Armor: Staying Alive In South Africa

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October 22, 2021: Paramount Group, a South African defense firm established in 1994, has survived and thrived by appealing to markets in Africa and elsewhere that need specific types of armored vehicles, and functions. Paramount was also willing to set up licensed production deals with oil-rich countries, mainly in the Middle East eager to diversify their economies. Part of this strategy included designing and manufacturing MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) armored trucks that are particularly mobile in difficult terrain.

Their Matador and Marauder MRAPs are particularly popular in Africa and the Middle East. MRAPs were first developed and built in South Africa in the late 1970s and for years were considered too specialized for use outside of Africa. That changed after 2001 when the U.S. discovered the MRAP design was particularly suited to dealing with the roadside bombs and anti-vehicle landmines favored by Islamic terrorists. The market for MRAPs increased enormously and was soon too large for South African firms to handle. After that most MRAPs were manufactured in the West.

South African firms continued to produce MRAPs and firms like Paramount Group went back to basics and concentrated on MRAP models designed for African terrain and particularly rugged off-road conditions. For example, Paramount’s Marauder, which resembles a much-updated version of the original 1978 Buffalo vehicle, showed it could maneuver in nasty terrain the American hummer could not handle. Some British and American firms had established MRAP manufacturing operations in South Africa to produce the popular (for very rough terrain) RG-31 MRAP that was popular in Afghanistan, where the off-road terrain was nearly as bad as Africa. The RG-31 was based on the South African Mamba, a 1980s design which was the successor to the original 1978 Buffalo. While the RG-31 was designed for Western forces to use worldwide, the Paramount Marauder was an African-oriented update of the Mamba.

Over 2,400 of the original Buffalos and 800 of the Mamba were produced. So far the Marauder has sold only 300 vehicles, mostly for peacekeeping and security operations in Africa, the Middle East and Azerbaijan. Overseas production is handled by firms in Azerbaijan, Jordan, Kazakhstan and Singapore. These four countries made these deals to learn how to build MRAP type security vehicles for local markets. It brough additional revenue to Paramount and popularized the specialized Paramount family of MRAPs.

One of the first export customers was Azerbaijan, which bought 30 Paramount vehicles; 15 Marauders and 15 Matadors in 2009 and was so satisfied with their performance that Paramount offered to set up production in Azerbaijan. The vehicles are assembled in Azerbaijan from South African components. The Matador is a 4x4 15-ton vehicle with a crew of two and room for 12 passengers or four tons of cargo. The slightly smaller Marauder carries up to ten people, and comes in 4x4 or 6x6 configurations. Both can be equipped with a turret, while the larger Matador can be configured to carry a mortar. Paramount MRAPs have most of the modern features, like blast-resistant seats, that Western models feature, but Paramount leaves out the very expensive and high-tech features that are not needed by most African and peace-keeper users,

Most MRAPs share design and construction techniques pioneered by South African firms which have, over the years, delivered thousands of landmine resistant vehicles to the South African armed forces. These were a great success in the 1980s. This South African technology was imported into the U.S. in 1998, and has already been used in the design of vehicles used by peacekeepers in the Balkans and elsewhere ever since. Basically, MRAPs are heavy trucks (12 tons or more) that are hardened to survive bombs and mines, and cost about five to ten times more than an armored hummer.

Foreign firms have grabbed most of the MRAP export business, and pioneering South African manufacturers have had to scramble for whatever they can get. Paramount was one of those who adapted and their MRAPs are popular with peacekeepers in Africa and a growing number of African countries that buy them for internal security duties. One thing that hurt sales in Africa was the American program of giving away war surplus MRAPs after most American forces had left Iraq and Afghanistan. That’s a short-term problem for Paramount, as they will see sales grow as that surplus offer eventually disappears.

 


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