Mechem returns to its roots


Specialist South African demining and anti-landmine technology company Mechem has returned to its roots in the mine-protected vehicles business.

As the Applied Chemistry Unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Mechem pioneered what is today called the mine-protected ambush protected (MRAP) armoured personnel carrier.

Engineering News reports Mechem is now part of the state-owned Denel defence industrial group.

“Our business has expanded exponentially over the past decade,” CEO Ashley Williams told the publication.

“Part of this is our return to the vehicles business. We remanufacture vehicles that were originally designed by Mechem, especially for peacekeepers and mainly in Africa. But we have also supplied vehicles into Iraq, not for the American forces, but for people rebuilding the infrastructure in that country.”

The main vehicle being offered in remanufactured form is the venerable Casspir, which Mechem is now having produced in the form of the Casspir MkIII.

A MkIV version under development.

“The Casspir was designed in the days when Mechem was still the Applied Chemistry Unit of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR),” Williams said. “The name Casspir is actually an anagram of SAP – South African Police – and CSIR, combined. So Mechem has the trademark and the design authority for the Casspir.”

“We started with a programme of having these remanufactured. This basically means that we strip a Casspir right down, until we have just the hull. The hull is then sand-blasted. And it is then built up with new components, producing what is almost a new vehicle,” explains Williams.

“It is just the hull of the old vehicle that is reused.” At present, the actual remanufacturing is sub-contracted out by Mechem – “mainly to one contractor that we’ve worked with quite closely”.

So far Mechem has remanufactured and sold just over 100 Casspirs have been most of them going to forces involved in peacekeeping in Africa, particularly in high-threat areas, like Darfur, in Sudan, and Somalia.

“There is still a growing market for the Casspir,” he reports. “The Casspir is a very simple vehicle, and it works. So you will find that countries donating money and supporting peacekeeping in Africa specifically want Casspirs, because it is a vehicle that is very easy to maintain in the field and, because it is so simple, there is nothing that can really go wrong. And want does go wrong, your local mechanic can normally fix quite easily,” Williams continued.

Author Peter Stiff in his Taming the landmine (Galago, 1986) notes that the prototype was completed in April 1979, now 30 years ago. At least 1500 of all types were manufactured by the time production ended in the late 1980s. About 600 were allocated to the SA Army and the remainder to the police.

The Winhoek Maschinen Fabrik in Namibia also manufactured several hundred Wolf vehicles, essentially a Casspir with a turbo-charged engine.

Engineering News adds that many of the design principles and features found in today’s MRAPs were pioneered by the Casspir.

The Casspir Mk III can be supplied in four variants.

The Casspir armoured personnel carrier can carry a crew of two plus 12 troops. There is also the Casspir command vehicle and the Casspir recovery vehicle. The fourth version, the Casspir-S, has a shorter enclosed cabin and an open load bed at the rear, allowing it to serve as a logistics vehicle.

The SA Army also uses a weapons carrier variant that can be fitted with a mortar or 106mm recoilless gun.