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Armored Cars: URO Vamtac

October 28, 2016

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At first glance the Vamtac, or Vehiculo de Alta Movilidad Tactico, is a dead ringer for an improved Humvee. It isn’t. But it used to be. Manufactured in serious quantities by URO Vehiculos Especiales S.A. or Urovesa, a light truck maker based in Santiago de Compostela, the Vamtac’s career trajectory is a remarkable if peculiar saga that still leaves people guessing.

Almost two decades since it entered service with Spain’s armed forces questions linger about its underpinning details. URO isn’t exactly too forthcoming about these and between marketing literature and available sources from the “defense” community the Vamtac’s public record is shot with holes.

What is it, exactly? And why does it exist?

To begin with, the origin myth connecting the Vamtac with the Humvee is false. It appears neither URO nor AM General ever collaborated on a joint venture for a military truck. But perusing Spanish media, especially those outlets devoted to military affairs, reveals a startling coincidence.

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URO Vamtac ST5’s in convoy.

Just as the HMMWV entered production in 1984 the Spanish army–the Ejercito del Tierra–began looking for their own multirole soldier-carrying truck and it was Urovesa who shouldered the program. Founded in 1981 Urovesa’s earliest venture was a limited production run for a 4×4 flatbed.

What became the Vamtac, however, didn’t materialize until 1995 when a competition was held for a next-generation tactical truck capable of supporting troops and weapons. The HMMWV was a natural candidate and there was even a local sales office in Spain to facilitate its importation.

Urovesa started rolling out prototypes of their contender in 1996 and by 1998 the Vamtac triumphed over the North American rival it looked indistinguishable from. (For the sake of a corporate bottom line, Urovesa released a civilianized Vamtac for the truck and off-road crowd.)

This didn’t mean the Vamtac had it easy–its job in Spain’s armed forces meant it had to be airlift-able by Chinook or C-130. Its climactic requirements were demanding as it was supposed to operate in sub-zero conditions and scorching deserts.

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The first generation Vamtac in pickup configuration–notice the Mistral MANPAD on its bed. Don’t confuse it with the Chinese Dongfeng EQ2050.

The original URO Vamtac I3 ran on a 163 horsepower Steyr M16-TCA turbo diesel engine and used Allison TC-275 automatic transmission. Since the emphasis was on its ability to transport almost thrice its weight–900 kilograms–armor protection was at a minimum. The first generation of Vamtac I3’s had three variants:

  • A basic transport for five soldiers with a roof hatch for mounting specific weapon systems, i.e. machine guns or ATGM launchers.
  • A pickup truck configuration leaving ample space behind the cab for hauling supplies or for a self-propelled mortar.
  • An ambulance.

To date the Spanish armed forces maintain 500 Uro Vamtacs in different roles.

In the ensuing 2000s it became apparent IEDs and mines posed the greatest threat to wheeled armored vehicles. As the market for larger and heavier armored trucks grew to monstrous proportions the Vamtac faced its own obsolescence. But once the 2010s got underway the Vamtac returned and divorced its heritage as an imitation Humvee.

Unveiled in 2012, the Vamtac S3 shared more commonalities with its European cousins the AMPV or the Sherpa. It had a larger engine and was recognizable for a redesigned grille. The rest of the improvements were to protect its crew. A v-hull was installed to deflect powerful blasts. The cab was turned into a modular “capsule” with spall lining. Windows and doors were replaced with reinforced material offering STANAG-level protection.

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URO Vamtac ST5’s in desert configuration.

Urovesa isn’t done with the Vamtac yet. Its latest Vamtac ST5 enjoys regular appearances at various arms shows and an armored SUV variant called the Vamtac 3.5 was spotted in 2015. The ST5’s latest outing was at the Eurosatory 2016 arm show. This static Vamtac ST5 came armed with a Spike ATGM. But its obvious heft revealed Urovesa are still pushing the ballistic envelope, reinforcing the grille and the hood, with further layers in the cab.

The Vamtac’s customer pool continues to grow. Aside from Spain the armed forces of Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and Venezuela have purchased either the original Vamtac I3 or the newer Vamtac ST5. Malaysia’s DefTech is believed to have a licensed Vamtac I3 in its product catalog. By Urovesa’s own count it’s built 4,500 Vamtac’s in 40 variants.

It’s a long enough track record that makes the Vamtac seems poised to make a splash this late in the tactical 4×4 arms race. With an image hearkening to a distant American forebear its appeal could be strong enough to blunt upstarts like the Kia LTV or the Tawazun Group’s Nimr. A perfect marriage of compatibility and strong demand makes it a superb addition to wheeled vehicle fleets everywhere–except China and Russia.

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