French armoured reconnaissance prototypes

I wasn't a 100% fan of the French Pahnhard SPHINX armoured recce car when it was unveiled. It was smaller (more a good thing than not) than its predecessor, appeared to have a sensible protection and good armament. The almost evenly spaced 6wd promised a decent off-road mobility, albeit not one that's especially noteworthy.

Overall, it was nice to see that the French appeared to take armoured recce seriously and did not go down the route towards mobile observation posts.
The one probable substantial mistake in the Sphinx concept was in my opinion the lacking dismount element.
Armoured recce needs to negotiate difficult terrain, drive over bridges, move through possible ambush sites and move into building compounds for temporary hiding and resting. One thing common to this is that it's an extremely good idea to dismount one man and let him scout ahead on foot. You cannot see if a bridge is rigged with explosives without leaving the vehicle and look at its underside. You better don't drive into a compound to see if it's clear - you rather send dismounted scouts forward to check it.
This is an often neglected part of armoured reconnaissance. You simply don't find an entry in data sheets about whether leaving and entering the vehicle is quick and comfortable enough to do it every couple hundred metres if necessary.

Now the French (Panhard) went towards a less well-protected, less well-armed and smaller yet at the same time more agile vehicle; the 4wd Panhard CRAB.

(Hat tip to Think Defence for the video.)

This, too, appears to be influenced by the specific French idea of armoured reconnaissance: Scout AFVs are to Frenchmen at the same time intervention AFVs for Africa. This means they're supposed to pack a punch and have decent protection.

Early descriptions of the Panhard CRAB focused less on high-res photos than on the concept, so let me refer to this article:
Le buggy blindé CRAB est un engin de reconnaissance d'un type nouveau : léger, puissant, rapide et peu cher.

Now I wouldn't emphasise the "buggy" thing about a 8+ ton vehicle, but the characterisations are interesting.
Panhard CRAB artist's impression

léger - light
puissant - powerful
rapide - quick
peu cher - ~affordable

"léger" is relative - half the weight of an already not really heavy SPHINX, but at 8 tons or more it's on the limit for 4wd off-road mobility. "puissant" may refer to the armament and depends a lot on what armament choice to make. The turret with 25 mm gun (see artist's impression and video) is impressive, but not the only choice. "rapide" - well, top speed is rather unimportant. What's more interesting is the acceleration. No combat vehicle drives much close to its top speed unless it's really, really slow by design. The power/weight ratio of about 35-40 hp/metric ton is excellent for combat vehicles (they already followed this route with SPHINX). For comparison; a Stryker ICV would have more than 570 hp instead of only 350 if it had such a ratio.

"peu cher" - well, that's what the industry always says.

CRAB does appear to offer quick and comfortable exit and entry, so it's more suitable for the aforementioned use of a dismount. I'm not sure if the three-man crew (only) is really meant for this, though. It sounds a lot like commander, driver and gunner to me. Well, let the commander dismount then.

Another thing about CRAB does irritate me, though: The large windows. SPHINX had them too. Armoured glass has two principal problems: (1) It's very heavy for a given protected area (25 mm thickness at the very least, usually much more - and glass is quite dense).(2) It becomes practically intransparent if hit. Even modern sandwich techniques cannot keep the fractures from spreading, scattering the light on a substantial area even if the hit was merely about a petty AK bullet.
The volume and weight as well as the size and difficulties of replacing make it unlikely that such vehicles have many spare windows (unlike tanks and their spare mirrors for telescopic optics).
Vehicles with large glass surfaces will be a pain in the ass in a conflict with much fast-moving lead and iron in the air.
Again; the French probably think more about using such vehicles in African interventions than anyone else.

Overall, it's nice to see the French paying attention to more than just sensors on masts in regard to armoured reconnaissance - they keep the fighting part in mind. Their prototypes aren't flawless even in a superficial consideration, though.

S Ortmann


  1. Nice post.


  2. Sven, can I make a couple recommendations about posts for the future?

    I think our tribe should have a discussion on promising new military literature (I have found several new books), on what kind of hand to hand combat training our forces should incorporate (even though you probably think throwing hands is obsolete in the digital age), how a modern army matches up with its WW2 counterpart, and what effect future ultratechnology would have on military affairs (in other words, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, etc).

    These sorts of things are sorely in need of some dialogue, and niche topics are what we do best. If anyone seconds my thoughts, feel free to speak up!

    1. I'd like to read about that stuff.

    2. Friggin a' brother. I fumbled with an analysis on WW2 armys vs modern armys on my blog, kesler12-jamesrocket.blogspot.com/ Its only got a few hundred views, but I post there more for releasing my thoughts than anything else. Sven could probably do a way better job.

    3. http://defense-and-freedom.blogspot.com/2010/02/improving-soldier-body-functions.html

      I'm no good in doing blog topics on demand. I gave it a try and failed.

  3. The Germans in their early battles of WW2 did some amazing things with their armored car units. To some degree they almost used them as a light vanguard rather than as recon. There was nothing passive about them.

    As you noted in your earlier post, with force densities so low again, there is a lot more room for the armored cars to maneuver again.

  4. I'll second it.

    Since technology is hard to predict how it will turn out and when it will be ready (delays, cost over runs, etc...) if it doesn't get canceled.

    Nanotechnology has huge potential to transform the military & civ world. The issue is how long until nano tech is mature enough to really start impacting the military in a huge way (10, 20 30, years?) Even the combustion engine took time to be what it is today and to replace horses thoughout the military. We know from history that long before WWII people had started coming up with ways to use tanks in war. If we saw the 1st airplane launch in 1903 would we have be able to guess even WWI levels of use? I think we should start off small and go from there. I think some things are just beyond us right now, too many variables. I see space playing a much bigger role in defence, people are working on collecting metals and other stuff from asteroids. Wars result over stuff like this, humans are human.

    What books have you been reading kesler12?


    1. 'Nanotechnology has huge potential to transform the military & civ world.'

      Absolutely. The advances in biomedicine, battery and computer technology are huge. It extends far into other areas, too. Take an excerpt from the crnano website:

      Molecular manufacturing raises the possibility of horrifically effective weapons. As an example, the smallest insect is about 200 microns; this creates a plausible size estimate for a nanotech-built antipersonnel weapon capable of seeking and injecting toxin into unprotected humans. The human lethal dose of botulism toxin is about 100 nanograms, or about 1/100 the volume of the weapon. As many as 50 billion toxin-carrying devices—theoretically enough to kill every human on earth—could be packed into a single suitcase. Guns of all sizes would be far more powerful, and their bullets could be self-guided. Aerospace hardware would be far lighter and higher performance; built with minimal or no metal, it would be much harder to spot on radar. Embedded computers would allow remote activation of any weapon, and more compact power handling would allow greatly improved robotics. These ideas barely scratch the surface of what's possible.

      'The issue is how long until nano tech is mature enough to really start impacting the military in a huge way (10, 20 30, years?).'

      From my relatively well informed viewpoint, I'd lean more towards three decades. There was a debate several years ago between two prominent nanoscientists, which enumerated MNTs shortcomings very succinctly. Chris Phoenix vs Phllip Moriarty.

    2. 'What books have you been reading kesler12?'

      Well, a treatise that comes to mind is On Flexibility: Recovery from Technological and Doctrinal Surprise. If you've ever read The Human Face of War, this is like a big juicy sequel. In THFOW, we are treated to many counterintuitive concepts, including the fact that surprise and shock (and those forces best able to generate them) are by far the largest determinants of who wins the battle. They are far more decisive than any likely range of force ratios. On Flexibility examines how an army can be organised to cope with technological and doctrinal surprises, and take them in stride. A fascinating subject deserving of discussion.

      There are another two that you might be interested in as well, tim. Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change is based on how a force might effectively adapt to an enemys idiosyncracys, exploiting their weaknesses, while exposing as little of your own as possible in the process. Theres also Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces, 1901-1940, and the Consequences for World War II. Thats an examination of the different trajectorys the U.S army and german wehrmact chose, to select and educate their officers in the interwar years.

      Theres a fascinating paradox in that german officers came from a closed authoritarian society but received an extremely open minded military education, whereas their counterparts in the U.S came from one of the most democratic societies but received an outdated military education that squashed their minds and limited their initiative.

      Sorry for the long post, there was alot of ground to cover! Hope I answered your questions.

  5. Large glass windows for a fully enclosed vehicle in Africa sound like a manned greenhouse on wheels that will need a good cooling system to be operational.
    You seem to imply that there might be an alternative for the windows. Mirrors? Cameras? Both combined? How does this affect reliabilty and field of vision?

  6. One option is to stick the head out when it's quite safe (even if then protected by glass windows that stick out of the armour, too - as known from Strykers).
    They could also use the principle of WW2 M3 half-tracks; protect (most of) the glass area with thin steel plates when in danger. This could even be a quick shutter (early on I mistook the Sphinx's anti-RPG bar cage in front of the front window for being usable this way).

    The other mode - for when it's not quite safe - is to use the panoramic telescopic mirrors that MBT drivers use for driving buttoned up. The horizontal FOV of these is OK and rarely thought to be in need of improvement (which is feasible).
    Such mirrors can be exchanged while under armour in a matter of seconds.

  7. kesler12

    Thanks you answered them well. I have actually started reading The Human Face of War a week ago after finding it on amazon. I think Military Adaptation in War: With Fear of Change will be the next book for me to read. I think we may advance more in the next 50 years (short of something major happening) than we did in the last 100 years.


    I agree.


  8. Simply Panhard DNA : With the reconnaissance 4x4 armoured car AMD-178 (issued in 1937) and the AML 60 & AML 90 (or Eland 90 build by ZAF)