The armored tank-killing vehicle France sent to Ukraine is “weird,” but it’s not a tank
French soldiers in an AMX-10RC in the Surobi district of Afghanistan in September 2010. (Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)
- On January 5, France announced that it would send the AMX-10RC armored vehicle to Ukraine.
- French and Ukrainian officials and others have referred to the AMX-10RC as a “light tank”.
- It’s not really a tank, but it will be a valuable addition to Ukraine’s arsenal.
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France’s decision to send AMX-10RC to Ukraine has led to claims that the West will eventually deliver tanks to Ukraine.
The “tank” vs. “armored vehicle” debate is long and often contested, but the AMX-10RC is typically an armored reconnaissance vehicle, not a tank with large-caliber main guns, reinforced armor, and tracks.
While the symbolism of its delivery to Kiev is significant, it remains to be seen how useful the heavily guarded 1970s-era armored vehicle will be on the battlefield in Ukraine.
that France and Ukraine He described the AMX-10RC as a “light tank”. Despite Ukraine’s pleas, the US and other countries have refused to send front-line tanks such as the M1 Abrams.
This has left Ukraine dependent on a motley collection of Soviet-designed tanks acquired before the war, Russian tanks captured in battle, or refurbished models supplied by countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
A French Foreign Legion AMX-10RC during training at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina in October 2017. (US Marine Corps/Lance Cp. Damarco Bones)
The AMX-10RC is actually a six-wheeled armored vehicle. Designed in the early 1970s and first used by the French military in 1979, it is a 16-ton vehicle that can travel at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour.
Its wheeled design means it can move quickly on smooth roads and terrain and requires less maintenance than a heavy tracked vehicle like the 70-tonne Abrams.
The thin armor of the AMX-10RC protects against small arms and shrapnel, but not against large-caliber tank shells or anti-tank missiles. Although its manufacturer, Giat Industries, offers an additional kit with additional armor and anti-missile measures, the AMX-10RC is better suited to locating the enemy and withdrawing if necessary, rather than firing cannons with main battle tanks.
France operates 245 AMX-10RCs and deployed the vehicle in Operation Desert Storm and counterinsurgency operations in Africa. Morocco, Qatar and Cameroon also operate the AMX-10RC, although the French military is replacing it with the Jaguar, a 23-tonne armored reconnaissance vehicle armed with a 40mm rapid-fire cannon and two anti-tank missiles.
Wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles are not uncommon. For example, Russia still uses the 1960s 6-ton BRDM-2, Japan the 14-ton Type 87, and the US the 18-ton M1127 Stryker reconnaissance variant.
French soldiers shot down an AMX-10RC in the Surobi district of Afghanistan in September 2010. (Joel Saget/AFP via Getty Images)
But what stands out about the AMX-10RC – and perhaps why it’s called a “light tank” or “tank destroyer” – is that it carries a 105mm gun rather than a small cannon or the usual heavy machine gun.
Although smaller than the 120mm high-velocity guns found on main battle tanks, the AMX-10RC’s gun is powerful enough to take out a tank at close range and can be lethal against lighter armored vehicles and infantry.
“The US military has never been very fond of wheeled armored fighting vehicles,” said Stephen Zaloga, author and armored vehicle expert, who compared the AMX-10RC to the US M551 Sheridan and the US Cavalry Fighting Vehicle. Both are retired M3 Bradleys. leading ones.
The AMX-10RC is also similar to the American M1128 Mobile Weapon System, a fire support variant of the wheeled Stryker armed with a 105mm cannon that the US military has decided to field.
According to Olivier Schmitt, a professor at the Center for War Studies at the University of Southern Denmark, the AMX-10RC is “a bit strange”.
“It was designed for reconnaissance and fire support and was the heaviest armored vehicle assigned to the ‘rapid action force’ created by France to cross Germany in response to the Soviet offensive in the 1980s. Schmitt tweeted this week.
French troops returned the AMX-10RC to the ship in Toulon in June 1995. (Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP via Getty Images)
In other words, the AMX-10RC was intended to be part of a light mechanized force rising to rescue NATO forces desperately defending themselves against a Soviet blitzkrieg. This is not the case in Ukraine at the moment. The fighting there became trench warfare with increasing gains rather than broad armored assaults where fast armored reconnaissance vehicles excelled.
Indeed, Ukraine has shown that modern intelligence relies on drones and satellites. Armored vehicles are always vital on the battlefield, but an armored vehicle may have limited use against anti-tank missile squads, attack drones, and smart artillery shells.
Still, the military value of the AMX-10RC is not really in question. What matters is that the West sends armored fighting vehicles.
Immediately after the French announcement, the US announced that it would send M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine, and Germany announced that it would send Marder infantry fighting vehicles to Ukraine. Both vehicles are tracked and heavier than the AMX-10RC, but have smaller main guns, although they also carry anti-tank missiles.
Tank or not, if the AMX-10RC boosts Ukraine’s morale and reminds Russia that heavier Western armor is coming, it’s a valuable weapon.