The Ratel is the basic Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) of the South African National Defence Force’s mechanized infantry battalions, and is named after an African animal known in English as the Honey Badger, which has a reputation as a ferocious fighter.

The South African Army used the British Alvis Saracen APC before the acquisition of spare parts become problematic due to the international arms embargo of apartheid South Africa. The South Africans were therefore forced to design and manufacture their own new vehicle in order to meet requirements of the army during the South African Border War.

The 6×6 Ratel was indigenously developed by Sandock-Austral (now owned by Land Systems OMC, part of BAE Systems) and produced in volume for the South African Army in subsequent decades. Design work began in 1968, with prototypes completed in 1974. Production of the basic Ratel-20 started in 1976, which entered operational service in 1977. Other variants, including the improved Mark II and Mark III versions of the basic Ratel, were phased in over the subsequent decade. Mark I vehicles were upgraded to Mark II and III standard during refits. Over a thousand Ratel vehicles have been manufactured.

The Ratel was the first wheeled IFV to enter military service, and is generally regarded as an influential design; a number of other countries have since produced vehicles similar to the Ratel, including the Sibmas from Belgium, which is all but a direct copy, as well as a number of South American designs. The Ratel-20 is the primary squad IFV, with the Ratel-60, Ratel-90, and Ratel-ZT3 (the anti-tank guided missile version) used primarily in anti-armour, support, and reconnaissance elements within a battalion. The vehicle usually carries a crew of four or five men, with a seven-man infantry squad.


Configuration 6 x 6
Engine Turbo-charged 6 cylinder diesel (282bhp)
Dimensions 7.2 x 2.5 x 2.9m
Fuel capacity 430l
Turning radius 8.5m
Max speed 105km/h (on road)
Range 1000km (on road)
Vertical obstacle 0.6m
Crew 11
Main Armament G12 20mm rapid fire automatic cannon

Vehicle Characteristics

The vehicle was designed with the South African environment and the combat experience of the South African Defence Force (SADF) foremost in mind. For example, it has considerably more firepower than most comparable infantry fighting vehicles–ranging from machine guns up to a 90-mm cannon. Modern versions can therefore be considered to have evolved into multi-role armoured vehicles from their original infantry fighting vehicle design.


It is wheeled, with six run-flat tires for the long-distance speed, mobility, and ease of maintenance that tracked vehicles lack. Furthermore, unlike the United States Army’s M2/M3 Bradley or Warsaw Pact’s BMP designs, the Ratel does not need to be transported long distances on trains or trailer trucks; it can simply be driven to the destination. The Ratel’s ground clearance and cross-country performance are very good–certainly adequate for the generally rolling and arid terrain it usually operates in– and the vehicle has a ride which SADF crews often compared— favourably to civilian cars. SADF crews also frequently praised the visibility imparted by the vehicle’s high profile; although it makes the Ratel a bigger target, it enables the crews to see the surrounding area more easily, a key factor when maneuvering in the bush, where grass can grow to three meters in height.

Landmine protection

The Ratel’s design also gives far more consideration to protection against land mines than most armoured vehicles, reflecting SADF experience and priorities. Like the Casspir and Buffel vehicles, the bottom of the hull is angled and reinforced so as to deflect mine blasts out to the sides. The Ratel’s wheels, if damaged, are also much easier to repair or replace than tracks. The vehicle also has multiple doors and hatches; the two main doors are located in the vehicle’s sides, but a small rear door and roof hatches allow the crew to exit the vehicle from many directions at once, or to more easily dismount under cover during an ambush.


The Ratel is relatively lightly armoured, in order to preserve mobility, weapons space, and range. The vehicle is well-protected against bullets and artillery shell splinters, but is vulnerable to anti-tank guns, automatic cannon such as the Warsaw Pact 23 mm AA guns (which were often used in a ground-fire role in Namibia and Angola), rocket-propelled grenades and guided missiles. The SADF’s experience during the South African Border War in Namibia and Angola showed that Ratels were far more likely to be faced with small-arms fire and mines in small-unit actions or ambushes than to run into main battle tanks in pitched battles. More to the point, the Ratel is a personnel carrier and not a tank, and is by definition not intended to engage main battle tanks.


The basic Ratel’s (designated Ratel-20) primary armament consists of a 20 mm automatic cannon mounted in a non-powered turret at the front of the vehicle, supplemented by a coaxial 7.62 × 51 mm NATO machine gun and a 7.62 × 51 mm calibre pintle-mounted machine gun mounted by the commander’s roof hatch. The Ratel also has four rifle ports on each side of the vehicle, allowing the infantrymen to fire from within the vehicle. An additional pintle-mounted dual machine gun (removed on later models), accessed from a roof hatch, is located at the rear of the Ratel’s upper deck and provides cover for the Ratel’s rear quarter. The crew consists of commander, driver, gunner, and radio operator, as well as seven infantrymen.


Configuration 6 x 6
Engine Turbo-charged 6 cylinder diesel (282 bhp)
Dimensions 7.2 x 2.5 x 2.9m
Fuel capacity 430l
Turning radius 8.5m
Max speed 105 km/h (on road)
Range 1000 km (on road)
Vertical obstacle 0.6m
Crew 11
Armament 90mm GT2 semi- automatic F1 gun

The Ratel-60 and Ratel-90 variants are otherwise identical, save that the former mounts a 60 mm breech-loading mortar in turrets taken from the Eland 60 armoured cars, and the Ratel-90 mounts a 90 mm low-velocity gun and also has a three-man crew. The 60 mm mortar is most effectively used in firing smoke shells, and is generally useless against armoured vehicles or dug-in troops.

The Ratel-90 fire-support variant is an unusual vehicle in that it can carry an infantry squad while retaining a 90 mm turret gun. The Ratel-90 does not normally carry a full squad, but it at least such a squad has fire support from the 90 mm gun. Although the Squadrons issued the Ratel-90 were referred to as Anti-Tank, IT is not a tank destroyer, but has occasionally been used as one, albeit with some difficulty.

Anti-tank capabilities

The low-velocity 90 mm gun, a license-made copy of the 1950s-vintage French GIAT F1, is very accurate out to 2 km range. It is generally considered to be inadequate for facing modern main battle tanks, but it is quite capable against armoured personnel carriers or other lighter AFVs, unarmoured vehicles, exposed infantry, and buildings or entrenchments. The 90 mm gun cannot be fired from a moving Ratel because the fire-control system is decidedly primitive and not stabilised; the turret and gun are manually traversed.

On the rare occasions when SADF Ratels encountered enemy armour, such as the Soviet-made tanks encountered in Operation Protea (1981) and Operations Modular, Hooper, and Packer in 1988, they achieved successes through maneuvrebility and only at very short ranges. The 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group found that each enemy T-55 and T-62 required multiple shots from the 90 mm guns to disable it, and that the SADF vehicles had to attack in groups, fire from point-blank range, and hit the tanks in the engine vents, turret rim, or similar weak points in order to have an effect, the 90 mm shells being otherwise ineffective against the Soviet tanks’ armour. For this reason, the SADF’s Olifants (modified Centurion) tanks were considerably more effective against enemy armour than Ratels, Elands, or other vehicles.

Anti-tank missile

The anti-tank guided missile variant, the Ratel ZT-3, was originally equipped with the indigenously-developed ZT-3 heavy anti-tank missile, while the latest versions (ZT3-A2) is armed with the new 127 mm Ingwe (Leopard) anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). The Ratel ZT3 is basically a Ratel-20 with a different turret, which is fitted with a three-round missile launcher. Other missiles are carried within the hull.

The original ZT-3 laser-guided ATGM was roughly comparable to the European HOT or American TOW missiles in performance; in fact, there have been allegations[who?] of it being based on a TOW prototype design which the Central Intelligence Agency provided to South Africa during the 1980s. The new Ingwe missile is however laser guided as opposed to the wire guided TOW missile which is a fundamental difference in design and operation.

The Ratel ZT-3 entered service in the late 1980s, in time for Operation Modular, and gave yeoman service against enemy armour at the Battle of Cuito Cuanavale. The SADF was previously limited to the obsolete French-designed ENTAC wire-guided ATGM, which was usually transported in Land Rovers or other unarmoured vehicles.

Typical deployment

A typical SADF mechanized company consists of 16 Ratels, with three four-vehicle rifle platoons and a two-vehicle command section. A battalion’s support company consists of; 3 Ratel 90s, 3 MILAN teams in APCs or Ratel-ZT3s, 6 Ratel 81 mm Mortar vehicles and 3 Ystervark self-propelled 20 mm AA vehicles.

Since SADF units frequently operated in ad hoc task forces during the South African Border War, unit structures and equipment varied widely. At the time of Operation Modular in 1988, for example, the 61 Mechanised Infantry Battalion Group’s task force consisted of two infantry companies with Ratel 20s, an armoured car squadron with fourteen Ratel 90s, a mortar platoon with twelve 81mm Ratels, an anti-tank company with a mix of ATGW and Ratel 90 vehicles, as well as other attachments.

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