Sunday, 31 August 2014

The 8x8 vs tracked debate

So what have I been up to this week? Learning to drive a counter balance forklift as it happens, or as it's otherwise known "using people to cover things that they're not paid for in order to save on extra staffing costs"

And funnily enough this week I want to stick with the theme of wheels by touching on the 8x8 vs tracked debate. If you really want you can type that phrase into google and watch the next week of your life disappear before your eyes reading countless debates on the subject. 

I've already done this however, so to save time for those who don't fancy reading through it all, or don't have the time to do so, here's the conclusion I've come to; 8x8 wheeled armoured vehicles are probably one of the most pointless fads in the history of warfare.

The obsession over wheeled armour seems to have started with the intervention in Kosovo and the fabled rush to Pristina Airport, with the Russians getting their first in their wheeled vehicles. Where did it develop from there? Err, that's just the point, nobody seems to know for certain. Someone how that, along with an obsession over air transportable vehicles led to the spate of 8x8 wheeled armoured vehicles. You'll struggle to find a more concrete reason why.

And the problem I have with the 8x8 IFV concept is simple; it represents the worst traits of several vehicles all rolled into one.

The main argument often thrown up by the 8x8 supporters is that because it can drive on its roads wheels over long distances it's great for interventions like those in Kosovo, Bosnia and elsewhere. Africa is often a name thrown up at this point, and the recent events in Mali being used as an example.

But the fundamental problem with that argument is that the 8x8 IFV is probably the second worst choice for such a scenario, just slightly ahead of tracked IFVs. If it's a peacekeeping intervention you're involved with and you want to get somewhere quickly then there are many better options on the table.

In the UK for example we have vehicles like Mastiff and Foxhound. Lighter and smaller, they're easier to transport by aircraft if needs be. They're faster on roads, easier to maintain and supply, and they cost a lot less. Not least because we now have them in the inventory.

"But what if you need something with a bit more punch and a bit more protection?"

Well, ok. Rattle me off some scenarios where heavy machine guns and automatic grenade launchers are too small, but a 25-30mm cannon is just right, but where the need for armoured protection is slightly more than that of vehicles like Foxhound, but not quite enough to require a tank?


I suspect you've just had a very long think and come up with some fantastically obscure and unrealistic situation. Or, like me, you haven't thought of one at all.

"Ah well, a Foxhound or Mastiff can't fight alongside tanks like an 8x8 IFV!"

Except that 8x8 IFVs have so far demonstrated appalling off road performance, especially when fully laden with a turret and additional armour. They can often be squeezed and nudged and coaxed (just about) around most off road courses, but there's a significant difference between doing that on a closed course where time is largely irrelevant vs trying to do that in a fluid battlespace, under fire, and/or chasing behind tanks as they roll inexorably forward across almost any ground towards the enemy.

Under those circumstances I think you'd be hard pressed to find a sane person that would take an 8x8 wheeled vehicle over a tracked IFV.

And there is the problem in a nutshell right there. The 8x8 is neither fish nor fowl. It's inferior to vehicles like the Foxhound in the lower risk, peacekeeping/intervention style campaigns. And it's inferior to tracked IFVs in the high intensity, traditional "warfighting" roles. It can do both jobs at a push, but is the poor choice for both. In particular the arena in which it outperforms the tracked IFV is the one that is the least critical and the (slightly) less dangerous, while the arena in which the tracked IFV excels is the more demanding, more dangerous, more critical one.

There really is no argument I can see to support the 8x8. It's a solution looking for a problem, not the answer to one.


  1. Torn over wheels and tracks debate because each has advantages and disadvantages - although a fan of tracks, wheels probably best for operational/Theatre mobility. I came across this article a long time ago now but I have always liked its light/heavy division; interestingly the light wheeled armour suggested is not 8x8...

    1. @ Gareth,

      The problem with the mobility question is that if it's a full blown conventional campaign then you need tanks. Which means they will dictate the pace anyway. And if it's not, then smaller wheeled vehicles like Foxhound and Mastiff should suffice.

      The 8x8 seems to be lost in a vehicular no-mans land.

  2. Gareth
    "Wheels" have advantages, but do 40t+ 16 wheel vehicles have those advantages?

    I get the "strategic mobility", but its a red herring.
    ONLY of relevance for Kosovo.
    NATO 8x8s could be be road mobile from West Germany to Eastern Ukraine, but then what?
    Russian tanks would kill Boxers for fun. 40mm GMG against 120mm cannon....
    Its not just getting there, you have to do something when you get there.

    But by the same argument, the Boxer couldnt complete the (old) Dakar rally, it *is* road mobile. Once the road network degrade slightly, its immobile.

    You cant have a 30t off road wheeled vehicle, (except gravel, which is a road of sorts) thats why we designed tanks in the first place.

    If you want off road in Africa, its tracks or Supacat Jackals.

  3. @ TrT - That's the conclusion of the link in my post. It suggests a heavy/light mix - heavy tracks and a light weight armoured 4x4 (Max 9 tons). It does however suggest that to retain terrain agility and relatively decent armour protection the vehicle should only carry 4-6 people.