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A military armored (or armoured) car is a lightweight wheeled armored fighting vehicle, historically employed for reconnaissance, internal security, armed escort, and other subordinate battlefield tasks. With the gradual decline of mounted cavalry, armored cars were developed for carrying out duties used to be assigned to light cavalry. Following the invention of the tank, the armored car remained popular due to its faster speed, comparatively simplified maintenance and low production cost. It also found favor with several colonial armies as a cheaper weapon for use in underdeveloped regions. During World War II, most armored cars were engineered for reconnaissance and passive observation, while others were devoted to communications tasks. Some equipped with heavier armament could even substitute for tracked combat vehicles in favorable conditions—such as pursuit or flanking maneuvers during the North African Campaign.
Since World War II the traditional functions of the armored car have been occasionally combined with that of the armored personnel carrier, resulting in such multipurpose designs as the BTR-40 or the Cadillac Gage Commando. Postwar advances in recoil control technology have also made it possible for a few armored cars, including the B1 Centauro, the AMX-10RC and EE-9 Cascavel, to carry a large cannon capable of threatening many tanks.
A military armored car is a type of armored fighting vehicle having wheels (from four to ten large, off-road wheels) instead of tracks, and usually light armor. Armored cars are typically less expensive and on roads have better speed and range than tracked military vehicles. They do however have less mobility as they have less off-road capabilities because of the higher ground pressure. They also have less obstacle climbing capabilities than tracked vehicles. Wheels are more vulnerable to enemy fire than tracks, they have a higher signature and in most cases less armor than comparable tracked vehicles. As a result, they are not intended for heavy fighting; their normal use is for reconnaissance, command, control, and communications, or for use against lightly armed insurgents or rioters. Only some are intended to enter close combat, often accompanying convoys to protect soft-skinned vehicles.
Light armored cars, such as the British Ferret are armed with just a machine gun. Heavier vehicles are armed with autocannon or a large caliber gun. The heaviest armored cars, such as the German, World War II era Sd.Kfz. 234 or the modern, US M1128 Mobile Gun System, mount the same guns that arm medium tanks.
Vehicle built by railway shop workers for the Danish resistance movement, near the end of World War 2
Armored cars are popular for peacekeeping or internal security duties. Their appearance is less confrontational and threatening than tanks, and their size and maneuverability is said to be more compatible with tight urban spaces designed for wheeled vehicles. However, they do have a larger turning radius compared to tracked vehicles which can turn on the spot and their tires are vulnerable and are less capable in climbing and crushing obstacles. Further, when there is true combat they are easily outgunned and lightly armored. The threatening appearance of a tank is often enough to keep an opponent from attacking, whereas a less threatening vehicle such as an armored car is more likely to be attacked.
Many modern forces now have their dedicated armored car designs, to exploit the advantages noted above. Examples would be the M1117 Armored Security Vehicle of the USA or Alvis Saladin of the post-World War II era in the United Kingdom.
Alternatively, civilian vehicles may be modified into improvised armored cars in ad hoc fashion. Many militias and irregular forces adapt civilian vehicles into AFVs (armored fighting vehicles) and troop carriers, and in some regional conflicts these "technicals" are the only combat vehicles present. On occasion, even the soldiers of national militaries are forced to adapt their civilian-type vehicles for combat use, often using improvised armor and scrounged weapons.
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