Does our army need a wheeled tank?
Recently, domestic mass media have been actively discussing tests at the test site in the Bronnitsy near Moscow of two Italian wheeled armored vehicles (KBM) “Centaur” (Centauro), as well as the prospects for acquiring a license for their production in Russia. Unfortunately, reports on this subject do not shine with either accuracy or objectivity, Internet comments are completely ignorant of one another.
So what kind of a thing is this “wheeled tank” (this is exactly what KBM is called in most publications) and what might it interest our military? Let's try to figure it out.
Let's take a look
We must immediately state that neither the Soviet nor the Russian army ever had such a machine. We didn’t engage in the creation of armored cars in our country after World War II - for a big war using nuclear weapons, namely, the USSR was preparing for it, they were not needed. In the West, a slightly different approach was practiced, since in addition to preparing for a global armed confrontation with Moscow-led social blocs, it was necessary to pay attention to colonies, overseas territories, etc.
The demand for them was also significantly affected by the demand for them in third world countries, which were not so rich as to purchase large quantities of Tanks. Well, as you know, demand creates supply. Over 70 years, many armored vehicles of various classes have appeared abroad - from light to heavy. The centaur belongs to the category of the latter. Yes, yes, the Centaur is an armored car or, as similar equipment is classified according to modern Russian terminology, a wheeled armored vehicle with heavy weapons. The term "wheeled tank" does not officially exist. However, in the Italian army, the "Centaur" is called a light tank destroyer.
Tactical and technical requirements for the "Centaur" were identified in 1984 year. According to them, it was planned to design a mobile KBM equipped with an 105-mm gun, possessing high dynamic characteristics, a large power reserve, high cross-country maneuverability and a computerized fire control system unified with the Ariete main OMS.
Production of the “Centaurs” for the Italian army began at the end of 1990, at the IVECO-Fiat factory in Bolzano and ended in 1996. 400 vehicles entered the troops, currently 320 remains (in eight cavalry regiments). The status of 80 KBM of this type is unclear. Another 84 armored car Rome sold Spain (perhaps 80 of them just because of the presence of the Italian army) and six KBM - Oman. And the latter are armed with 120-mm cannons. Thus, the total number of "Centaurs" issued is either 410 or 490 units.
What is the tank destroyer B1 Centauro?
The car body is welded from steel armor plates of various thicknesses. In the frontal part, the armor is resistant to 25-mm projectiles, from the stern and sides — bullets of caliber 14,5 mm. At the same time, however, it is not reported from which particular distances. The engine compartment is located in the front of the case on the right side. The engine is a six-cylinder V-shaped diesel liquid-cooled turbocharged IVECO MTSA horsepower 520. The German automatic (five speeds forward, two backward) ZF 5HP-1500 gearbox was used at KBM.
The engine, cooling system and gearbox are structurally designed as a single unit and are separated from the rest of the body by firebreaks. If necessary, the power unit can be replaced within 20 minutes. To the left of the logistics center is the office of management with the workplace of the driver (the seat is adjustable in height), which controls the machine outside the combat situation, observing the terrain through the open hatch. In combat, observation is carried out with the help of three periscopic instruments, and the replacement of the middle one with an illumination night vision device is envisaged.
Triple welded tower mounted closer to the aft hull. It is manufactured as a single module and goes to the assembly of an armored car already fully ready for installation on the chassis. The KBM commander is to the left of the gun, the gunner is on the right, the loader is behind the gunner. Hatches in the roof of the hull are located above the commander and loader seats.
105-mm gun with a barrel length 52 caliber on the internal ballistics is similar to the 105-mm tank gun L7 / M68 and is equipped with a device for blowing the barrel bore after the shot, highly effective (absorbs up to 40% recoil) with a muzzle brake, thermal jacket. The recoil of the gun when fired - 14 tons. It is designed to extinguish a special hydropneumatic rollback system with a barrel stroke 750 millimeters after the shot. Shooting is possible with all standard NATO 105-mm ammunition, including cumulative. Ammunition - 40 shells, 14 of them are stored directly in the tower. The 7,62-mm M42 / 59 machine gun (located on the left side of it) is paired with a gun. Another machine gun can be mounted on the roof of the tower. Ammunition for machine guns - 4000 ammunition. On the sides of the tower mounted on four smoke grenade launcher.
Drives of guns and turrets - electrohydraulic with manual duplication. The elevation angles of the gun vary from -6º to + 15º (slightly less than on main battle tanks, due to the low profile of the turret).
The Centaur is equipped with the Officine Galileo TURMS LMS - the same as on the Ariete main battle tank. Its main components are a commander’s panoramic day sight with a two-plane stabilized aiming line, a gunner’s periscope combined (day / night) gunner’s sight with a stabilized aiming line and an integrated laser range finder, a digital ballistic computer, a set of firing condition sensors, a metering system for bending the barrel and control panels commander, gunner and loader.
The commanding sight has a fixed 2,5- and 10-fold increase. The swing angle of the head mirror varies from -10º to + 60º, the angle of rotation of the sight head horizontally - 360º. For observation and firing at night, the commander uses a television monitor, which displays an image from the gunner's thermal sight.
The gunner's sight on the tower’s roof combines four main modules (a head-mounted mirror, an optical day channel, a laser transceiver, and a thermal imager) in a single package. The day channel has a fivefold increase, and the thermal imaging provides for the display on the monitor of two fields of view - wide and narrow.
The digital ballistic computer determines the initial settings for firing, controls the action of all subsystems of the SLA (telescopic sight, laser range finder, servo drives), as well as sensors of firing conditions, built-in health monitoring systems of the SITE MSO and crew training, provides a reconfiguration of the system operation algorithms from normal mode to duplicate in case of its partial refusals.
The MSA includes three main sensors for firing conditions: meteorological, course angle and barrel bore wear.
The gunner as a backup has a telescopic sight Officine Galileo OG С102 with eight-fold increase and three aiming scales, which are switched manually.
Suspension machine - hydropneumatic. Pivoting are two pairs of front and last pair of rear wheels, which provides relatively small turning radii. The rear pair of wheels is controlled only at speeds up to 20 kilometers per hour. A centralized tire pressure control system is standard equipment for KBM. Adjustment is carried out from the driver’s seat while driving and provides increased cross-country traffic.
In the niche of the turret there are elements of the Sekur OMP protection system, similar to that used on the Ariete tank. It prevents contaminated air from getting inside the armored car by creating overpressure in it. The built-in air conditioning system allows the crew to work normally at ambient temperatures ranging from -30º to + 44ºС.
The structure of the standard equipment "Centaur" includes a winch located in front and fire protection systems in the power and combat compartments.
In the standard version, the centaur's combat weight is 25 tons. The crew - four people, the maximum speed on the highway - 105 kilometers per hour, the range of fuel - 800 kilometers.
It should be noted that the 251 machine is made in the so-called long version. Its body at the stern is extended to 22 centimeters, which allows it to equip places for four infantrymen of the patrol group there.
After the “Centaurs” were used by the Italian contingent in Somalia, their booking increased in 1992. When additional modules for body armor are installed on the KBM modules, its mass increases to 28 tons.
On the chassis of the Centaur tank destroyer, a command-staff vehicle, infantry fighting vehicles, and KBM variants with 120- and 60-mm guns were developed.
What is depressing
Such is the general appearance of the "Centaur." As you can see, it is a very modern lightly armored fighting vehicle. At the same time, its armament is at the level of the main battle tank (especially in the case of installation of an 120-mm smooth-bore gun with a barrel length 45 of calibers), and the tactical mobility is significantly higher. "Centaur" can really be considered one of the best examples in its class.
All this is true, the reader will say, even if the “Centaur” is a good car, but the question is not how good it is, but how much it is needed by the Russian army. Russia seems to have no overseas regions with insurgents, large desert spaces, too. True, there are rebels in their own territory and restless and poorly predictable southern neighbors. In addition, the Russian Federation is not Europe, where driving 300 kilometers, you can get to another country. Even in the European part, the distance between regional centers is sometimes twice as large. Under such conditions, it is hardly worth neglecting the possibility of quickly transferring a motorized rifle compound to a given area under its own power. Indeed, in some cases, transportation by air or by rail takes much longer. True, the rapid transfer under its own power is possible only if there is no arsenal of tracked vehicles in service.
In short, the "Centaur" is the best suited for equipping mobile forces or rapid deployment forces. Machines of this class would be useful to both the marines and airborne troops. KBM could replace tanks in light motorized rifle brigades, if, of course, the formation of such formations is provided for by military reform. In the composition of the other formations of the Russian army - the classic tank and motorized rifle brigades, a niche for vehicles like the “Centaur” looks bad. Contrary to some judgments, the Centaur is not a scout, but a fire support vehicle or tank destroyer.
And it’s not the fact of turning to imported equipment that is depressing here, because, unlike the Lynx, the Centaur really has no counterpart in Russia. According to its destination, the Sprut-SD is the closest to the SPN 2C25, but it has a tracked chassis and, in its present form, the Russian army is clearly not needed. Some haphazard approach leads to sad thoughts.
Logically, it is necessary to create a whole range of wheeled armored vehicles on a single platform. An example to follow is the Stryker KBM family. On the basis of an armored personnel carrier with a wheel formula 8х8, a reconnaissance vehicle, an 120-mm self-propelled mortar, a command and control, engineering and sanitary-evacuation vehicle, a self-propelled anti-tank system, a radiation-chemical reconnaissance vehicle and, finally, a fire support vehicle with an 105-mm gun were developed. The 155-mm self-propelled howitzer is designed. All of this technology is equipped with Stryker mechanized brigades of US ground forces. The same path is now being followed in the armies of many other countries. No need to explain how the availability of a single chassis reduces the cost of production and operation of combat vehicles, facilitates the training of personnel. In the case of the adoption of the "Centaur" in service with the Russian army, there can be no question of any unification.
In fairness it should be noted that attempts have been made to design unified families of combat vehicles on the chassis of wheeled armored personnel carriers, but again, some unsystematic. BTR-60 served mainly as a base for numerous command posts, command and control vehicles, etc. The same can be said about the BTR-70 - it was no further to create communication vehicles and mobile command posts. However, in the 1968 – 1973 years, the Petrel Research Institute (the leading scientific research institute for medium and large-caliber artillery weapons) developed the 85-mm towed anti-tank gun 2А55 “Sting-B” and 85-mm self-propelled anti-tank 2 –N.N.N.X. The latter was a rotating turret with a gun mounted on the body of the BTR-14. To do this, the armored personnel carrier had to eliminate the troop compartment. Both systems successfully passed field tests, but were not accepted for service. The fact is that the armor penetration capability of the 70-mm sub-caliber projectile was 85 times less than the ammunition of the 1,5-mm D-125 tank gun. Apparently, this was the main reason for the cessation of work on the sting guns. The prototype 81C2 is now in the tank museum in Kubinka.
The BTR-80 was a bit more fortunate - in addition to various command and staff vehicles, BREM, an armored medical machine, an RCM machine and a self-propelled 120-mm Nona-SVK gun were created on its base. However, he did not become a real single platform for KBM.
It was possible to create a more or less full-fledged fire support vehicle only on the BTR-90 chassis. We are talking about a car with a combat module "Bakhcha-U" and a weapon system equivalent to the BMP-3, which was shown at the IDEX-2001 exhibition.
Apparently, the reason for the failures in the creation of the KBM with heavy weapons on the chassis of domestic armored personnel carriers was their layout. Western armored personnel carriers with aft location of the troop compartment are much better suited to accommodate heavy weapons.
So, we made sure that there is a place for the “Centaur” in the Russian army. Such a machine is clearly not superfluous. But a systematic approach is needed, the development of a domestic armored car of this class is needed based on the unified 8x8 platform and within the framework of the KBM family. In its present form, "Centaur" we do not need. As a temporary measure, in principle, the appearance of some intermediate synthesized sample, such as the chassis from the "Centaur", but with a tower from the "Sprut" or something like that is acceptable. In the end, weapons on the "Centaur" in any case does not suit us. Or did the Ministry of Defense decide to switch to NATO calibers? Not to know about it last.
And in general, somehow everything is strange here. How to choose the "Mistral" (and why?) - It is not clear, "Lynx" - is also unclear. Now here is the "Centaur." And why, in fact, the "Centaur"? Why not "Ruikat" or some "Movag." Why are the Italians again, again IVECO? Or the Ministry of Defense is not aware of the existence of other types of heavy weapons with a heavy weapon? If we are talking only about familiarization, then that's okay. If, however, about the acquisition of a license, it becomes somehow sad that there is no alternative to the choice and secrecy of the process. Alas, not the first time.
- Mikhail Baryatinsky