The ideal AFVs for African forces

Africa's climate zones
Threats, terrains, budgets and recruit civilian skills are very different in Africa compared to Europe, resulting in altogether different 'optimal' solutions.
It's an economics tragedy that What they get to used is rather 30-40 years old European equipment than something tailored to their needs.

It's an interesting thought exercise to try to find out what their optimum is. I doubt I get it right by more than 80%, though.

Need for protection

Mines were common in wars in the South of Africa, but aren't common in wars that didn't last long yet. Even smaller African countries aren't really "small" (Togo is larger than Lower Saxony, for example), and though the road network isn't very dense and largely unpaved, AT mines should not be a top priority. It would still make sense to have some distance between the forwardmost ground contact (of wheels or tracks) and the forwardmost crewmember(s), as well as at least some armoured plate.

The small arms threat is mostly 7.62x51mm and 7.62x54mmR, with at most cheap steel core bullets, but mostly rather ball.

The vehicle-mounted threat ranges up to 14.5x114mm calibre, with AP bullets. This threat is typically mounted on unarmoured or at most lightly armoured vehicles, so if you can defeat them by firepower you need not expect many hits by them. Nighttime aiming of this threat is limited to flare illumination and tracer rounds, typically no night sights of better than ~200 m range against camouflaged vehicles.

The portable AT munitions threat is as far as I know about 95% limited to bazooka and RPG type munitions with single stage HEAT warhead, effective range no greater than 150-200 m and penetration no greater than 400 mm RHAeq. A few newer munitions with penetration better than 500 mm RHAeq may be encountered, though. The users of these weapons and munitions will typically not be well-trained or experienced in shooting at fast-moving targets.

Need for firepower

AFVs would be most efficient at bringing heavy arms and much ammunition to a firefight in support of the infantry. Few hostile AFVs would be encountered, and hardly ever exceed the protection level of a T-55. Better protected MBTs exist only in very small quantities.
Almost no African building structures present as much a challenge as the infamous Afghan ones, so no huge HE shells are required (76-90 mm HE would suffice).

T-55 in Ethiopia
An AFV would have sufficient firepower with a 106 mm recoilless gun and a 14.5 mm machine gun, though a 90-105 mm tank gun with a normal calibre coaxial machine gun would probably be best. 100 and 105 mm tank guns are very widespread, which would make it fairly easy (for a state) to ensure the ammunition supply.

Ammunition storage should probably favour storing more machine gun belts over full exploitation of main gun cartridge storing capacity. The main gun ammunition would not be insensitive munitions, and much of the storage capacity would be at great risk of secondary fire and explosion in case of a HEAT penetration. 7.62 and 14.5 mm cartridges will also be more easily sourced than 90-106 mm munitions.

Need for mobility

Unpaved roads are typical in much of Africa, and it would be nice if the vehicle didn't ruin neither unpaved nor paved roads by using them. This is a huge drawback of T-55 style vehicles unless you can afford atypical rubber pad track links.

Gasoline and diesel fuels should be easily sourced, though good fuel economy is still a huge advantage.

To maintain mobility requires maintenance or (hypothetically) a maintenance-free vehicle. 

Essentially, this means tracked vehicles won't drive around much for want of spares and high expenses per km moved (spares and fuel considerations). The affordability is the better the less vehicles you need ceteris paribus, so a high mobility vehicle that can easily be sent with a truck convoy to some distant location without much headache is much more economical than tracked vehicles that would rarely be sent anywhere else than the capital (unless there's a hot spot region or a long ongoing battle).

Offroad driving is very much possible in much of Africa because hard ground reduces ground pressure and traction concerns, but then again in many places badly restricted by tyre damage by vegetation and rocks, woodland and wet or soft ground conditions in many places.

Small rivers would typically be crossed by wading, which may be a major problem with some 4x4 AFVs.


Violence in Africa 1997-2011
Tracked vehicles are prestigious, but a maintenance nightmare. They lack strategic mobility. T-55 like vehicles would make sense with bar armour and rubber pad track links if supply of spares and 100 mm HE shells is secured, but they should at most be part of a AFV mix. They should be limited to one or few tank battalions which - while having their escort infantry company that's trained in providing close escort and providing battlefield illumination with light mortars - would primarily serve as main effort reinforcements which rarely move long distances and usually wait at the capital, being led by most loyal officers.

For wheeled AFVs, the "technicals" approach doesn't allow for enough protection. Up-armouring medium trucks of about 6+ tons payload capacity with simple RHA plates (in worst case: construction-grade steel plates) would yield a vehicle that would lack protection against 14.5 mm. Even bar armour would not produce reliable RPG protection to such a vehicle.

An alternative would be to purchase old light wheeled AFVs; BTR-40, BTR-152, BTR-60, BTR-70 and their Western counterparts. These, too, would need bar armour and at least on the frontal surface additional steel plating (against 14.5 mm AP at 300+ m). Their armament would need to be improved to a turret with at least 106 mm RCL and 14.5 mm machine gun, which could be improvised if you have talented people in a workshop and an idea  of what you're doing.

The optimum

I think the answer is fairly simple: French 6x6 AFVs with 90 or 105 mm tank guns are near-perfect for the high mobility role:


It might be possible to purchase some of these, since the French have more AMX-10RC than they need (especially not modernised ones), and are working on a successor already.

The protection level is their greatest shortcoming; RPG/bazooka munitions could be stopped reliably (likely not even with acceptable armour upgrades). This restricts tactics very much especially in urban areas, which justifies a high/low mobility mix with T-55s (with bar armour and track pads) serving as the low mobility (yet high protection) counterpart. Ideally, one would replace their armament with Western 105 mm L7-type tank gun and 7.62x51 mm machine guns and put the Warsaw Pact standard armament into storage just in case (of difficulties with sourcing Western ammunition).
Both vehicle types were selected because they are (in case of AMX-10 RC: supposed by me) available as used and thus cheap vehicles. Even the cheapest new armoured vehicles mounting a used 90-105 mm tank gun and machine gun would cost in excess of USD 500,000. The ubiquitous T-55 can be had much cheaper than this and AMX-10 RC may be available for less as well if the government has good relations with France (or France wants to improve relations).

So as usual I strongly took economic considerations into account in military affairs. A military provides a service, and there's no benefit in overpaying for this service.


As mentioned before, T-55 should be concentrated in one or few independent tank battalions as reinforcements. The armoured cars meanwhile could be organic AFV support of motorised battalions that otherwise mostly use commercial trucks and pickups of types that proved themselves well in the country in question.Those AFV companies should include their own escort infantry as well, a squad per AFV. The reason is the same as with the tanks; it's uneconomical and unrealistic to train all regular infantry in tank-infantry cooperation, but such training is most valuable for reducing AFV attrition. Hence the specialised escort infantry. A mere squad instead of a platoon at with the tanks would be enough because the appropriate tactics would require less escort infantry.

This is not incompatible with what I wrote before about Third World military forces. Think of the AFV forces and the organisation in army-style battalions as what the country would reach by mobilizing for conflict for two years. The normal peacetime organisation could still follow what I wrote in 2011, even (if not especially) in face of minor internal or border troubles.


The 6x6 AFVs would be well-suited for pursuit actions if accompanied by infantry on trucks with improvised protection.

Overwatch missions would be quite easy in daytime; a single AFV no a hill could block several square kilometres for hostile mounted forces. AFVs could also be used to reinforce checkpoints, albeit this requires a good checkpoint layout and both disciplined and diligent infantry or police. AFVs could be too easily captured on checkpoint duty if it's not done well. The same applies to overwatch hilltop positions at night.

The most important battle task would be the defeat of hostile above ground positions (mostly positions in buildings) and scaring away "technicals". This direct fire support (tactical role of assault guns) should be given from 250+ m distance with a small infantry platoon as close escort (both to minimise the RPG/bazooka threat).

The 6x6 AFVs could not be sent into close combat situations often for want of RPG/bazooka protection. Hence the tanks would be used for this (in woodland, urban areas) if such actions are necessary. Again, most infantry could not be expected to cooperate well with the tanks, so only the organic escort infantry should be close to the tank. This should not be the main infantry of major assaults because of its scarcity, though.
The regular infantry would be in battle in woodland or urban areas, a battalion commander would call for tank support and an ad hoc team with two tanks and two small platoons of escort infantry would arrive on the scene to deliver suppressive machine gun fires and 100/105 mm HE shells wherever portable weapons and munitions don't suffice.

Honourable mention

The former Soviet 2S1 122 mm SPG combines direct fire support with indirect fires capability, has excellent offroad mobility while both spare parts and ammunition are easily (though not necessarily cheaply) sourced (for a state).

I didn't favour it because it also combined poor protection with low strategic mobility and the demands of a tracked vehicle in general.


P.S.: This doesn't quite sound like a prescription for Egypt, but let's face it; the time of aggressions such as the 1956 Suez conflict is over. The only Egyptian defence against Israel that would count would be a renewed alliance with Russia, but this would lose the military bureaucracy American subsidies. So the way to go for them is not to invest in the military to face Israel, but to simply keep the peace diplomatically. They have a big inventory of tanks with no doubt rather poorly trained crews, and their army bureaucracy will want to keep this inventory. They don't need it nor do they have much good use for it, but they won't let loose of their toys.
The text was still mostly about sub-Saharan Africa, of course.


  1. American analysts take increasing commonality of guided munitions of various types and categories in next ten (or so) years as granted. Relatively cheap ATGMs could be probably fairly common in no time, even in Africa. http://armamentresearch.com/introduction-to-the-9m113-konkurs-atgm/

    So I`m not that sure if it`s really good idea to continue using vehicles such as T-55 in independent tank battalions. Maybe Type 79 from China (fitted with ERA) could be better option.

    2S1 SPG can swim and also operate in marshes relatively easily. This is good for African countries such as Zimbabwe, but surely dosn`t matter much for desert operations.

    By the way, AMX-10RC with thermal imaging system installed may not be that cheap IMHO, even if actually decommissioned.

  2. A interesting post as always. The justification (or so I have read) for the 76mm gun on the Rookit was sufficient capability to deal with expected armour and infantry support while increasing ammo supply on long distance operations.

    Coincidently just watched this:


    The truck mentioned might interest you Sven.