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Armored Cars: KMW Fennek Spähwagen

July 18, 2017

At first glance the Fennek, or Desert Fox, looks like a superb all-terrain vehicle for any environment–and it is. But when it entered service in 2003 with the armies of Germany and the Netherlands it was ordained to fulfill a very specific role.

Conceived as a private venture by a Dutch engineering firm, what became the Fennek was picked up by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and marketed as a high tech scout vehicle with a reduced noise signature.  Light enough for air transport, the 11 ton Fennek proved a very tough cookie with NATO troops in Afghanistan, where it endured the heat and dust while absorbing its fair share of damage.

Being a recce vehicle foremost, the Fennek only fits three crew members who enter through swing doors on either side of the cab. The driver is ensconced in the middle of the cab while his crew are seated behind him to operate comms and battle management systems. There are four roof hatches on the back so its crew can better view their surroundings.

The Fennek runs on a 240 horsepower turbo diesel Deutz engine giving it a top speed of 115 km/h. To better ensure its success, the Fennek was positioned as a bilateral effort for two armed forces and this secured the production of 612 vehicles over several years. Most were delivered to the Royal Netherlands Army.

It’s worth mentioning a similar vehicle was developed by the British armored vehicle maker Alvis called the Scarab, but it never made it past prototyping.

Given its low ground clearance and angular dimensions the Fennek looks like it can take a lot of hurt. But it only offers protections levels at STANAG III, being impervious to 7.62mm bullets, and this might be limited to the front and sides. Its interior is coated with spall lining to prevent any fires or combustion should its armor be pierced by high explosive material. NBC/CBRNe detectors and filtration systems are a given. Two batteries of grenade dischargers or smoke mortars are located at the back of the Fennek to provide smoke screens during maneuvers.

Though it isn’t meant to be a fighting vehicle, in German service it’s often armed with a 7.62mm MG3 machine gun on a remote weapon station. A sensor pod on a retractable/elevating mast is stored in an enclosed compartment. It combines a day-night camera, thermal optics, and a laser rangefinder.

In 2004 KMW launched a joint venture with Turkish vehicle manufacturer FNSS to develop a spin-off for the Fennek. The German firm went further in 2008 when it unveiled a concept for the Fennek 2 during Eurosatory. This converted the original vehicle into a Hummer-esque workhorse with extra seating. The Fennek 2 didn’t garner the expected fanfare and quietly disappeared.

In 2015 FNSS unveiled its Pars 4×4, an all-terrain platform with additional doors for more passengers and two propellers for amphibious crossings. It could perform the same missions as a Fennek but was tailored to function like a multirole tactical truck.

But FNSS took the design even further and incorporated additional weapon systems on the vehicle like an optional M2 Browning machine gun, a 40mm grenade launcher, and anti-tank missiles. It’s also possible to equip both the Fennek and the Pars with modules for Stinger SAMs. A 6×6 APC based on the Pars was subsequently teased.

Production of the original Fennek has ceased. But the vehicle remains in service with its original clients. In 2017 the Bundeswher upgraded some of its Fennek’s to the Joint Fire Support Team or JFST 1A3+ variant that enhances its ISR role. KMW offers potential customers seven variants of the Fennek, these are:

  • Recce
  • MRAT (Medium Range Anti-Tank)
  • Command and Control
  • Forward Artillery Observer
  • Joint Fire Support Team
  • Pioneer
  • Stinger Weapon Platform
  • Tactical Air Control Party – For calling in air support!

The appeal of the Fennek and its derivatives should entice militaries looking for a battle-tested and modular armored car to assist network-centric ground forces. The Fennek is perfect for this role but at the end of the day a saturated market will decide its future.

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