2009/03/25

Leopard 2 upgrades

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The Leopard 2 MBT was developed in the 1970's and greeted as a formidable combination of firepower (120mm L/44 gun), mobility (27 hp/metric ton) and protection (frontal immunity to contemporary anti-tank weapons).
It had hidden qualities as well, like good all-round vision for the tank commander, a very maintenance-friendly design and durable components.

The Leopard2 became an export success, defeating other MBTs in all competitions when it participated (some potential export customers were ruled out by German arms export restrictions). The large inventory of German Leopard 2 was dispersed in Europe after the Cold War.

The Leopard 2 still needed upgrades to keep pace with the international MBT development, most notably a passive thermal sight in the 1980's and ever improved APFSDS (armour piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot) ammunition.

The post-Cold War upgrades of the 1990's were still focused on the MBT vs. MBT battle; additional turret front spaced armour and a longer, more powerful (120mm L/55) main gun plus smaller changes. Few tanks received an anti-mine package.
Leopard 2A5 - additional front turret armour
Leopard 2A6 - A5 with more powerful gun
Leopard 2A6M - A6 with additional protection against AT mines

As late as 1999 the leading German armour expert Rolf Hilmes wrote a book ("Kampfpanzer: Technologie heute und morgen") with a strong emphasis on main gun kinetic energy and frontal protection (for MBT duels), plus a quiet criticism of the ground pressure of Western MBTs in general.

The times have changed, and we have long since seen export versions (especially Sweden, Greece) of the Leopard2 with much better roof protection and even additional electronics in comparison to the German Leopard 2.
A demonstrator "Leopard 2 PSO" (2006) with a urban warfare kit remained just a demonstrator, just like the "Leopard 2A4 Evolution" (2008) demonstrator that used IBD Deisenroth add-on armour packages.

The most intense combat experience was gained by the Canadians who first used their upgraded Leopard 1C2 and later turned to Leopard 2A6M, modified to Leopard 2A6M CAN.
They actually had to use the tank in combat, and this led to a very typical behaviour: They opened their eyes to see shortcomings and did their best to fix them.

It's common in all armies of all times that many deficiencies remain unscathed in peacetime, but many of them are addressed in a hurry during wartime.

The Canadians decided to include slat armour (a 1960's technology that pre-dates the Leopard2 development!) to protect the sides and rear.
MBTs are typically ill-protected on these surfaces because of a compromise; maximum protection to the frontal surface in a hope to expose only these to enemy tanks.
The time of MBT vs. MBT combat is not now, and thus we're having a questionable protection compromise.

Other technologies like reactive armour could be used as well, but the German Leopard 2 are absent of either.

So what could explain that the Bundeswehr seems to accept the present protection level of the Leopard2A6(M)?

(a) It might be a Bundeswehr failure to react, peacetime inertia.

(b) We might have some kits stored somewhere but fail to "train as you fight" in order to reduce the wear & tear in peacetime training.

(c) We are waiting for an active protection system to improve all-round protection.


It looks as if (c) in the correct answer.

The sad thing about this is that APS were first developed a quarter century ago, and the Leopard 2 (still one of the best if not the best MBT of the world) was inadequately protected and far behind state-of-the-art all the time.
Air, land and sea forces of the NATO need to do a better job at eliminating deficiencies during peacetime instead of betting on their ability to fix shortcomings when a crisis or war emerges.

Sven Ortmann
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P.S.: The main gun ammunition against soft and semi-hardened targets isn't exactly the best possible either. The Israeli APAM multi-purpose round (in 120mm) is extremely promising.

5 comments:

  1. "So what could explain that the Bundeswehr seems to accept the present protection level of the Leopard2A6(M)?"

    The answer is neither a, b or c as you presented it Sven.

    The Bundeswehr expects to use these tanks in the role of a confrontational war with an major enemy that applies similar weapons.

    The Bundeswehr does not expect to use these tanks in a counterinsurgency roles or against partisans.

    In their current form they are fit for the first task.

    There are better system, lighter, less main gun power etc., for the second task.

    I find that only logical.

    (btw: I am former tank platoon officer)

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  2. I agree with the intent, but that doesn't explain the relatively low level of protection in the sides and rear.

    A regular army has an even better supply of AT weapons to exploit weak spots.
    The turret sides are susceptible to all serious -even portable- AT weapons.

    The Swedes thought of DPICM munitions only in use with regular armies when they insisted on better roof protection for their Strv 122.

    The different compromises have all their pro and contra - I question the wisdom in our compromise.

    (I question also the wisdom of the Canadians - they could have removed the V-shaped turret front spaced armour modules in Afghanistan to reduce the undesirable effects of heavy weight).

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  3. DemolitionMan26 March 2009 13:49

    Good all-round protection was never asked of an MBT. Abrams and Leopard 2 both share the same characteristica in terms of armour protection. Heavy frontal, sides and rear less. However, the US adressed these problems only after OIF although they faced the problem of possible non-dominant tank vs tank war in Korea for over 50 years. I don´t agree that the Bundeswehr does something wrong with not adressing the frontal and rear protection. They have ordered the PSO package, they use it in current demonstrations and if there´s the budget for it, it will see service. And that the way of up-armouring the front although the Cold War was over was not that bad was shown in 1999, when there was a real threat of engaging Serbian T-72 derivats in the Kosovo war. I agree that the German Leopard 2s are,sadly, not top notch. They still have no BMS, the new HE round takes way to long to procure. However, all these points are known and are mentioned in the Bundeswehrplan 2009. After nearly a decade of not knowing how to go on with the Leo2 the way is paved for the future.

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  4. It's not true that good all-round protection was never asked of an MBT.

    The track skirts and wheels/suspension usually offer a decent protection against HEAT (unless the crew is unlucky) and the Russians used a lot of ERA to protect the turret sides as well.
    They clearly have a requirement for side protection if they protect their turrets sides like that.

    The slat armour on Canadian Leo2s and the TUSK package on Abrams clearly tell me that there was a need and requirement for side and rear protection as well.

    The T-34 (grandfather of MBTs) had a side protection that rivalled other tanks' frontal protection when it was introduced.

    The Heer would certainly be dissatisfied if it had to use the Leo2 in a war - there's simply no way how to avoid hits by infantry AT weapons from the flanks completely.
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    The tank story was actually merely an attention-grabbing story to lead to the main point; military forces are usually negligent in their preparation for war. They need to apply quick fixes even when they enter a much less intense conflict than anticipated.

    The Leo2 was really just an anecdote here - it was the same with Challengers in 1991, Transall over Bosnia, Harriers over Falklands (had no Sidewinder before conflict), C-RAM, armoured truck cabins or for example CIWS in Falklands.

    It's a constant in military affairs, and I want my readers to be aware of it. I actually planned to aim more directly at this in a later, more abstract and general text.

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  5. The main culprit in not being ready is the belief that logistics problems can be eliminated if you have "standardization". This leads to "a hammer for every job" atmosphere in research and development.

    For decades the US has needed an infantry gun (AGS perhaps?) that is maneuverable, has better fuel mileage than the M-1, smaller, lighter and has fair (but not great) armor protection all the way around. It needs to be able to defeat an RPG and 12.7/14.5 mm armor piercing rds and not much else. In fact belly armor may be far more important then turret armor.

    When war came we immediately had to build the MGS, which is doing OK from what I hear, although it's useless in Afghanistan because of the mountains. Having wasted years pushing for this I can't say enough about how little sense military procurement makes. I'm not brilliant and the ones who insisted on one solution (the Abrams) are. And so it goes...

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