What weighs 28 tons, has the firing range of 1000km, a top speed of 150kph and can withstand the blast of a TM46 anti-tank mine? The answer to that Jeopardy question is a vehicle that exemplifies the next generation of ground combat -- a tough vehicle capable of aggressive seek-and-destroy missions, but with flexibility and top-notch mobility. Make room for the South African National Defense Force’s (SANDF) Rooikat.
During the 1960’s and most of the 1970’s, the Eland Mk7s and Mk9s were one of the SANDF’s preferred means of reconnaissance. The Elands were light, armoured cars with 4x4 wheel-drive. The vehicles offered South Africans exceptional mobility and came in two firing variations: with a 90 mm quick-firing low pressure gun, or with a 60 mm breech loading mortar.
Then came 1978.
Angola was fighting a Civil War and South Africa was compelled to participate. Facing guerillia combat, the 16-year old Elands began to struggle, having neither the heavy armor nor firepower required to conduct seek-and-destroy operations. South Africa needed a middle-ground vehicle: a wheeled armored fighting vehicle that was not as cumbersome or slow as the tank, but had the tank’s long-range firepower.
Enter the Rooikat.
A 28-ton monster: the Rooikat
Nasty as a Lynx
Named after the South African lynx, the Rooikat is as ferocious as its namesake. The Rooikat has been in operation since 1980, replacing the Eland as South Africa’s high mobility combat operations vehicle. The vehicle carries a crew of four -- commander, gunner, loader and driver - and is designed for high mobility day and nighttime combat operations. Specifically, the Rooikat is responsible for combat reconnaissance and area security.
Designed as an 8-wheeled, diesel powered, armored car, the Rooikat was originally armed with a 76mm rifled gun and 48 rounds of ammunition. By 1994, the Rooikat was ready for a makeover. Along with the 76mm gun, the Rooikat is now fitted with the GT7 105 mm anti-tank gun capable of firing the full range of standard NATO full-pressure 105 mm ammunition including Generation I, II and III rounds, firing 6 rounds per minute. Not bad artillery for such a mobile vehicle. In contrast, a Stryker carries the same main gun, but with a top speed of around 70 mph and a range of around 300 miles.
The Rooikat now also comes equipped with two 7.62mm machine guns: one coaxially mounted and slaved to the fire control system (3,600 rounds of ammunition), one in the TC’s station for air defense and general purpose.
To protect itself, the Rooikat fields numerous defensive features. To start, it boasts two 81mm smoke grenade launchers. The grenades allow the Rooikat to form a dense protective smoke screen when needed. Second, the Rooikat’s armor can withstand the blast of a TM46 anti-tank mine, providing full protection to the four-man crew inside. Third, to combat 24mm ammunition, the Rooikat provides ballistic protection over its frontal arc. It won’t be mistaken for a tank anytime soon, but it does provide decent defense against the ever-present threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Moreover, as a wheeled vehicle, the Rooikat eight wheel configuration allows the vehicle to maintain mobility even after the loss of any wheel. Lose a wheel to a land mine? No problem. The Rooikat can run on 6 of its 8 wheels. What if the wheels lose pressure? Again, no problem. The vehicle is equipped with run-flat inserts, which allow mobility after the loss of pressure in all eight wheels.
Inside the cabin, a collective overpressure and air filter system protect the crew against chemical and biological attack -- not a bad thing to defend against these days!
Today, the Rooikat is an export product. When the Rooikat was being redesigned, rebuilt in the early 90s, exportation was kept in mind. The modular system construction the Rooikat employs allows for nation-specific component swap out. US components include the Force XXI Battle Command, Brigade-and-Below (FBCB2) information management system. This system allows the vehicle to "link" up with other vehicles similarly equipped, creating a "digital battlefield" communications system. In addition, the AN/PSN-11 PLGR precision GPS receiver could be installed to provide positional information.
Overall, the Rooikat is an impressive display of power and mobility. So, just remember, if you’re ever asked if a vehicle weighing 28 tons, with a range of 1000km, a top speed of 150kph, and enough armor to withstand the blast of a TM46 anti-tank mine exists, you can simply respond, “The Rooikat, of course.”