In an age of predator drones and rapidly evolving equipment, it’s refreshing to see a retro design maintain its position on modern battlefields. During the Second World War, the tankette was a feature of various fronts. A tankette can be defined as a tracked armored fighting vehicle resembling a small tank. Generally, around the size of a car, tankettes are mainly used for light infantry support and scouting. Today we’re going to look at the only true modern tankette still in use in Western Europe: the Wiesel!
Despite Challenger tanks and Apaches taking the stage in modern warfare, there is one army where the humble tankette has maintained a home: the German Bundeswehr. The German armed forces still deploy tankettes in the form of the Wiesel, an armored weapons carrier that’s similar to scouting tankettes of decades past in size and function. The vehicle has proved its worth to the Bundeswehr in deployments overseas from Afghanistan to Somalia.
Designed by Porsche, the Wiesel was developed with the airborne units of the German Bundeswehr as there was significant concern that they were ill-prepared to face enemy main battle tanks on the battlefield during the days of the Cold War. Thus a vehicle was required that was about to fit in standard NATO transport planes and be deployed from the air. Porsche produced the first models of the Wiesel for the German armed forces in 1975, but the project slowed to a halt in 1978 due to a lack of funds on the part of the Bundeswehr. Despite this, Porsche took a gamble and continued to develop the vehicle due to a rapidly growing interest from the armed forces of other countries.
The gamble paid off and the Weisel was adopted by the Bundeswehr in the early 1980s. It was named the Wiesel due to its small size and maneuverability. Out of the 341 Wiesels produced by Porsche, 210 were armed with Raytheon TOW wire-guided anti-tank guided missile system and 133 have the one-man KUKA turret E6-II-A1 armed with the dual-feed Rheinmetall Mk 20 RH-202 20 mm autocannon. Both variants were deployed by Germany in Somalia during 1993 as part of the United Nations forces intervention in the Somali Civil War known as UNISOM II.
Whilst it may break hearts when you tell them your dating partner you own a Porsche, the Wiesel is probably the most quirky armored fighting on the modern battlefield and holds a special place in our hearts!
For more articles on military toys on the the battlefield both past and present, check out our Weapons & Tech department!
Big thanks to The Tank Encyclopedia, the world’s first online tank museum, for the excellent drawing of the Wiesel!