Armor: Italy Rolls Into The 120mm Future

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August 22, 2018: The Italian Army has taken a risk by being the first to buy a revolutionary new tank design. In July 2018, two years after it was introduced the contract was signed for the purchase of 136 of the Centauro 2 tanks. Actually, the vehicle is called the Centauro 2 MGS (Mobile Gun System) and was designed to be multi-purpose, something that is easier to do for an 8x8 wheeled vehicle that is easily transported by air for peacekeeping missions but also able to handle itself in a conventional war. The Centauro 2 armor protection was designed to provide maximum protection from mines and roadside bombs but can also stop most autocannon rounds. Defenses include a jammer, like the American JCREW, to defeat the use of remotely controlled bombs. If necessary an APS (Active Protection System) can be added to protect against missiles.

The first part of the contract is for ten vehicles and a lot of maintenance, logistics and support equipment and services. The first ten vehicles will cost $7.5 each and that per-unit price will decline as the rest of the vehicles are delivered. Centauro 2 is the first such wheeled armored vehicles carrying a high-velocity 120mm gun. The 120/45 gun can fire all standard NATO armor piercing ammo. Centauro 2 can also be armed with a 105mm (105/52) gun. The main gun uses a semiautomatic loading system which has six rounds ready to go. Like the Israeli Merkava, the engine is in the front, with enough room for the driver to sit to the left of the engine. Behind the driver is the turret with the commander, gunner and loader. If the power system is damaged the turret and gun can still be operated manually. The rear of the turret is flush with the back of the vehicle, where the access door for crew and resupply is located.

The Centauro 2 is a 30 ton 8x8 wheeled vehicle that can ford water up to 1.5 meters (59 inches) deep and handle 60 degree sloped and trenches up to two meters (78 inches wide) and obstacles 60cm (24 inches) high. Max road speed is 105 kilometers an hour and road range on internal fuel is 800 kilometers. The tires can automatically change pressure and are of a “run flat” (at reduced speeds) design. The composite armor protects against autocannon and artillery. A manual or RWS (Remote Weapons System) machine-gun can be mounted on top of the turret. The RWS can also be armed with a 7.62mm machine-gun or automatic 40mm grenade launcher. Smoke grenade launchers are installed on the turret. The gunner and commander have day/night sights as well as a laser range finder.

The Centauro 2 was designed and made by the same Italian firm that introduced the 24 ton Centauro B-1 8x8 tank destroyer in 1991. This one has a 105mm (105/52) gun, which was the standard main gun on tanks designed in the 1960s. Compared to Centauro B-1 the Centauro 2 has upgraded engines, firepower, electronics, fire control and armor protection. The B-1 was the anti-tank version of the Centauro family of 8x8 armored vehicles. The U.S. Army leased 15 Centauro B-1a for testing while it was developing its Stryker series of vehicles. This resulted in a 21 ton tank destroyer version of Stryker armed with a 105mm gun.

In 2006 U.S. Army received the first of 142 MGS (Mobile Gun System) vehicles. These were very similar to the Centauro B-1 and were Stryker wheeled armored vehicles with a special turret that mounted a 105mm gun. There are two machine-guns (7.62mm and 12.7mm). The 12.7mm machine-gun is controlled from inside the vehicle. The 105mm gun is a modified version of the one used on the M-60 series of tanks. This gun has an autoloader and carries 18 rounds of ammo. There is anti-tank and anti-personnel ammo available

There were to be three MGS assigned to each infantry company. In effect, the MGS was a return of the assault gun, a turretless tank developed during World War II for infantry support. After World War II, the assault gun was dropped by most armies, to be replaced by tanks or self-propelled artillery. But that has not worked out as well as the assault gun, because, during World War II, the assault gun was considered an infantry weapon, and "belonged" to the infantry. The MGS "belongs" to the infantry company it is a part of, will train regularly with the infantry, and thus be a lot more useful to the infantry. The Stryker MGS had a lot of development problems and is over a year late. The 105mm gun makes a whole lot of noise (bad for any nearby infantry), and initially caused lots of vibration problems inside the MGS when the gun was fired. The MGS contains a lot of electronics and a very capable fire control system. At the same time, MGS gunners regularly put 105mm shells through window size targets at 1,000 meters or more.

Production of the MGS ceased in 2012. The unofficial (and real) reason was that the increasing availability of smart munitions (especially GPS guided artillery shells and rockets) made the assault gun much less useful. But not for everyone. Nations that don’t use the expensive smart munitions as much as the United States are finding the wheeled assault guns like MGS or Centauro a cost-effective weapon.

The Centauro 2 can also serve as an assault gun, firing high explosive ammo to clear the way for infantry or to disperse armed opponents in a peacekeeping operation.

 


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