The Ratel ("Honey Badger") Infantry Fighting Vehicle was a long-running family of 6x6 armored vehicles developed and produced in South Africa. The series was designed around the same wheeled chassis developed to undertake a variety of battlefield roles as required. Design work on the type by Sandock-Austral began in 1968, producing the first prototype in 1974. Quantitative production then began in 1979. For over thirty years, the vehicle has seen extensive service with the armed forces of South Africa, Jordan, Djibouti, Ghana and Morocco. Its long legacy has ensured it a place in South African Army lore though the Ratel is set to be replaced by the more modern Finnish Patria family of modular 8x8 wheeled vehicles. South African armed forces are expected to procure some 264 examples of the newer "Badger" and field it in various battlefield guises, in effect taking the mantel from the Ratel. For its time, the Ratel was one of the best - if not the best - armored wheeled vehicles anywhere in the world. It has since been surpassed by more modern breeds incorporating the latest in battlefield technologies, weaponry and survivability.
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.
Representing a complete family of armored vehicles, the Ratel has been broadly adapted to specific battlefield roles. The original production version was the Ratel 20 which featured a French-based turret emplacement mounting a 20mm cannon. This variant was subsequently improved in two production marks (Mk II and Mk III). The Ratel 60 followed with a traversing turret (reconstituted from Eland 60 series armored cars) and a 60mm mortar for indirect fire support. The similar Ratel 80 made use of an 81mm field mortar but lacked a traversing turret. The Ratel 90 included a 90mm cannon (based on the French GIAT F1) as well as interior room for up to six troops (the latter rarely practiced in operational service). The Ratel 120, as its designation suggested, was a prototype fielding a 120mm mortar - though never accepted for serial production. The Ratel was also produced as a dedicated command vehicle with increased communications facilities and a crew of nine. A turret was retained though armed with only a 1 x 12.7mm heavy machine gun for basic self-defense. The Ratel EAOS (Enhanced Artillery Observation System) was, naturally, an artillery-spotting vehicle. The Ratel ZT3 sported an all-new turret that introduced provision for up to 3 x anti-tank guided missiles with reloads (the ZT-3 missile was featured early, then upgraded to "Leopard" missiles later) but was essentially the same chassis and hull of the Ratel 20 series. A logistical variant existed in two prototype models, interestingly, these being designed with eight-wheel support. Another version was finished as a battlefield workshop intended to supply in-the-field mechanical support.
Beyond its main armament, the Ratel could be fitted with a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun (if equipped with a turret) as well as an additional 1 x 7.62mm general purpose machine gun(s) on the turret roof for countering low-flying aircraft or enemy infantry attempting to assail the vulnerable regions of the vehicle. Another 7.62mm machine gun could be added to the hull roof. For additional self-defense, the Ratel was further equipped with 4 x smoke grenade dischargers, this useful for covering an advance or screening a retreat.
Ratels were effectively fielded by South African warplanners in various regional and local conflicts to which the Ratel family gave good service - especially in the anti-armor, command and infantry support roles. In practice, the Ratels were steady performers, utilizing their array of armaments to good effect even against combat tanks. While not inherently designed to directly counter threats from the then-modern Main Battle Tanks fielded in the region, Ratels equipped with either anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) or 90mm cannons could effectively "knock out" such systems with some skillful maneuvering - this proven in combat actions against Soviet-built tanks during the South African Border War (1966-1989). Of course its own light protection often exposed crews to deadly enemy return fire as armor thickness (up to 20mm) was only really adequate against small arms, artillery "spray" and small-caliber cannons. On today's modern battlefield, however, the Ratel is wholly outclassed against the latest MBTs in service - though the Ratel was never really designed for such direct action to begin with so the comparison is moot.
The Ratel IFV is named after the native "Honey Badger", a fierce, hair-covered carnivore utilizing its agility and imposing claws to good effect. Sandock-Austral is now under the Land Systems OMC defense banner, under ownership of BAE Systems. Some 1,350 Ratels were reportedly produced for both local and export use.