Asian-Pacific Armoured Vehicles – Requirements and Fielding

Patria AMV XP
Japan’s Self Defense Force, in emphasising operational mobility in responding to territorial threats, selected the Patria AMV XP as its next wheeled armoured personnel carrier. It will be manufactured by Japan Steel Works which signed a license agreement with Patria on 31 August 2023. (Patria)

Eastern European countries are not the only ones replacing legacy armoured vehicles. The Asia-Pacific nations are looking for new and modernised solutions.

Concerns over the increasingly aggressive posturing of the Peoples Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK- North Korea) is causing many Asian-Pacific countries to re-evaluate the readiness and state of their equipment. The resulting modernisations include improvements to the ability to respond to physical incursions on their territory or that of allied nations. The best counter to a landed or attacking enemy force or to regain lost areas remains a mobile, protected combined arms team organised around armoured vehicles. As a result, to militaries in the region have embarked on initiatives to expand and enhance their armoured combat vehicle fleets.

Japan Ground Self Defence Force (JGSDF)

A key component of Japan’s new defence strategy is using tactical mobility to pre-empt or counter landings on its territories. A driving requirement for its ground force is its ability to rapidly deploy. That force should not be only defensive, as is the case with ‘light’ forces, but be able to conduct aggressive offensive action. The development and fielding of the Type 16 8×8 105mm armed Manoeuvre Combat Vehicle (MCV), first fielded in 2016, is key to this capability. Able to travel rapidly on roadways, air transportable in the Kawasaki C-2 aircraft, and compatible with landing craft, MCV units are deployable threats including against disputed islands. In March 2023 the government announced 250 additional MCVs will be acquired from Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The MCV is also providing a common base chassis for other variants that will fill mission roles within the new rapid reaction units being organised. Mitsubishi is currently developing an Infantry Combat Vehicle (ICV), a Reconnaissance Combat Vehicle (RCV), and a Manoeuvre Mortar Combat Vehicle (MMCV). Earlier this year the first prototypes of the RCV was viewed with a turreted medium calibre automatic cannon and telescoping sensor mast. With the fielding of these variants, the rapid reaction units will have organic combined arms with direct fire in the MCV, reconnaissance by the RCV, accompanying mounted infantry in the IFV, and supporting 120mm mortar indirect fires by the MMCV.

Protected mobility is also paramount in the JGSDF selection of a replacement for its current Type 96 8×8 armoured personnel carrier. Following a competitive evaluation, they announced the selection of Finland’s Patria AMV 6×6. The AMV is combat proven and in service with eight armies. An initial 29 vehicles are included in the FY2023 defence budget which will likely be delivered from Patria with subsequent vehicles to be manufactured by Japanese industry under license. Janne Räkköläinen, senior vice president of Market Area World at Patria, said: “The Japan Ground Self-Defence Force will receive state-of-the-art and high performance Japanese manufactured AMV XP 8×8 vehicles to support critical operations for decades to come”. Patria announced on 31 August 2023 that it had concluded an arrangement with Japan Steel Works for manufacturing in country. JGSDF total requirements have not yet been announced but an initial batch of 140 is expected.

Republic of China Taiwan

Directly threatened by the PRC, Taiwan’s ground force focus is on repelling any assault on the island. Armoured assets that can move to an incursion are critical to these efforts. The army has developed and fielded the Ordnance Readiness Development Centre’s CM-32 ‘Clouded Leopard’, a family of 6×6 locally manufactured combat vehicles to provide a highly mobile rapid reaction force. The 6×6 was introduced in 2002 while an improved 8×8 version the CM34 with a 30mm chain gun turret was reported in March 2023 to have entered production. In addition, the government confirmed that two prototypes of an 8×8 with a 105mm cannon were undergoing operational testing from April to July 2023. Although production authorisation of the 105mm has not yet occurred the defence budget proposal submitted to the Legislative Yuan shows the acquisition of 282 next-generation Clouded Leopard armoured assault guns from 2024 to 2036.

Taiwan’s current main battle tank fleet includes 460 M60A3s, a substantial portion of its force. These will be upgraded with new engines from Renk USA through a recent March 2023 contract. This is just the latest in a number of improvements to its fleet which also includes locally modified M48 tanks referred to as the CM-11 and CM-12. These tanks are important to Taiwan’s defence as they and supporting units will converge on any enemy lodgement attempted on any of the country’s 14 potential landing sites. A major enhancement to this capability will occur with the delivery of General Dynamics Land Systems M1A2T Abrams from the United States. President Tsai Ing-wen recently confirmed the initial 38 of a total of 108 will occur in 2024.

M1A2T
Taiwan’s primary MBT fleet consists of M60A3 tanks which although updated have protection levels and performance that is less than desired for today’s battlefield. The acquisition and fielding of the US provided M1A2T which is to begin in 2024 is, therefore, most welcome. (US Army)

Philippines

The majority of the Philippine Army’s armoured vehicle assets have consisted primarily of wheeled and tracked lightly protected systems like the Cadillac Gage V-150 and M113 APC armed with heavy machine guns. These are suitable for internal security but lack the ability to effectively engage opposing combat vehicles. Confronting the later could increasingly be a concern as the country finds itself on the front line. In 2022 the Army began receiving the first combat vehicles with both 105mm cannon under its Horizon 2 to 2024 revised AFP modernisation program. In December the 1st Tank Battalion took an initial delivery of Sabrah light tanks. It is part of a larger acquisition through Elbit Land Systems of 20 light tracked tanks and 10 Pandur wheeled armoured vehicles from Steyr-Daimler-Puch. Both chassis have the Elbit 105mm rifled cannon with full stabilisation and a hunter-killer electro-optic sight/fire control system. The Sabrah uses the General Dynamics European Land Systems Santa Barbara ASCOD 2 chassis. Despite having a NATO STANAG 4596 Level 4 protection its weight is 30 tonnes (30,000 kilograms) which allows it to traverse the country’s road network with relative freedom.

The Army was also to receive 28 Guarani 6×6 armoured carriers from Elbit equipped with its UT-30 BR 30mm remote weapon station. These were ordered through the Wheeled Armoured Personnel Carrier acquisition program. The Guarani is produced by IVECO in Brazil; however, the export was blocked by the German government in February 2023. Reportedly this was due to Brazil’s refusal of a German request that it provide ammunition to Ukraine. The vehicle includes German components.

Sabrah light tank
The Philippine Army receipt of the Sabrah light tank with a 105mm cannon from Israel’s Elbit Defense gives it the force its first armour protected mobile strike capability. The lighter weight of the systems are well suited to the road networks or to deployment by air or water.

Republic of Korea (ROK)

Korea’s defence industry has come of age. It is not only developing and manufacturing military systems for Korea but has been selected by other militaries. This success has been particularly marked with its latest armoured combat vehicle developments. The K-2 Black Panther main battle tank, the K-21 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV), and K9 Thunder Self Propelled Howitzer have proven to be world class systems equal to any competitor. Designed to meet the threat of massed armour and artillery assault from North Korea, it has been equally appropriate for other nations anticipating a similar threat. Thus, the Hanwha K9 and associated K10 Ammunition Resupply vehicle, have secured contracts in Norway, Estonia, Finland, Egypt, Australia, and India while also supplying its chassis for Poland’s Krab. The K2 Black Panther, uses a longer 55 calibre 120mm main cannon, has an automatic loader, Automatic Target Detection and Tracking System (ATDTS), and Smart Top-Attack Munition (KSTAM) fire-and-forget, top-attack anti-tank munition. The Korean Army currently fields over 260 K2s while Poland is receiving 180 from Hyundai Rotem. The K-21 IFV is armed with a local S&T Dynamics K40 40 mm cannon designed to defeat both heavy IFV armour and other threats using K236 MMFA (Multi-mode Fused Ammunition) capable of proximity, air burst, armour-piercing and fragmentation. It has a crew of three and carries nine infantry.

In addition to the heavy tracked armour units, the Korea military recognised the need for highly mobile units for security, reconnaissance, and rapid reaction. The K808 and K806 wheeled armoured ‘White Tiger’ vehicles from Hyundai Rotem were selected and acquired to support these roles. The vehicles are provided in a number of mission variants including its use as a platform for the Biho twin 30mm anti-aircraft gun system.

Much of the overseas success has included local in-country production or other collaboration. This is the case with Australia, Egypt’s K9 and in Poland for the K9 and K2 MBT. The ROK and Poles are especially considering cooperation with the most recent June 2023 reports concerning a possible joint development of a wheeled combat vehicle.

Australia

Australia’s Project Land 400 has seen major acquisitions of armoured combat vehicles for the ground forces. Although the number of systems were reduced given the recommendation of the Defence Review released in April 2023, Land 400 has seen contracts placed for new 155mm self-propelled howitzers (Hanwha’s K9/AS9Huntsman was selected), Combat Reconnaissance Vehicles (Rheinmetall Boxer selected), and at the end of July 2023 a new Close Combat Vehicle (the Hanwha AS21 Redback). The AS21 offer to the Australian Army has improved armour, a Bushmaster 30mm gun, a launcher for Elbit Systems’ Spike LR anti-tank guided missile, and one-piece Soucy Defence rubber tracks. The quantities for both the AS9 and the AS21 have, however, been considerably reduced to 18 and 129 respectively. This is based on the Review’s conclusion that the Army required only one mechanised brigade.

Australia also has taken action to maintain the production line of its Bushmaster PMV (Protected Mobility Vehicles) of which over 1,000 are in military service, with an additional 48 adapted as the NZ5.5 used by New Zealand. Originally fielded in 2005 in a troop carrier model, it has subsequently added command, mortar, ambulance, reconnaissance, air defence and pioneer versions. It has seen a number of improvements with the most recent reorder to Thales Australia for 78 units occurring in May 2023. Thales worked with Indonesia’s Pindad on its Sanca based on the Bushmaster which was unveiled in 2016. However, in April 2023 Indonesia accepted the donation of 15 refurbished Bushmasters from Australia for its peacekeeping forces. Australian plans are to keep Bushmaster in service through 2030.

AS-21 Redback
The Australian Army has selected Korea’s Hanwha Defense AS-21 Redback as its future infantry fighting vehicle. It will provide it one of the most advanced capabilities within the region and be an ideal companion and complement to the M1A2 Abrams MBT and Boxer Armoured Reconnaissance vehicle of the force’s armoured brigade. (Hanwha)

Malaysia

Malaysia’s policy seeks the acquisition of domestic defence systems. It has pursued this for armoured and logistic vehicles since 1996 through the local company DefTech (DRB-HICOM Defence Technologies). The company has collaborated with Turkish firms in the successful development and fielding of the wheeled 8×8 AV8 Gempita and the tracked Armoured Combat Vehicle (ACV300) Adnan. The Gempita, based on the FNSS PARS, is a state-of-the-art wheeled combat vehicle fielded in 12 mission variants from an IFV with 25mm or 30mm autocannon to mortar, maintenance, and ambulance. Advanced features include a computer adjusted suspension height and both drive and steering through all four axles. It is also swim capable using two water jets. In addition, the Adnan is also the result of a joint project with FNSS. Malaysia’s Army has 257 AV-8s and 267 ACV300s in use along with 111 K200A1, armoured carriers acquired from the Republic of Korea.

Since 2020, the Army has indicated its intent to replace its ageing fleet of Condor 4x4s, many of which have been taken out of active service. This Next Generation Wheeled Armoured Vehicle project would procure around 400 vehicles. This buy would make the selected vehicle the most prevalent in the Army. Reportedly IVECO Defence with its VBTP-MSR Guarani, Hyundai Rotem’s K806 WAV, PT Pindad’s Anoa 2, General Dynamics Land Systems with the LAV II, and FNSS with its Pars are all potential candidates. In March 2023 DefTech and FNSS signed an agreement to cooperate to offer the Turkish PARS for this project, something that has not been officially released.

Indonesia

Indonesia’s army has been not only replacing its older armoured vehicles but had also in 2016 introduced modern main battle tanks in the form of the German Leopard2A4 and the 2RI, a Leopard specifically adapted for the country by Rheinmetall. It, thus, joined Singapore operating the Leopard in the region. However, with its many islands, its military identified the need for a more deployable medium weight tank. This requirement was addressed through the collaboration of the local firm PT Pindad and FNSS. The teaming developed the Kaplan MT, or Harimau, under the Modern Medium Weight Tank (MMWT) program. The tank uses a tracked chassis with a turret mounting a stabilised Cockerill CT-CV 105HP (High Pressure) 105mm rifled gun. With a combat weight of under 35 tonnes (35,000kg) it has STANAG 4596 Level 4 protection. Completing trials in 2022 the 18 systems ordered are being delivered over 2023.

Protected mobility for infantry is provided by previously German Army owned Marder 1A3 IFVs received from Rheinmetall, as well as wheeled armoured vehicles. The majority of the later are the 6×6 Anoa manufactured in country by PT Pindad in personnel and mortar versions. More recently the Army selected the Czech Pandur II 8×8 from General Dynamics European Land Systems. Trials of two IFV configurations with remote-controlled Ares UT30MK2 30mm guns and two fire-support vehicles (FSV) with CMI 105mm cannons were successfully concluded. This resulted in an order with the Czech company, Excalibur Army for an additional 22 units. Known locally as Cobra 8×8, it is understood that additional numbers are planned.

Singapore

Singapore is another nation that has developed its own combat vehicle through to production primarily through ST Engineering Land Systems. Its first 8×8 combat vehicle project, the Terrex, saw it manufactured locally to fill the Army’s need domestically. Subsequently in 2022,  the company presented upgrades including the 2022 display of the Terrex-2 with hybrid propulsion.  It further was outfited primarily as a control hub for unmanned aerial and ground systems able to perform remote reconnaissance and attack. In so doing they demonstrated a fighting vehicle approach that for others, remains only a concept.

Singapore also acquired upgraded Leopard 2 SG MBTs through Germany but these are supported by local armoured fighting vehicle designs. To accompany the MBTs is the tracked Hunter AFV by the Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA). Debuted in 2018, the first vehicles entered operational service in 2019. The Hunter is an advanced digital system with an unmanned Rafael Samson 30mm Mk44 autocannon, Spike missiles, 360-degree remote surveillance, MTU 8V-199 720hp engine, HMX300 hydro-mechanical transmission, and integrated controls. The Army also utilises the ST Land Systems Terrex 8×8 which was equipped with hydro-pneumatic struts in later versions. With forward two-axle steering, swim capable with two waterjets and able to carry up to 12 troops plus tow crew, it has been provided in eight mission variants. ST Engineering received its Phase 2 production contract in April 2020.

Terrex
Singapore’s ST Engineering is the domestic developer and manufacturer of the country’s infantry combat vehicles. The advanced state of its capabilities was demonstrated in its 2022 display of the 8×8 Terrex in this version with hybrid propulsion. (JR Ng)

Socialist Republic of Vietnam

Vietnam retains a substantial military force with one of the largest armoured vehicle fleets in the region. These, however, consist largely of Soviet and Chinese systems fielded during the Cold War era or captured United States equipment from the fall of South Vietnam. These include an estimated 1,800 MBTs and over 4,900 other armoured vehicles. The former include T54/T55 and Chinese T59s as well as M48s with 70 T62 delivered by Russia in the 1970s. A large portion of its armoured personnel carriers are reportedly refurbished US M113s, although BMP-1s and BTR-60s are also known to be in service or reserve. The PT76 and PT85 light amphibious tank are also in use.

T55M3 Vietnam
Vietnam has the largest fleet of armoured vehicles in the region second only to the Peoples Republic of China. Unfortunately, it largely consists of Cold War era vehicles. Budget limitations find it primarily focused on vehicle upgrades like the T54/T55M3 adding locally developed reactive armour. (OPVN)

The Army sought to modernise, acquiring 64 T-90 MBTs from Russia which were delivered between 2017 and 2019. In 2020, the Vietnam government was arranging to obtain a version of the T72 from Russia, but this never occurred. The focus has primarily been on upgrading existing systems with participation by Israeli firms on an M113 Infantry Fighting Vehicle and Upgrade of T54/T55 MBTs with a 105mm gun, composite armour, and new optics. Prototypes were tested, but the project was dropped due to its cost. Instead, the Army chose to add a domestic reactive armour as the T54M3 and T55M3 with 310 tanks were being converted

In summary, armoured vehicles are still viewed by most Asian-Pacific militaries as essential to assuring territorial security. They offer the mobility to react quickly, provide tactical flexibility, protection, and the highest lethality of any ground force. Plus, they provide a physical presence on the ground denying that advantage to an opponent. Although the Pacific has vast ocean space, as demonstrated in the World War II campaigns, control of the land masses is critical to executing successful strategic military operations. Having an armoured striking force of combined arms in an essential tool in this.

by Stephen W. Miller