+++ DISCLAIMER +++
Nothing you see here is real, even though the conversion or the presented background story might be based on historical facts. BEWARE!
The Waffenträger (Weapon Carrier) VTS3 “Diana” was a prototype for a wheeled tank destroyer. It was developed by Thyssen-Henschel (later Rheinmetall) in Kassel, Germany, in the late Seventies, in response to a German Army requirement for a highly mobile tank destroyer with the firepower of the Leopard 1 main battle tank then in service and about to be replaced with the more capable Leopard 2 MBT, but less complex and costly. The main mission of the Diana was light to medium territorial defense, protection of infantry units and other, lighter, elements of the cavalry as well as tactical reconnaissance. Instead of heavy armor it would rather use its good power-to-weight ratio, excellent range and cross-country ability (despite the wheeled design) for defense and a computerized fire control system to accomplish this mission.
In order to save development cost and time, the vehicle was heavily based on the Spähpanzer Luchs (Lynx), a new German 8×8 amphibious reconnaissance armored fighting vehicle that had just entered Bundeswehr service in 1975. The all-wheel drive Luchs made was well armored against light weapons, had a full NBC protection system and was characterized by its extremely low-noise running. The eight large low-pressure tires had run-flat properties, and, at speeds up to about 50 km/h, all four axles could be steered, giving the relatively large vehicle a surprising agility and very good off-road performance. As a special feature, the vehicle was equipped with a rear-facing driver with his own driving position (normally the radio operator), so that the vehicle could be driven at full speed into both directions – a heritage from German WWII designs, and a tactical advantage when the vehicle had to quickly retreat from tactical position after having been detected. The original Luchs weighed less than 20 tons, was fully amphibious and could surmount water obstacles quickly and independently using propellers at the rear and the fold back trim vane at the front. Its armament was relatively light, though, a 20 mm Rheinmetall MK 20 Rh 202 gun in the turret that was effective against both ground and air targets.
The Waffenträger “Diana” used the Luchs’ hull and dynamic components as basis, and Thyssen-Henschel solved the challenge to mount a large and heavy 105 mm L7 gun with its mount on the light chassis through a minimalistic, unmanned mount and an autoloader. Avoiding a traditional manned and heavy, armored turret, a lot of weight and internal volume that had to be protected could be saved, and crew safety was indirectly improved, too. This concept had concurrently been tested in the form of the VTS1 (“Versuchsträger Scheitellafette #1) experimental tank in 1976 for the Kampfpanzer 3 development, which eventually led to the Leopard 2 MBT (which retained a traditional turret, though).
For the “Diana” test vehicle, Thyssen-Henschel developed a new low-profile turret with a very small frontal area. Two crew members, the commander (on the right side) and the gunner (to the left), were seated in/under the gun mount, completely inside of the vehicle’s hull. The turret was a very innovative construction for its time, fully stabilized and mounted the proven 105mm L7 rifled cannon with a smoke discharger. Its autoloader contained 8 rounds in a carousel magazine. 16 more rounds could be carried in the hull, but they had to be manually re-loaded into the magazine, which was only externally accessible. A light, co-axial 7,62mm machine gun against soft targets was available, too, as well as eight defensive smoke grenade mortars.
The automated L7 had a rate of fire of ten rounds per minute and could fire four types of ammunition: a kinetic energy penetrator to destroy armored vehicles; a high explosive anti-tank round to destroy thin-skinned vehicles and provide anti-personnel fragmentation; a high explosive plastic round to destroy bunkers, machine gun and sniper positions, and create openings in walls for infantry to access; and a canister shot for use against dismounted infantry in the open or for smoke charges. The rounds to be fired could be pre-selected, so that the gun was able to automatically fire a certain ammunition sequence, but manual round selection was possible at any time, too.
In order to take the new turret, the Luchs hull had to be modified. Early calculations had revealed that a simple replacement of the Luchs’ turret with the new L7 mount would have unfavorably shifted the vehicle’s center of gravity up- and forward, making it very nose-heavy and hard to handle in rough terrain or at high speed, and the long barrel would have markedly overhung the front end, impairing handling further. It was also clear that the additional weight and the rise of the CoG made amphibious operations impossible — a fate that met the upgraded Luchs recce tanks in the Eighties, too, after several accidents with overturned vehicles during wading and drowned crews. With this insight the decision was made to omit the vehicle’s amphibious capability, save weight and complexity, and to modify the vehicle’s layout considerably to optimize the weight distribution.
Taking advantage of the fact that the Luchs already had two complete driver stations at both ends, a pair of late-production hulls were set aside in 1977 and their internal layout reversed. The engine bay was now in the vehicle’s front, the secured ammunition storage was placed next to it, behind the separate driver compartment, and the combat section with the turret mechanism was located behind it. Since the VTS3s were only prototypes, only minimal adaptations were made. This meant that the driver was now located on the right side of the vehicle, while and the now-rear-facing secondary driver/radio operator station ended up on the left side – much like a RHD vehicle – but this was easily accepted in the light of cost and time savings. As a result, the gun and its long, heavy barrel were now located above the vehicle’s hull, so that the overall weight distribution was almost neutral and overall dimensions remained compact.
Both test vehicles were completed in early 1978 and field trials immediately started. While the overall mobility was on par with the Luchs and the Diana’s high speed and low noise profile was highly appreciated, the armament was and remained a source of constant concern. Shooting in motion from the Diana turned out to be very problematic, and even firing from a standstill was troublesome. The gun mount and the vehicle’s complex suspension were able to "hold" the recoil of the full-fledged 105-mm tank gun, which had always been famous for its rather large muzzle energy. But when fired, even in the longitudinal plane, the vehicle body fell heavily towards the stern, so that the target was frequently lost and aiming had to be resumed – effectively negating the benefit from the autoloader’s high rate of fire and exposing the vehicle to potential target retaliation. Firing to the side was even worse. Several attempts were made to mend this flaw, but neither the addition of a muzzle brake, stronger shock absorbers and even hydro-pneumatic suspension elements did not solve the problem. In addition, the high muzzle flames and the resulting significant shockwave required the infantry to stay away from the vehicle intended to support them. The Bundeswehr also criticized the too small ammunition load, as well as the fact that the autoloader magazine could not be re-filled under armor protection, so that the vehicle had to retreat to safe areas to re-arm and/or to adapt to a new mission profile. This inherent flaw not only put the crew under the hazards of enemy fire, it also negated the vehicle’s NBC protection – a serious issue and likely Cold War scenario. Another weak point was the Diana’s weight: even though the net gain of weight compared with the Luchs was less than 3 tons after the conversion, this became another serious problem that led to the Diana’s demise: during trials the Bundeswehr considered the possibility to airlift the Diana, but its weight (even that of the Luchs, BTW) was too much for the Luftwaffe’s biggest own transport aircraft, the C-160 Transall. Even aircraft from other NATO members, e.g. the common C-130 Hercules, could hardly carry the vehicle. In theory, equipment had to be removed, including the cannon and parts of its mount.
Since the tactical value of the vehicle was doubtful and other light anti-tank weapons in the form of the HOT anti-tank missile had reached operational status, so that very light vehicles and even small infantry groups could now effectively fight against full-fledged enemy battle tanks from a safe distance, the Diana’s development was stopped in 1988. Both VTS3 prototypes were mothballed, stored at the Bundeswehr Munster Training Area camp and are still waiting to be revamped as historic exhibits alongside other prototypes like the Kampfpanzer 70 in the German Tank Museum located there, too.
Crew: 4 (commander, driver, gunner, radio operator/second driver)
Weight: 22.6 t
Length: 7.74 m (25 ft 4 ¼ in)
Width: 2.98 m ( 9 ft 9 in)
Ground clearance: 440 mm (1 ft 4 in)
Suspension: hydraulic all-wheel drive and steering
Unknown, but sufficient to withstand 14.5 mm AP rounds
Speed: 90 km/h (56 mph) on roads
Operational range: 720 km (445 mi)
Power/weight: 13,3 hp/ton with petrol, 17,3 hp/ton with diesel
1× Daimler Benz OM 403A turbocharged 10-cylinder 4-stroke multi-fuel engine,
delivering 300 hp with petrol, 390 hp with diesel
1× 105 mm L7 rifled gun with autoloader (8 rounds ready, plus 16 in reserve)
1× co-axial 7.92 mm M3 machine gun with 2.000 rounds
Two groups of four Wegmann 76 mm smoke mortars
The kit and its assembly:
I have been a big Luchs fan since I witnessed one in action during a public Bundeswehr demo day when I was around 10 years old: a huge, boxy and futuristic vehicle with strange proportions, gigantic wheels, water propellers, a mind-boggling mobility and all of this utterly silent. Today you’d assume that this vehicle had an electric engine – spooky! So I always had a soft spot for it, and now it was time and a neat occasion to build a what-if model around it.
This fictional wheeled tank prototype model was spawned by a leftover Revell 1:72 Luchs kit, which I had bought some time ago primarily for the turret, used in a fictional post-WWII SdKfz. 234 “Puma” conversion. With just the chassis left I wondered what other use or equipment it might take, and, after several weeks with the idea in the back of my mind, I stumbled at Silesian Models over an M1128 resin conversion set for the Trumpeter M1126 “Stryker” 8×8 APC model. From this set as potential donor for a conversion the prototype idea with an unmanned turret was born.
Originally I just planned to mount the new turret onto the OOB hull, but when playing with the parts I found the look with an overhanging gun barrel and the bigger turret placed well forward on the hull goofy and unbalanced. I was about to shelf the idea again, until I recognized that the Luchs’ hull is almost symmetrical – the upper hull half could be easily reversed on the chassis tub (at least on the kit…), and this would allow much better proportions. From this conceptual change the build went straightforward, reversing the upper hull only took some minor PSR. The resin turret was taken mostly OOB, it only needed a scratched adapter to fit into the respective hull opening. I just added a co-axial machine gun fairing, antenna bases (from the Luchs kit, since they could, due to the long gun barrel, not be attached to the hull anymore) and smoke grenade mortars (also taken from the Luchs).
An unnerving challenge became the Luchs kit’s suspension and drive train – it took two days to assemble the vehicle’s underside alone! While this area is very accurate and delicate, the fact that almost EVERY lever and stabilizer is a separate piece on four(!) axles made the assembly a very slow process. Just for reference: the kit comes with three and a half sprues. A full one for the wheels (each consists of three parts, and more than another one for suspension and drivetrain!
Furthermore, the many hull surface details like tools or handles – these are more than a dozen bits and pieces – are separate, very fragile and small (tiny!), too. Cutting all these wee parts out and cleaning them was a tedious affair, too, plus painting them separately.
Otherwise the model went together well, but it’s certainly not good for quick builders and those with big fingers and/or poor sight.
Painting and markings:
The paint scheme was a conservative choice; it is a faithful adaptation of the Bundeswehr’s NATO standard camouflage for the European theatre of operations that was introduced in the Eighties. It was adopted by many armies to confuse potential aggressors from the East, so that observers could not easily identify a vehicle and its nationality. It consists of a green base with red-brown and black blotches, in Germany it was executed with RAL tones, namely 6031 (Bronze Green), 8027 (Leather Brown) and 9021 (Tar Black). The pattern was standardized for each vehicle type and I stuck to the official Luchs pattern, trying to adapt it to the new/bigger turret. I used Revell acrylic paints, since the authentic RAL tones are readily available in this product range (namely the tones 06, 65 and 84). The big tires were painted with Revell 09 (Anthracite).
Next the model was treated with a highly thinned washing with black and red-brown acrylic paint, before decals were applied, taken from the OOB sheet and without unit markings, since the Diana would represent a test vehicle. After sealing them with a thin coat of clear varnish the model was furthermore treated with lightly dry-brushed Revell 45 and 75 to emphasize edges and surface details, and the separately painted hull equipment was mounted. The following step was a cloudy treatment with watercolors (from a typical school paintbox, it’s great stuff for weathering!), simulating dust residue all over the hull. After a final protective coat with matt acrylic varnish I finally added some mineral artist pigments to the lower hull areas and created mud crusts on the wheels through light wet varnish traces into which pigments were “dusted”.
Basically a simple project, but the complex Luchs kit with its zillion of wee bits and pieces took time and cost some nerves. However, the result looks pretty good, and the Stryker turret blends well into the overall package. Not certain how realistic the swap of the Luchs’ internal layout would have been, but I think that the turret moved to the rear makes more sense than the original forward position? After all, the model is supposed to be a prototype, so there’s certainly room for creative freedom. And in classic Bundeswehr colors, the whole thing even looks pretty convincing.
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