German light AFV armament

German armoured vehicles very rarely used heavy machine guns like M2HB - such weapons were used on the very first equipment in the late 50's and some in the 60's, but became irrelevant later on.

Our typical Cold War armament for trucks, armoured personnel carriers (APCs) and similar vehicles was the 7.62mmx51 MG3 machine gun, often without any shield.

Only the reconnaissance AFV, the Spähpanzer Luchs uses an effective 20mmx139 autocannon - a caliber that was capable enough to defeat enemy BMPs and BTRs, but wasn't powerful enough if used against better-protected vehicles like Western infantry fighting vehicles (IFV).
Another weapon was introduced as alternative post-Cold War, the 40mmx53 GMG - an automatic grenade launcher like the better-known Mk 19. Such weapons have a muzzle velocity of about 240 m/s, barely enough to be considered useful against moving armoured vehicles out to about 500 m.

A 40mm dual purpose grenade can penetrate light armour with a shaped charge and achieve 'some' effect inside, but it's severely restricted by its rather low muzzle velocity (reduced probability of hit at longer ranges), safety considerations (fragmentation) and volume (only 32 grenades per belt).

.50BMG weapons aren't entirely out of favour in the Bundeswehr; navy helicopters, KSK special forces, navy ships and infantry snipers use that calibre - it's just not in general use.
Mungo ESK, Grizzly, Yak, Boxer, ATF Dingo, LAPV Enok, Fennek and the old M113- the light armoured vehicle procurement (the list isn't complete) of the Bundeswehr appears to be very chaotic since the 90's, but nevertheless these vehicles have one thing in common: An armament with MG3 and/or GMG.

I consider this armament as quite unsatisfactory for several reasons;
A) It's inadequate as overflight and close-in deterrent against helicopters.
B) It's inadequate in surprise contacts with enemy light AFVs like reconnaissance vehicles. Even some 1930's reconnaissance AFVs would be superior in 1-on-1 vehicle combat due to superior firepower.
C) Unsatisfactory external ballistics of the 40mm calibre. 240 m/s muzzle velocity is the key problem, but it's not possible to improve the muzzle velocity because of the exponentially growing muzzle energy and therefore recoil.
D) Inadequate armour penetration of 7.62NATO bullets against everything that was armoured; the lowest armour rating for vehicles is aimed against this calibre (and the Russian 7.62mmx54R). Only expensive high-end armour penetrating cartridges like SLAP have a good penetration capability.

I'd like to give a pleading for alternative armaments here.

Three alternatives come to my mind;
1) Heavy machine gun calibres; 12.7mm and 14.5mm, but potentially also much weaker ones, between 7.62NATO and .50BMG.
2) 20mm lightweight autocannons; some of these approached the weight and size of a heavy machine gun by the end of WW2. They can use explosive shells, but with little fragmentation effect.
3) 30mm low recoil autocannons; these became available during the 80's and use dual purpose (shaped charge plus fragmentation) shells. The AH-64 Apache helicopter uses the same ammunition to good effect even at quite long ranges.

I'd like to point out the other two interesting alternatives that don't require any new development.

Example: Vektor (Denel) GAMA
This is a South African automatic weapon that can be mounted on a vehicle (even a jeep) just like a heavy machine gun. It's a weapon for multiple calibres and can be converted to another calibre in 10 minutes without special tools.
12.7mm x 99 (.50BMG, very common in NATO, SLAP available), 12.7mm x 107 (Russian), 14.5mm x 114 (Russian), 20mm x 82 (very low impulse, old German cartridge), 20mm x 102 (a very common calibre in NATO) and 20mm x 110 (old Hispano-Suiza calibre) are possible.

Weight: 47 - 55 kg
Length: about 1.8 m
Muzzle velocity: 720 - 1,030 m/s
Cyclic: about 650 - 750 rds/min
Typical ammunition: AP, HE

Example: ASP-30
The best-known autocannon in the 30mm calibre for low recoil applications. It can be mounted on vehicles just like a heavy machine gun, but its ammunition is already quite big.
Calibre: 30mm x 113 B (the ADEN/DEFA pattern, used by fighters since decades and also used by AH-64 Apache attack helicopters)

Weight: 52 kg
Length: 2.06 m
Muzzle velocity: 820 m/s
Cyclic: 400 - 450 rds/min
Typical ammunition: HEDP

The armament of light armoured vehicles with only rifle calibre machine guns and low muzzle velocity grenade launchers is inadequate in my opinion. Weapons in between combine a much better effect than a MG3 with a much better ammunition supply than a GMG. The self-defence capability beyond rifle range could be much improved.
We already missed the opportunity to use Eastern German 14.5mm weapons for a free upgrade, I hope we won't stick to 7.62NATO and 40mm x 53 as light AFV armament forever.



  1. Remote weapon stations are also a possibility, especially as they can provide firing solutions for engaging enganging moving targets like helicopters.

  2. RWS can use sensors, stabilization and fire control computers (like SAFCS II and similar systems) just like manned stations - an even manual manned stations can have everything except the stabilization.

    My emphasis was really on external and terminal ballistics of the weapons, as that's limiting the usefulness in my opinion.

  3. Why does the German Army use both the GTK Boxer and the KMW Grizzly? As far as I can determine, the Boxer can do everything the Grizzly can do, and the two vehicles are of similar weight, and have similar logistical footprints.

  4. German wheeled AFv procurement has been chaotic for years, and the GTK program has been slow to deliver.

  5. Well, put one gun on it and keep it for as long as the current version. The South African Denel looks like a pretty good choice for something versatile and lasting. South Africa is a major importer of German arms, so they'll be glad to export something back.