Staff Writer (Updated: 6/1/2016):
South Africa had long held a military and security tradition of procuring various armored wheeled vehicles throughout its history - mostly European in origin. However, when the international community placed an arms embargo upon the country, the South Africa authorities had to look to indigenous solutions in an effort to fulfill growing military requirements. To that end, the South Africans have since become something of experts in the field of wheeled armored vehicles - primarily where land mines are a concern - due to the types of "Bush" conflicts regularly encountered in the region, a place where unconventional warfare has proven the norm.
Vehicles such as the Ratel present various advantages and disadvantages to military warplanners. They are lightly armored, making them agile and fast while also making them more susceptible to land mines, anti-tank weapons (missiles, rifles and cannon). Their wheeled nature allows them access to many terrain types under their own power without the need for dedicated heavy land transports. This also served to promote a rather tall target profile however. Perhaps the single best selling point of such vehicles is their modular nature - a single chassis and hull that allows warplanners the ability to adapt their vehicles to suit operational needs. As such, when armed, the Ratel can offer varying levels of fire support to advancing infantry. Some versions can carry combat-ready personnel to the fight while others can serve as communications between headquarters and other participating vehicles and allied elements. Still others can provide life-saving, on-call smokescreens or suppressive fire.
In its general form the Ratel was of a clean, yet very utilitarian design. The driver was seated at the front center of the hull behind a framed bulletproof screen that also had fold-up armor plates. The crew cabin was situated just aft of the driver's position and - if armed - would contain the turret. The engine was conventionally fitted to a compartment at the left-rear of the vehicle (a passage allowed for maneuvering from the rear to the fighting compartment). The hull of the Ratel was purposely designed with well-sloped surfaces at any angle save for the rear and even included underside hull qualities for the purpose of land mine detonation deflection. The roof was flat while the glacis plate was designed as nearly horizontal. The sides of the hull were slightly sloped to promote basic ballistics protection. The hull sat atop a suspended wheeled chassis that sported six large rubber "run-flat" road wheels, three to a vehicle side with the rear-most two arranged as a close pair. There was a large, hinged rectangular access door to either side of the vehicle hull (aft of the driver's compartment) as well as a rectangular door at the rear hull facing (offset to right as the engine was left) while roof hatches allowed for additional access. If equipped with a turret (manual in its function), there were more hatches available to the crew, principally the turret crew. Side vision ports allowed internal personnel views of the action outside, as well as firing ports designed to engage enemies from the safety of the vehicle interior. A standard operating crew was three personnel made up of the driver, vehicle commander and gunner. Passenger seating (depending on production model) could range from six to nine personnel. Power for the Ratel was supplied by a single Bussing D3256 BTFX 6-cylinder inline turbocharged diesel engine developing 282 horsepower and provided the vehicle with a road speed of 65 miles per hour on ideal surfaces and up to 18 miles per hour on uneven terrain. Operational range was out to 620 miles and the vehicle's operational weight was nearly 42,000lbs. All told, the Ratel was a rugged family of armored vehicles with a strong pedigree based on extensive operating experience in the unforgiving territories of South Africa.