France is focusing more on training and arming its African partners. On 21 July 2023, Gabon received four AML-90 armored reconnaissance vehicles from France to significantly enhance its fleet.

These new combat vehicles will be inducted into the Republican Guard, with the important responsibility of protecting the president and presidential properties, and enhancing defense capabilities.

Reports from Gabonese media indicate that the order for these vehicles was placed back in 2020. However, delays in delivery arose due to payment challenges faced by the Gabonese government. Designed as reconnaissance vehicles, the AML-90s are engineered to operate efficiently with a crew of three, including a commander, a driver, and a gunner. Their lightweight and compact design make them highly adaptable for various military missions, particularly in reconnaissance and surveillance roles.

The AML-90 is a powerful variant of the Panhard AML family of French origin. Born in the 1960s, AML was sold around the world and is still serving in many countries, Africa being one of its biggest markets. Orders were received from about thirty countries and 1,600 were produced under license in South Africa under the designation Eland. A total of 4,000 AMLs were sold in many different versions. Withdrawn from service in France in the 1990s, the AML is still used in several African countries.

The AML-90 was designed primarily for the fire support role. Its major feature was its DEFA low-pressure 90 mm rifled gun. The successful integration of such a large calibre weapon on the five tonne AML chassis was then considered a major engineering achievement. This made an AML-90 exceptionally well-armed in proportion to its weight, and offered the advantage of easier recoil loads over conventional tank cannon.

A total of 20 rounds are carried for the 90mm gun. These fire HEAT rounds capable of destroying all types of light armored vehicles, and are even able to penetrate side armor of contemporary main battle tanks. Auxiliary weapons are two 7.5 mm or 7.62 mm machine guns.

The AML-90 is built on a 4×4 chassis with a sleek armored hull with the driver at the front, a two-man turret in the middle, and the engine at the rear. The steel armor provides protection against small arms fire all around. The AML-90 is vulnerable to any heavier weapon and mines. Smoke grenade launchers are fitted on the turret. An NBC system is lacking, but can be found on later export models.

The vehicle was as rugged, reliable, fast and heavily armed, and became an outstanding export success for Panhard. AMLs have appeared most prominently in Angola, Iraq, and Chad, as well as in the Lebanese Civil War between 1975 and 1990. This French vehicle didn’t have much armor, but it has outstanding firepower and is excellent in the harsh climates of North Africa. It combines the speed and off-road agility of a 4×4 SUV with the firepower of a small tank onto one nimble platform, and cheap.

AML has been demonstrated on the front lines abroad, especially with the French Foreign Legion in parts of North Africa and among former French colonies. One of the conflicts where the AML saw considerable involvement was in Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War. In that conflict, the AML excelled thanks to its good maneuverability. The AML’s high-explosive and HEAT rounds were also used to devastating effect in that tight urban battlefield—the large amounts of rubble and debris the AML caused actually helped the platform, as it could more easily maneuver through wreckage than other vehicles.

Of course AML has the downsides of a light combat vehicle. Its thin armor leaves the crew vulnerable to enemy fire. The gunner relied on simple optical sights to aim the gun, and used manual turret cranks to alter the direction the gun pointed. The AML wasn’t air-conditioned, and all three crew members no doubt accordingly suffered, especially in the hot climates of Africa where the AML saw the most service.


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