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Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Category: Term of the day

Infantry fighting vehicle

An infantry fighting vehicle (IFV, also known as mechanized infantry combat vehicle, MICV) is a type of armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) used to carry infantry into battle and provide fire support for them.

IFVs are similar to armoured personnel carriers (APCs), designed to transport five to ten infantrymen and their equipment. They are differentiated from APCs ("battle taxis") by their enhanced armament, allowing them to give direct-fire support during an assault, firing ports, allowing the infantry to fire personal weapons while mounted, and usually improved armour. They are typically armed with an autocannon of 20 to 40 mm caliber, 7.62 mm machine gun and possibly with ATGMs and/or AAMs. IFVs are usually tracked, but some wheeled vehicles fall into this category, too. IFVs are mostly much less heavily armed and armoured than Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), but they sometimes carry heavy missiles, such as the NATO 'TOW' missile and Soviet 'Spigot' which offer a significant threat to tanks.

Western powers were surprised when the Soviet Union paraded the first IFV, the BMP-1, in 1967. The BMP possessed a very low-profile and was armed with both a 73 mm smooth-bore gun and an AT-3 Sagger ATGM. Its steeply-sloped front armour offered partial protection against NATO's standard .50-calibre machine gun in a 60 degree frontal arc, while its smooth-bore gun and ATGM were a threat to NATO armoured personnel carriers and even main battle tanks. It was not quite the breakthrough some would make it out to be, as, in practice it performed similar to heavily-armed armoured personal carriers which NATO countries had been working on previously.

Since then, all major military powers have developed or adopted IFVs. Examples include the Canadian LAV III, British Warrior, the American M2 Bradley, the Spanish Pizarro, the Italian Dardo, the German Marder and Puma, the South African Ratel, the French AMX-10P, the Swedish Combat Vehicle 90 and the Dutch YPR-765 AIFV.

Heavy infantry fighting vehicles

To cope with urban combat and mine warfare, including the use of large improvised explosive devices, there have been a number of heavy IFVs (HIFV) with the high protection level of a tank developed, based largely on experience of the Israel Defense Force (although the Canadian Kangaroo of World War II could be called the first). The Israeli Merkava tank is capable of carrying a small number of infantrymen in the back, and the Achzarit is a T-55 tank modified to be heavily armoured personnel carrier. A newer example is the Russian BTR-T, also based on the T-55. The Ukrainian BMT-72 and BTMP-84 are based on lengthened T-72 and T-84 main battle tanks, respectively, and retain the tanks' 125mm main guns.

Infantry fighting vehicle doctrine

In the times of asymmetrical warfare, local crises, and urban combat zones, the IFV is more important then ever. The IFV offers a viable compromise between mobility, armour protection, and firepower. They can be used in high and low intensity conflicts as well as peacekeeping operations. The latest vehicles, like the Patria AMV, have been designed with an emphasis on modularity that improves their repairability in the field.

Most infantry fighting vehicles are amphibious and air transportable. Wheeled IFVs can travel great distances on their own without needing flat-bed trucks and railway. In contrast, tracked vehicles need to have their treads serviced or replaced on a regular basis. The tracks themselves and the weight of the IFVs tend to be tough on road surfaces, wearing them down more quickly than a wheeled IFV. Consequently, wheeled IFVs have great tactical and strategical mobility. Moreover, many of the wheeled vehicles can extract themselves from the battlefield even on flat tires. A tracked IFV would require a heavy vehicle to tow it out of the same situation.

Infantry fighting vehicle components

Armour and countermeasures

Generally, IFVs have thinner and less complex armour than tanks to ensure mobility. Most IFVs are proof against heavy machine guns, artillery fragments, and assault rifles. It should be noted that the IFV's mission does not include anti-tank duties except in emergencies or in support of tank units, therefore it needs less protection from heavy weapons fire. Instead, the Infantry Fighting Vehicle, as its name implies, is supposed to carry riflemen and their weapons into the battlefield where they dismount and fight outside the vehicle with the support of the IFV's main armament.

In IFVs, the thickness of armour varies widely between models. Some vehicles are proof against nothing larger than 12.7 mm projectiles while others, such as Sweden's CV90, can withstand frontal hits from 30 mm autocannon. The sides, roof, and floors of IFVs have thinner armour. Vehicles must also protect crew against anti-personnel mines and against anti-tank mines.

Newer vehicles like the Finnish Patria AMV uses armour made in interchangeable modules of various thickness. This permits the vehicle to be tailored for particular missions such as decreasing the weight of vehicle for air transportation or strengthening the protection if it engages in dangerous missions. The latest models of the Russian BMP-3 use the Arena active protection system (APS) that protects the vehicle from guided and unguided missiles with velocities from 70 to 700 meters per second. Israeli IFVs will soon employ the "Iron Fist" APS which can defeat kinetic APFSDS tank rounds.

The most common counter measures are smoke grenade dischargers. These help Infantry Fighting Vehicles to avoid a hits from ATGMs by allowing the IFV to hide behind a smoke screen. Some vehicles, such as the French VBCI, employ infra-red jamming flare dispensers. These are effective against missiles with IR guidance systems.

Main armament

The primary weapon on most IFVs is an autocannon between 20 and 40 mm. The most new vehicles mount 30mm cannon. It is effective against a wide range of targets such lightly armoured vehicles, infantry, helicopters, low-flying fixed-wing aircraft, and of course, "soft" unarmoured trucks and scout cars. It can fire several types of munitions, including high explosive, incendiary. and kinetic rounds. Germany's Puma can fire air burst munition (ABM), that contain hundreds of tungsten rods and that are effective against vehicles, helicopters, and stationary strong-points. IFV cannons can elevate their barrels by as much as 70 degrees to permit their crews to engage aircraft. The Puma's main weapon has a cyclical fire rate of up to 800 rounds per minute, other modern auto-cannons have similar rates of fire.

Machine guns

On all IFVs, a coaxial machine gun is mounted on the turret along with the main armament. The most common caliber is 7.62 mm. Some vehicles mount more machine guns, for example on the German Marder, one machine gun fires from the rear of the vehicle.


Some IFVs are equipped with anti-tank guided missiles. These missiles are mostly medium range (2000-4000 m). Others carry anti-aircraft missiles or a combination of the two, such as the 2T Stalker.

Grenade launchers

Some new vehicles come equipped with 30 or 40 mm automatic grenade launchers. All IFVs also have smoke grenade dischargers for concealment.

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