Armor: Italy To The Rescue


February 6, 2012: After nearly two years of negotiations, vigorous internal dissent and several successful tests, Russia has finally signed a purchase order for 60 (not the 2,500 originally discussed) Italian LMV (Light Multipurpose Vehicles) M65 "Lynx" armored vehicles. Kits will be sent so that the vehicles can be assembled in Russia. The Italian manufacturer, Iveco, already builds and sells the LMV. Spain, Italy, Belgium, Britain, and Norway all use it. The seven ton, 4x4 M65 is another design influenced by the success of armored hummers and MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Italian army ordered 1,210 LMVs. Some were used in Afghanistan, where they performed well.

Like the hummer, the LMV normally carries five people. The LMV can carry a remote control gun turret on the roof and there are variants with the rear of the vehicle used for cargo or equipment. The LMV is similar in size to the hummer (5.1 meters/15.8 feet long and 2.35 meters/7.3 feet wide) but is actually a few percent larger and weighs about a third more. Like the hummers built with armor (rather than having it added), the LMV provides excellent protection from bullets and roadside bombs. The V-shaped hull of the LMV improves protection from explosions beneath the vehicle. The LMV costs nearly half a million dollars each, when tricked out with all the accessories, using the larger (3.5 meter compared to 3.2 meter) wheelbase and configured for maximum bomb resistance.

Building a foreign armored vehicle design in Russia is an admission that the local defense industries have not kept up. For many Russians, it's a humiliation for something like this to happen. Russia was a pioneer in armored vehicle design before World War II and for several decades after. But by the 1980s Russia had lost the lead. Western armored vehicle designs of all types were moving ahead. So now Russia is doing what it did in the 1920s and importing armor vehicle design ideas and technology from the West and trying to build something better. It worked once, it might work twice.

But there was a lot of resistance from some generals and executives of Russian armored vehicle manufacturers. But after all the shouting had ended, it was still rather obvious that similar Russian vehicles were inferior to the Italian M65 (and other Western models). It came down to a choice between saving jobs and Russian pride versus saving the lives of Russian soldiers. The compromise consisted of buying a few of the Italian vehicles to see if it really made a difference in Russian service.

The main Russian competitor for the M65 is the Tigr (Tiger). It is based on the hummer-like vehicle, the Gaz-2330. Like the American M1114 (armored hummer), the Tigr weighs five tons, carries a crew of four, and a load of about a ton (or an additional five men, if configured for that). The Tigr costs $88,000 each, compared to $145,000 for the M1114, and is being offered for export as a less expensive alternative to the M1114. But the M65 provides much better protection than the Tigr or M1114 and many Russian officials would like to see Russian vehicle manufacturers get a close look at the M65.





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