Fact file: Olifant main battle tank



Main Battle Tank.
34 in service, 133 in store, 203 Mk3 and MK5     Centurions purchased from the UK but 100 later sold to Jordan. A number of hulks were later acquired from India. 26 upgraded to Mark 2 status (Project Atolasa). 
Not known.
Associated project names:                             
BAE Systems Land Systems OMC[1].
·         Length:                         
·         Width:                           
·         Height:                          
·         Ground clearance:      
·         Track:
·         Track width:
·         7.56m (hull), 9.83m (gun forward), 8.61m (gun in travel position).  
·         3.38m (with side plates), 3.28m (without side plates).
·         2.94m.
·         0.5m
·         2.641m  
·         0.61m 
·         Mass
o        Tare:
o        Payload:       
o        GVM:            
·         Seating:                        
·         Fuel:                              
·         Water for crew:
·         –
·         –
·         56mt.
·         Driver in hull, commander, gunner and loader in turret.
·         1240 litres.
·         None integral.
Protection levels
·         Ballistic:                       
·         Mine:            
·         152mm armour (sloped) across front.
·         Invulnerable to anti-personnel mines, anti-tank mines (ATM) will destroy a track. Hollow-charge ATM may penetrate hull floor.
·         Top speed:   
·         Range on single refuelling:
·         Acceleration:                       
·         Turning circle:
·         Ground pressure:
·         Power/mass ratio:       
·         Capability:
·         58km/h.
·         350km (road), 200km (cross country).
·         Not known.
·         Within own length.
·         1.01kg/cm sq
·         10.4kW/t.
·         Can climb a 0.914m vertical step.
·         Can cross a 3.45m wide trench.
·         Can ford water 1.2m deep without preparation and 2.74m deep with preparation.
·         Can climb a gradient of 60 degrees.
·         Can traverse a gradient of 30 degrees.
Drive train
·         Engine:         
·         Transmission:              
·         V12 Automatic.29-litre turbo-charged diesel, 551 kW at 2300rpm.
·         Automatic
Gun tank Mk1, Mk1A, Mk1B, Mk2, recovery vehicle (16), armoured bridge layer (two converted).                  
Mark 1
GlobalSecurity.org notes that South Africa has been modifying Centurions “in one way or another” since the early 1970s, first through Projects Skokiaan (moonshine) and Semel and later through the Olifant upgrade program of the late 1970s and 1980s. Most of the Semel project tanks were bought from Indian scrap yards and later remanufactured to the Israeli Sho’t standard (Israeli Centurions were named Sho’t at the time). This meant a new diesel power pack transmission and automatic gearbox, a new coolant system, fire extinguishers, an improved storage layout for ammunition, new tracks wheels and fire control.[2]
Mark 1A
Remanufacture to Mark 1A standard started in 1983 and the first examples were in service two years later. According to reports, a new, more powerful and efficient engine was installed; the night vision gear was again upgraded; and the armour was increased. A laser rangefinder was incorporated into the gunner’s sight.
Mark 1B
The Olifant Mk1B remanufacturing process commenced in 1991. The GT7[3] rifled main gun was fitted with a thermal sleeve for sustained accuracy in firing. The driver’s station was equipped with a day and night sight and the gunner’s station was fitted with day and night sights and an integrated laser rangefinder. Belly armour was doubled; a concession to the large amount of mines encountered operationally, GlobalSecurity.org added.
“The installation of a double armour floor gives the crew additional protection against mines. The armour has been thickened on the nose, glacis, turret roof, turret front, and turret sides. Side skirts have also been added.` The glacis plate and nose of the hull was upgraded with the addition of passive armour and the turret was fitted with stand-off armour. The running gear was now protected against HEAT missiles by new side skirts. A smoke screen could be laid by a fuel injection system in the engine’s exhaust. A fire detection and suppression system improved the level of survivability.
The power pack was replaced with a more powerful V-12 air-cooled turbo diesel engine providing 900 horsepower. The tank was further equipped with torsion bar running gear and hydraulic dampers fitted to the first and last pair of wheels.
The suspension was upgraded by replacement of the bogie-type suspension by torsion bars. The driver`s compartment was made roomier, with a hatch that was easier to open and a steering yoke instead of tillers.
A turret bustle was added for crew equipment, while a ballistic computer was added to the gunner`s sight and a searchlight was fitted over the main armament.
In October 2003, Armscor, the DoD acquisition agency, awarded OMC a R124 million contract for the further upgrade of a number of Olifant Mk1B. The two-year programme included increasing power pack output by 15%, further upgrading fire control equipment, integrating a new target detection and engagement system with an all weather night fighting capability and making logistic enhancements with the emphasis on support and test equipment and training systems. The contract followed what was called a “thorough project study which included stringent user and technical trials of the proposed upgrades and modifications.” The tank by then weighed 56 metric tons.
Mark 2
The Mk2 is more a turret than a tank. Twenty-six are being remanufactured as part of Project Atolasa. It consists of a Denel turret that can be fitted on an upgraded Mk1B chassis, providing the tank with hunter-killer modes of operation, fire on the move and day and night time engagement.[4] The turret can be armed with a Denel GT7, the more advanced GT8 prototype 105mm rifled gun or a 120mm smoothbore cannon and features periscopic stabilised day/thermal gunner`s sight with laser rangefinder, panoramic commander`s sight, full solution fire control system – with automatic sensors for meteorological parameters and dynamic tilt and modular armour package. An upgraded ballistic computer has been added to the fire control system. “This is a further upgrade of the Olifant Mk 1B. Improvements have been made to armour sloping in the turret and hull front, and composite armour has been installed in the turret and glacis.” In common with modern western MBT, ammunition is stored in carousel mounted in a turret bustle. In case of ammunition ignition, blow-off panels and armoured doors protect the crew. Ready rounds are located in the turret basket, allowing a “comfortable” fire rate of 10rpm.
·         Primary:
·         Secondary:
·         Denel GT7 105mm 52-calibre high pressure gun (based on British L7. Fires a full range of 105mm ammunition, including armour piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot –tracer (APFSDS-T), high explosive (HE), HE squash head and smoke. 72 rounds carried. 
·         Range and muzzle velocity is dependent on the ammunition fired.
·         The gun mass is 1.285mt and its length is 5.89m.
·         Projectiles weigh between 16 and 27kg. The Denel M9718 105mm APFSDS round is 0.950m long, weighs 18.5kg and is fired at a chamber pressure of between 350 to 400 MPa to a combat range of 3km. The safety range is 30km. Dispersion at 3km is within 0.3x 0.3m and penetration is 450mm RHA. The tracer is visible to 3km.
·         The Denel M9210 HE round is 1.006m long, weighs 24.5kg, has a TNT/HNS filling and a lethal radius of 17m. The round is fired with a muzzle velocity of 700m/s to a maximum range of 10-12km. Dispersion at 3km is within 0.3 x 0.3m.
·         2 x MG4: 1 x coaxial, 1 x AA mount on commanders` cupola; 8 x 81mm smoke grenade launchers.        
The Centurion just missed combat in World War Two. Considered the best tank of the Korean conflict (1950-53), about 4423 were built before production ended in 1962. The most common version in SA service remains the Mk1A. 
The Centurion replaced the British-made Comet I Cruiser Tank in the SA Armoured Corps, 26 of which were purchased in 1953 and phased out in 1976. Prior to this, South Africa had operated the US M4 Sherman medium tank and Stuart M3 light tank. 88 Stuarts were acquired in 1943 and used in the reconnaissance role to 1968. South Africa used the Sherman during World War Two and acquired 67 Sherman 1As armed with a 76mm gun after the war, adding a number of 105mm howitzer-armed Sherman 1Bs to the mix at the same time. Fifteen Sherman 1C Fireflies were purchased in 1946/7 and used for instructor training until 1965 when they were retired. The Sherman 1Bs retired in 1972 and the Sherman 1Bs in 1965.  
South Africa acquired 17 Centurion MkII ARVs with its original Centurion purchase. Ten of these were then sold to Switzerland. The remaining seven were upgraded to Olifant Mk I and Mk IA standard. Nine other hulls were also converted to ARV format and a further two were converted into armoured bridge-layers.              



[1] OMC: Olifant Manufacturing Company
[2] GlobalSecurity.org, Olifant Main Battle Tank, www.globalsecurity.org, accessed November 18, 2005. 
[3] GlobalSecurity.org insists the tank is fitted with a Denel GT8 gun but Denel informs this weapon was developed but never produced. The Olifant is therefore fitted with the GT7. Email communication between author and Denel spokesman Sam Basch, August 14, 2006.
[4] Ditto