Since the issue of the first technical requirements by the Italian Army at the end of the ’80, the new heavy armoured vehicle was expected to originate a family of specialised vehicles, characterised by a high quantity of components in common. The front arrangement of the motor propelling group facilitated the creation of vehicles derived from the Centauro, based on standardised mechanical components with common parts, mounted on a body suitable for the tasks assigned.
In 1994, the IVECO FIAT / OTO MELARA consortium developed a version of the Centauro to be used for troop transportation and fighting. The prototype presented in 1995 was favourably welcomed by the Italian Army, which decided to finance the experimentation and final set up of the vehicle, ordering 3 prototypes, one with a troop transportation configuration equipped with a 25-mm machine gun and a antitank rocket launcher, one in the version with control station, and one in the mortar holder/armoured ambulance version. The prototype of the Centauro VBC (fighting armoured vehicle) was exhibited at the Eurosatory show in 1996 and 1998, arousing great interest and competing on the international market with the Russian BTR80 and the 4-axes version of the Swiss Piranha.
As regards the infantry armoured vehicles, the wheeled version encountered the highest consent and it seems to be destined to a widespread diffusion. Almost all the major Western armies (English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Canadian, …) choose to adopt families of 6- or 8-wheel highly mobile armoured vehicles for troop transportation.
The Centauro-VBC keeps unchanged its mechanical components (the motor propelling group, the suspensions, the steering) and the general configuration of the body of the vehicle with front motor and pilot’s seat on the left. The braking system has been improved, while a system for the adjustment of the suspension height can be mounted as an option in order to vary the attitude of the vehicle. The motor gas exhausts are directed towards the bottom of the body and the noise has been highly reduced.
A special care has been taken for the protection of the vehicle, which is able to withstand the attack of 25 mm-calibre munitions on its front arc, as well as the shooting of 14.5-mm heavy machine guns on its sides up to a distance of 100 m.
The VBC is the top in the category of armoured wheeled vehicles for troop transportation. In the configuration with 2 Tow rocket launchers, a 25-mm machine gun and an associated 7.62-mm machine gun, an aiming and observation system with thermal chamber, stabilised armament and optics, the VBC features better performance with respect to many tracked VCIs of the present generation.
The VBC will be equipped with the same Hitfist two-seater turret of the Dardo, with a weight of 3.1 tons, armed with a 25/80 KBA automatic light gun, a NATO 7.62 mm-calibre machine gun, 2 Tow-2 antitank rocket launching armoured tracks (or, alternatively, Stinger anti-aircraft) and 8 80-mm shell launching tubes. The turret, made from an armoured aluminium shell covered with steel plates, features an electric interlocking system, with digital servo-systems and a stabilised aiming line. The fire control computerised system includes a thermal chamber and a laser telemeter able to control also the Tow missiles in all whether conditions. The tank commander can be equipped with a stabilised wide-angle periscope with IL vision channel or, as an alternative, with a simpler model.
Among the other electronic devices, the following are available: a laser alarm system, a horn based on the alarm voice messages, a system for the self-diagnosis and transmission on a video screen of the data concerning the vehicle efficiency. The VBC can also be equipped with heavier turrets, armed with guns of higher calibre such as the 40/70 and the 60/70 Otobreda Fast Forty. The second one, the most powerful arm with automatic loading never installed on a wheeled vehicle for troop transportation, is able to pierce the side armour of the first-generation tanks and to engage great-distance hovering with fighting helicopters, thanks to proximity fuses and to a maximum elevation of 40°. The gun is accommodated into a T60/70 modified Hitfist light turret, with a weight of 4 tons (without Tow rocket launchers), with a combined MG42/59, 8 shell-launching tubes and a munitions’ reserve ensuring 32 60-mm shots of the APFSDS-T and HE-T type. The automatic loading system allows a fire rate of one shot every 2 seconds. In this configuration, the VBC maintains a transport capacity of 6 equipped soldiers and features a weight of 24 tons. The VBC version with control station can be equipped with a 12.7-mm remotely controlled small turret with electric interlocking, which allows the shooting and loading of the arm from inside the body. A light-intensifying night viewer or a thermal infrared chamber can be added to the optical aiming system. The Oto Melata small turret, with a weight of 210 kg, features a maximum shooting sector of 50° in elevation and it can be equipped with a stabilisation system. The vehicle with control station, characterised by mobility and protection features equivalent to those of the fighting vehicles of the Centauro family, is equipped with a bigger loading compartment (with a volume of 14 cubic metres), featuring an increased height (up to 2.1 m from the ground), to accommodate the pilot and 5 operators, with a medium-capacity radio equipment and with electronic stations with various monitors and terminals. The rescue and salvage version, 38 models of which are to be purchased by the Italian Army, reaches a weight of 28 tons and is equipped with: a telescopic hydraulic crane featuring a lifting capacity of 9 tons, able to lift the motor propelling group and the small turret of the Centauro; a winch with a capacity of over 20 tons, able to salvage an immobilised vehicle of the family; some stabilizers for the anchoring of the body to the ground during winch or crane operation. If necessary, the rescue VBC can mount an extra motor propelling group onto the rear plate of the body; a set of spare parts, a drawbar and various tools for the fitting team complete the equipment. In addition to the control station and rescue versions, which prototypes are being constructed on behalf of the Italian Army, the Consortium is developing: a 120-mm mortar holding version with automatic breech loading, mounted on a rotating platform which shoots through the upper porthole of the loading compartment, which can be used also on the ground, equipped with 40 shots; an ambulance version which can transport 10 sitting men or 4 men on stretchers and 3 sitting men; an assault layingbridge version, belonging to the 30-ton class, with a length of 20 m, which can be folded into 3 elements, with body hydraulic stabilisers and a crew of 3 men; an amphibious version for troop transportation with 2 hydro-jets and a breakwater plate which ensure a speed of 10 km/hour in the water, with a weight/power ratio of 26 hp/ton and modifications to the internal arrangement of the mechanical components in order to allow the floating and stability of the vehicle in the sea.
The re-equipping programs of the infantry and cavalry units of the Italian Army are oriented towards the acquisition of 4 models of armoured vehicles for troop transportation: the Dardo, a tracked vehicle destined to the Bersaglieri units for their collaboration with the carro Ariete; the Puma, in the 4x4 and 6x6 versions, studied for satisfying the requirements of the exploring units of the light cavalry and infantry (Alpini, lagoon troops, grenadiers, paratroopers, etc.); the VBC, which will replace the VCC-1 of the mechanised infantry units.