Advent Calendar #19: A Tank (or not)

You sometimes encounter defence acquisitions that make you shake your head in disbelief. However, most nations does not in fact acquire their systems through random acts of management, meaning that there’s usually a not insignificant amount of reasoning behind even the stranger ones – even if they might require a bit of explaining before one understands them.

This was most certainly the case with the Latvian decision to acquire the FV107 Scimitar (of the CVR(T)-family). While I have nothing in general against acquiring armoured fighting vehicles from the surplus market, the old British reconnaissance vehicle seemed an unlikely choice as the sole tracked AFV for a force undergoing modernisation and mechanisation. However, as usual there is method to the madness, and I was in luck to some time ago get to talk to a person who had insight into how the procurement decision was made. Thinking outside of the box is the key phrase.

When starting to plan the mechanisation of the force, it was clear that the Latvian Army wouldn’t have the funds to start fielding tanks of such an age and on such as scale that they could compete with the Russian units. But infantry likes to have direct fire support, so something was needed. This could be handled e.g. by infantry fighting vehicles such as the CV9035 bought by Estonia, or by arming wheeled APCs such as Lithuania had done with their Boxers. However, Latvia chose another path. The CVR(T) was available on the cheap, which was a key factor. Tracked AFVs are useful in other situations as well, as simply the sight and sound of tracks can have a psychological effect on your enemies. It’s not a tank, but on the positive side it is light and small enough to be carried around by normal trucks as opposed to requiring heavy loaders, meaning the logistics train required to give the vehicle operational and strategic mobility is also rather cheap. And did I mention, the CVR(T) is cheap?

The bottomline is that for a country with a limited budget – stopping tanks means infantry weapons and anti-tank missiles. Buying the dirt-cheap CVR(T) meant that there were more money left for Spike-missiles and enhancing the mobility of the infantry in the mechanised brigade, while still enabling the force to get a fire support vehicle. And while the CVR(T) isn’t much of tank, it actually isn’t much worse than the CV9035 or Boxer when it comes to providing fire support. Granted it has a 30 mm RARDEN which isn’t up to pair with the Orbital ATK Mk 44 of the Lithuanian vehicles, but the profile is quite a bit lower than the Boxer or the CV9035.

Unconventional thinking lead the Latvians to a 70’s designed light reconnaissance vehicle which became their heaviest land system. And with more than one analyst having called for different countries to think outside of the box to ensure that their force structures aren’t simply chosen based on old concepts, I have to say I respect the Latvians for actually doing so. Picture source: Latvian Armed Forces Flickr / vrsž. Gatis Indrevics and srž. Ēriks Kukutis

5 thoughts on “Advent Calendar #19: A Tank (or not)

  1. Glen Grant

    This purchase goes much further back to 2002 when I was defence attache and told them to buy these. The first reason was the incredibly low ground pressure which means they dont sink easily in the many marshy areas of Latvia, second was the size., they are small enough for the many forest tracks and third they are extremely fast moving so can redeploy force quickly to new positions. The price was a bonus!

  2. The CV 9035 is actually in service also in the Netherlands, or should I say only in the Netherlands. The rubber wheeled Boxer is for the Netherlands and their tightly built infrastructure the main vehicle, they have 200 of them, but for the countryside CV 9035 isn’t just “worse”, it’s “bad” – a bad ass fighting armored personell carrier vehicle type that is. But as CV 9035 is tracked it is much slower on the road, unless you are on a field in wet conditions. The CV 9035 has a much bigger gun than do Boxer.

    If you want to take and control a small, or large, city you are better off having an APC with a large gun of some kind in your service to subdue the towns police, municipal house and such. Wheeled or tracked. Just Tanks will not be enough to take over a small city.

  3. MikeKiloPapa

    I had actually promised myself to stop making these nitpicking comments as they are extremely annoying and on the whole doesnt add anything to the discussion. However i just couldt leave this alone as it changes the conclusion of the article somewhat.

    “it actually isn’t much worse than the CV9035 or Boxer when it comes to providing fire support”

    Yes…..yes it is. Not even remotely comparable in fact. The 35mm has about twice the effective range, 2-3 times the lethality per round and has a wider selection of ammo natures available compared to the 30mm RARDEN.

    Even disregarding that….as a weapon system the CVR(T) is also markedly inferiour……while the upgraded versions of Scimitar does now feature a themal imager and laser range finder, it doesnt have a real FCS as the gun is still unstabilized, with manual (handcranked)traverse and elevation. So no fire on the move capabillity. Being fed by two 3-round clips the RARDEN also has an abysmal rate of fire…..officially 90 RPM, in real life far less and is in practice a single shot weapon. With 2 feeds of 35 rounds each the CV9035 doesnt have a lot of ready ammo either but it can at least fire of those 70 rounds at a speed roughly equivalent to 200RPM.

    In terms of protection the CVR(T) fares even worse, having paper thin armor even in its upgraded and uparmored variants, only able to resist small arms fire. That leaves mobility and there is no denying that the CVR(T)s are fast….some of the fastest tracked vehicles in the world in fact…..however i dont think you will find anyone claiming that it has overall better off-road mobility than the CV90 (nothing does) …….so what is the summary ?….a vehicle that is markedly inferiour in firepower and protection, and at best equal in mobility. In reality the CVR(T) simply cant , and arent meant, to fill the same role on the battlefield as the CV90.

    In Latvia’s case its only redeeming feature is that it was dirt-cheap, cheap enough to let them buy other needed capabilities.

    1. It depends on your yardstick. Yes, it’s worse, but they are still in the same class once we start comparing them to MTBs (or even the elusive 57 mm guns that seem to potentially be coming back).

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