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The AML-90: The Little Truck That Could, Soldiers On



Since the earliest days of people hanging armor plates and machine guns onto motor vehicles, “armored cars” have formed an essential component of military’s around the world. The better versions are small(-ish), cheap, fast, reasonably dependable and armed enough to defend themselves, as their crews sent recon reports via their radios.

But sometimes, something special appears.

Introduced in 1959, the AML- series (Auto Mitrailleuse Légère, or “Light Machine Gun Car”), manufactured until 1987 by the French company Panhard (who have been making automobiles since 1890), is small, even by armored car standards, at 16’9″x12’5″x6’6″, and weights in right at six tons.

AML-60, armed with the 60mm Brandt gun-mortar.

Initially, it was armed as a light, fast, highly-mobile mortar carrier, carrying a 60mm Brandt gun-mortar and a pair of the uniquely French MAS AA-52 NF-1 machine guns. However, although the little armored car was an immediate hit with French troops in Algeria, as that conflict wound down, there was less of a need for a mobile mortar carrier. As foreign buyers began looking at the design, it was the Apartheid-era South African Army who asked if Panhard could give the little truck a heavier punch.

And thus, the AML-90 was born.

Mounting a DEFA D921 90mm/3.54in rifled cannon, this new vehicle was fully capable of engaging and destroying the main battle tanks of the 1960’s. As the years wore on, even though its 90mm cannon could not keep pace with developments in tank armor, its high-explosive (HE) projectiles remain fully capable to destroying most vehicles smaller than a tank or modern IFV. Even the US Army’s the United States Army Research Laboratory acknowledged in 1979 (PDF link) that the AML “operated effectively in Beirut” and noted that “the ease with which the Panhard is driven and repaired, and the absence of tracks, provide the mobility desirable in an urban environment.

An AML-90 (R) of the Lebanese Army, Beirut, Lebanon, 1982

And it was simple, in the extreme – AML hulls were assembled from only 13 welded pieces. Thirteen. In the early 1980’s, an upgrade to the AML-90 Lynx became available, offering a new turret loaded with a modified D921 main gun and up-rated range-finding equipment and night-vision gear.

Bottom: Original H-90 turret.
Top: Lynx 90 turret incorporating a new commander’s cupola, sights, searchlight, and a laser rangefinder.

The AML-90 and its somewhat lesser known variants were sold all over the world, albeit mostly in Africa, where they proved very effective when used for their intended roles. As just one example, when France conducted a series of operations during the Chadian-Libyan Conflict, only three vehicles were reportedly lost in action, apparently to RPG fire, despite several engagements versus Libyan tanks. While not completely immune to land mines, the AML’s were not known to fall prey to them very often.

Although withdrawn from French service in 1991 (replaced by the Panhard ERC and AMX-10RC vehicles), the AML – in most of its forms – continues to soldier on, around the world, with the last foreign sales being completed in 1999.

An Iraqi AML-90 light armored car, captured during Operation Desert Storm. USMC photo.

Are there better vehicles, today? Absolutely. The AML, by modern standards, is cramped, has neither NBC protection, nor any real “comfort” items modern forces take for granted, and has poor armor. But still…until it comes against those better vehicles, the AML remains cheap and effective — even sixty-odd years later.

“Old” does not necessarily mean “useless”…A thing that more military’s in the world would do well to learn.

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