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French Armor - Cold War

Char de bataille / Char moyen / Medium tank
1945ARL 445090mm60
1949AMX 50 55100mm2
1951Somua SM56100mm1
1951AMX 50 59120mm3
1954Lorraine Char 40t40100mm1
1962AMX 30 A36105mm3571
1979AMX 3240120mm2
1982AMX 30 B236105mm1000
1983AMX 4043120mm1
Char léger / Light tank
1953AMX 13 1575mm7700+
1954Bat-Chat Char 25t2590mm2
1955ELC AMX790mm2
1979AMX 10 PAC 901590mm80
Obusier Automoteur / self-propelled gun
1950Lorraine Automoteur30155mm2
1955Bat-Chat Obusier34155mm..
1955ELC EVEN7120mm5
1958AMX Mk61 AMX-10517105mm550
1959AMX Mk F317155mm600
1970AMX 10M ACRA15142mm3
1972GCT Au F144155mm400
sol à l’air / Air Defense
1970AMX 30 Javelot3540mm1
1977AMX 30 ROLAND33160mm600+
Véhicule blindé à chenilles / Tracked Armored Vehicle
1952Hotchkiss CC2 / TT 66none2600
1973AMX 10 P1420mm1750
1981Lohr VPX 5000620mm10
Véhicule blindé à roues / Wheeled Armored Vehicle
1945Panhard 178 B..47mm..
1951Panhard EBR FL111375mm1200
1956Panhard ETT117.5mm30
1960Panhard AML 60560mm4812
1961Panhard AML 90590mm+
1976VAB 1330mm5000~
1981Lohr RPX 6000720mm2
1982AMX 10 RC16105mm370
1983VBC 9021105mm34
1984ERC 90 Sagaie890mm411
AMX = Atelier de Construction d'Issy-les-Moulineaux
Armored units are defined by the functions they perform on the battlefield. They provide a means for tactical protected mobility (including mobility for mounted infantry), constitute protected platforms for precise lethal and nonlethal direct fires and protected platforms for Command and control, Computer, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (C4ISR). Armored units are those organically equipped with armored vehicles armed with weapons designed to destroy other armored vehicles (equipped with a main gun of a caliber superior or equals to twenty millimeters. The armor of those vehicles must be sufficient to defeat small caliber projectile (inferior or equal to twelve millimeters and artillery bursts. It excludes light armor personnel carriers and includes the larger infantry fighting vehicles (IFV).

After World War II, Western tank inventories included three principal types of tanks: light, medium, and heavy. Since the principal role in neutralizing and destroying the adversary was assigned to nuclear weapons, and since they viewed the capture of enemy-held ground as the principal mission of ground forces, it was considered adequate to possess only light tanks and other armored vehicles adapted for airlifting and capable of performing these functions. The development of antitank guided missiles, which are capable of piercing tank armor of practically any thickness, bolstered this view. In France, for example, only light tanks, armored cars and armored personnel carriers were built for an extended period of time after the war. France did not take the path of building heavy tanks or self-propelled antitank guns but opted for a light tank (tank destroyer), following the concept of "maximum firepower with minimum tank weight".

France was the first western nation to employ armored forces in Vietnam. In nine years of fighting an insurgent enemy in a tropical environment, the French learned many valuable lessona. In October 1945 the French Expeditionary Force (FEF) landed in IndoChina with the objective of reoccupying that entire area. Commander of the FEF, Lieutenant General LeClerc, was the former commander of the French Second Armored Division in 1944-45. LeClerc employed the same tactics in Vietnam that had been used successfully in Europe which resulted in heavy losses to the FEF armor units.

As the French gained experience in the use of armor, they changed their organization in 1951 to cope better with the terrain, the mission and the tactics of the insurgent Viet-Minh forces. Many victories were won over the Viet-Minh; but the French were still plagued by a lack of tanks. the most important lessons learned were that tanks can be used in most areas of the world and that there must be enough tanks to perform all the missions assigned. A few tanks spread too thinly must be expected to operate with reduced effectiveness. These forces remained tied to the road network. Even the armored units had most of their infantry on trucks or half-tracks. Only the parachute units and commandos were able to operate away from the road network.

In the early 1950s, the French Army experimented with radically new unit designs. The prime impetus, as with the very similar experiments in the US Army conducted in the mid to late 1950s, was to design small mobile formations which could fight on a battlefield populated with tactical nuclear weapons. For the French, an additional impetus was to develop more mobile formations in response to perceived lessons learned from the 1940 failure of static fortifications and methodical battle. The result was the Javelot [Javelin] design. The Javelot division was designed to be light, powerful, and most especially mobile. Units would be armored, airborne, mechanized, or motorized to ensure mobility. As the armored cavalry branch of the French Army developed the concept, there was a clear pedigree from French armored and cavalry reconnaissance regiments to the combined arms regiment which was a mechanized infantry formation with light tanks.

The army doctrine revolved around small, nimble mechanized divisions. The concept was for these divisions not to present a large target for a nuclear strike while being agile and strong enough to bring sufficient conventional firepower to bear. These divisions would be backed by an impressive array of tactical nuclear weapons. In the period of 1952 to 1954, the French Second Corps in Germany established the "Javelot Brigade" to test the concept. Unfortunately for this brigade, the unit had to leave behind its new mechanized equipment and fight as infantry against the Algerian rebels.

The colonialist officers felt that France was wasting time and money on modern nuclear toys. They felt the real battle was to be fought against the poor insurgents, who under Moscow's control were bringing the real battle against the capitalist west. In Algeria, as the terrain permitted motorized and mechanized movement, the mobility and firepower of mobile forces was greater than what the French had fielded in Indochinay, which permitted movements regardless of the road network. French battalions in Algeria were able to range further over the country-side using a variety of means. The light infantry could move or patrol in a variety of motorized vehicles.

Postwar second-generation main battle tanks adopted by the armies of the world possessed considerably greater firepower in comparison with earlier models. This was achieved by carrying heavier guns with high muzzle velocities, by developing projectiles with great destructive effect on the target, and by equipping tanks with devices and mechanisms which increase accuracy and rate of fire. The French AMX-30 tank is armed with rifled-barrel 105 mm system of French design. In order to increase the effectiveness of tank armament when firing at long range, the French AMX-13 light tanks carried, in addition to the main armament, several wireguided antitank missiles carrying shaped charges with high armor-piercing capability.

In the French Army the artillery regiments of mechanized divisions contained self-propelled artillery. A 105 mm self-propelled howitzer, based on the AMX-13 light tank, is similar in design to the U.S. M108 and M109. The vehicle is fully armored. The howitzer is mounted in a fully-rotating turret (prior to modernization, effected in 1962, the howitzer was mounted in a fixed turret-like structure). The design of the French 155 mm self-propelled howitzer is reminiscent of the M107 and M110. It was developed in 1962, on the modified chassis of an AMX-13 light tank. The weapon, which is a modernized upper part of the M50 155 mm field howitzer, is mounted exposed, without armor cover, on the rear of the vehicle.

France, for example, developed the 155GCT 155 mm self-propelled gun based on the AMX-30 tank; the 155GCT was tested in 1973. Its gun is mounted in a fully-rotating armored turret. A 7.62 mm (or 12.7 mm) machinegun was mounted on the turret roof, over the loader's hatch. One feature of this self-propelled gun is the employment of automatic loading and fire control system, which provided a rate of fire capability of up to 8 rounds per minute.

The French Army operated both tracked and wheeled armored personnel carriers. The TT6 Hotchkiss (in service since 1952) and AMX VVTM 56 (based on the AMX-13 light tank and adopted in 1955) tracked armored personnel carriers are today considered obsolete and are being replaced by the AMX-10P infantry combat vehicle, which entered service in 1973. The AMX-10P ICV, meeting military requirements adopted by France In 1965, is designed not only to carry motorized infantry but also to be employed by mechanized combined units to operate in coordination with tanks, to provide tanks with cover and to widen penetration. According to the views of French military leaders, in developing modern combat vehicles the greatest attention should be focused on mobility and firepower. The term "mobility" also includes capability to negotiate water obstacles without special engineer equipment, since the latter cannot always be employed.

The French AMX-10RC combat reconnaissance vehicle, carrying powerful gun armament, can perform missions of engaging enemy tanks. The vehicle has a three-axis chassis with all-wheel drive. Main armament is a 105 mm gun mounted in a turret. The fire control system includes a laser range finder and automatic correction. The vehicle carries a four-man crew. It has a low silhouette and has high mobility. The vehicle is powered by the powerplant of the "family" of AMX-10 light tracked vehicles, which includes a turbocharged 280 horsepower diesel and a transmission package consisting of a torque converter and a mechanism which combines the functions of gearbox and steering mechanism.

France developed the AMX-10RP wheeled infantry combat vehicle which is used in reconnaissance units. This infantry combat vehicle is based on a three-axle chassis (6 x 6). The vehicle is armed with a 20 mm automatic run, on the turret on an external mount. The general layout provides a low silhouette. The vehicle is characterized by high mobility. Maximum speed is 80-86 km/h.

The French Army established requirements (in 1977) for an under-3.3-t Vehicule Blinde Leger (VBL) - Light Armored Vehicle - to replace scout jeeps and to use as an antitank missile carrier. About one-third of the 8,000 armored vehicles procured to equip the newly established 5-division French Rapid Action and Assistance Command and to modernize other combat units were expected to be the winning VBL competitor. The French Army also procured other, heavier, armored vehicles, including AMX10RC 105-mm gun, 6x6 fire support vehicles and VAB 4x4 APCs for its light armored, infantry, and marine divisions as well as 900-1,000 new main battle tanks and AMX-10P tracked IFVs for its mechanized divisions.

By the end of the Cold War, France's main battle tank was the AMX-30B or -30B2. In service since the late l960s, it was comparable to the U.S. M60A1, particularly in the "B" configuration. It had a 105-mm rifled main gun, coincidence rangefmder, manual transmission, and no passive night vision devices. The "B2," though based on the same hull and turret as the "B," was considerably more modern, having an automated fire control system and a "semiautomatic" transmission. Some AMX-30B2s were equipped with a low-light television camera for limited visibility firing, much like the passive version of the M60A1. A very few AMX-30B2s were equipped with the "Castor" thermal sight; in this configuration the tank is somewhat similar to the U.S. M60A3.

For a variety of reasons, France did not modernize its main battle tank fleet in the late 1970s and early 1980s, as did the U.S. and Germany. French experts, just as in many other countries, reached the conclusion that tanks in the Immediate future should carry gun, not missile-gun armament. Therefore a 120 mm smoothbore gun was selected for France's new tank, and new ammunition was developed. This resulted in the introduction of the AMX-Leclerc main battle tank in late 1991.

Light armor vehicles, found in corps reconnaissance regiments, in the armor regiments of motorized infantry divisions, and in the FAR, were the AMX-l0RC, the ERC-90 "Saguie" the VAB-HOT antitank missile carrier, and the VBL. The AMX-10RC has a 105-mm low-pressure cannon, and the ERC90 is equipped with a 90-mm gun. Both vehicles fire a multitude of munitions, including an armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding SABOT (APFSDS) round.

The AMX-l0RC, though armed with a 105-mm cannon capable of firing an APFSDS round, was not suited well for head-to-head combat with the latest Soviet or Warsaw Pact tanks. Thus, by the edn of the Cold War the French Army was no longer convinced that an enemy so equipped could be countered by French armor cavalry units alone. Nevertheless, the agility and firepower of a unit formed from armor cavalry elements and the corps attack helicopter regiment make it able to counter an airborne or airmobile threat posed along a flank or in the corps rear area by BMDs, BMPs, or older Warsaw Pact tanks.

The four-wheeled VAB-HOT (Vehicule de l'Avant Blinde - "Forward Armor Vehicle") is equipped to fire the HOT antitank missile. The HOT'S 4000-meter range and wire guidance system make this vehicle comparable to the U.S. M901 ITV. The VBL (Vehicule Leger Blinde - "Light Armor Vehicle") is a fourwheeled, armored, NBC-protected, amphibious vehicle that is replacing the World War II-era jeeps. Like the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, the VBL has multiple possible configurations; in armored cavalry units it carries the Milan antitank missile system.

In 1988-89, the Armor and Cavalry Inspector General directed a reevaluation of armor cavalry doctrine. This re-evaluation originated in part from the anticipation that French forces would be engaged in a European conflict in a second echelon role, therefore giving a French corps commander access to all allied intelligence-gathering systems.

French doctrine had already changed to reflect reconnaissance by fire as a supplement to information gathered by ground-based and airborne sensors, and the role of the armor cavalry will be to prepare engagements, maintain contact between allied units, intervene to counter airborne threats to rear areas, temporarily block a penetration, or counterattack by fire. At the same time, the units would continue to gather information for the corps commander.

Armor cavalry's name reflects its changing battlefield role. For many years, it was known as "CLB - Casalerie Legere Blirtdee, or Light Armor Cavalry. As their role evolved, units became known as RCM - Roue, Canon, Missile, or "Wheel, Cannon, Missile" regiments, light armor units had yet to receive an official name, but the term Regiments de "RSI' - Reconaissance, Surete, et Intervention, or "Reconnaissance, Security, and Intervention" Regiments was frequently used to describe the role of these organizations.

Light armor units are an integral part of France's rapid deployment force, the FAR [Force d'Action Rapide], deployed to such countries as Gabon, the Central African Republic, and Chad as part of a task force combining armor, infantry, artillery, and combat engineer units. Light armor units in the FAR had what was, in effect, a double mission. They perform many of the classic armor-cavalry missions, such as reconnaissance and surveillance, and had a direct-fire combat mission as part of the combined arms team.

With a strength of 27,000 personnel - 2,250 officers, 5,700 NCOs, and 18,500 soldiers - the Armor Corps represents approximately 11 percent of the French Army. Organized around a core of professional officers and NCOs, the branch contains 250 officers, 700 NCOs, and 16,000 soldiers performing their one-year national service as draftees. The 19 tank and 13 light armor regiments were divided among two corps, eight armored divisions, and the Force d'Action Rapide (FAR - Rapid Action Force).

A French tank regiment contained either 70 or 52 tanks, depending on its division’s organization. If the unit was in a division that had two tank regiments, its 70 tanks were distributed among four four-platoon squadrons. Tank units belonging to divisions that had three armor regiments had 52 tanks divided among three four-platoon squadrons. A squadron is the equivalent of a US company.

Page last modified: 01-05-2019 18:51:26 Zulu