A pictorial of Panhard Crab in an urban scenario. Light, well protected and heavily armed, the new Panhard vehicle is the company answer to the needs of the near future.
The Crab unveiled at Eurosatory 2012 carries a number of very special features and, apart from its 25mm CTI turret which makes it one of the most heavily armed light armoured vehicles, can move sideways like a crab.
This picture shows the three crew members positions in the Panhard Crab and the Thales Vsys-net vetronic system.
Two sets of solar cells are installed over the Crab in order to increase the onboard available power and the batteries endurance when the engine is not running.
As part of the Phase 2 of the Scorpion programme (Synergie du Contact Renforcé par la Polyvalence et l’Infovalorisation) that will bring the French Armée de Terre into a new era, is a light vehicle with peculiar mobility and firepower characteristics known as the VBAE (for Véhicule Blindé d’Aide a l’Engagement). This will not only cover the scout mission needs of heavier vehicles such as the Leclerc main battle tank, but also provide means for cavalrytype missions such as screening, flanking and so on, missions that require both a high level of mobility and sufficient firepower. The role of this new vehicle thus well exceeds that of the VBL (Véhicule Blindé Léger) introduced by Panhard over 25 years ago and which currently provides the “eyes” to French Army armoured formations. Based in Marolles (south of Paris), the firm which incidentally became Panhard General Defense in 2006, unveiled its proposal for the VBAE programme at the last Eurosatory exhibition and named it the Crab (Combat Reconnaissance Armoured Buggy).
In its initial version the Crab will have a three-man crew, the same as the VBL, but similarities end here. First of all its combat weight is nearly thrice that of the original VBL’s, which was set at three tonnes for air-transportability purposes. In the configuration shown at Eurosatory the Crab tipped the scales at 8.5 tonnes, but the automotive components could cope with an inflation to 10 tonnes without impairing mobility (that is a lesson learned from the VBL where the increased combat weight had reduced the original vehicle’s mobility). Mobility is an integral part of the Crab global survivability, which also combines protection and stealthiness.
One of the key elements of mobility is power-to-weight ratio. Currently Panhard is considering two different engines for its Crab, both ensuring a minimum of 35 hp/t for an 8.5 tonne combat weight, which means an output of about 300 hp. Horses can be increased when needed thanks to a 400-Amp starter-alternator that can not only provide an additional shove when needed, but also enable the Crab to silently creep over short distances using the electric energy stored in its batteries (two solar cell panels are installed on the two sides on the rear of the vehicle to assist recharging the batteries in daylight). The Crab’s stealthiness is further increased by the reduced shape of the vehicle, its height being a mere 1.8 metres over the roof. The cabin shape has also been engineered to minimise radar reflection, with angled surfaces contributing to both a lower RCS and a higher protection against ballistic threat.
Turning back to mobility, the Crab has a permanent 4×4 drive, but while both its axles steer they can do so either in opposition to generate a turning circle of less than 10 metres, or in unison, hence heading in the lateral same direction (albeit at a limited angle), to enable the vehicle to “drift” sideways like a crab! Moreover a rear-looking camera and a two-ratio reverse gearbox enable the Panhard vehicle to quickly back away in yet another configuration where only the rear wheels are allowed to steer. As for suspensions, these are derived from those adopted by the Panhard VBR 4×4, which features independent oleo-pneumatic suspensions and adjustable ground clearance (standard ground clearance being set at 450 mm). A noteworthy point is that the Crab adopts tyres of similar dimensions as those of the VBR.
The Crab is built around a citadel hosting the three-man crew, with access through two vertical clamshell doors – the lower clam embedding a step to facilitate ingress and egress given the Crab floor height. Panhard proposes its new vehicle with ballistic protection of between Level 2 and Level 4 to meet customer needs. As for mine protection the company has tested underbelly armour solutions up to Level 3a, although the vehicle has some growth potential also in that field. It is to note that the underbelly does not have the typical deep “V” shape: in the middle the bottom is flat while only the sides are rising, maximum protection being obtained thanks to a triple floor that absorbs most of the energy. Wings (fenders in American) are made of light material, which in the event of a mine detonation will vent out most of the energy and thereby reduce the height at which the Crab would be heaved by the explosion and conversely reduce the subsequent “landing thump”. Energy absorption seats further reduce injury risk for the crew, but nevertheless ensure maximum ergonomics when the Crab moves at high speed over rough terrain.
The driver faces three multifunction colour screens, while commander and gunner have two. To ensure maximum situational awareness the Crab is equipped with a six-camera 360° vision system. The front windscreen is made of three elements and is angled to ensure optimal upward direct visibility, a vital necessity in urban terrain. Thales purposely developed for the Crab an innovative vetronic system (systronic) known as the Vsys-net that improves the overall system performance in terms of mobility, observation, protection and firepower. Based on an open and modular non-proprietary architecture it allows easy interfacing with electronic systems of various origins. The Crab systronic includes a battlefield management system and a radio system that allows its integration into the Scorpion digitised scenario. The Vsys-net allows full rerolling of the three combat positions in order to optimise the workload in the various moments of the mission. Although the commander maintains his prerogative, the hunter-killer function can be redistributed to all three positions. The intercom can also be used by a dismounted crew-member (standard range is around 300 metres but a onekilometre option can be installed on customer demand). The Vsys-net allows to distribute all imagery produced by weapons, on-board sensors and local situational awareness systems to each crew station, while image processing for alert and analysis is also integrated. An ultra-compact inertial and GPS location system provides high accurate geolocation as well as the link to a target designation system, while the availability of terrain profiles increases mobility.
Turning now to its armament, the Crab can host a variety of remotely controlled turrets equipped with weapons up to 30 mm in calibre. The version shown at Eurosatory was equipped with a Cockerill Maintenance & Ingénierie turret armed with a 25mm Bushmaster M242, the overall mount weighing around 800 kg. Although lighter than most Mrap-type vehicles currently in service, the Crab can withstand such a 40 kN recoil level weapon because of its very low centre of gravity, whereas Mraps are limited by their top-heavy configuration that makes them rather unstable. The CMI weapon station has been purposely adapted to the Crab to optimise turret/chassis coupling and has been equipped with a hatch that allows the vehicle commander to have a direct view of the surroundings, which is a French Army requirement. The turret features a stabilised panoramic sight with a 60° elevation (the cannon’s elevation range is -10°/+45°). A dual feed system allows to use two types of ammunition, the overall number being 150 rounds.
An open bottom allows reloading and maintenance operation to be carried out from under armour for maximum crew safety. Guided missiles are another armament choice for the Crab, as well as lighter turrets that include smaller calibre weapons and target designation systems. Due to its low shape and limited dimensions, precise figures were not provided but by rule of thumb the Crab is 5 metres long and 2.5 metres wide. It can be loaded onto a C-130H, a C-130J will take two and a A-400M three, meaning that the latter is able to land a ready-to-operate platoon.
According to company sources the Crab positively impressed the French Army Staff as well as the General Armaments Direction when the vehicle was illustrated to the officials. Its dimensions perfectly match the Army’s requirements, although these are still in the definition stage, a beyond line-of-sight role being envisaged for the VBAE.
When developing the Crab Panhard General Defense did not exclusively eye the domestic market; according to the company there is a market for light vehicles equipped with medium armament since that niche is currently devoid of competitors. Systems such as the Panhard AML and Sagaie or the Engesa Cascavel, as well as light tracked vehicles like the Scorpion do not have successors, therefore their missions could well be taken over by the Crab equipped with adequate weapon systems. Africa, Latin America and the Middle East are the geographical areas where such systems are still currently in service and where the new Panhard vehicle might find its new customers. Besides the technical aspects that make it a considerably flexible system, the Crab features another important marketing plus – its price. A price-oriented rather than a capability-oriented design was followed by Panhard engineers, the company being well aware that Western armies budgets are shrinking while in the rest of the world it often has to compete against wares coming from less developed countries, thus with lower prices. Obviously Panhard is not revealing its figures (the Crab is not yet industrialised anyhow), but it is clear that its aim is to maintain it at more than competitive levels. When the Crab will be available depends very much on when the first customer will materialise, the French Army VBAE programme being still quite away although things might change in relatively short time.