The Olifant mk1B main battle tank was developed and produced by the Olifant Manufacturing Company, OMC Engineering, based in South Africa.
Development of the Olifant started in 1976 and first entered service with the South African Armoured Corps in the late 1970s. OMC Engineering later became Reumech OMC, then Vickers OMC and, in September 2002 was renamed Alvis OMC, following the acquisition of Vickers Defence by Alvis plc. In September 2004, Alvis OMC became part of BAE Systems under the name BAE Systems Land Systems South Africa (LSSA).
Denel, a state-owned South African military technology company, acquired 75% interest of BAE Systems LSSA in April 2015. Denel OMC, operating under OMC, provides in-service support to the battle tank.
Olifant main battle tank development
The layout of the Olifant mk1 was very similar to that of the South African Semel tank which was based on an upgraded conversion of the British Centurion tanks. The Olifant has been continually upgraded. The mk1A entered full-scale production in 1983 and the first were in service by 1985. In the same year that the mk1A entered the production phase, development work was started on the mk1B, and these tanks were in production during the 1990s and are operational in the South African Armed Forces.
The South African Army has 172 Olifant mk1A/B main battle tanks in operation. The Olifant 1B entered service in 1991. The upgrades included the installation of a more powerful 105mm L7 cannon, a hand-held laser rangefinder and a first-generation image intensifier. The range of the tank was increased by the installation of a diesel engine and additional fuel tanks.
In September 2003, BAE Systems Land Systems OMC was awarded a contract by Armscor (the South African Department of Defence procurement agency) to upgrade 13 Olifant mk1B tanks. The upgrade programme included a new powerpack from Delkon which increases power by 15%, upgrade of gun and turret drives by Reutech Defence Logistics, new fire control system and target detection and engagement system with thermal imaging capability, both supplied by IST Dynamics. A follow-on contract for a further 13 tanks upgraded to Olifant mk2 standard was awarded in September 2005. The Olifant mk2 entered service in 2007.
The Olifant mk1B main battle tank is armed with the 105mm L7 rifled cannon main gun. The gun on the mk1B is fitted with a thermal sleeve for sustained accuracy in firing. The mk1B carries 68 rounds of 105mm ammunition.
The tank is also fitted with a 7.62mm general purpose co-axial machine gun and a 7.62mm anti-aircraft machine gun.
The driver’s station is equipped with a day and night sight and the gunner’s station is fitted with day and night sights and an integrated laser rangefinder.
The glacis plate and nose of the hull have been upgraded with the addition of passive armour and the turret has been fitted with stand-off armour. The installation of a double-armour floor gives the crew additional protection against mines. The running gear is protected against HEAT missiles by new sideskirts.
A smoke screen can be laid by a fuel injection system in the engine’s exhaust. A fire detection and suppression system improve the level of survivability.
The V-12 air-cooled turbo diesel engine provides 900hp. The tank has been equipped with torsion bar running gear and hydraulic dampers have been fitted to the first and last pair of wheels.
The tank achieves a maximum road speed of 58km/h and the maximum range on internal fuel is 350km. The tank can ford water to a depth of 1.5m, negotiate gradients and slopes of 60% and 30% and vertical obstacles up to 1m in height.
Olifant 2 main battle tank turret upgrade
LIW, a division of Denel, has developed the Olifant 2 main battle tank turret, which can be fitted on an upgraded Olifant mk1B chassis, providing the tank with hunter killer modes of operation, fire on the move and day and night time engagement. The turret can be armed with either LIW’s GT8 105mm or an LIW 120mm smoothbore gun and features periscopic stabilised day / thermal gunner’s sight with laser rangefinder, panoramic commander’s sight, full solution fire control system and modular armour package.