A Swedish army CV90.
The Swedish government on Thursday announced it would donate to Ukraine up to 50 CV90 infantry fighting vehicles as well as some of Sweden’s Archer mobile howitzers.
It’s the latest in a flurry of arms packages from Ukraine’s NATO allies. Sweden along with Finland last year began the slow process of joining the transatlantic alliance.
The weapons Ukraine’s allies in recent months have pledged don’t include a lot of tanks—although that soon could change. But they do include a lot of heavily-armed infantry fighting vehicles that, while not tanks, still possess significant anti-armor capability.
The United States is sending to Ukraine an initial batch of 50 M-2 fighting vehicles that are battle-proven, long-range tank-killers. The Swedish CV90s, by contrast, are adept at destroying armored vehicles at close range—and especially in the woods.
The tracked, three-crew CV90, built by Swedish firms Hägglunds and Bofors, weighs up to 37 tons. In its standard version it carries up to eight infantry and packs a 40-millimeter autocannon in an armored turret. “It is one of Sweden’s best combat vehicles,” Swedish energy and industry minister Ebba Busch stated.
The CV90 is popular in northern Europe. The Swedish army has 500 CV90s in several variants. The armies of Switzerland, Norway, The Netherlands, Finland, Estonia and Denmark also operate CV90s.
It’s not hard to see why. The CV90’s designers optimized the vehicle for operations in Scandinavia’s forests. It just so happens that eastern Ukraine, where much of the fighting is, also has lots of trees.
Consider the CV90’s main weapon—its 40-millimeter L/70 autocannon. The L/70 isn’t new. It first entered service, as an anti-aircraft gun, a few years after World War II. But it’s proved extremely durable and versatile. An L/70 can fire two-pound shells up to five rounds a second at a thousand-yard-a-second initial velocity.
That’s a lot of metal, moving really fast. Up close, the L/70 is like a chainsaw—especially when firing armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot, or APFSDS-T, rounds.
And that’s the key to the CV90’s anti-armor prowess. True, the CV90 doesn’t have a turret-mounted launcher for long-range anti-tank missiles like the American M-2 and Russian BMP fighting vehicles do. But it doesn’t need one while fighting on forested terrain.
Yes, the M-2 can fire a 50-pound TOW anti-tank missile out to a distance of two miles. But only under the right conditions. The missile requires a clear line of sight between the launcher and the target—both to allow the gunner to steer the missile via an unspooling wire and to prevent the missile from running into an obstacle and prematurely detonating.
The BMP-3’s 60-pound Kornet anti-tank missile travels even farther—up to five miles—but it’s a beam-riding weapon that also requires a clear line of sight for its guidance laser.
All that is to say, anti-tank missiles such as the TOW and Kornet don’t work very well in the woods, where obstructions abound. The L/70, by contrast, doesn’t mind the woods at all. Not when it’s spewing sabot rounds at a rate of several per second.
In 2011, Swedish army major Magnus Frykvall ran a simulation pitting a reinforced Swedish army battalion equipped with CV90s and Leopard 2 tanks against a Russian brigade with BMP-3 fighting vehicles and T-90 tanks.
The forested battleground was bad for tanks, and both sides lost 10 or a dozen Leopard 2s or T-90s. But as the two sides’ infantry fighting vehicles clashed in the woods, the CV90s proved vastly superior to the BMPs.
“The red side’s IFVs had difficulty using their anti-tank missiles effectively, while the blue side’s CV90’s 40-millimeter automatic cannon with APFSDS-T ammunition is highly efficient in this terrain,” Frykvall wrote. The Swedish force wrote off 48 CV90s. But the Russian force lost a staggering 81 BMPs.
The implication is clear. To make best use of its ex-Swedish CV90s, the Ukrainian army should deploy them in the east, where they can hunt Russian vehicles in the woods.
A Swedish army CV90.