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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
|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