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Armored Cars: Norinco VN21

November 18, 2018

Via Chinese media.

Among the highlights of the Zhuhai Air Show held every two years is a public demonstration by Chinese vehicle manufacturers in an enclosed obstacle course. Earlier this month, Norinco and a few other companies let their export-ready products tear up mud and sand to excite potential customers from abroad. But some models appeared to have been overshadowed by the tanks and APCs that took part in the spectacle. During the show, in fact, Norinco’s new armored 4×4 raced over a dirt track to prove it can fend for itself in hot climates with bad roads.

It turns out this mystery machine is called the VN21 and is the latest in Norinco’s V-series of protected trucks.

There’s almost nothing about the VN21’s characteristics and dimensions that’s been released to the public. Even its name was only ascertained after viewing clips broadcast by Chinese state-media from this year’s Zhuhai Air Show. But what makes the VN21 alluring are Norinco’s intentions; their “wheeled ground-based common platform” looks like competition against similar models from all over Europe. It’s tempting to imagine the Oshkosh JLTV among its would-be rivals, except the JLTV’s brand recognition and adaptability gives it a huge advantage versus foreign upstarts.

For clarity’s sake, this VN21 doesn’t have any connection to Norinco’s lightweight mine-resistant truck the VP11 although some of their capabilities overlap. Judging by the few available images of the vehicle, it’s apparent the VN21 is based on a newly designed monocoque hull with add-on armor panels. Ground clearance is high and its chassis is supported by an independent suspension system that’s essential for off-road trucks. But the lack of an official brochure leaves the VN21’s other features in the dark. In such cases, the best recourse is drawing comparisons with its peers from abroad.

As a troop carrier, the VN21 looks tough enough to withstand both 5.56x45mm and 7.62x39mm bullets on its thick reinforced windshield and side doors. Guessing the thickness of its armor is best avoided for now. Its competitor from Dongfeng, which is in service with the PLA, can resist infantry small arms fire from every direction so maybe this applies to the VP22 as well. Norinco are no doubt aware they can install a larger main armament if the need arises, be it a 23mm machine gun or even a 30mm cannon.

It’s possible for the VN21 to run on a foreign turbo diesel engine, perhaps a Cummins or a Deutz, but the ideal output for a vehicle its size is at least 300 horsepower giving it a top speed in the 120 kilometer per hour range. The transmission, of course, is preferably automatic and the dashboard should have touchscreen panels loaded with useful apps such as a battle management system, the control panel for the machine gun on the roof, and navigation aids (Baidu/GPS mapping). The addition of CBRN air filters, a fire suppressing system inside the cab, and runflat inflation for the tires are unknown. The location of the exhaust high above the rear tires suggests fording depths are deeper than three feet.

The VN21 looks like it’s assembled in mission-specific modules. When assigned the role of a troop carrier with an enclosed shell over its passenger compartment it resembles the Turkish Otokar Cobra II that has seating for nine people, including the driver and co-driver. Since its appearance subscribes to a high mobility truck with a blast-protected hull the VN21 is like the Slovakian Gerlach, whose armoring and sheer size makes it weigh more than 10 tons. If the same applies to the VN21 then it’s suited for transport flights on the Chinese air forces’ medium-lift Y-9 and heavy-lift Y-20 cargo planes.

Its presence at the Zhuhai Air Show and a few other clues–the desert tan camouflage and the W85 heavy machine gun on its roof–suggest the VN21 is being groomed for exports to Africa and the Middle East. Judging its potential success invites comparisons with trucks such as the defunct Arquus/Panhard PVP XL (France), the Kamaz Typhoon (Russia), the SDPR Milosh (Serbia), and the Nurol Makina NMS (Turkey).

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