Cold War Belgian Prototypes UAE Armor

Sabiex HIFV, The ‘Golden Unit’

Kingdom of Belgium/United Arab Emirates (2005)
Infantry Fighting Vehicle – 1 Built

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the only nation that bought the Italian OF 40 (OTO-Melara/Fiat 40 tonne) tank in the 1980s. They first bought the Mk.1 and were not pleased with the vehicle leading to a further delivery of Mk.2 vehicles and upgrading of the Mk.1 to Mk.2 standard very soon afterwards. Even so, these tanks were not considered mobile enough nor sufficiently well armed by the UAE for their envisaged role in the Middle Eastern battlespace. Ultimately, the UAE was left with an undesired stock of tanks and OF 40 based armored recovery vehicles (ARV’s). The UAE, already operating the much more advanced, better protected, and better armed Leclerc MBT, did not need these older vehicles. Despite rumors of these vehicles being sold to Bosnia-Herzegovina as surplus in the late 1990’s they instead appear to have simply been put into long-term storage in the Gulf nation.
The UAE did, however, operate a number of BMP-3’s which, despite being well armed, were not well armored which led to the search for a suitable replacement for them.

OF 40 Mk.2

OF 40 based Sabiex HIFV showing the substantially altered profile of the vehicle. Source: Al Badie Group

Hull development at Sabiex’s Belgian plant. The hull has been totally stripped off and a new improved mine resistant floor is being added. Old features like the driver’s floor hatch from the OF 40 are eliminated. Source: Al Badie Group

New internal side armor being fitted at the Sabiex plant. Source: Al Badie Group

Sabiex OF 40 based HIFV leaving the Sabiex plant in Belgium – Source:

Sabiex HIFV undergoing trials in Belgium in 2007. Source: Al Badie Group

Sabiex HIFV during trials in Belgium in 2007. The position of the driver gives a good idea of the problems of driving a vehicle with such a large frontal blind spot.

Sabiex HIFV during testing in Belgium in 2007. Source: Al Badie Group


By 2005, a possible new role for the OF 40 tanks was found. The Belgian firm of Sabiex International, based in Tournai, received a €12 million (euro) (US$15.8 million) contract from the UAE to reuse components of the OF 40 during the development and evaluation phase of their own IFV/APC program. Also involved in this joint-venture were the South Technology Company (STC) along with the Al Badie Group (ABG). STC specialise in engineering, upgrading, addition armoring (including landmine protection) and optronics.
The purpose of this new vehicle was to replace the existing UAE BMP-3’s fleet. The result of the STC/Sabiex/ABG venture was something rather unusual. The goal was the construction of a prototype Heavy Infantry Fighting Vehicle (HIFV) which saw one OF 40 shipped to Sabiex in Belgium, dismantled and refurbished. The new prototype vehicle was partially completed in 2007, sufficiently for trails in Belgium to take place. The development work was done by 2010 and the completed vehicle shipped back to the UAE for desert trials. In the UAE, this vehicle is officially known as ‘the Golden Unit’ as a test prototype and, having passed its desert trials, was to then to proceed to 2nd stage development by STC. This further conversion work based on the Sabiex development was planned to take place at the production facilities of ABG in UAE, but had not started by mid-2010.

Sabiex HIFV prototype hull on display. Source: Sabiex

OF 40 MTU power pack reconditioned for use in the Sabiex HIFV. Source: Al Badie Group


The OF 40 was a conventionally laid out tank with the Fiat-built (licensed) Motoren und Turbinen Union MB 838 CA M500 supercharged, liquid cooled, ten-cylinder multi-fuel diesel engine producing 830hp. The engine, transmission and drive were at the rear. The basic dimensions of the original OF 40 hull were retained as was 7 roadwheel layout with each pair of double wheels mounted onto a swing arm and torsion bar with hydraulic shock absorbers at the front and rear wheel stations.
The Sabiex design saw the reversal of the vehicle layout. The original OF 40 MTU type power pack was retained but now sat at the front of the vehicle allowing the rear to be converted for infantry use. Additionally, the placement of the engine in the front of the vehicle allows for additional protection over the frontal arc. This concept has been tried elsewhere with other tanks such as the Centurion in Jordan being reversed and turned into the Temsah. The only modification done in UAE other than adding the BMP-3 turrets appears to be some work on the exhaust louvers which are reduced from 5 to 3.

Sabiex HIFV fitted with BMP-3 turret in the UAE. The modified exhaust louvres can be seen.

Illustration of the Sabiex HIFV, or ‘The Golden Unit’. Produced by Yuvnashva Sharma, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Close up of the drive sprocket from the Sabiex HIFV also shows the thickness of the front lower plate of the vehicle’s armor.


The vehicle is still made from all-welded steel armor for the hull and Sabiex claim protection is provided to STANAG 4569 level 5 with additional protection against the Russian TM-57 anti-tank mine. Significant additional protection has been added internally with a new inner armored bulkhead providing the whole of the sides with spaced armor. Significant additional protection on the floor of the vehicle is also provided with the elimination of the old driver’s escape hatch in the floor and a new floor put in place. The front lower part of the vehicle appears to be made from an outer layer of ~40 mm thick armor plate, and the nose is assumed to consist of a large section of spaced armor.

Detail of new nose armor which has had the OF 40 headlamps (M60 style) fitted to it. The driver’s digital video camera driving aid can be seen behind it (the small whitish rectangle). Source: Al Badie Group

Front view of the Sabiex HIFV hull in its two-tone desert camouflage pattern. This was later changed to an all- sand-yellow scheme in the UAE


The only information relating to armament is that the prototype was shown fitted with a surplus turret from one of the large number of BMP-3’s operated by the UAE. That BMP-3 turret is fitted with a 100mm 2A70 main gun, a 30mm 2A72 coaxial autocannon, and 7.62mm PKTM coaxial machine gun.
Had the program gone ahead, the Golden Unit would have been one of the most heavily armed and armored HIFV’s in the world.

Drivers station seen from inside, looking towards what used to be the bulkhead between the fighting compartment and the engine bay. A turret is not fitted and the new flooring over the improved mine protected floor can be seen. Source: Al Badie Group

View of the right-hand side of the driver’s position during construction. The front of the vehicle is to the right and not the direction in which the fitter is facing or seated. Source: Al Badie Group


The Sabiex design called for a crew of just two, a driver who sat in the front left of the fighting compartment and a commander/gunner. Without the turret fitted, there is a large central space between the back of the driver and the four infantry seats, which could be used for a variety of purposes but, even with the turret fitted, the four rear seats remain. This would allow for up to 5 additional crew members with one assisting in the crewing of the BMP-3 turret. This would bring the maximum complement up to 2+5 with a turret. Access to the vehicle for the driver is via his own hatch but the infantry accesses the vehicle via the large power-operated rear ramp or the rightwards opening single door within the ramp. A rectangular hatch in the side of the right-hand side of the vehicle and other features include small video cameras at the front and back to assist the driver.

View inside the Sabiex HIFV through the rear boor shows the thickness of the substantially improved floor to be mine resistant. Source: Al Badie Group


Operating without a turret the Sabiex HIFV has a mass of 35,000 kg, and 45,000 kg (45 tonnes) with the BMP-3 turret making it heavier than the OF 40 MBT on which it was based.

Sabiex IFV with BMP-3 turret fitted – Source: Defence Blog

Elevated rear view of the Sabiex HIFV showing the considerable bulk of it. Two of the four infantry seats can be seen folded on the left. Source: Al Badie Group


The program began in 2005 and trials were conducted in Belgium in 2007. Further trials were conducted in 2010 in the UAE with work on converting the remaining OF 40 vehicles scheduled to commence at the ABG production facilities but never did. Following delivery of 436 Leclerc MBT and variants to the UAE from the French firm of Nexter Systems, all remaining OF 40 vehicles are officially withdrawn from service. Only one OF 40 is known to have been modified and the status of the program appears to be canceled. The status of the test vehicle is not known but is assumed to be in storage in the UAE. The Golden Unit as a prototype was successful and if the remaining stock had been converted, the UAE would have had a very well armed HIFV.

Turretless Sabiex IFV during desert testing circa 2010 – Source: Sabiex

IHS Janes
Additional material from Ed Francis

Sabiex HIFV specifications

Dimensions 7 x 3.35 x 2.1 m (hull only)
Total weight Approx. 35 tonnes (hull), 45 tonnes with BMP-3 turret
Crew 2 crew plus 5 infantrymen
Propulsion Fiat built (licensed) Motoren und Turbinen Union MB 838 CA M500 supercharged, liquid cooled, ten cylinder multi fuel diesel engine producing 830hp
Suspension Torsion bar suspension with hydraulic adjustment
Armament BMP-3 turret available, 100mm 2A70 main gun, 30mm 2A72 autocannon and 7.62mm PKTM machine gun
For information about abbreviations check the Lexical Index
Cold War Italian Prototypes Has Own Video UAE Armor

OF 40 Mk.1 Main Battle Tank

Italian Republic/United Arab Emirates (1980-1982)
Main Battle Tank – 18 Built

Throughout the 1950’s until the 1970’s, the Italian Army had been using a variety of American surplus tanks, such as the M26, M47, and M60 and had even manufactured a large number of M60’s domestically under license. Despite various upgrade work on the M47 by OTO Melara, the tank was still outdated and the German Leopard was much better suited to Italian needs and wants. Several hundred Leopards ended up being used by Italy with some supplied directly by Krauss-Maffei and others built domestically under license.

At the same time, work was being carried out on a replacement, or cheaper export version with the ‘Lion’ project which ended at the prototype stage in the late 1970’s. By 1980, with the end of production of the Leopard in Italy, OTO-Melara still wanted to be able to offer a tank for export mainly to Middle-East nations – something expressly not permitted within the terms of the license from the Germans for the Leopard. With the Leopard and Lion manufacturing experience, it is no surprise therefore that the OF 40 possesses more than a passing resemblance to the Leopard 1A4 and does use some components from that tank, although it is not a copy. The German firm even sent engineers to examine the OF 40 in case it was violating their license but were satisfied that it was different enough.
The ‘Carro da Combattimento Medio OF 40’ was the product of the Italian consortiums of OTO Melara SpA (Societa Ligure Piemontese Automobili) of La Spezia, responsible for the bulk of the manufacturing, and Fiat (now Iveco-Fiat), responsible for the automotive components. This is the source of the name. ‘O’ stands for OTO Melara and ‘F’ for Fiat, while the ‘40’ relates to the weight; 40 tonnes. Although commonly referred to as a ‘Main Battle Tank’ (MBT), the sales literature from OTO-Melara categorizes the tank as a ‘Medium Battle Tank.’ The first prototype of the tank was completed by 1980 and very quickly passed trials and was purchased by the nation of Dubai. Deliveries to Dubai began in 1981.
OF 40 Mk.1 as advertised circa 1980. Source: OTO Melara
OF 40 Mk.1 Source: OTO Melara


The main armament is the OTO-Melara 105mm L/52 rifled main gun mounted in the turret with a semiautomatic falling-wedge type breech, spring recuperator and concentric buffer. This gun is not the same as the Royal Ordnance 105mm gun L/52 gun but it is very similar and the ammunition is compatible. Alongside this is a 7.62mm FN MAG coaxial machine gun, and a second 7.62mm FN MAG machine gun mounted on the turret roof for anti-aircraft protection (the location of which changed at least once during development) and a battery of 4 smoke projectors on each side of the turret. The 105mm gun can fire High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), High Explosive Squash Head (HESH), and Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) ammunition all fired electrically. The gun, being electro-hydraulically operated, returns to battery for reloading automatically after being fired. Other NATO compliant 105mm ammunition can also be used such as Smoke and Canister although both the commander’s sight and gunner’s sight only carry ranging scales for APDS, HEAT, and HESH.
Turret roof of OF-40 Mk.1 showing the commander’s panoramic sight and alternate position of the AA machine gun. Source: Orbis publications
The muzzle velocity for the APDS shell was 1,470m/s, 1,170m/s for the HEAT and 730m/s for the HESH, and the gun could be fired at a maximum rate of 9 rounds per minute. Elevation and depression for the main gun was from -9 degrees to +20 degrees. Maximum range the gun was sighted for is 6000 meters.
OF 40 Mk.1 during trials firing the 105mm main gun. Source: OTO Melara
Upgraded OF 40 Mk.1 as fitted with upgraded optical camera. Note the older (Mk.1) style rear stowage. In this arrangement, this Mk.1 was advertised as a Mk.2. Source: Janes
The coaxial machine gun could, if needs be, be used to assist in ranging as it would be matched ballistically to the main gun. Nineteen (19) shells for the main gun were carried in the turret along with 2500 rounds for the machine guns. A further 42 rounds for the main gun were carried in an ammunition rack in the front left of the hull. An additional 3000 rounds of ammunition for the machine guns were carried in the hull. An additional useful feature of the vehicle was that the commander could take over control of the gun with his own equipment. He could target, aim, and fire the gun independently of the gunner.
OF 40 Mk.1 in the desert Source: Squadron/Signal publishing


The turret was made from plates of welded rolled homogeneous steel armor plate using spaced armor in critical areas. The turret rotated on its ring on steel ball bearings and was capable of being traversed 360 degrees at a speed between 0.5 degrees per second up to 22.5 degrees per second.
OF 40 Mk.1 on display showing the angular hull form and rubber side skirts to good effect. Source: OTO Melara


The hull was made from welded rolled homogeneous armor steel with spaced armor in critical areas and with the crew compartment divided off from the engine area. The driver was seated in the front right with the ammunition stowed in the hull to his left.


The seven wheel stations each have double wheels and are connected via swing arms to torsion bars. Drive is delivered to the steel tracks by a rear drive sprocket and the rubber block track is carried on its return by 5 support rollers.
The first-three and last-two swing arms are fitted with telescopic dual action hydraulic shock absorbers and conical springs, preventing the wheels from deflecting too far and causing damage to the bar or arm. The OF 40 also features three separate braking systems, service, braking, and emergency, respectively.


The gunner is equipped with a laser range finder and a x8 optical telescope and the commander’s position is fitted with a panoramic periscope with an optional French SFIM VS 580-D stabilized sight for target surveillance and acquisition. Episcopes are also provided for the crew with 8 for the commander, 1 for the gunner, 2 for the loader, and 3 for the driver. An additional night driving sight is available for the driver.


The OF 40 is equipped with a licence built Fiat V-10 Diesel engine delivering 850 hp connected to a fully automatic gearbox with hydraulic torque converter. At maximum output, it delivers 295 kg-m of torque. The gears are electrically selected with options for 4 forward and 2 reverse gears. In the event of an electrical failure, a manual override can be used for second gear. This combination delivers a power to weight ratio for the OF 40 Mk.1 of 19.3 hp/t. The 1000 litres of diesel held onboard were sufficient for up to 600 km of driving on a road with a top speed of 60 km/h.
Rear view of OF 40 Mk.1 showing the arrangement of exhausts. Source: Janes

Other Features

The hull was fitted with an automatic fire extinguishing system and an escape hatch in the floor. Nuclear Biological and Chemical agent filters and an overpressure system were fitted along with a fume extractor system for the crew. Bilge pumps were also fitted to ensure the tank could clear out any water coming into the hull.
OF 40 Mk.1 during trials on the climbing ramp. Source: OTO Melara
Coming down the ramp affords an excellent view of the hull of the OF 40 Mk.1. Source: OTO Melara
OF 40 Mk.1 during desert trials. Source: OTO Melara


The OF 40 was a capable tank, better than the basic Leopard 1, and free from any export problems. It was an ideal tank for Italy to try and sell. The OF 40 was offered for sale including some local production to Spain and Greece, and was demonstrated in Egypt too. Despite all these efforts and the interest it generated, only the Gulf nation of Dubai purchased any. No Mk.1 examples are known to be in service today as all Mk.1’s delivered were upgraded to Mk.2 status. Only 18 Mk.1’s were built and the Mk.1 is no longer offered for sale.

OF 40 Mk.1 Main Battle Tank, specifications

Dimensions Length gun forward – 9.22m
Length gun rear – 8.11m
Width with track guards on – 3.51m, with armoured track guards off – 3.35m
Height to top of turret – 2.45m
Total weight 43 tonnes maximum when fully laden for combat, 40t when laden for transport
Crew 4, commander, gunner, and loader, in the turret, and a driver in the hull positioned on the front right
Propulsion 850hp Fiat Diesel engine with automatic transmission delivering 19.3 hp/t
Suspension Torsion bar suspension with hydraulic adjustment
Top speed 60 km/h
Operational maximum range 600km (road)
Armament 105mm L/52 rifled gun with 61 rounds, coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and 7.62mm anti-aircraft machine gun with 5500 rounds.
Armor Rolled homogeneous armor steel + spaced armor
Production 18 built

Links, Resources & Further Reading

OF 40 Mk.1 Manual – Oto Melara April 1981
War Machine Magazine Vol.1 Issue. 1 1983
Forecast international
Modern Armor, Pietrangelo Caiti
Janes Armour and Artillery 1985

Illustration of the OF 40 Mk.1 by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet