|Sunday, 25 April 2004|
The evolution of the indigenous armoured vehicle:
From Unicorn to Unibuffel
by ANTON NONIS
The combat vehicle 'Unicorn' manufactured by the Sri Lanka Army to be used in the operational areas has undergone many phases of development.the latest model, the 'Unibuffel', put out recently, is considered to be almost identical to the South African combat vehicle, the 'Buffel'.
A band of 50 Army personnel are closely involved in the turn-out of combat vehicles and weaponry at an SLA engineering workshop at Udawalawe. Every item leaving the workshop is a signification and guarantee of the laborious research and development gone into the production.
For a fairly long time, the efforts of these men - engineers, mechanics, machine operators and lathemen - had been directed at creating a combat vehicle on par with a popular South African model. They have now done it under the supervision of Regimental Commander and Director Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, Brig. Vasantha Bandara.
Five Armoured Personnel Vehicles (APV) manufactured by the Army at its workshop at Udawalawe were handed over to the Special Task Force (STF) recently. The APVs, on which the Sri Lanka Army had to depend extensively for anti-terrorist operations, were being imported from South Africa for a long time.
The imported APV, popularly known as `Buffel', was too costly at over Rs.11 million. The locally made vehicle, however, costs only three million rupees, saving seven million rupees on each machine. It has been named 'Unibuffel' to differentiate it from the South African version.
Comprehensive experiments and research carried out on the new machine had enabled the Army engineers to make the vehicle to the exact standard of its African counterpart. Brig.Bandara said that the Unibuffel is equally sturdy as the Buffel and can withstand all types of rough terrain.
Some of the salient features of the Unibuffel are that it is bullet-proof and is protected against land mine explosions. An efficient communication system could be established between the driver and the troop compartment. The vehicle is designed to carry a contingent of 12 persons including the driver and gunner.
The African Buffels were first imported to Sri Lanka in 1985. They were deployed in the Northern and Eastern regions. By 1989, 29 of these machines were being used on the country's battlefields.
By then the engineering division of the Army had already begun trying to produce a similar machine. An army model called the Unicorn was created during 1987.
According to Brig. Bandara, the Unicorns quickly became popular with the Army.
A distinct feature of the Unicorn was that the driver-passenger compartment was undivided. According to soldiers in the battlefield, this feature made communication among the two sections easier than that in a Buffel where the driver was separated from the passengers.
However, the original Unicorns, Unicorn Mark I had various shortcomings. As it was made on a standard chassis, the vehicle was found to be too long and bulky, thus making manoeuvring more difficult.
A series of such vehicles was made during the next few years.
The manufacture of Unicorns was carried out up to 2000. By that time the Army had made a range of Unicorns with the final one being classified as Unicorn Mark VI. Each was an improvement over the previous one. A total of 93 Unicorns were produced, with Unicorn VI being the most advanced version.
However, the Army engineers did not stop with Unicorn VI and went on further to produce a machine similar to the African Buffel, the Unibuffel.
Brig. Bandara said 53 Unibuffels had been manufactured of which 15 have already been given to the STF. The vehicle is powered by a TATA engine which could easily cater to rough terrain.
The Unibuffel uses the same metal plates used by the Buffel, which is impenetrable by normal firearms.
The gun to be mounted on the vehicle could range from light weight firearm (7.62 mm) to anti-aircraft medium calibre type (Five zero) which has a lethal effect up to two kilometres.
The glass for the Unibuffel was imported on quotation basis. China has been a regular supplier of this glass.
Samples from China are subjected to test firing from recommended distances and sent to the Katubedde Campus for investigations and reports.
The Unibuffels given to the STF are deployed for operation in the North and East. STF Commander, Nimal Lewke said the Unibuffles had been extensively and successfully used by them.
However, the Unibuffel that ploughs through the operational areas is not the ultimate product in its class. It continues to be developed further.
Produced by Lake House