Denel Mechem is busy developing a smaller version of its Casspir armoured personnel carrier in response to market demand, with the new variant aimed at urban operations.
Jack Geldenhuys, Senior Manager MPV and Ancillary at Denel Mechem, told defenceWeb that his company had been exploring the possibility of producing a lighter, more compact version of the Casspir for the last five years, but only began development around three years ago.
A short Casspir, based on the old models and known as Casspir Short, was produced for demining, and this was identified as having potential for use in urban areas, as the standard Casspir can be cumbersome in tight built up spaces – the United States, for example, found that its mine-resistant, ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles were sometimes too large and heavy for narrow roads and bridges in Afghanistan. Geldenhuys said that feedback from peacekeeping force commanders was that the Casspir is very good except it struggles in narrow spaces like alleyways.
Whereas the standard Casspir seats ten to twelve soldiers in addition to the driver and co-driver, the new Casspir, which is shorter and wider than the existing model, will seat six to eight plus the drivers, with passengers facing outwards instead of inwards. The compact Casspir will share the same drivetrain as the Casspir NG series, as well as standard B6+ ballistic protection, although this can be upgraded to B7 by applying a specially designed add-on armour kit. It will be able to use a variety of drivetrains, such as Mercedes or Powerstar.
Mechem hopes to have the new Casspir available for testing at Gerotek in July or August, and unveil the vehicle at the Africa Aerospace and Defence (AAD) exhibition in September, possibly fitting it with a mineroller system on the front.
Mechem is busy producing the Casspir New Generation (NG) 2000 series, which is available in a multitude of variants. Geldenhuys said there remains strong demand for the Casspir, which has been designed to be cost effective and easy to maintain. Three thousand Casspirs (Mk 1 to Mk 3) were built before Mechem launched production of the Casspir NG series more than five years ago.
The Casspir NG series features many improvements over the older versions, such as engine power ratings. The old Casspir had a 165 horsepower engine, but the Casspir NG has 230 to 320 hp Powerstar or Mercedes engines. Geldenhuys explained that the Powerstar engine has fewer electronics and is easier to maintain. Tata and MAN have approached Mechem and offered their drivetrains. It is also possible to fit Cummins engines and automatic gearboxes to the Casspir. The vehicle’s design allows for numerous different drive train brands to be fitted to the vehicle depending on customer requirements.
The Casspir NG series features improved, lighter armour supplied by Scandinavia, and has a bent rather than welded frame for better rigidity. Air conditioning is standard, and the gun ports that used to be fitted in the hull have now been moved to the bullet proof windows. All vehicles feature roof hatches as well as space for various types of turrets. A lightweight turret, manufactured by Mechem, can accommodate machineguns up to 14.5 mm cannons. Other Denel turrets from the company’s stable can be fitted and could take a 20 mm GA1 with reinforcing to the roof.
The NG series is offered in varied number of models, including water carrier (with an 8 000 litre water tank with a single diesel driven pump and taps), fuel bowser (8 000 litres), a recovery vehicle, ambulance, command post and logistics. The water and fuel models are based on the logistics model, with modular systems that can be easily removed. The ambulance is wider than the standard Casspir. As it has more space inside, it was developed into a command post variant as well, and Geldenhuys said it could be adapted to carry unmanned ground vehicles for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.
A double cab weapons platform (with seating for four plus two) is suitable for many different applications, and can accommodate anti-aircraft artillery, anti-tank weapons, mortars and mine breaching systems. The double cab concept is also suitable for logistics support.
The recovery versions come in 4×4 or 6×6 format, but could be built in 8×8. The 6×6 Stallion recovery variant is based on a truck chassis but with an armoured cab. It features side recovery winches for vehicles that have rolled over. It can recover vehicles weighing up to 20 tons. The Eland 6×6 recovery vehicle features a monocoque Casspir armoured chassis fitted with a recovery system that can lift up to 20 tons. Two of these recovery variants have recently been ordered by the Angolan Defence Force.
In February Mechem revealed that a number of Casspirs were shipped to Sudan in December last year as the first part of a new long-term agreement with the United Nations. These vehicles were equipped with special mine roller attachments to be used in the clearance of land mines and unexploded ordnance. The long-term agreement also includes the future supply of Casspir Stallion recovery vehicles while a further order for more vehicles is in the planning stage as well as orders for other special Casspir variants.
Geldenhuys said that Mechem is not planning new variants for production in the immediate future, but has many concept ideas that could be turned into reality based on customer requirements, such as a truck and trailer version. He sees a bright future for the Casspir for another thirty years, with a good order pipeline for the vehicle. “In 2009 we thought the Casspir was done but things turned around,” he noted. As the Casspir has been designed to be simple to operate and cost effective to acquire, Geldenhuys sees Africa as the biggest market for the type, especially with instability caused by rebel forces and terror groups in various African countries.
He said it was unlikely that Mechem would ever design a Casspir replacement as the vehicle fills a specific niche, and as long as the demand for the Casspir continues, the company will keep on producing the vehicle. Geldenhuys said the Casspir would only be replaced by a newer Casspir.