Armor: Wheels Displace Tracks

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June 11, 2020: Taiwan has begun production of its new CM-34 8x8 IFV (Infantry Fighting Vehicle). This armored vehicle weighs 25 tons, and the most visible difference from the earlier CM-32/33 is a turret where the 30mm autocannon and a 7.62mm machine-gun are on the turret top. Another 7.62mm machine-gun is mounted on the rear deck and is operated by one of the infantry in the rear via a hatch. The army plans to buy at least 284 CM-34s. This vehicle is basically an upgrade of the older CM-32. Both the CM-32 and CM-34 have the same top road speed of 120 kilometers an hour and a road range of 800 kilometers on internal fuel.

The CM-32 began production in 2007 with 378 built by 2014. The CM-32 (Yun Pao or Cloud Leopard) first appeared in 2005 as a prototype but production did not begin right away. Cost was about $2 million each. The 21 ton wheeled (8x8) CM-32 carries six to eight troops plus a two man crew. Original armament was to have been a 20mm autocannon and a machine-gun. But there were delays and eventually, the CM-32/33 was armed with a RWS (remote weapons station) containing a 12.7mm machine-gun and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher. The original CM-32 was outfitted internally as a command vehicle but most of the CM-32s were the CM-33 which was fitted out internally to carry six infantry. That seating was expanded to eight in the CM-34. Its engine (in the front) and armor (stops 12.7mm machine-gun fire and shell fragments) were the same, as was the bottom design and protection that resists the effects of landmines or nearby explosions by shells or bombs.

In 2019 a CM-32 configured to carry an 81mm automatic mortar was introduced. This one still had the RWS, but only with the 12.7mm machine-gun. Plans to build a CM-32 with a turret holding a 105mm or 120mm low-pressure cannon have not been tried yet.

The CM-32 was not developed from scratch but rather by purchasing the design of the CM-31, a 6x6 armored vehicle developed by an Irish firm in the 1990s. The Irish design never got beyond the prototype stage but it was an impressive vehicle. Taiwan bought the rights in 2002 and expanded the vehicle to a larger 8x8 IFV. When production of the CM-34 is completed there will be nearly 700 CM-32/33/34 vehicles in use.

The CM-32 was designed to replace the tracked 17 ton CM-21, which is similar to the U.S. M113. Over a thousand CM-21s were produced in the 1980s. Most of these were infantry carriers but others were command vehicles, mortar carriers or TOW ATGM (anti-tank guided missile) carriers. Tracked vehicles are more expensive to operate and require more maintenance. By the late 1990s the army noted as did the Americans, that 8x8 wheeled armored vehicles were a more effective light armored vehicle. The U.S. was developing the Stryker but Taiwan wanted something cheaper that they could afford.

The United States tried to sell Taiwan the Stryker, but Taiwan wanted to keep the jobs at home. Taiwan went with a wheeled vehicle because it needs fast moving armored vehicles in the event of a Chinese invasion, which could happen in several different coastal areas in addition to paratroop landings. The CM-32 doesn't have the elaborate and expensive electronic gear of the Stryker, which helped keep the price down.

Taiwan originally wanted to build as many as 1,400 CM-32 type vehicles and might eventually come close as the tracked CM-21s continue to wear out.

 


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