Ratel 20

Crew 3 + 9 Infantry
Main Armament 1 × 20mm dual feed cannon
Secondary Armament 1 × 7.62mm co-axial MG
1 × 7.62mm GPMG in AA mount on rear of vehicle
4 81mm smoke grenade launchers
Ammunition 1200 20mm rounds
6000 rounds 7.62mm
Combat Mass 18.5ton
Hull length 7.21m
Width 2.7m
Height 2.395m
Engine 12 litre six cylinder in line turbo diesel
Power output 230kW
Fuel 480litres
Road Speed 105km/h
Off Road Speed 30km/h
Road Range 1000km
Off Road Range 600km
Gradient 27º
Step 0.6m
Trench 1.15m
Ford 1.2m


One of the first true wheeled infantry fighting vehicles ever to be produced this vehicle and its variants served for more than 25 years as the backbone of the South African Army’s Mechanised Infantry units. The Ratel was the product of a project to develop an infantry fighting vehicle for the South African army to replace the ageing Saracen APC in use at this stage. Various prototypes were trailed but in the end the Ratel was chosen (although it was almost discarded due to the Army’s insistence to keep the cost of the vehicle below R60 000) and the first prototype rolled of the production line in July 1974.

The Ratel is truly a pioneer vehicle developed specifically for the South African Army’s unique style of operation. The Ratel has an extremely long range and excellent cross country ability in response to the long distances and rough terrain armies are expected to travel over in Africa. Apart from this the vehicle is also fitted with water tanks and carries large amount of ammunition for extended operations away from base areas.

As a fighting vehicle the Ratel offers excellent all round visibility to all the occupants. The Ratel was the first IFV to have a proper commander’s cupola fitted providing all round vision as well as individual sight blocks for each member of the infantry section. The armament of the vehicle is also impressive being fitted with a dual feed F2 20mm gun which allows the gunner to switch between armour piercing or high explosive ammunition in a moment. Further more the back to back seating of the infantry section and the provision of sight blocks and gun ports allows the section to fight from within the vehicle.

Armour protection is limited to shell splinters and 7.62mm armour piercing rounds all round. By modern standards this is not adequate however sufficient in most cases. One other unique feature is the provision of a mine protected hull. This feature is standard on many South African vehicles and was a prerequisite during the Border War.

The Ratel also proved to be highly adaptable. It was one of the first infantry fighting vehicles designs which proved to be truly modular. Since the appearance of the basic version in 1974 at least nine other versions have been developed of which no less than eight currently are in use. The only variant which did not go into production was the Ratel Logistic which proved to be costly for the role it was intended. Another little known variant Ratel is the Armoured Engineering variant which has a mine plough fitted to a standard Ratel. The author has only seen one instance of such a vehicle and does not know whether this was a standard variant or only deployed with certain units.

This vehicle was used in many operations during the 26 year long Border War were the merits of the design were proved time and time again. The vehicle was used over long distances, over terrain that it was never intended to be moved across and against targets it was never intended to face, yet it performed admirably. The troops which so often abused the vehicle still refer to their ‘Kalahari Ferrari” with admiration and fond remembrance.

During the thirty year of its existence the vehicle has been continually updated with the Mk 3 configuration in current use. As a design the Ratel has however become outdated. To this end the South African Army has started a project to replace the remaining 1500 vehicles with a more modern eight wheeled vehicle from Finland. The Ratel will however soldier on in other third world countries were the merits of the design are still applicable.

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