While light and medium tracked armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) are deployed by countries in the Middle East in significant numbers, there is a clear move in the region to a more balanced fleet of tracked and wheeled AFVs.
The latter exhibit a number of significant advantages over their tracked counterparts, including lower procurement, operating and support costs, as well as having greater strategic mobility, especially over the longer distances that are encountered by a number of countries in the Gulf.
Tracked armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) are normally transported over longer distances by heavy equipment transporters (HETs). However, the wheeled AFV can be deployed over long distances under its own power, reducing the burden on the HET fleet, which is often heavily stretched in times of crisis. This is of key importance to countries in the region that have long borders to protect, and where units have to be rapidly deployed from one part of the country to another.
In use with a number of countries in the Gulf region, including Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, is the French Panhard Defense (now part of Renault Trucks Defense) Véhicule Blindé Léger (VBL) light scout car. This is deployed by a number of countries in the traditional reconnaissance role, as well as more specialised roles, including being fitted with anti-tank guided weapons (ATGW) such as the MILAN or TOW.
The latest version is the VBL Mk 2, which has more internal volume and payload. A batch of 20 was delivered to Kuwait fitted with the Norwegian Kongsberg Protector remote weapon station (RWS) armed with a .50in M2 HB machine gun and banks of grenade launchers.
Countries in the Middle East still operate large numbers of 4x4 and 6x6 vehicles, but there is a clear trend towards the fielding of larger fleets of 8x8 vehicles. They normally offer greater volume and payload capacity, in turn enabling them to undertake a wider range of battlefield missions. They are also more capable of being fitted with turrets armed with larger calibre weapons.
Eight-wheeled vehicles have been widely used as APCs and are normally fitted with a roof-mounted turret or RWS, typically armed with a 12.7mm machine gun. Some countries are now using them as infantry fighting vehicles, fitted with turrets or RWS armed with a 25mm or 30mm cannon as well as a 7.62mm machine gun. These are usually coupled to a computerised fire control (FCS) system that enables stationary and moving targets to be engaged with a high first round hit probability. This does not mean there is not a vital role for the smaller and more compact 4x4 and 6x6 vehicles, whose size makes them useful in the confined spaces that are routinely encountered during urban operations.
A good example of an important 6x6 user is the Kuwait National Guard, which operates a fleet of Pandur vehicles supplied by AV Technology of the USA in six variants: APC, 90mm assault gun carrier, ambulance, command and control post, mortar carrier and repair/ recovery vehicle. A further 70 Pandurs have been delivered, built in Austria by General Dynamics European Land Systems – Steyr.
Further south in Arabia, the Royal Army of Oman operates a fleet of more than 170 Piranha (8x8) light armoured vehicles, manufactured by the then GKN Defence under licence from the now General Dynamics European Land Systems – MOWAG. In addition to the baseline APC, more specialised versions in operation include those for ambulance duties, artillery observation, command, repair and recovery, and 81mm mortar carriage. The Royal Guard of Oman has recently taken delivery of nine Italian Centauro 120mm (8x8) Mobile Gun Systems (MGS), and upgraded its small batch of Renault Trucks Defense Véhicule de l’Avant Blindé (VAB).
Qatar operates a fleet of Piranha (8x8) LAVs fitted with a CMI Defence two-person turret armed with a 90mm gun and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun, which were supplied by GKN Defence from 1998. The Qatar Ministry of the Interior has recently boosted its capability with the delivery from Renault Trucks Defense of 10 Sherpas (4x4) and 22 Higuards (6x6). Both are mine resistant ambush protected- type vehicles optimised for the internal security role.
In the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the National Guard operated a fleet of more than 1,000 Cadillac Gage Commando V-150 LAVs in numerous configurations. They have been supplemented by a fleet of well over 1,400 General Dynamics Land Systems – Canada Light Armoured Vehicles (LAV) in the 8x8 configuration.
They have been supplied in many versions: APC fitted with a two-person turret armed with a 25mm cannon and 7.62mm coaxial machine gun; ambulance; anti-tank; command and control; direct fire with two-man 90mm turret; recovery; and 120mm mortar. Deliveries are still underway.
In addition to being deployed by the National Guard, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Defence and Aviation also deploys LAVs, some of which were manufactured in the UK by the then GKN Defence.
Here in the UAE there is a longstanding requirement for 608 8x8 vehicles in a number of configurations, including an IFV. The nation has started to become self-sufficient in a number of key areas, including LAVs, for which the Nimr FOV is now in quantity production for an increasing range of battlefield missions.
The UAE has also now taken delivery of a fleet of 32 Rheinmetall MAN Military Vehicles Fuchs 2 (6x6) in the dedicated NBC reconnaissance role, which are the most advanced vehicles of their type deployed by any country in the Middle East.