Monday, 26 April 2021

APCs For Export: The Nurol Ejder 6x6 In Georgia

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans

From the barren deserts of Oman to the dense jungles of Malaysia: in this day and age Turkish wheeled armoured personnel carriers (APCs) operate in all corners of the world. In addition to seeing active service in these countries and Bahrain, other nations are currently in the process of selecting new 6x6 and 8x8 APCs for acquisition, with the Turkish Otokar Arma and the FNSS Pars often being serious contenders. Still, the story of Turkey's first truly successful wheeled APC project remains unknown to many. This despite the fact that the resulting vehicle was exported to Georgia, the first ever customer of a Turkish wheeled APC. Meet the Nurol Ejder 6x6.
The Ejder, meaning dragon in Turkish, was designed and produced by Nurol Makina, which is best known for producing the Ejder Yalçın 4x4 MRAP that so far has entered service with seven countries worldwide, as well as the NMS 4x4 infantry mobility vehicle (IMV), which is currently only in service with Qatar. The process by which the Nurol Ejder 6x6 ultimately took shape is perhaps the most interesting aspect of the vehicle, it essentially being a (very) progressive development of the Soviet BTR-series of APCs.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Nurol Makina first became involved in the defence sector through the development of the RN-94 6x6 APC, a project launched together with the Romanian company ROMARM. The latter already had extensive experience in designing APCs, most notably the TAB-series of APCs based on the Soviet BTR-60, 70 and 80. While the first RN-94 was still built in Romania, the second example was already assembled in Turkey, soon followed by five more prototypes that underwent a variety of trials by 1999. The RN-94 could be fitted with several types of (turret-mounted) weapon stations and even a mount for four Malyutka anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs).

Although an order by the Turkish Ministry of Defence (MoD) was envisaged, requirements within the armed forces had shifted and by 1999 there no longer was a need for the RN-94 within the Turkish Land Forces. Bangladesh would end up as the only customer for the RN-94, purchasing nine examples outfitted as ambulances in 2005. [1] The creation of an entirely new APC by Nurol utilising the technological know-how gained by developing the RN-94 began at around the same time, the fruits of this project ultimately becoming the Ejder 6x6. [2] ROMARM would go on to use the experiences gained in the RN-94 project in the Saur series of APCs, although none of the resulting vehicles found any buyers.
Meanwhile in neighbouring Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili began investing large sums of money into reequipping the Georgian armed forces with modern equipment from 2004 onwards in anticipation of a possible conflict with Russia over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This included anything from Israeli Spyder SAM systems and LAR-160 MRLs to Hermes-450 UAVs, but also some 100 Turkish Cobra IMVs. Nevertheless, these systems would do little to stop the onslaught as the Russian military commenced its invasion in August 2008.

Shortly after its defeat, Georgia began reequipping once more to replace the losses suffered during the 12-day war, and to expand on its capabilities to deal with future threats. The most significant acquisition of this period were some 72 Ejder 6x6 APCs from Nurol to supplement and later replace the BTR-70 and BTR-80 series of wheeled APCs in service with the Georgian Land Forces and the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Georgia. [3] The highly-mobile Ejders fitted well in the Georgian doctrine of mobile warfare, operating alongside the homegrown Didgori IMVs.

The Ejder 6x6 TTZA (Taktik Tekerlekli Zırhlı Araç - Tactical Wheeled Armored Vehicle) has a weight of 18 tonnes (compare to the BTR-80, which weighs just over 13 tonnes), a top road speed of 110km/h and an operational range of some 800km. [4] As a 6x6, only the first and second pair of wheels are steered. The Ejder's hull is constructed from hardened steel which offers all-round protection against small arms fire and artillery fragments (add-on armour for higher ballistic protection is available but wasn't acquired by Georgia). [4] A V-shaped hull protects the crew of 2 and up to 10 passengers against the blast effect of mines and IEDs. Six smoke grenade dischargers (three on each side of the hull) can be used to temporarily mask the vehicle's location, providing an additional form of protection. Additionally, the Ejder comes equipped with two water jets located at the rear of the vehicle to overcome any water obstacles at a speed of 9km/h. [4]

The armament of the Ejder 6x6 is relatively standard for APCs in this class, consisting of a remotely controlled 7.62mm or 12.7mm machine gun or a 40mm grenade launcher, the latter equipping the vehicles in service with Georgia. The Ejder can also be fitted with a number of other remotely controlled turret-mounted weapon stations with a calibre of up to 90mm. A dedicated IFV variant equipped with a French Dragar turret with a 25mm cannon (the same type of turret fitted to the RN-94) was also offered to clients, but received no orders.
Several more variants were developed, including one geared towards reconnaissance, an ATGM carrier, a mortar carrier, a fire support vehicle armed with a 90mm cannon, an ambulance version, a command vehicle and a recovery and engineering variant. Although having undergone trials in the Arabian desert in anticipation of a possible acquisition by a Middle-Eastern client, no further orders were ultimately received, and today Georgia remains the only operator of the Ejder 6x6.

Although neither the RN-94 nor the Ejder 6x6 APCs ultimately joined the ranks of the Turkish military, the experience gained by the development of both vehicles was almost certainly a major boon to the nascent Turkish defence industry, spawing wheeled APCs such as the Otokar Arma, the FNSS Pars and the BMC ZMA. Today, Turkey is set to receive its first 6x6 APCs in the form of the FNSS Pars III for its Land Forces and Special Forces Command.

Meanwhile, the Ejder 6x6 soldiers on Georgian service, easy to forget but no less capable for it. Apart from the acquisition of two Onuk MRTP-33 patrol boats for the Georgian Coast Guard in 2009, no other major acquistions from Turkey ever materialised. Still, with the threat of Russian military action ever looming over the region, Turkish military products like the Bayraktar TB2 are undoubtedly high on the Georgian Armed Forces' wishlist. Perhaps someday, an advanced sibling will then serve alongside the design where it all began: The 6x6 Edjer APC.

The FNSS Pars III 6x6 in IFV configuration

[1] RN-94 6×6 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC)
[2] Armament of Georgia - Turkish wheel armored transporter EJDER
[3] With over 40 Years of Engineering Experience NUROL Makina is now in the Service of the Hungarian Armed Forces