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Armored Cars: Denel Casspir

October 19, 2019

The Casspir Mk I. Via Wikimedia Commons.

Proving that military innovation stems from improvisation, the Casspir is the granddaddy of all mine-resistant trucks that have appeared since. While it’s true US-made vehicles such as the Navistar MaxxPro and the Oshkosh M-ATV are spectacular success stories (totaling more than 20,000 built in the last 14 years) the Casspir enjoys an incomparable lineage. Its origins date to an obscure program greenlit by South Africa’s police in the 1970s. At the time a civil war in neighboring Rhodesia pitted a white supremacist government against a determined Communist rebellion. With South Africa sworn to uphold the former the resulting combat was intense and landmines were a recurring headache .

The very first generation of mine-resistant trucks were slapdash affairs featuring a steel underbelly added to any large transport. When the Buffels supplied to Rhodesia’s army became too vulnerable a brand new design was conceived. The Casspir commenced production in 1979 under the truck maker TFM and its suppliers. Battlefield experience meant the Mark II/A/B/C and III variants were quickly rolled out between 1981 and 1984. By decade’s end, with Apartheid on the wane and public disorder gripping South Africa’s largest cities (the Casspirs proved to be intimidating anti-riot vehicles), a total of 1,7000 had been manufactured. Today production numbers have peaked at 2,500 vehicles made.

Back in the 1980s the Casspir was an oddity from any reasonable perspective. It was tall and elongated, an off-road battle bus relying on leaf spring suspension on massive wheels, with the interior holding up to a dozen men. Once the Rhodesian civil war ended by 1979 the 11 ton Casspirs were sent to South West Africa (Namibia). The so-called “Border War” was a crucible for the South African military and Casspirs saw relentless fighting. During missions a single .30 caliber machine gun is found inside the cab, its muzzle poking out from a small gun port on the windshield. Two more machine guns are dual mounted above the cab and if needed the roof hatches can be done away to fit a 20 mm cannon on a pivoting mount. Impervious to small arms fire from every direction, the Casspir can withstand multiple explosions from anti-tank mines. If an axle was blown off it could even be repaired by the crew within hours.

The Casspir’s latest iteration. Via Denel.

The Casspir saved thousands of lives in its heyday and official fatalities resulting from internal damage to the vehicle are in the low dozens. A particular weakness are the 73 mm projectiles of the Soviet RPG-7 that punch holes through the Casspir’s hull with ease. But the Casspir was a mean machine on its own and one configuration included a 105 mm recoilless rifle for direct fire support. Many of the Apartheid-era Casspirs would no longer pass muster today although the vehicles enjoyed a second wind of sorts in de-mining missions. After the civil war in Mozambique retired Casspirs were fitted with steel rimmed wheels to clear landmines.

Casspir exports began in the mid-1990s with India being the largest overseas customer. The Casspir’s design was also licensed to the conglomerate Mahindra and rebranded as the MMPV with a 6×6 chassis. By 2002 a descendant of the Casspir called the Buffalo was assisting the US military with clearing unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan and later in Iraq. Production of the Casspir continues in South Africa although its ownership has changed hands multiple times. In the post-Apartheid years the Casspir was acquired from TFM and Armscor by Reumech OMC, then by the UK’s Vickers, then by BAE Systems, until it returned to another venerable local company, Denel with parts supplied by Mechem.

The Casspir Mk IV was unveiled in 2010 and the latest variants feature multiple external improvements and armament options; as of 2016 it was possible to equip the Casspir with a 20 mm anti-aircraft gun on a flatbed behind the cab. As it enters its fifth decade surplus Casspirs are still seeing action in Africa’s trouble spots, albeit in the hotter climate of the Sahel countries and Somalia. Below are the complete specifications of Denel-Mechem’s Casspir NG2000:

Armor Level STANAG III (assault/battle rifles)
Blast Protection STANAG L4a/b
Capacity 2 crew + 12 dismounts
Engine Type Mercedes-Benz OM906LA, 306 horspower
Gross Weight 14.3 tons
Max. Speed 100 km/h
Max. Range – Road 800 km
Max. Range – Off-road 600 km
Suspension leaf spring + stabilizer bar + damper
Transmission Automatic 9-speed, Allison SP 3500
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