The French concerns of Renault and Panhard submitted designs to fulfill a 1970s French Army requirement for new 4x4 and 6x6 amphibious armored fighting vehicles. While Panhard lost out on the French Army defense contract, the company proceeded to revise its design as a private venture into a whole new line of armored vehicles meant for export. The new product became the "ERC 90" six-wheeled armored vehicle with the primary version mounting a powerful 90mm cannon in a 360-traversing turret. The type's formal name was "Panhard ERC 90" - "ERC" for "Engin de Reconnaissance a Canon de 90mm"). First vehicles were delivered to Argentine marine forces as the "ERC 90 F1" with these fitting a Hispano-Suiza "Lynx" 90mm main gun in the turret - the same as utilized by the Panhard AML four-wheeled armored car series.
The core qualities of the Panhard ERC 90 were its all-terrain value as well as the inherent long-range, hard-hitting main gun offering. The crew of three rode in relative comfort under protection from small arms fire and artillery spray while the vehicle could traverse some unforgiving frontier terrain. Armor protection was 10mm at its thickest (construction of steel) which was something of a detriment for a military vehicle under direct contact. However, the ERC 90 was primarily designed around speed and mobility as primary focuses while in the armed reconnaissance role. Its battlefield value - such as that offered through its 90mm main gun - was therefore a secondary bonus in many cases. The main gun was supplemented by 2 x 7.62mm machine guns for anti-infantry and anti-aircraft defense - the first coaxially-mounted in the turret while the second being an optional installation on the turret roof. The vehicle displaced at 9.15 tons and featured a running length of 25 feet with a width of 8.2 feet and a height of 7.4 feet. The side profile of the ERC 90 was dominated by its six large road wheels to each hull side while the front-most pair were steered under power assistance and mounted noticeable further ahead from the latter pair. The central axle held the capability to be raised from the ground for paved surface driving - this serving to extend the life of the tires when not needed as they primarily assisted in off-road travel. The driver managed steering from a front-left cockpit while the gunner and vehicle commander resided in the powered turret which sported dual roof hatches for entry-exit. Four electrically-actuated smoke grenade dischargers (these mounted in pairs to either turret side) allowed the crew to produce their own smoke screen. NBC protection was offered in an optional package as was passive night vision equipment, a navigation suite and air conditioning.
Power was derived from a Peugeot V6 gasoline-fueled engine developing 155 horsepower at 5,250rpm. This powerplant was a militarized derivative of a civilian-minded model and produced a maximum road speed of 56 miles per hour on ideal surfaces while operational ranges peaked at 454 miles providing the type with good inherent range. The ERC was also designed to be inherently amphibious and could therefore traverse water sources up to 1.2 meters deep without prior modification. With its full amphibious kit in place prior to launch, the ERC became fully amphibious and could cross deeper water sources while being propelled along by its wheels while the optional hydrojets added further propulsion power.
Argentina proceeded to order 36 examples of the French ERC 90 F1 "Lynx" in October of 1979, becoming the first foreign purchaser of the breed. This was followed by the Mexican Army which procured a further 42 examples in 1981. By this time, the French Army became interested in the Panhard design primarily due to the fact that it sought to establish a Fast Deployment Force (FDF) to provide a quick-reacting arm concerning global security issues as related to former colonies. The French Army already managed the similar AMX-10RC 6x6 armored car with its 105mm turreted main gun, however, the type proved incompatible with French Air Force transports of the time. As such, the French Army began evaluation of the ERC 90 in 1978 and this continued into 1980 to which a modified form of the ERC 90 was formally adopted in 1984. The new mark - the ERC 90 F4 "Sagaie" ("Spear") - introduced a GIAT TS 90 series turret mounting a 90mm high-velocity, long-barrel main gun. The major benefit of this installation was its support for an Armor-Piercing Discarding Sabot - Fin Stabilized (APDS-FS) anti-tank projectile which modernized the ERC 90 family against emerging battlefield threats - particularly the ubiquitous Soviet T-72 Main Battle Tank which were appearing in greater numbers all across the world. Comparatively, the original ERC 90 F1 mark was limited to the firing of a High-Explosive, Anti-Tank (HEAT) projectile which, for all intents and purposes, proved a tactical limitation as technology surpassed it. The F4 was stocked with up to 20 x 90mm projectiles and 2,000 x 7.62mm rounds of ammunition supplied the machine guns. Following the French Army as first operators of the F4 mark, the army of Ivory Coast elected to purchase the F4 itself, becoming its first foreign customer.
In practice, the ERC 90 family has proven a successful player since its inception. Additional orders were secured with Ecuador, Gabon and Nigeria, bringing total production to approximately 407 examples. The French Army, by far, has managed the largest stock of ERC 90s through their 192 delivered units. Mexico is second to that with 120 examples followed by Nigeria with 46. The vehicle has proven competent in its armed reconnaissance role and has proven very effective in security details. The French Army has utilized its ERC 90 fleet in Sarajevo and the Ivory Coast while Argentine ERC 90s were used in anger during the 1982 Falklands War against Britain. All ERC 90 production was handled by Societe de Constructions Mecaniques Panhard et Levassor of Paris, France.
Production of ERC 90s is primarily centered around the two base combat models - the ERC 90 F1 "Lynx" (for export) and the ERC 90 F4 "Sagaie" (GIAT TS 90 turret). The family has been broadened to include the EMC 91 fire support vehicle mounting an 81mm mortar to a Hispano-Suiza EMC-style turret as well as a dedicated anti-aircraft vehicle fitting 2 x 20mm autocannons in the ERC 20. The ERC 60-20 is a mix of the EMC 91 and ERC 20 in that it mounts a 60mm mortar with a 20mm autocannon in a Hispano-Suiza 60-20 Serval turret structure. The ERC 90 (Diesel) is a diesel-engined form of the base ERC 90 model for those customers electing a diesel-fueled mount.
The ultimate ERC 90 incarnation is also the last variant available - the ERC 90 "Sagaie 2" - first offered in 1985. The Sagaie 2 brought about use of the SAMM TTB-190 turret atop a longer and wider hull structure (now incorporating 32 to 35 x 90mm projectiles). The original TS-90 90mm high-velocity main gun was retained for its effectiveness while turret armor was improved. The Sagaie 2 also utilized a modern Fire Control System (FCS) and a broader line of optics. Power was derived from 2 x Peugot XD 3T turbocharged diesel engines developing 146 horsepower though 2 x V6 gasoline engines were also offered to discerning customers. All other primary features - 6x6 wheel power, power-assisted front wheels, amphibious support - were all retained. Gabon procured the Sagaie 2 in relatively limited numbers.
To provide a logistically-friendly battlefield solution, the ERC 90 shares many of the same components as the Panhard VCR 6x6 armored personnel carrier (developed concurrently). The APC was first delivered in 1979, produced in a handful of variants and saw some success to foreign orders including 100 to Iraq to which these were showcased in the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s.