The ASCOD Medium Main Battle Tank Option for the Philippine Army

The Philippine Army through its Mechanized Infantry/Armored Division aspires to have more reputable armor which packs enough firepower that pulverizes targets as a complementary force that joins along with the ground infantry troops in conducting a military operation. It is well known that this division already obtains a handful of armored personnel carriers in its inventory especially with the ones fitted with sophisticated weaponry, it may be said that having these assets is not enough, opting for dedicated armor with higher caliber needed for operations that need the extra firepower.

Pitz Defense Analysis Note: There are two categories for the Philippine Army's Light Tank Acquisition Project which are notably the tracked light tanks and the wheeled tank destroyers which are both being considered for purchase with interesting companies participated in both of these categories under the single project. This discussion only covers the tracked light tank portion of the acquisition process whilst the discussion for the wheeled tank destroyer category will be provided in a separate, future blog article here on this website. So, better stay tuned and check this website from time to time for updates.

Addendum: The Mechanized Infantry Division is now renamed as the Armored Division. For more details, kindly check this thread from our Facebook page here.

Its subsystems attribute to its potential preferred asset for the
Philippine Army that spans past partnerships and other policies
applied beforehand.
(c) Nicholas Drummond @ Twitter.
It is well known for the several years that the Philippine Army is in itself opting for newer platforms especially with regards to Light Tanks that the service branch is opting for procurement, coming with an idea with increased firepower than the existing Infantry Fighting Vehicles that the service branch is currently obtaining.

The plans of purchasing light tanks are one of the efforts of the Philippine Army in modernizing further its organization as part of its plans and organizational timeline known as the Philippine Army Transformation Roadmap 2028 that makes it a fully-capable land force which augments its fellow service branches within the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

It is worth mentioning the history of the Philippine Army's Mechanized Infantry/Armored Division where it operates a range of tanks back then such as the Renault FT Tank during the Commonwealth Period, the M-41 Walker Bulldog Tank in the 1950s, and on the recent history, the FV-101 Scorpion Light Tank which is still in service. Currently, the Mechanized Infantry/Armored Division, aside from the FV-101 light tank consists primarily of Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) which comes in numbers in its fleet. The Armored Personnel Carrier fleet consists of GKN Simba wheeled vehicles which were produced by a manufacturer that is now part of BAE Systems based in the United Kingdom, V-150 Cadillac Gage Commando which complements the GKN Simba as both shares the attribute of being a wheeled vehicle, and the M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers with several units within the Philippine Army upgraded with latest remote-controlled weaponry such as the ORCWS or Overhead Remote Controlled Weapons System, courtesy of Elbit Systems itself.

While most of these armored vehicles saw action multiple times in conflicts like the Zamboanga Siege that started on September 9, 2013, which ended almost a month later on September 27, and the ever-devastating Marawi Siege that started on May 23, 2017, where it lasted for almost 5 months, ended in the 23rd of October the same year.

These conflicts are an influencing factor for purchasing light tanks wherein obtaining them may provide a decisive factor in eliminating the targets on a shorter period, especially given that urban combat requires having such tools that can blast enemy fortifications in the middle of combat while providing the protection and support to the ground troops that augments with it, which have come together to achieve the objective of the whole duration of the conflict.

This is the Kaplan Harimau Hitam Tank in which Indonesia and Turkey
are developing. It was the darling of the crowd at one point until
there is something that involves a component which makes it a
non-preferrable candidate. 
Approximately a year ago before the publishing of this article, foreign defense outlets such as IHS Jane's and Defense Blog were reporting over the Philippine interest, that goes alongside those of Bangladesh, over this certain tank developed jointly by two defense industries spanning two countries which aims that they may finally produce their respective indigenously-made tanks which will benefit their respective defense-oriented relationships and each country's defense industries.

The said tank referring here is the Kaplan Modern Medium-Weight Tank which is jointly-produced by Turkey's FNSS Savunma Sistemleri A.Ş and Indonesia's PT Pindad. Both of which are both of the country's respective defense industries which specializes in providing their respective armed forces the tools needed for providing defense and enforcing national security of their territories. The Kaplan, known in Indonesia as the Harimau Hitam is the latest iteration from this joint defense venture.

Back then, this tank jointly developed and produced by both countries really is something that the Philippine Army opted for its requirements for a Light Tank given that it is done by both countries which already have nice deals with the country such as in the case of Turkey over the currently-materializing T-129 ATAK Helicopters for its Attack Helicopter deal and Indonesia's deal with the Philippine Navy regarding the Tarlac-class Landing Platform Docks which were delivered and has served the fleet on its utmost performance and utilization.

However, as the period passes by from the first reports provided by cited foreign defense outlets down to this time as per posting, this tank is slowly becoming unfavorable for the Philippine Army given these reasons:

- Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia implemented a strict arms control for export which in itself poses the obstacle in obtaining military weapons and components which have originated in this region. CMI Defense, the one that produces the Cockerill turrets for the Kaplan are one of those components that may affect hardly in the decision making which makes this option undesirable. See related article here.

- Both countries don't have such tanks in active service as of current posting which will not be eligible to the AFP's requirement of procuring assets based on its service from the country of origin or on two different countries that obtains it.

Hence, it simply shows that this gets to be unfavorable for the country to obtain as these provided reasons already suffice the justification that the possibility of obtaining such asset jointly-developed by Indonesia and Turkey gets more remote as the time passes by, which in itself was a far cry from what foreign defense outlets reported a year ago on Philippine's desires of having it within the Philippine Army fleet of armored vehicles. 

This renders the shift of possibility of obtaining a military asset from one form of tank produced by a joint venture to another form of a light/medium tank where this time, its subcomponents are not subjected to a certain strict arms exports from a certain region and are also produced by a joint venture with one of the partners already obtaining the experience dealing with the Philippine Army where it provided the tools for its existing fleet of armored vehicles.

ASCOD - Austrian-Spanish Cooperation Development (PRIMER)
Depicted in the image is the Austrian ASCOD-2 (locally known as ULAN) Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
Spain and the United Kingdom (AJAX) also obtains such a unit.
From Wikimedia Commons.
Known in Austria as the ULAN, in the United Kingdom as the AJAX, and in Spain as the Pizarro, the ASCOD in itself is a family of track-based armored vehicles which is originally joint-developed by both Spain's General Dynamics Santa Bárbara Sistemas and Austria's Steyr-Daimler-Puch Spezialfahrzeug AG & Co AG (hence its name referring to the countries that both of the companies were based). 

At the current date, both of these companies are under the helm of US-based General Dynamics defense company, through its European arm (known as General Dynamics European Land Systems - GDELS) which is currently based in Madrid, Spain.

The first prototype of the ASCOD was developed and completed in 1990 wherein the Austrians provided the gun turrets of the tracked vehicle while the Spanish dealing with the systems integration and assembly of components.

Two prototypes were built through the mid-1990s with the last one provided the basis for the Spanish Pizarro variant of this type of armored vehicle. It was in the year 1996 that orders started pouring in when the Spanish Armed Forces opted for their procurement of the Pizarro Infantry Fighting Vehicles, coming at an order of 123 units of such a vehicle in infantry fighting vehicle composition plus 23 more where it was configured for command and control. It is followed by another order of 106 more vehicles in its infantry fighting vehicle composition plus 37 support vehicles for the Spanish Armed Forces. 80 more units purchased in 2008 with 112 Ulan vehicles for Austria followed thereafter. 

Following Spain and Austria which are the two originators in the development of this project, the United Kingdom through the General Dynamics arm in the country help developed its own Infantry Fighting Vehicle which is itself derived from the ASCOD. This is Scout SV (Specialist Vehicle) which later on will be known more with its current name, AJAX.

The British AJAX is known to be an improvement over the original ASCOD design which incorporates several improvements that comes with it where the subcomponents that consist of the British variant of the ASCOD comprises a sophisticated array of armaments and accessories which will be discussed thoroughly as we get along this article.

There are recent developments regarding the latest iterations of the ASCOD now getting introduced such as the ASCOD Medium Main Battle Tank where it was unveiled by General Dynamics European Land Systems (GDELS) in Eurosatory 2018 which was held in Paris, France.

This is the British Royal Army's AJAX Scout SV. While it was derived from
ASCOD, it incorporates many improvements.
Image Source.
It is worth understanding in detail regarding the specifications of both the Austrian-Spanish developed ASCOD and the British-enhanced AJAX wherein it provides an idea so as with regards to its capabilities which is for its respective users to obtain and utilize currently.

Configured as Infantry Fighting Vehicles, the ASCOD which was developed in the mid-80s through the mid-90s is continuously getting improved by General Dynamics from time to time wherein General Dynamics European Land Systems introduced a second generation in 2004 which is more technologically-improved than its 90s-era predecessor. The said vehicle is known more as the ASCOD 2.

Before delving into the details about the more-improved ASCOD 2, let us take note that the first generation of ASCOD comes with Austria's Ulan and Spain's Pizarro which in itself comes with different specifications and configurations as specified on what Spain and Austria see as desired components fitted on their respective ASCOD vehicles as based on their needs. Hence, it is better tackling these countries' respective ASCOD infantry fighting vehicles which comes with their own way of providing these assets' subcomponents.

The Spanish Pizarro
The Pizarro's Specifications. Click to enlarge. Source.
As mentioned along in this lengthy article (and on this reference), Spain ordered 146 units of its ASCOD-Pizarro infantry fighting vehicle on its first batch while it added 143 more units on its second batch and 80 more on the third batch. The period of delivery for these units spanned at more than a decade, starting from 1996 all the way to the 21st century with the recent units delivered in 2013.

The Spanish see this as a replacement of its stock of U.S.-produced M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers which may be seen as an ideal matter on Spain's approach of modernizing its armored fleet further while giving the boost on its local defense industry by ramping up orders for these units which helps the local economy where resources are being circulated within the country as well as providing workers to the locals.

Also, this comes as a flexible complement to the Spanish Army's already-serviceable German-made Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank which serves as primary armored weaponry within the Spanish Armed Forces wherein obtaining both of these military land armored platforms provide Spain its high and low mix of assets that provides support to its ground troops, with the ASCOD-Pizarro doing a job similar to that of an M-113 APC which is to carry troops while having a turret that provides firepower against its targets.

This Spanish approach is seen as a nice way of improving its fleet composition as compared to the Philippine Army's also nice way of updating its M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers with the help of Israel. Nevertheless, both armored vehicles are capable of their own worth and it's only that these units fit their respective requirements that their countries needed for operating and maintaining such a type of unit.

The Austrian ULAN
The ULAN's Specifications. Click to Enlarge. Source.
Additional details: 
- Armament: One automatic gun 30 mm, and one 7.62 mm machine gun. (reference)
- Entered Service in the year 2002.
- Accessories: Digital firing control system, Periscope day sight with integrated episcope, night vision system. (reference)

Compared to the Spanish order of its ASCOD variant named Pizarro, the Austrians meanwhile ordered 112 units covering its delivery period from 2002 to 2005. While the number of units ordered by the Austrians is lower than what the Spanish procured for its Army Mechanized units, these ULAN infantry fighting vehicles bear a more powerful 805-horsepower MTU V8 199 T21 diesel engine as compared to the 600-horsepower MTU SV-183 TE22 diesel engine.

Other than the engine, most of the specifications are closely similar to those of the Spanish Pizarros which goes in line to the collaborative development between two countries which help bearing fruit in the form of these ASCOD Infantry Fighting Vehicles with different names bearing for both the Spanish and the Austrian sides of the joint developmental venture. *

These infantry fighting vehicles serving two nations which are both the country of origin for the development and production of these platforms are qualified and within the requirements of the AFP Procurement where these provisions are needed. Hence, it will not be much of a problem given that a medium main battle tank variant of the ASCOD gets into the roster of candidates for the tracked category of the Philippine Army Light Tank Acquisition Project. 

While the Spanish Pizarro and the Austrian ULAN embodies the first variants of the ASCOD being produced to service both countries' active and serviceable Armed Forces, it will be nicer to provide more knowledge about the developments that come with its design to the later date, especially to the second generation of such an armored vehicle like the ASCOD 2 and the British variant aforementioned which is the AJAX.

The British AJAX (Scout SV or Service Vehicle)
The Scout SV or AJAX's Specifications. Click to Enlarge. Source.
Additional information:
- Accessories: Laser warning system, panoramic sight, electronic countermeasure system, auxiliary power unit, fire detection system, digital fire control system, automatic video tracker, mobile camouflage system, and NBC detection system. (reference)

As discussed throughout this article, it is worthy to be said that the British AJAX / Scout SV Infantry Fighting Vehicle is in itself a more sophisticated vehicle than its peers in service within both Austrian and Spanish Armies.

The servicing for the vehicle in the United Kingdom will be provided by another General Dynamics branch in Europe other than the GDELS is the General Dynamics United Kingdom Limited (GDUK Ltd) wherein the deliveries started to pour in the British Royal Army just recently on the year 2017 with the timeline provided to equip a squadron within this year.

These units will get deployed by the year 2020, where there are orders of 589 units of Ajax belonging to different roles, will be entering the British Royal Army for the succeeding years. To specify these things up, there will be 245 Ajax (Scout SV), 93 Ares, 112 Athena, 50 Apollo, 38 Atlas, and 51 Argus (all fell under the AJAX family which each have its own roles either as a combatant as the Scout SV or a support vehicle such as the Argus, Apollo, and Atlas. *

Lastly, we will be tackling the details about the second generation of the ASCOD infantry fighting vehicle which in itself is introduced as an improvement over the first generation of ASCODs delivered for both Austria and Spain aside from the more-improved AJAX Scout SV designed for the British Armed Forces market.

ASCOD 2's Specifications. Click to enlarge. Source.
If we are to observe closely regarding the specifications provided for the ASCOD 2, it strikingly resembles more of the Austrian Army's ULAN Infantry Fighting Vehicle given that it sported a similar type of engine while sharing similar dimensions. 

Take note that this version, like the ULAN, is larger than the Spanish Pizarro variants in terms of tonnage (30t vs 26.3t), length (7.6m vs 6.83m), width (3.4m vs 3.15m), and height (2.5m ~ 2.8m vs. 2.6m) respectively.

The Czech Armed Forces are opting for this platform for their infantry fighting vehicle procurement tender where, if they have things materialized, will be the fourth (4th) user of the ASCOD family of armored vehicles after primary developers Spain and Austria followed by the British with their own AJAX variant.

Like the ASCOD MMBT, the ASCOD 2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle is also featured in the French Eurosatory 2018 where unlike its predecessor, it is likely to be fitted by the Elbit UT30MK2 remote-controlled turret, which in itself is an improved variant over the UT-25 remote-controlled turrets that the Philippine Army obtains onboard its upgraded M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers. *

With the partnership having between General Dynamics European Land Systems and the Israeli Defense Industry which is Elbit, things may go as much as interesting for the Philippine Army to have given that they already have the experience dealing and transacting with this Israeli company which goes with its fellow peers that also have deals with the other service branches of the Armed Forces such as the RAFAEL providing SPIKE-ER and NLOS for the Philippine Navy to use or the IAI Elta in its participation for the Philippine Air Force's FA-50PH upgrade.

Now, with the different variants and the developments regarding the respective ASCOD family of armored vehicles now discussed, we will be proceeding on what will be the light/medium tank variant which in itself is a proponent of the Philippine Army's Light Tank Acquisition Project.

Two variants of ASCOD - The Medium Main Battle Tank or MMBT (left) and the
ASCOD 2 Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV, right).
Image Source.
First introduced and disclosed for the public to see by General Dynamics European Land Systems in the French defense expedition Eurosatory 2018, the 42-ton ASCOD Medium Main Battle Tank is the company's recent addition of a variant which consists the larger ASCOD family of Armored Vehicles.

It's weight, as provided herein is heavier than its infantry fighting vehicles which come at no surprise given that such an armored vehicle is utilized for increased combative firepower over the personnel fighting-capable ones wherein a medium tank is keen to provide support in pulverizing targets that are fortified in buildings alongside the fighting ground troops which it is additionally augmented by both artillery and air support.

Its main weapon is the HITFACT 120mm turret provided by the Italian company Leonardo Defense Systems. It is worth taking note that it is through this company that the Armed Forces of the Philippines obtain a handful of military assets such as the Leonardo AW-109 Light Attack Helicopters of the Philippine Air Force, the AW-159 Antisubmarine Helicopter for the Philippine Navy, and also the 76mm Oto Melara guns fitted onboard its key warships.

This being said, it will be through this company once again, along with GDELS that the Philippines will have the chance to obtain this unit once proceed as it obtains the privileges of having a sale of such product without any arms export restrictions which render the CMI Cockerill-based main weapons out of the picture. Let us take note in this manner that the Philippine Army is seeking for a light tank with a 105mm turret in which Leonardo also having a HITFACT turret for such type of caliber, a thing that other tanks such as the FNSS-PT Pindad Kaplan obtain through the sanctioned CMI Cockerill-produced gun which may have provided the inputs in terms of the size of the gun caliber as part of the requirement. Both of these products are proponents of this project of the Philippine Army.

This product is by far the most preferred armored platform under this Philippine Army project because the other proponents are either having their products fitted by a subcomponent which is sanctioned by a certain Belgian province such as the CMI Defense with its Cockerill gun or to shortcomings on its eligibility regarding the number of active users in service as a measurement for a product to qualify, something that we already mentioned to why the Kaplan light tank gets less of a consideration.

Aside from the gun turret and the tonnage that this medium tank have, the details is just as similar to the specifications for the GDELS ASCOD 2 provided through this writeup, only that it also comes with the improved infantry fighting vehicle capability with weapons fit provided by Elbit, just as provided.

Additional details  regarding the Light/Medium Tank variant of the GDELS ASCOD 2 will be listed as follows:
- Main Gun: 105/120mm Leonardo Defense Systems HITFACT gun turret.
- Auxillary Gun: 7.62mm gun caliber (type still unspecified). Reference

The Spanish Navy warship Mendez Nunez in the Philippines.
GDELS, the one that produces the ASCOD IFV, is based in
Madrid, Spain.
Image courtesy from the Philippine Navy.
Both the Philippines and Spain's relationship gets enhanced further where there gets a chance for a better defense relationship between these two nations that shared four centuries of vibrant and not-so-vibrant history wherein the Spanish transformed the foundation which helps unite the country where it was eventually getting its independence in 1898 with the help of the United States.

While there is a bit of bitterness regarding the Spanish and some aspects during the colonial period, the improvement of the relationship between the colonizer and the colonized means that time goes for healing wounds and instead get things into track once again. 

Just recently, a Spanish Navy ship Alvaro de Bazan-class Frigate Mendez Nunez (F-104) visited the Philippines through Manila then, to Baler, Aurora where it is considered the first Spanish Frigate to visit the country since the Philippines' full independence against its overlord after Spain which is the United States in 1946. 

It signifies the relationship between countries wherein it is worthy of taking more notes regarding this Medium Main Battle Tank Option given that the main headquarters of General Dynamics European Land Systems is situated in Madrid, Spain in which on this way we see things mean a significant boost on the deal if it gets traction along the way with a military asset such as the ASCOD MMBT may get itself being a preferred platform.

Let it be known that it is through Spain that the Armed Forces of the Philippines, through the Philippine Air Force obtain the C-295 Medium-Lift Aircraft as it was provided by Airbus' subsidiary Construcciones Aeronáuticas SA or CASA wherein the service branch currently obtains three of these cargo aircraft that helps to carry necessary supplies, troops, and equipment which augments the Air Force's larger C-130 aircraft.

A nice indicator with regards to these things involving this medium tank option and the end-user is the Philippine Army representatives' recent visit to Spain in which it comes with the potential of increasing defense ties between two nations, something that may get emphasized whereupon materialization, the ASCOD MMBT may serve as a nice token between two nations if this asset gets the full consideration although it is seen as the preferred platform given the explanations we provide throughout this article.

From here, it is interesting to see regarding the continuous improvement of the relationship between Spain and the Philippines wherein aside from sharing of cultures and historical attributes, both nations may finally set aside some heartfelt feelings in the past and to move forward in cooperation and reconciliation where in this relation it may provide a factor on the outcome of the Light Tank Acquisition Project especially if it finally prefers the ASCOD MMBT as the preferred platform under this program.

The two variants that composed the ASCOD 2 family of armored vehicles.
Image Source.
Throughout the history of the Mechanized Infantry Division (which is now called the Armored Division), it obtains a handful of light tanks which it provides armored protection for the troops and crew on board that ensures their survivability while getting into combat and get prepared on achieving an objective which at usual cases involves eliminating a key target that poses danger to the country, its sovereignty and the safety of its citizenry.

It is by this division that the Philippine Army aspires to have its own light tank wherein it aims to augment its fleet of Armored Personnel Carrier of various types - wheeled and tracked ones with the aims of providing the necessary support of firepower especially when it comes in companion with the foot soldiers on the ground.

While there are upgrades incorporated in several of these Armored Personnel Carriers, its firepower at some circumstances is still insufficient especially on the lessons learned in recent conflicts that involved urban combat like those in Marawi City two years ago in 2017. With the Light Tank Acquisition Project of the Philippine Army, it attains to have it better for such a platform to be procured where it benefits the troops in both armor and weaponry it possesses that provides an overall factor in a battle.

At once, a certain light tank developed by both Turkey and Indonesia was once considered, only to face potential disqualification which points to two factors regarding its eligibility in active operations of at least two countries and its subcomponents subject on arms sales restrictions imposed by a certain province that such company situated.

This renders this tank, the ASCOD MMBT to be seen as a preferred tank option wherein this candidate may have a chance especially with the warming of relations between the Philippines and Spain in which its manufacturer's headquarters is currently situated. That being said, it is nice to see this platform, based on a design developed three to four decades ago see in action within the service branch if this is to be considered by the end-user after its specifications and prerequisites are satisfied. What remains to be seen now as to whether this option gets through or not, and as well to witness an ever-resurgence of the Philippine Army's Armored Division to greater heights by having such a platform aiding them to their purpose and their mandated duties and responsibilities within the organization. 


Anonymous said...

Kaplan is not designed for armor engagement, its designed for fire support. Kaplan is good but ASCOD 2 is way better since its flexible for future upgrades
note: 120mm smoothbore gun (which is an awesome gun) on modern armor to armor engagement is not enough so what do we expect for 105mm, I’m not saying its bad Im just saying that we need to be ready for the future. I know army will use ASCOD 2 and The wheeled AFV for fire support but we need more punch and crisp on our arsenal to deal with this changing environment

Good luck to Mechdiv and to AFP Mabuhay!

Medium Tank Fanboy said...

Let us wish all the best for the Philippine Army and its decision makers to do what is necessary for the country and its citizen's best interest.


Unknown said...

Hope the army and marines get this tank. Its long overdue.

jofeliciano said...

We need all these plaforms so that we will be properly prepared for internal or external conflict . You know what I mean?

Felipe07 said...

Ascod 2 mmbt is much better for firing fortified defenses. Terrorists hide inside buildings which is hard to penetrate with the current tanks and equipment. The only problem is some of our bridges cannot withstand such heavy vehicle.

Anonymous said...

105mm is enough, going 120mm might just be overkill for a fairly light tank

Anonymous said...

I doubt a ~25 tonned vehicle would break bridges just from sheer weight

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