured meteorological conditions such as ambient temperature and wind speed from the environmental sensors which could affect the fire accuracy of the main gun. The new system allowed the gunner to select a target and in less than two seconds the fire control system would calculate a fire solution and notify the gunner via a ready to fire light that the main gun was on target and ready to fire.  The system could also hit a moving target while on the move itself by adjusting the main guns aim after incorporating the targets distance, speed and relative speed thereby maximising first round hit probability. The gunner makes use of an Eloptro 8x gunner’s day sight with an integrated ballistic computer which was added to the gunner’s sight. Co-mounted is a laser range finder which is accurate up to 10km. Data from the rangefinder is fed into the split range drum, which applies elevation to the main gun. Tests revealed that the system is accurate within 50m x 50 m at 2 km which is perfect for the South African Lowveld (open stretches of grass plains).


Interior view of Olifant Mk1B gunners station. Source: SALUT MAGAZINE. 

Protection

Having established that the Mk1A is vulnerable to Soviet T-55, T-62 and T-72A MBT`s, an upgrade of the Mk1B’s armor was undertaken. The Mk1B retained the original Mk1A’s armor, which consisted of 118mm (4.64in) on the frontal glacis at 60 degrees, 152mm frontal turret (6in), 51mm (2in) on the sides, 40mm (1.57in) on top and 19mm (0.7in) in the rear. An armor upgrade installation program took the form of several passive composite armor packages over the frontal glacis plate and turret (front, sides and top). A gap in between the original Mk1A turret and the add-on turret package was left open to act as spaced armor against High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds or which could be filled if needed in future. The total thickness of the armor package upgrade and the composition thereof is classified, however, given the threat level posed it would be reasonable to argue that they would be sufficient to deal with 115mm HEAT rounds used by Soviet T-62 tanks. Being modular the add-on armor package can be replaced in the field if it is damaged.

The entire hull could shrug off the feared 23mm anti-aircraft gunfire. Furthermore, the threat posed to the Mk1A by Rocket Propelled Grenades such as the RPG-7 is negated with the mentioned upgrades to the Mk1B. The armored steel skirts of the Mk1A redesigned allowing for easier removal while still providing additional protection against RPG-7s. The constant threat of landmines in Southern Africa necessitated the addition of a double armored floor (with the torsion bars between the floor plates). A new fire suppression system (automatic & manual) was installed in the crew and engine compartment to reduce the likelihood of a catastrophic fire or explosion if hit. The stowage bins received lids to reduce the chances of content ignition if the Mk1A’s is hit. The smoke grenade banks were prone to damage when “bundu bashing” (driving through dense vegetation) which encouraged the relocation thereof to the rear of the turret on the Mk1B.

Two banks of four smoke grenade launchers were fitted. Additionally, the Mk1B can also generate a smoke screen by injecting fuel into the engine exhaust. The hull headlamps are armored and a V-shape bush basher bar could be added to the nose of the hull. The total additional weight adds up to just over 3 tons.

Olifant Mk1B rear bustle view- SA Armour Museum, Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

VARIANTS

Olifant Bridge Laying Tank
Two Mk1B Bridge Laying Tank (BLT) were built which are employed by the SANDF engineering corps.

Tank Technology Demonstrator and Olifant Mk1B Optimum
The Mk1B was developed as a stop gap while the SADF were looking to acquire a brand new MBT. The Logim project was aimed at researching, developing and manufacturing a complete domestic MBT. The project reached the prototype phase with one working model build known as the Tank Technology Demonstrator (TTD) which looked very similar to the Leopard 2A4. The technology developed for the TTD would eventually be transferred to the Mk1B Optimum in addition to a new lighter turret made of advanced ceramics with a reminiscent shape found on the Leopard 2A5. Additionally, the Mk1B Optimum would feature rubber side plates to detonate medium HEAT rounds and at the same time, save weight. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the 1994 democratic elections, the new SANDF had a significantly reduced budget. Hence the TTD and Optimum projects were cancelled. Most of the technologies would eventually be transferred to the Mk2.

Olifant Mk1B Optimum – SA Armour Museum, Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Conclusion

The Mk1B was, for all practical purposes, a leap forward in protection, mobility and firepower over its predecessor, the Mk1A. However, several problems came to light, such as the poor power to weight ratio and the failure of the main gun system to exceed the performance of the Mk1A. Additionally, the desired fight ability improvement was not achieved. These shortcomings motivated the SANDF to look for further improvements which led to the Mk2 which made use of many of the TTD technologies.

Olifant Mk1B Specifications

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h): 8.30m (26.3ft.)– 3.43m (10.8ft.)– 3.04m (9.64ft.)
Total weight, battle ready 59 Tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Continental 29 litre turbo-charged air-cooled V12 diesel engine produces 850 hp @2400rpm. (14.4 hp/t)
Suspension Torsion bar
Top speed road / off-road 58 kph (36 mph) / 30 kph (18.6 mph)
Range road/ off-road >350km (217 miles) / 240km (149 miles)
Armament (see notes) 105mm GT3B semi-automatic quick firing gun (L7)
1 × 7.62mm co-axial Browning MG
Armour 118mm (4.64in.) glacis @ 60 degrees + add-on armour package
152mm (6in.) turret + add-on ceramic armour package
51mm (2in.) sides
40mm (1.57in.) top
31mm (1.22in.) rear
Total Production (Hulls) 44

Olifant Videos

Olifant Mk1A and Mk1B demonstration

Tank Technology Demonstrator

 Bibliography

  • Carroll, S. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 2-4 Oct. SA Armour Museum, Bloemfontein.
  • Erasmus, R. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 2-4 Oct. SA Armour Museum, Bloemfontein.
  • Erasmus, R. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 21 Nov. Telephone interview with Olifant Mk1B project leader.
  • Harmse, K. 2017. Olifant Mk1B. Date 16 Nov. Vaal Mall, Vanderbijlpark.
  • Global security group. 2015. Olifant Mk1B. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/rsa/olifant-1b.htm Date of access: 16 Sep. 2017.
  • SALUT Magazine. 1996. Advance technology. October Edition.
  • SADF living history group.  2015. Armour. https://sadfgroup.org/equipment/armour/ Date of access: 16 Sep. 2017.
  • Steenkamp, W. & Heitman, H.R.  2016.  Mobility Conquers: The story of 61 mechanised battalion group 1978-2005.  West Midlands: Helion & Company Limited
  • VEG Magazine. 2005. The development of the Olifant Mk1B & Mk2. Issue 8. Victor Logistics.

Olifant Mk1B.


Mk1B Optimum. Both Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.

 

Categories
South African Tanks

Olifant Mk1A Main Battle Tank

South Africa (1983)
Main Battle Tank – 153 built

“Olifant” The African Elephant

The Olifant Mk1A Main Battle Tank (MBT) takes its Afrikaans name from the African Elephant. The Olifant is the largest land animal and thus, the Olifant MBT is aptly named as it was the heaviest military vehicle in the then South African Defence Force (SADF) and post-democratic South African National Defence Force (SANDF). The Olifant Mk1A is adapted for the African battlespace. It was designed and produced at a time when South Africa was subject to ever more strict international arms embargoes because of its segregation policies (Apartheid), set against the backdrop of the Cold War in Southern Africa which saw a steep rise in liberation movements backed by Eastern Bloc communist countries such as Cuba and the Soviet Union.
Olifant Mk1A - With permission from SA Army Armour Formation
Olifant Mk1A – With permission from SA Army Armour Formation

Development

The Olifant Mk1A was the final evolutionary development of the British Centurions in South Africa service before the end of the Cold War. During 1953, South Africa, as part of the Commonwealth, purchased 87 Mk.3 and 116 Mk.5 Centurions from Great Britain. One hundred Centurions were sold to Switzerland in the 1960’s to generate funds for the purchase of Mirage fighter airplanes. As part of the purchase agreement, Switzerland was allowed to pick the best 100 Centurions from the South African inventory, which they did. This action virtually halved the South African tank capability. In the years that followed, the remaining tanks were used for training and large-scale exercises such as those held in 1966.

In 1964, the United Nations enacted a strict arms embargo on South Africa due to its racial segregation policy, known as “Apartheid”. Regardless of the sanctions, South Africa was able to obtain some of the equipment and parts necessary for the upkeep of the Centurion fleet. The exception was the 650hp water-cooled V-12 Rolls Royce Meteor engine which was prone to overheating in the warm African weather. The strain brought on by the rocky terrain took its toll on the Centurion’s road wheels and suspension. The changing global political environment against South Africa necessitated an increased requirement on self-reliance which led to the establishment of the Armaments Corporation of South Africa (ARMSCOR) in 1964, which would take on procurement, research and development tasks. With some sleight of hand and creative wording, ARMSCOR was able to procure diesel engines from General Motors under the pretext of them being used for farming. Although suitable, the engines, meant for the cold weather use of Europe, constantly overheated in the African heat. General Motors got wind of the engine’s final destination and pulled the supply thereof in 1970.

In 1973, ARMSCOR acquired several air-cooled Continental V-12 engine used in the M46/47 Patton which produced 810hp. With some creative modifications, they were installed in the South African Centurions. However, the new engines were far from perfect as they consumed a ridiculous amount of fuel, limiting the operational range off road to just 40km. Additionally, the original tiller bars for driving were replaced by a steering handlebar system. Besides the three test models build by 61 Base Workshop, another six were produced by Sandock-Austral and all nine were pushed into service as an interim measure as the ‘Skokiaan’ (an African alcoholic drink) while the Centurion Mk.5A was being developed. The Centurion Mk.5A was nicknamed ‘Semel’ (bran/cereal) which referred to its project development code name. Using the same engine as the ‘Skokiaan’, a total of 35 ‘Semels’ were built from 1974 and featured the repositioning of the air filters (to avoid getting clogged), increased fuel capacity (1400 litres), redesigned steering and brakes which made use of hydraulics. They were sent to Walvis Bay in South West Africa (Namibia).

Skokiaan on display, School of Armour, Tempe Military Base (Photo: Dewald Venter)
While the interim Semels and Skokiaans were being produced the South African Armoured Corps submitted a request to the upgrade of the Centurion fleet to the standards of the Israeli ‘Sho`t’. This request saw the birth of the Olifant MBT project which involved cooperation between the South African Technical Service Corps, ARMSCOR and Barlow’s through the subsidiary Barlow’s Heavy Engineering, which established a division called the ‘Olifant Manufacturing Company’ (OMC) in 1976. Lacking sufficient Centurion hulls due to the sale of a hundred Centurions in the 1960`s an extensive search led to the acquisition of 200 Centurion tanks (in various states of disrepair) from Jordan. The first pre-production variant of the Olifant (Mk1) was sent to the School of Armour at Tempe Military Base for testing in 1976 followed by a second in 1977 and a third in 1978.
The Olifant Mk1 was officially introduced in 1978 and mainly featured a 750 hp diesel engine coupled to a semi-automatic transmission. Production commenced in 1979 and lasted until 1984 with a total of 153 Mk.3 Centurions being converted to the Olifant Mk1 standard. As luck would have it, South Africa confiscated a shipment of T-55 tanks bound for Tanzania from a cargo ship which “mistakenly docked” in the Durban harbour. Subsequent trials against the T-55 revealed several inadequacies of the Olifant Mk1. Luckily, development of the Olifant Mk1A had already begun in 1981, with production starting in 1983. The new Olifant Mk1A upgrade of the Olifant Mk1 was ready for service from 1985 onward and featured a stabilized and upgraded locally produced 105mm GT3B canon (L7), which gave a bigger and more accurate punch than the Centurion Mk5A’s 84mm. The fire control system was improved and passive night vision sight on a night elbow installed as well as a laser rangefinder. Other external differences saw the addition of storage racks at the rear of the turret for camouflage netting etc.

Olifant Mk1A De Brug shooting range. Notice the additional storage rack at the back of the turret. (Photo: Dewald Venter)
A total of 153 Olifant Mk1A`s were built by the late 1980s. The SADF deployed the Olifant Mk1A for use at the School of Armour, 1 South African Tank Regiment, Pretoria Regiment, Natal Mounted Rifles and President Steyn. South Africa is the sole user of the Olifant Mk1A which was eventually superseded by the Olifant Mk2. Some Olifant Mk1A’s are still used for training purposes by the SANDF.

Design features

According to Major General Roland de Vries (retd.). “The Olifant is a prime example of what ingenuity and technical expertise can accomplish. It took a long time and much effort, but by the time we had finished, almost nothing (30%) of the old Centurions remained except the characteristic hulls, turret shells and track skirts.”

Mobility

Although the African battle space favours a wheeled configuration, the Olifant Mk1A was to prove adept at its role as a (MBT) sledgehammer aimed at a precise point. The Olifant Mk1A has 508mm of ground clearance and can ford 1.2m of water without preparation. The Olifant Mk1A retained the Horstman suspension from the Centurion. The South African environment produced an exceptional amount of fine dust which necessitated the fitting of improved air filters which allowed the optimum use of the new Continental 29 litre turbo-charged air-cooled V12 diesel engine which produced 750hp (13.39 hp/t). A new rail system was installed allowing the power pack to be quickly changed in the field with the use of a crane in less than 30 minutes. The engine is coupled to the new improved and robust semi-automatic transmission system with two forward (low and high range) and one reverse gear allowing the Olifant Mk1A to achieve 45 km/h (28 mph) on road which was a significant improvement over the Centurion Mk5’s 35 km/h (22 mph). Steering was done via a handlebar system. The added improvements only contributed 5 tons of additional mass (totalling 56t) which is negligible considering the level of improvements made to the overall engine.

Olifant Mk1A Continental 29 litre turbo-charged air-cooled V12 diesel engine, SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)

Endurance and logistics

The fuel capacity was improved from 458L (121gal) of the Centurion Mk5 to 1240L (328gal) in the Olifant Mk1A. Subsequently, the Olifant Mk1A could travel 350km (217mi) on road and 240km (149mi) off-road and 150km (93mi) on sand as opposed to the Centurion Mk5’s 190km (118mi) on road and 80km (49mi) off-road and 50km (31mi) on sand. Considerable effort was put into making the Olifant Mk1A easier to maintain by ensuring that both mechanical and electronic subsystems were easy to access as the tank was to be employed on longer missions over rugged and variable terrain with less logistical support than before. The Olifant Mk1A tracks consisted of 108 links over twenty-four road wheels (12 per side), each of which had an average service life of 300km-500km which necessitated regular maintenance and replacement. Operations in Angola would soon prove the merit of the former upgrades which reduced crew fatigue considerably.
The Olifant Mk1A is equipped with two 7.62mm machine guns, one in the coaxial position and one on the commander’s cupola. A 12.7mm Browning heavy machine gun was used as a sub-calibre training aid. At least 5600 rounds consisting of 28 belts of 200 rounds of 7.62mm were carried.
The Olifant Mk1A features tactical radio communication which allowed for reliable command and control. This proved very useful in the thick Angolan bush, enhancing the tank’s force multiplier effect on the battlefield. Spare whip aerials for the radio were carried in a tube on the hull as they had a tendency to bend when doing ‘bundu basing’ (driving through dense vegetation). Each Olifant Mk1A carried its own water in jerry cans and cooking stove, tool kit, tow bar, cable and spare parts in the tote. The Olifant Mk1A relied on daily replenishment from the administration and logistic support vehicles from the echelon.

Vehicle layout

The Olifant Mk1A carries a standard crew complement of four consisting of the commander, gunner, loader and driver. The commander’s station is located on the right side of the turret and retained the commander’s cupola of the Centurion which offered a 360-degree field of vision through eight vision blocks. An additional vision block is provided which can swivel independently. Entry and exit from this station are achieved through a hatch. Also on the right side of the turret, just in front and below the commander’s station is the gunner’s station. On the left of the turret is the loader’s station. Entry and exit for the commander and gunner was through the commander’s hatch while the loader has a separate hatch. The driver’s compartment is located at the front and right of the hull, from where he has 90-degree forward visibility through two driver’s episcopes. The driver can enter and exit the vehicle through a hatch located above his seat.

Main gun


Olifant Mk1A and crew. Main gun rounds front from left to right APDS, APFSDS, HEAT, HESH and White phosphor – With permission from S. Coetzee.
The Olifant Mk1A was initially equipped with a 105mm L7 rifled gun barrel sourced from Israel. Later on, an improved South African produced 105mm GT3B semi-automatic quick firing gun manufactured by Lyttleton Engineering Works (LEW) was fitted. The 105mm made use of L52 Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) rounds and M456 High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds sourced from Israel. The HEAT rounds could effectively penetrate 420mm of Rolled Homogenous Armour (RHA) at any range. By 1987, South Africa received the improved Armour Piercing Fin-stabilised Discarding Sabot (APFSDS) M111 rounds which have a muzzle velocity of 1455m/s, range of 3km and could penetrate 390mm of RHA at 10 meters. Additionally, the Olifant MK1A can fire the Denel M9210 High Explosive (HE) round which contains a TNT/HNS filling and an effective blast radius of 17m. The round is fired with a muzzle velocity of 700m/s to a maximum range of 9km. Dispersion at 3 km is within 0.3 x 0.3m. White phosphorus rounds can also be fired at a distance of 9km.

105mm APFSDS-T round used by an Olifant Mk1A, SA Armour Museum (Photo: Dewald Venter)
With the rising threat of Soviet-supplied T-55, T-62 and possible T-72M tanks, a substantial effort was made to acquire more potent APFSDS-T rounds with the ability to penetrate 580mm of RHA. The level of penetration was more than sufficient to slice through the frontal glacis and turret of T-55 and T-62 MBT`s it was envisaged to face. Subsequent combat action during the final stages of the South African Border War (1966-1989) would prove this to be correct.
A new electrical gun and turret drive was developed for the Olifant Mk1A, while improved gun stabilisation was also incorporated. The turret drive can traverse the turret 360 degrees in 26 seconds.
The fighting compartment saw improvements to the layout of the 105mm ammunition which increased the total carrying capacity to 72 rounds which is an improvement of 8 rounds over the contemporary Centurion Mk13 which could only carry 64 rounds.

Fire Control System

The fire control system was also improved which allowed quicker and more accurate engagements. The original Centurion 6x stadia sight was replaced with an Eloptro 8x gunner’s day sight. Co-mounted was a laser range finder which was accurate to 10km. Data from the rangefinder was by design fed into the split range drum, which applied elevation to the main gun. Tests revealed that the system is accurate within 50 cm x 50 cm at 2 km which was perfect for the South African Lowveld (open stretches of grass plains) but would prove overcomplicated for the average 100m engagements in the Angolan bush.

Protection

The Olifant Mk1A retained the Centurion armor which consisted of 118mm (4.64in) on the frontal glacis at 60 degrees, 152mm frontal turret (6in), 51mm (2in) on the sides, 40mm (1.57in) on top and 29mm (1.14in) in the rear of the tank. The entire hull can shrug off the feared ZU-23mm armor piercing (AP) rounds used by FAPLA in the ground role against the Ratel Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV). The armored side skirts were quickly removed in the bush as foliage became stuck between skirts and the tracks. The removal also made track repairs quicker.
Even though the Olifant Mk1A could penetrate a T-55 and T-62 frontally at 2 km, the former and latter armed with a 100mm and 115mm main gun respectively could also destroy the Olifant Mk1A. The Olifant Mk1A is also vulnerable to Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPG-7).
Two banks of four 81mm smoke grenade launchers were fitted either side if the turret, replacing the outdated smoke grenade launchers of the Centurion Mk5. Latter improvements would also include the fitting of a protective frame to protect against vegetation while bundu bashing.

Mine clearing rollers and plough kit

SADF/SANDF evaluated the use of mine clearing roller and plough kit for the Olifant Mk1A. Southern African conditions proved that a plough-type, electro-hydraulic dozer blade was not feasible as test models bend in the hard soil and could not uproot trees. Additionally, the extra strain on the MBT would overheat the engine, especially on sandy terrain.

Olifant Mk1A with mine clearing rollers – With permission from A. Retief

Variants

Olifant Mk1 Armoured Recovery Vehicle
At least one Armoured Recovery Vehicle (ARV) based on the chassis of the Olifant Mk1 was completed by OMC in 1979, with an additional two being ready in 1984 for use in Operation Thunder Chariot. The Olifant ARV`s primary task is to extract disabled vehicles under enemy fire. At the rear is a spade ground anchor which enables the main winch equipped with a 58kw motor to pull a 120-ton load via a 3:1 snatch block. On the rear-right is a digging arm. The ARV has a crew of four which have at their disposal jacks, cables, chains, power saws, spades and oxyacetylene cutting and welding torch which is stored in the exterior side bins or is equipped with a small crane jib at the rear which is used to tow a damaged vehicle out of action. One would be assigned per tank squadron and four per tank regiment. The ARVs were assigned to 61 Mechanised Battalion Group. A total of 14 ARV`s where built.
Olifant Mk1 ARV, South African Museum of Military History
Olifant Mk1 ARV, South African Museum of Military History (Photo: Dewald Venter)

The Olifant in Action

The South African Border War came to a finale during Operations Moduler, Hooper, and Packer (1987-1988). The SADF jumped to the aid of their allies, the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) who were facing annihilation. The Cuban and Soviet-backed People’s Armed Forces of Liberation of Angola (FAPLA) gathered eight brigades and an extensive auxiliary support force (aided by Soviet advisors) and advanced east-south-east from Cuito Cuanavale to attack UNITA’s primary operating bases at Jamba and Mavinga. What followed is best described as the largest conventional battle ever seen on African soil since World War 2. What marked this armored conflict as exceptional was the extreme close ranges (50m-150m) in which the Olifant Mk1, Mk1A tanks and Ratel 90s would engage FAPLA tanks and armoured cars. Two squadrons of Olifant tanks (Mk1 & Mk1A) were sent to Angola to strengthen the Ratel 90s there and to face off against 150 Soviet-supplied T-54/55s.
Olifant Mk1, F-Squadron racing back to Calueque in Angola 1988
Olifant Mk1, F-Squadron racing back to Calueque in Angola 1988 – With permission from C. Van Schoor
The Olifant Mk1 and Mk1A were deployed in squadrons which consisted of 11 tanks + 2 command tank. The Olifant Mk1A made its combat debut with E-Squadron in 1987, during Operation Moduler. The SADF tank crews preferred using HEAT rounds which were equally effective against soft-skinned and armored vehicles. Even though the thick bush could prematurely detonate a HEAT round it produced a much more visible impact when an enemy target was hit compared to the APFSDS rounds. The HEAT rounds also did not feature a Safety Arming Device (SAD) which would arm after penetrating 150mm. The APFSDS was sparsely used as there was a fear that trees could deflect the rounds. Due to the thick bush which limited visibility, armored engagements were seldom further than 150m and often as close as 50m. The use of HEAT rounds allowed the Olifant Mk1A to instantly engage dug in T-55s located behind defensive sand walls to be quickly followed by another HEAT round or APFSDS.
As part of Operation Moduler, E-squadron engaged FAPLA’s 16th Brigade during the battle of Chambinga on the 9th of November 1987. Lt. Hein Fourie destroyed the first enemy T-55 with an Olifant Mk1A, followed by another to the gun of Lt. Abrie Strauss and his crew.
Operation Hooper was launched on the 2nd of January 1988 and saw F-squadron under Major Tim Rudman take the lead with the aim of dislodging FAPLA’s 21st Brigade from the River Cuatir. A counterattack by Cuban forces soon followed in which one Olifant Mk1A was damaged, two Olifant Mk1 from F-squadron were detracked by anti-tank mines while a third threw its tracks. Despite repeated attempts to salvage the tanks, they had to be abandoned due to intense enemy artillery and ground fire. The two detracked Olifant tanks can still be found where they were immobilized while the third was captured intact by FAPLA. The turret was shipped to the Soviet Union while the hull can be found at Menongue airport in Angola. Furthermore, a Ratel was destroyed and 4 SADF soldiers killed while the Cuban forces and FAPLA lost 21 T-55s and suffered 480 casualties.
Olifant Mk1 from F-Squadron preparing for Ops Hooper, Angola 1987
Olifant Mk1 from F-Squadron preparing for Ops Hooper, Angola 1987 – With permission from C. Van Schoor
Soviet officers posing for a photo with one of the abandoned Olifant Mk1 tank
Soviet officers posing for a photo with one of the abandoned Olifant Mk1 tank. Source: South African Defence Industry & Military Related

Conclusion

The Olifant Mk1A became a true African MBT as it had to be adapted to suit the unique operational and tactical requirements found in the Southern African battlespace. With some creativity and ingenuity, the South African arms industry was able to upgrade a 40-year-old MBT into one that went toe to toe against an enemy with numerically superior tanks. The Olifant Mk1A was soon to have a facelift in the form of the Mk1B, but unlike before, the Mk1B would be a complete rebuild which could face down and beat the venerable T-72M.

Olifant Mk1A Specifications

Dimensions (hull) (l-w-h): 7.56m (24.8ft)– 3.39m (11.12ft)– 2.94m (9.64ft)
Total weight, battle ready 56 Tons
Crew 4
Propulsion Continental 29 litre turbo-charged air-cooled V12 diesel engine produces 750hp @2400rpm. (13.39 hp/t).
Suspension Six Horstmann suspension units (three per side)
Top speed road / off-road 45 kph (28 mph) / 30 kph (18.6 mph)
Range road/ off-road >350km (217 miles) / 240km (149 miles)
Main armament (see notes)
Secondary armament
105mm GT3B semi-automatic quick firing gun (L7)
1 × 7.62mm co-axial Browning MG
1 x 7.62mm turret Browning MG
Armour 118mm (4.64in) glacis @ 60 degrees
152mm (6in) turret
51mm (2in) sides
40mm (1.57in) top
31mm (1.22in) rear
Total Production (Hulls) 153

Olifant Videos

Olifant obstacle course

Olifant Mk1A Night shoot

Bibliography

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Olifant Mk1A dark sand livery
Olifant Mk1A dark sand livery. Illustration by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet.