ACEC Cobra, APC (Belgium)

History and Development

The Cobra APC started development in 1978 as a private venture from the Ateliers de Constructions Electriques de Charleroi (ACEC) in co-operation with the Belgian Army. This was after extensive experimental work had been carried out between 1967 and 1978 on grafting an electric transmission to both an M24 Chaffee light tank and an AMX-10P from France. By 1981, three prototypes powered by a Cummins V-6 diesel developing 143hp at 3300rpm had been completed and evaluated by the Belgian Army at the Brasschaat proving ground. The first (P1) was completed in 1978 and was manufactured from mild steel, while a further two (P2 and 3) were completed in 1980 and manufactured from armour steel. A decision was then taken to build a further prototype (P4) with a turbo-charged Cummins diesel developing 190hp for improved performance and amphibious characteristics. The fourth prototype was built in 1984 and the Belgian Army initiated trials in June of that year at both Brasschaat and Marche-en-Famenne.

A fifth vehicle, a pre-production model called Cobra-41 was completed at ACEC's Ghent factory in October 1985. It incorporated a number of improvements to the earlier vehicles, such as a redistribution of equipment in the available space, a new driver's dashboard with a fault detection system, a new radio and intercom equipment from SA Philips and MBLE and an Engicom air unit 90 for NBC protection. Externally, it had full-pivot capability, two electrically driven hydrojets, a remote control trim vane, three bilge pumps, and a new RCDU machinegun module developed by FN Herstal. It was displayed at the Asian Defence Exhibition 86 at Kuala Lumpur. A sixth vehicle, a pre-production model named Cobra-42 was built in November 1987 and had a redesigned front hull for improved amphibious performance. The Cobra underwent trials in 1987 at the US Army's Tank Automotive Command in Detroit, Michigan. Test drivers, who were used to mechanical transmissions, commented that both performance and manoeuvrability were at least equal, if not superior to vehicles that had been recently fielded. It also took part in field-testing organised by the Directorate of Armament and Organisation in Abu Dhabi where the vehicle covered more than 2,000km in a variety of terrain conditions and an ambient temperature of 50°C.

An interesting feature of the Cobra was the electric transmission, which enabled the conventional mechanical transmission to be dispensed with. Power from the Cummins diesel engine was converted by a compact unit mounted on the engine and then transmitted to the electric motors by cables, which then drove the sprockets. This enabled the vehicle to be lighter and roomier than many of its contemporaries. ACEC also developed the electric transmission of the French Crotale low-altitude surface-to-air missile system used by a number of countries. While the ACEC Cobra generated a significant amount of interest, the vehicle never went into production or active service, a contributory factor being the end of the Cold War in 1989 / 1990.

The Vehicle

The all-welded hull provided complete all-round protection from small arms fire, shell splinters and small armour piercing projectiles. The driver sat at the front of the vehicle on the left, with the gunner / vehicle commander on the right and the engine between them. Both were provided with a bullet-proof vision block to their front, another one to their side and a single-piece hatch cover opening to the outside above their position. The gunner / commander had a bow-mounted flexible 7.62mm MAG machinegun mounted in the front plate of the vehicle.

The turret was mounted in the centre of the roof to the rear of the engine and was armed with a 12.7mm (0.50in calibre) M2 HB machinegun. The weapon was mounted externally and fired electrically from within the turret. Turret traverse and elevation were controlled by electric motors. Mounted either side of the turret are three smoke-grenade launchers. The turret had a periscope sight in its forward part, a vision block on either side and a single-piece hatch cover opening to the rear. Other turrets could also have been fitted, such as the one-man Oerlikon-Buhrle GAD-AOA armed with a 20mm cannon.

The troop compartment was at the rear of the vehicle and the ten infantrymen entered and left by a large door in the hull rear hinged on the right with a single vision block. The ten infantrymen sat five to each side on bench seats that ran down either side of the hull. One of the infantrymen would normally man the 0.50in machinegun. A single-piece hatch that opened to the rear was on top of the troop compartment. Power from the Cummins diesel engine was converted by a flywheel-mounted generator fixed on the engine, transmitted by cables to the electric motors, which drove the sprockets at the rear of the vehicle. The suspension on either side consisted of five rubber-tyred road wheels, each supported by a helical spring, with the idler at the front and drive sprocket at the rear. There were four track return rollers and the first and last road wheel stations had a hydraulic shock absorber. The noiseless rubber tracks had steel links and rubber road pads.

The Cobra was fully amphibious without preparation, and propelled by electrically driven hydrojets mounted at the rear of the vehicle on each side of the door. By pushing the amphibious mode selector switch, the trim vane on the front of the hull could be raised automatically, bilge pumps switched on and the hydrojets activated. Optional equipment included an NBC system, night vision equipment and air-conditioning system.


The manufacturer proposed that the basic Cobra could be converted for a number of other roles, including fire support vehicle, reconnaissance vehicle, command post, mortar carrier, ambulance and engineer vehicle. By 1986, a number of variants had been produced or were in the final stages of design work. These included:

Specifications (AFV in brackets)

Crew: 2 + 10 (3)
Combat Weight: 8,500kg (9,500)
Unloaded Weight: 7,300kg (8,700)
Power-To-Weight Ratio: 22.35hp/tonne (20)
Ground Pressure: 0.4kg/ (0.39)
Length Overall: 4.52m (6.86)
(Length of Hull: 4.81m)
Width Overall: 2.75m
Width Over tracks: 2.72m (2.69)
Height Overall: 2.32m (2.2)
Height To Hull Top: 1.76m (1.5)
Ground Clearance: 0.42m (0.4)
Track Width: 425mm (420)
Length of Track on Ground: 2.5m (2.88)
Main: 1 x 12.7mm MG (90mm)
Secondary: 1 x 7.62mm MG
Smoke: 2 x 3 smoke dischargers
(8 + 16)
Max Speed (Road): 75km/h
Max Speed (Water): 10km/h
Fuel Capacity: 309 litres
Max Road Range: 600km
Fording: 1.1m (amphibious with preparation)
Gradient: 60%
Side Slope: 45%
Vertical Obstacle: 0.7m (0.6)
Trench: 1.6m (1.7)
Turning Radius: pivot
Engine: Cummins VT190 super-charged,
water cooled diesel, developing 190hp at 3,300rpm
Transmission: ACEC electrical
Electrical System: 24v
Batteries: 2 x 12v
Suspension: Helicoidal (helical) springs with
shock absorbers on first and last road wheel
Fire Control System Turret Power Control: manual / electric
Turret Traverse: 360 deg.
Armour: 7.62mm NATO ball all angles at point-blank range.
7.62mm AP front armour.
105mm HE shrapnel all round.
How to cite this article: Antill, P. (4 September 2003), ACEC Cobra, APC (Belgium),

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