Categories
Cold War Argentinian Armor

Vehículo de Combate Recuperador Tanques (VCRT)

Argentina Argentina (mid-1980’s – early 2000’s (?))
Armored Recovery Vehicle – 1 prototype

Since the introduction of the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) and Vehículo de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP) in the early 80’s, the Argentinian forces have modified their vehicles to create a family of armored vehicles based on a common chassis, including Self-Propelled Guns or mortar-carrying vehicles. One of the least successful conversions was the long and ultimately fruitless attempt to build an armored recovery vehicle: the Vehículo de Combate Recuperador Tanques (VCRT)

Context – Pull

In the study of military vehicles, logistic and engineering vehicles are often underrepresented in favor of ‘flashier’ vehicles armed with cannons. However, their role is fundamental. One of the challenges any army or force faces when introducing a new tank is how to properly assist it in logistic and engineering duties. One solution is to assist these vehicles with recovery vehicles based on the same chassis. For example, after the USA introduced the M103 heavy tank, it found that none of its recovery vehicles were able to deal with the over 60 tons of weight of the M103, thus the chassis was modified to create the Heavy Recovery Vehicle M51. A similar story took place with the British Conqueror and the Conqueror ARV.

After the introduction of the TAM in the early 80’s, Argentina was faced with the same conundrum, as it did not have vehicles capable of performing as recovery vehicles. At that point, Argentina had 4 M31 Tank Recovery Vehicles based on the M3 Lee chassis and 2 or 3 M578 light recovery vehicles. In 1981, Argentina received 2 Greif armored recovery vehicles based on the SK-105 Kürassier chassis, to complement the near 100 of these light tanks/tank destroyers the nation received between 1981 and 1982. However, all these were light recovery vehicles which were in too small numbers or unable to support the TAM’s 30 tonnes.

According to historian Sigal Fofliani, the VCRT’s origin comes from the different plans to build an armored recovery variant for the Leopard 1. One of the unsuccessful bids was that of MAG Germany Automotive GmbH. It found a second life when TAMSE (Tanque Argentino Mediano Sociedad Estatal), the company in charge of the procurement and development of TAM related vehicles, was looking for options for a TAM-based recovery vehicle and bought their plans to adapt to the TAM. The plans were given to ASTARSA (Astilleros Argentinos Río de La Plata S.A.), a company whose core business was building and repairing ships and locomotives. ASTARSA was presumably given the task on the basis of their know-how in cranes in shipyards. No exact dates are given in the literature, but sources from 1984 already mention the progress being made on what would become the VCRT.

With the lack of proper armored recovery vehicles in the Ejército Argentino, TAMs have often had to perform these duties themselves – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 17
The VCRT prototype. Note the two external fuel tanks which were then removed – source: Sigal & Fofliani, p. 115

Design

Chassis

In its basic components, the VCRT was a turretless TAM, which in itself is basically a German Marder IFV. What made it different was the recovery equipment. 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 Wegman 77 mm smoke grenade launchers.

The second half of the vehicle received some modifications. The left half had a raised superstructure in which the crew operated. On top of the structure was the commander’s cupola with seven episcopes. On the cupola was the VCRT’s only armament, a 7.62 mm FN MAG 60-40 machine gun. The 7.62 × 51 NATO-standard ammunition the machine gun fired had a muzzle velocity of 840 m/sec and a firing range of around 1,200 m. Additional weaponry consisted of the crew’s personal weapons and 9 hand grenades.

Although not designed for combat, the VCRT’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 more than adequate protection from small arms fire including machine guns and shell splinters.

As with all TAM family vehicles, the VCRT was equipped with an NBC protection system which would have allowed the crew to transverse 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.

Again, as the TAM, the VCRT 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.

Side view of the VCRT – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 54

Interior

The interior of the VCRT was 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, 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. This was the second-worst power-to-weight ratio in TAM family vehicles, only beaten by the heavier Vehículo de Combate de Artillería (VCA), as the VCRT weighed 32 tonnes, whilst the TAM weighed 30.5 tonnes.

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

Presumably, inside the VCRT was also an auxiliary engine for the crane and winches, though there is no information available on this.

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. This was supplemented with a 200-liter fuel tank on the opposite side of the crane.

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 two engineers, carried out their duties. Given that the rear door for entry and exit of the TAM was taken out to equip the dozer blade, entry and exit happened through the hatch at the top of the vehicle. 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.

Recovery Equipment

Crane: The main feature of a recovery vehicle is the crane. In the VCRT, it was 5.5 m long and had a lifting capacity of 20-22.5 tonnes. It was positioned on the right-hand side of the vehicle in a 180º rotating platform and could elevate to an angle of 70º. The hook on the crane was kept in a lock at the front of the chassis during travel or in a static position.

Frontal view of a VCRT showing the crane in lock position. Note the main winch on the right on the superstructure – source: Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 54

Dozer blade: Positioned at the rear of the vehicle was the dozer blade, which was 820 mm high and 3.12 m wide or 3.65 m with extensions. The main purpose of the dozer blade was to keep the VCRT in place and stable when it was using the crane or the winch, but it could also be used to clear paths and dig shallow entrenchments.

Rearview of the VCRT showing the dozer blade. Note the main winch to the left – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 54

Winch and auxiliary winch: The winch, placed on the left of the superstructure, had 91 m long and 33 mm diameter cable with a 30.6-tonne towing capacity, the weight of a TAM, at a rate of 16 m per minute. The auxiliary winch, placed on the right of the hull, beneath the crane had a 200 m and 7 mm diameter cable, with 1.5 tonnes of towing capacity at a rate of 80 m per minute.

Trouble

ASTARSA finished a prototype at an undetermined point of time after 1984. Nevertheless, it was not successful. While the reasons seem to be clear, the time-frame is less so. It would appear that the Ejército Argentino was not too impressed with the VCRT’s performance, especially the lack of stability when using the crane, so did not adopt it. When this happened is unclear though. In Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay, published in 1997, Sigal Fogliani claims that following its untimely demise, the VCRT was left abandoned. However, Juan Carlos Cicalesi & Santiago Rivas, in TAM, published in 2012, claim that the VCRT made its first public appearance on May 25th, 1999 during a military parade in Buenos Aires. A combination of these stories may be true, and that after the VCRT’s failure it was abandoned, only to be put back into service for military parades or further trials. The last photos of the VCRT see it static in a park, presumably in Buenos Aires. The vehicle is covered in leaf-litter and has an information board and display lights on its side, indicating that it is probably out of service. These photos bare the inscriptions “CAP MARTIN DE TOURS”, the vehicle’s name, and “B ARS 602”, the unit it belonged to: Batallón de Arsenales 602 , a maintenance battalion based at Boulogne Sur Mer, the former headquarters of TAMSE.

Despite its shortcomings, the VCRT was even considered for export. In 1988, Ecuador was looking for a new tank and the TAM was considered. The deal was going to be for the purchase of 75 vehicles (TAM, VCTP and VCRT) for $108 million, but fell through, according to Sigal Fagliani, because of the threatened closure of TAMSE. In the end, Ecuador did not purchase any tanks.

According to Cicalesi and Rivas, the first public appearance of the VCRT on May 25th, 1999 in Buenos Aires – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 53
Side view of the current state of the VCRT, presumably in a park in Buenos Aires? – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 53

Side Note – The Vehículo de Combate Lanza Puentes (VCLP)

Another TAM family variant is the VCLP, a bridge laying vehicle. Not much is known about this proposed variant, but it was presumably also thought about in the ’80s. Whatever was the case, no vehicle was ever built. Before then, the Ejército Argentino used pontoon bridges and a small number of the very light AMX-13 PDP (Poseur De Pont) Modèle 51. As with the VCRT and armored recovery vehicles, Argentina does not have a modern bridge laying vehicle.

Conclusion

In short, the VCRT was a failure. Several Argentinian prototypes and projects, including a number of TAM-based ones, have failed because of budgetary reasons rather than because they lacked merit. This was not the case with the VCRT, it simply did not fulfill the requirements. Since Argentina has continued to face the problem of a lack of a proper armored recovery vehicle. Instead, a variety of truck-based cranes have been used, such as the light-duty crane equipped Mercedes Benz 1114 or the heavier Fiat 697. Whilst in peacetime, this may not be seen as much of an issue, if Argentina was to become involved in a war with any of its neighbors, the lack of such specialized vehicles may have negative consequences.

Fiat 697 crane truck servicing two Vehículos de Combate Transporte de Personal (VCTP) during UN operations in Croatia – Cicalesi & Rivas, p. 32
Vehículo de Combate Recuperador de Tanques (VCRT) EA 436196 illustration produced by Pablo Javier Gomez

Bibliography

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)
Luís María Maíz, “Nuevos Integrantes de la Familia TAM”, Revista Defensa No. 74 (June 1984)
Ricardo Sigal Fagliani, Blindados Argentinos de Uruguay y Paraguay (Ayer y Hoy Ediciones, 1997)

VCRT specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 6.93 x 3.29 x 3.3 m
Total weight 32 tonnes
Crew 4 (Commander, driver and 2 engineers)
Propulsion MTU-MB 833 Ka-500 6-cyl diesel, 720 hp
Maximum speed 75 kmh
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

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