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The VN20 Is The Largest Combat Vehicle In Asia

December 3, 2022
Via Norinco.

With the prestigious Air Show China exhibition switching from a once-every-two-years to a yearly schedule the volume of coverage and hype for the companies involved is, without being ironic, astronomical. (A full-scale replica of the Tiangong space station was assembled for the indoor venue.) But since 2016 more attention is being paid to the event’s military products than the civil aviation that were once the real focus. The shift was unmistakable in 2021 and this year’s installment, which lasted from November 8 until 12, the military-industrial sector owned the venue to an extreme degree. As usual there are some notable firsts and the multirole combat vehicle from Norinco called the VN20 is among them.

It helps to understand Norinco uses the “VN” designation as a continuous brand for its land systems that carry troops. The first in line is the VN1, which is probably the most affordable wheeled 8×8 APC in the global market today, by the time the catalog reaches the VN12 and the VN17 these are some of the most advanced tracked infantry fighting vehicles or IFVs ever produced by Norinco. The problem is export success eluded either model even if their characteristics surpass outdated Soviet vintage battle transports such as the MT-LB or the BMP-1, both of which remain widely used. The VN20, however, looks like the pinnacle of Norinco’s efforts at a “heavy” combat vehicle–it’s marketed as a “heavy-duty” IFV–that combines every role in a single “platform.”

A tabletop model of the VN20 was shown at an arms show in United Arab Emirates (UAE) years ago. At that time its external layout was ridiculous: a large elongated hull crowned with the turret of a Russian BMP-3, carrying the same armaments, and a rear portal flanked by autonomous heavy machine guns on pivoting turrets. While it appears to have been an outlandish concept it turns out Norinco did assemble a single unit and featured it in an advertisement for its “land systems.” (Pictured above.) The VN20 shown in the video clip remained true to its tabletop design but it did feature anti-tank missile launchers on either side of the hull–these are Norinco’s top attack HJ-12E‘s adapted for a vehicle. A minor difference with the real world VN20 is it had a remote controlled light machine gun on the roof. This gives the vehicle a total of seven armaments: the 100mm main gun and its coaxial 30mm cannon; the twin missile launchers; the single light machine gun on the roof; the two heavy machine guns at the back.

The VN20 at Air Show China 2022. Via Norinco.

At Air Show China 2022 a lone VN20 was parked indoors alongside its siblings from Norinco’s growing catalog. This was a different variant from the original and had obvious changes to its weapon station and the distribution of its armor. Regarding the weapon station, this second VN20 trimmed the firepower somewhat and limited it to a turret carrying a 30mm cannon, a coaxial machine gun, and a hidden launcher for anti-tank missiles. The rear of the vehicle had no armaments although the hydraulic ramp for entering the troop compartment was kept. An unstated detail about the VN20 is its chassis, along with the six road wheels on either side of the hull, resembles those on the VT4 and the Type 99/99A main battle tanks. What Norinco did to build its “heavy-duty IFV” was employ the same tank chassis and put a new hull on top of it. The resulting VN20 has the engine relocated to the front of the hull where its exhaust ports are on the right side. This leaves ample room for a sizable weapon station and maybe eight infantry dismounts.

The “heavy” IFV is a concept that enjoyed a resurgence in the 2010s and the enthusiasm for developing new ones looks like it will hold steady this decade. In late November concept art of the Optionally Manned Fighting Vehicle (OMFV) as envisioned by BAE Systems and its partners Elbit Systems and QinetiQ was published. This entry for the US Army’s OMFV competition featured the same hull as the M2 Bradley although a new turret was mounted armed with a 50mm cannon. At Eurosatory 2022 the Franco-German KNDS unveiled the “Boxer tracked” that adapted a tank chassis for the well-known wheeled APC. The result was a modular vehicle that can fit either a tank turret with a 120mm gun (and other weapons) or a troop compartment. Russia’s own manufacturers responsible for land warfare systems have been trying to mainstream a heavy IFV and developed several models, none of which are in service yet. This is the problem haunting the very concept of a heavy IFV–its cost-per-unit and logistical tail are so challenging armies everywhere are cautious about embracing them.


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