Agile and tactical as a PUMA: but on this medium the opinions are discordant

(To Gianluca Celentano)

The origins of its history start very far, probably from the 1968, the year in which it was defined the project of a light and versatile armored car for urban or war applications, which entered service seven years later as an innovative machine produced by the then OTO Melara today Leonardo's society.

A concept born during the cold war that was the springboard for the subsequent B1 Centaur, VBM Arrow and VBA SuperAV, with which at first sight a strong appeal is evoked, even if the tasks (and classes) are obviously different from each other.

I will spare you the history of the motorized cylinder, just mention the fact that the prototypes date back to the end of 800 and early 900, but the idea is rooted even in the times of the ancient Egyptians and Greeks.

With the nicknames of lions, panthers, tigers imprinted on the walls of the operative and training companies of our army, the association with the impetuous wildlife has carved out a nice space even in the name of military vehicles, especially those with features operational similar to forest predators, such as the Lynx or the most massive Bear o Grizzly.

The PUMA APC Armored Personnel Carrier

Probably the military performance of the Puma they stand between the Multirole Lynx and the biggest 8x8 Centaur, occupying that space that fully sees a vehicle, albeit light, from the front line much appreciated by the infantry although there has been some criticism.

Its progenitors were the Fiat-Oto Melara 6616 and 6614 (photos), used by the army but also by the police forces and their evolution translated into the modern project Puma, presented at the end of the '80 and still operating in different departments even if often preferably supplanted by the Centaur and from Arrow.

Although the Puma he presented himself to the Armed Forces with genuine and interesting characteristics; there were not a few judgments of uselessness that gravitated around him accompanied by criticisms of the choice of tactical means in light of an already delicate defense budget.

Indeed the superior characteristics of the Centaur entered into service in the 1992 and the relative delay in the presentation of the LMV Lynx, attributed to the armored 90 VM the task covered later by the Puma. The controversy probably lies - and we have already reiterated it several times - in not having produced the Lynx in good time as a vehicle halfway between the 90 AR and the 8x8 armored vehicle; opting therefore for a single major expense considering in particular the emergency geopolitical situation of the period.

Its structure is obtained on a flat armored hull platform and offered in 4x4 and 6x6 version, initially as a standard vehicle for troop transport and subsequently in ambulance variants, command post, or as a real platform launches missiles for air defense or anti-tank but also as a mortar door. A prerogative of the project on Puma imposed on the vehicle, in all its variants, the air transportability on the CH47.

The living space behind the engine is covered under the body, at least in the early versions, with ballistic panels while the movement organs on the two axes seem uncovered and therefore it is likely that some organs important for the movement, are vulnerable to IED attacks capable of stop the march of the Puma. However I have no data to verify subsequent changes for a complete hull coverage.

The technique

Its engine, Fiat OM 8042.45 positioned at the front and with appropriate modifications, probably also on the stroke and turbine with variable geometry, is the known 4 turbodiesel cylinders from 3.9 cm³ that delivers 180 cv, one of the most powerful engines in the four-cylinder family, also used for some versions in the Iveco Eurocargo production.

The transmission adopts an automatic transmission with converter lock starting from 5 km / h, which allows good performance and a motor brake, if you want to manually scale its 5 gears. The most modern Puma they are assembled with a RENK always with five automatic gears. It has a central divider that always guarantees the driving torque to the 4 or 6 wheels, while excluding it the torque is divided into fixed axles like an off-road vehicle; the system should be similar to that adopted for the Eurocargo 4x4.

The independent hydropneumatic suspensions with McPherson scheme and disc brakes with ABS anti-lock system, perform their work admirably from the relative elasticity of the trim and the interesting stopping distances, even if it is not clear if there is a slow-motion. In the 4x4 version, it can transport 4s that become seven in the longer version 6x6. Its lighting system allows the approval for road transit where the speed, bringing the tachometer over the green half, is around the 120 km / h with a range of 700 kilometers. It is good to remember that the trips of the Puma in operating place, if they do not take place by helicopter, most of the time they happen on the tactical platform Adamoli, Bertoja or Isoli of an Iveco ASTRA ACTL.

The relatively flat line, only two meters high, gives the Puma good stability and the association of driving with the 90 VM protected in the slalom on dirt is perceivable as quality.

The driver's seat is on the left with an adjustable steering wheel as well as the driver's seat which allows the driver to enter from the rear, but always rigorously with the helmet required for the entire crew, even during the tests. In the 6x6 version only the first two front axles are steered with a different geometry.

Lower than the Lynx

Of course, the Lynx it was produced later but tire size and size make the difference when, regardless of a valid or disputable protection on the hull, from the terrain of a hostile area can detonate an IED in our passage.

Interesting, and could not be otherwise are the off-road attack angles of the Puma which are unquestionable like the gear inclination aligned to the Nato, 60% -31 ° - frontal and 30% -17 ° - lateral standards. However considering the trim and its 11.00-16 run flat tires or bulletproof core, the ground clearance of the Puma is 39 centimeters (infomotors) against, just to give you an idea of ​​the 47,3 Lynx (31.5 at the differential) and the Centennial 42 centimeters, which we like to call it a kind of metamorphosis of the Puma. The 24 volt dual circuit electrical system is more than satisfactory and the operating temperatures range from -32 to + 49 ° C.

Protection and features

The data on the ballistic protection of the vehicle are reserved, but the exposures to the public in more recent versions make it clear that its structure is partly made by casting (a bit like the tanks) while in other areas it is welded using alloys of steel and ballistic plates. The thicknesses of the bulletproof glass on the two wedge-shaped side doors, as wide as a hand, do not go unnoticed.

Less than two meters long and 5.50 6x6 and 4.76 4 for the 4x4, it is two meters wide which makes it, like a feline, able to camouflage camouflaged and at the same time quick in the operational shot, features and dimensions also useful for the airplane transport. Its sides are flared on all sides and give an appearance, especially to the 4xXNUMX, a car perhaps a little 'mysterious but undoubtedly to be feared.

On the surface there is a door with an armored crystal fixed to a frame that can be folded at the conductor, one near the machine gun with five hypospoints and a third at the back, plus two official side openings and a rear one.

It can be associated in turret with a MG 7,62 or one Minimum as an alternative to Browning from 12,7, the machine gun that applied and used perpendicular to the VM90TT created a considerable roll to the medium even if still.

Depending on the configuration, it can be used as a basis for a BGM-71 TOW or Milan launcher and has several smoke launches, but its list of defense and fire response is really long.

A sophisticated air conditioning filtering system guarantees OTO Melara the NBC protection but also good qualities in crossing the fords with a dive of well 70 centimeters that in reality are probably more. There is also an automatic fire alarm system, a common feature now also in the civil field in the engine compartment of buses but perhaps with a questionable utility if we look at the buses that went into focus in Rome.

On the front there is a folding cable shear to protect the conductor and machine guns when they are working with the torso out of the vehicle, while on the back there is a powerful electric windlass that in the 6x6 version through appropriate referrals also arrives in front, a little as was the case with the 70 ACP.

Quantity, competition and expenses

In the Defense sector i Puma they should be about 540 units between 4x4 and 6x6 versions, some are in green livery Born perhaps faded but certainly full of memories of the lever, others in the modern spotted livery. We are pleased to remember, however, that Italy is independent in the production of excellent tactical vehicles.

On the other hand, in the world, this type of armored vehicles for infantry and troop transport, is re-proposing itself to replace most of the tracks or restyling of the historic M113, at least in the NATO context or in the Western block. The offer is therefore wide enough to remember the French production with the VAB (photo) of the Armée de terre or the German one with the G Class Mercedes Benz, rather than the Spanish BMR-600 or the Israeli Eitan APC.

All vehicles that in some way derive from trucks, today as we know with high performance and road holding and no longer require disproportionate roadways to keep them on the road instead of tracks to move on the most insidious terrain. A technology that would benefit the vehicle rotated compared to the crawler by offering real tanks suitable for the new type of conflicts often unconventional and sometimes conducted in the rear with the use of the most sophisticated computerized response systems.

The choice of the type of vehicles, an aspect that contributes to impacting the defense budget today even more in the spotlight, plays a decisive role, but we believe that military production is a prerogative that in addition to remaining internal to the country must increasingly be attentive and Italy has all the characteristics and qualities for other envied by the whole world. In this regard, someone reminds me of the various examples, that sort of hole in the water derived from the investment on the mechanical Mule (v.articolo).

I dedicate the article ...

At the Infantry School "Fortior ex adversis resurgo" of Cesano and all the staff of his regiment and logistic and training battalions, to the Brigadier General Brigadier Massimo Mingiardi, but also if you allow me, to my military school, the 80 ° regiment infantry Rome di Cassino, "then battaglione".

(photo: web / Axel XCIV / Ministère des Armées)