October 23, 2004
A number of IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) do not use tracks, they use wheels instead. Often, they are mainly for use behind the front lines. These wheeled vehicles, though, are often very capable off-road (say, in the deserts of the Middle East or Southern Africa) and can hold their own in most fights.
The Russian BTR-90 is probably the best example of these wheeled IFVs. A variant of the BTR-80A APC (which traces its lineage to the BTR-60 APC that has been purchased or built in a large number of countries), it has a crew of three and carries seven infantry. It uses the same turret as the BMP-2, with a 30mm cannon, a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun, and an AT-5 Spandrel anti-tank missile. Unlike the definitive 8x8 BTR-60, which carried 14 troops, the BTR-90 only carries seven. Russias BTR-80A carries a 30mm cannon and a 7.62mm machine gun. Like the BTR-90, it has a three-man crew, but it carries eight infantrymen.
South Africa uses the Ratal, a 6x6 IFV with a 20mm cannon, and three 7.62mm machine guns. The Ratal has a four-man crew, and carries seven soldiers. Variants with a 60mm mortar and a 90mm gun also are in service.
China uses the WZ 551, which is a 6x6 vehicle that has a two-man crew and carries 11 soldiers. The main gun is a 25mm cannon. It bears a resemblance to the French VAB and emerged in the mid-1980s, albeit the French vehicles usual main armament is a 12.7mm machine gun, making it more of an APC (Armored Personnel Carrier) than an IFV. The WZ 551 has been exported to Bosnia.
The United States military uses two 8x8 wheeled IFVs. The first is the Marine Corps LAV-25, a Canadian design with a 25mm Bushmaster cannon and a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun. This vehicle has a three-man crew and a six-man infantry squad (much like the M2 Bradley). The LAV-25 has been a superb performer for the Marines. It has numerous variants, including logistics vehicles, mortar carriers, and anti-tank version with the TOW.
It even had a few prototypes with the M35 105mm gun (as used on the M8 Buford a light tank cancelled in 1996). In Desert Storm and Iraqi Freedom, the LAV-25 and its variants performed well.
With the success of the LAV-25, it seemed natural for the Army to buy this vehicle for use in the new medium brigades. Instead, the Army designed its own wheeled IFV, the M1126 Stryker. The Strykers Infantry Carrier Version is heavily armored, and has taken a licking in Iraq, while still ticking. That said, the main armament is usually a 12.7mm machine gun or the Mk 19 40mm Automatic Grenade Launcher. It has a two-man crew and carries nine infantrymen. Like the LAV, Stryker comes in other variants, including one with the M68A1 105mm gun (from the early versions of the M1 Abrams), a mortar carrier, a reconnaissance vehicle, an anti-tank missile carrier with the TOW, an NBC reconnaissance vehicle, and an engineering vehicle. The Stryker has performed well in Iraq, and has proven very resilient against the roadside bombs, RPGs, and other weapons that the insurgents have used.
Which wheeled IFV is the best? On paper, the BTR-90 has the clear edge. It is probably the only wheeled IFV that can take on anything from enemy infantry to enemy tanks in its standard configuration. The LAV-25 has a fine combat record, but the 25mm Bushmaster cannon isnt able to destroy opposing tanks at all angles. The Stryker is doing well in Iraq, but it is just behind these two vehicles since its main armament is questionable against other IFVs. This is not to denigrate the Stryker, but the Army seems to have overlooked the off-the-shelf LAV-25, which would have saved the time and money spent developing the Stryker, and probably would be doing about as well. Harold C. Hutchison (email@example.com)