From as early as Medieval China, rocket artillery has been a recurring feature on the battlefield. Throughout WWII, rocket artillery was used with devastating effect, both in regards to the damage it did and its psychological effect. This conflict also saw rocket artillery mounted on mobile platforms, including armored ones, such as the M4 Sherman ‘Calliope’ or ‘Tulip’. It was during the Cold War that these armored vehicles, or Self Propelled (SP) Multiple Launch Rocket Systems (MLRSs), would see their ‘golden age’. Not wanting to miss out, Argentina developed its own system based on the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM), which would become the Vehículo de Combate Lanza Cohetes (VCLC).
Context and Development
After the introduction of the TAM and the Vehículo de Combate de Transporte de Personal (VCTP) in the early ’80s, the Argentinian military authorities, Estado Mayor General del Ejército (EMGE), began to plan a family of vehicles based on the common chassis, among which were a command vehicle (VCPC), mortar carrying vehicle (VCTM), self-propelled artillery (VCA) and a tank recovery vehicle (VCRT). These vehicles were mostly converted by Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad Estatal (TAMSE), the state-owned company in charge of procurement, assembly, modifications, and exports of all TAM family vehicles. A later development would be the VCLC.
In 1986, EMGE set out requirements for an SP MLRS, something lacking in the Argentinian forces at that point. Israel Military Industries (IMI) offered to provide two different variants, one armed with the LAR-160, which had just been adopted by the Israeli Defense Forces, and one with the MAR-350, which had just been developed as a heavier alternative to the LAR-160. There were also discussions, not necessarily with IMI, to have the new MLRS vehicle armed with Argentinian produced systems, such as the 105 mm SLAM Pampero.
At its core, the VCLC was a TAM that had had its turret removed. In its place was a rotating structure to place the rockets. The frontal plate was at a pronounced 75º angle and the sides and rear plates were positioned at 32º. At the front of the tank, on each side, were headlights. Behind these, also on each side, were wing mirrors. On each side of the front-middle section of the hull were a set of 4 Wegmann 76 mm smoke grenade launchers.
The VCLC’s armor was made of electrically welded nickel-chromium-molybdenum steel. The front plate was 50 mm thick and the sides and rear 35 mm. This provided protection from small arms fire and shell splinters.
As with all TAM family vehicles, the VCLC was equipped with an NBC protection system which would have allowed the crew to operate in a contaminated area for up to 8 hours. The NBC system fed the main and driver’s compartments with filtered air that could absorb solid or gaseous elements from poisonous or radioactive substances. The vehicle would have been able to operate in very harsh temperatures, from as low as -35ºC to as high as 42ºC, which would have been ideal for the varied terrain in Argentina. There was also an automatic fire extinguishing system which could also have been manually triggered from the interior or exterior.
Like the TAM, the VCLC retained the suspension and running gear of the West German 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 had hydraulic shock dampers, a legacy of the Marder 1 design.
The tracks were of a Vickers system, each track consisting of 91 links with rubber tank treads. These could have been substituted by snow cleats if required.
The interior of the VCLC was divided into two main sections, with the frontal section being further subdivided into two sub-sections. The bigger of these sub-sections, occupying 2/3 of the frontal space, housed the engine, whilst the smaller one was for the driver and driving mechanisms. There was a hatch above the driver’s position and three episcopes. The whole section of the frontal hull covering the engine could be opened for engine maintenance.
The engine on the VCRT was 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 gave the vehicle a power-to-weight ratio of 16.5 kilowatts per tonne or 22.5 hp per tonne.
The engine was kept cool by two fans at the rear powered by a 33 hp engine of their own.
The gearbox on the VCLC was the HSWL 204 automatic planetary gearbox with torque converter and four forward/four reverse gear ratios. The first three were epicyclic gear trains (also known as planetary gears) and the fourth was a clutch disc.
The maximum road speed was 75 km/h forwards and backward. Off-road or cross-country speed was limited to 40 km/h. The VCRT carried 680 liters of fuel for a maximum range of 520 km.
Among other performance indicators, the VCRT could overcome 60% gradients, 30% side slopes, 1 m tall obstacles, and 2.9 m trenches. It was capable of fording 1.5 m deep water without preparation, increased to 2 m with preparation.
The bigger rear section was where the rest of the crew, a commander and gunner, carried out their duties. Communications were by means of the VHF SEL SEM-180 and SEM-190 systems and the SEL SEM-170 radio-receptor, as on all TAM family vehicles.
One of the new features on the VCLC was the rotating structure, or turret, placed where the TAM’s turret would have been. The front of this structure had two hatches, for the commander and gunner, alongside a hatch on each side, and a circular hatch on the top. Inside the turret were the hydraulic system and firing mechanisms, including the ballistic computer. Unfortunately, there are no details as to what these would have been.
The only VCLC prototype was armed with a pair of the Israeli LAR-160 (Light Artillery Rocket) modified for 18 rocket Launch Pod Containers (LPCs) for medium armored vehicles, unlike the regular 13 rocket LPC on trucks. In Argentinian service, this was known as the CAL-160, or Cohete Argentino Ligero.
The VCLC’s LAR mainly fired the Mk. II rocket, which weighed 110 kg and had a 46 kg warhead which was either HE-COFRAM or a cluster warhead containing 104 CL-3022-S4 AP/AM submunitions. The range was around 30 km. It is unclear if there was also the option to use the Mk. I rockets, which Venezuela was adapting to use on their own MRLS based on the AMX-13 at the time.
Elevation and traverse of the launchers were performed by an electrohydraulic system, which was backed up by a manual system.
Another option considered by the Argentinian-IMI partnership was the MAR-350 (Medium Artillery Rocket), or CAM-350 (Cohete Argentino Mediano), which had only just received its first firing test in 1988 and was essentially a heavier LAR-160.
This heavier piece of rocket artillery was a pair of two LPCs. Each rocket was 6.2 m long, 970 mm wide and weighed over 800 kg. Unfortunately, there are no reliable details on its range nor its munition type.
Another possibility that may have been considered was equipping the VCLC with an indigenous Argentinian rocket, such as the SLAM Pampero (Sistema de Lanzacohetes de Artillería Múltiple). The SLAM Pampeo had been developed in Argentina by Instituto de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas de las Fuerzas Armadas (CITEFA) in the early 1980’s and is still in service in very small numbers. This 105 mm rocket launcher system is composed of a pair of 8 LPCs. These are still in service on Unimog 416 trucks, though they are being replaced by the CP-30.
Death of the Project
With IMI’s collaboration, one prototype armed with the LAR-160 was built on a TAM chassis and presented to journalists in June 1989. Tests were deemed a success, but, as is quite often the case with Argentinian military developments, budget cuts at the turn of the decade led to the project’s cancellation. What is more, the LAR-160 or MAR-350 were not the rockets in Argentina’s arsenal, so they would have all had to be imported, including the system and the ammunition.
Since then, Argentina has continued to rely on truck-based systems, such as the Unimog 416 with the SLAM Pampero and, since 2012, the CP-30 mounted on the Fiat 697N or Iveco Trakker. However, these developments have also been limited by budgetary constraints.
The only VCLC was thoroughly tested, used for parades, and, finally, at some point in the ’90s or early 2000s, transported to the headquarters of Champion SA, at the former TAMSE factory.
Side Note – The Vehículo de Combate Lanza Misiles (VCLM)
Another contemporary development to the VCLC was the Vehículo de Combate Lanza Misiles (VCLM), a self-propelled Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) launcher. This TAM variant was meant to fire Roland missiles from presumably two tubes. Another option was to fire Halcón missiles to be developed in Argentina, but neither project properly materialized.
The VCLC is another fine example of the adaptability of the TAM platform which the Argentinians have sought to exploit. The VCLC’s biggest drawback was probably the lack of suitable Argentinian produced rocket systems and the over-reliance on Israeli technology. Regardless, the dire financial state of Argentina at the beginning of the 1990s doomed the project in spite of its merit.
Javier de Mazarrasa, La Familia Acorazada TAM (Valladolid: Quirón Ediciones, 1996)
Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, Ejército Argentino: Vehicles of the Modern Argentine Army (Erlangen: Tankograd Publishing, 2012)
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)
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||6.83 x 3.29 x 3.05 m|
|Total weight||32 tonnes|
|Crew||3 (commander, driver and gunner)|
|Propulsion||MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp|
|Maximum speed||75 kmh|
|Range||590 km without external fuel tanks|
|Armament||Main – LAR-160|
|Armor||Front hull – 50 mm
Side hull – 35 mm
Rear hull – 35 mm