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Increase of the combat capability of the Leopard 2

Written by Sakhal

In the last years of the Cold War, facing the combat capability of the Leopard 2 rose the growing threat of the Warsaw Pact tanks, and not only because of the numbers, but also because of the notorious increase in quality, for the range and effects of their weapons, as well as their protection, were considerably close to those of western tanks. Thus it was mandatory to study how the combat capability of the Leopard 2 could be increased by assessing the diverse technical possibilities that the military industry could offer in the late 1980s.

Increase of the combat capability of the Leopard 2

The Leopard 2 created by Krauss-Maffei AG (exemplar Y-509406 photographed circa 1987). Numerous possibilities were offered for the improvement of its combat capabilities, to provide an even better defense against the growing threat.

Chassis and propulsion plant

Every comparative judgement agreed that the fundamental components of the vehicle, propulsion plant and chassis were perfect. The vehicle, as a weapon host, seemed suitable and well proportionate, and apt to comply in the future with the mobility requirements of a main battle tank. Despite that, it was advisable to take into account measures to improve the marching comfort and ease maintenance. It seemed viable to reduce noise and vibrations, something that was continuously solicited. This could be achieved by: 1) transforming the exhaust ducts with derivation of exhaust gases towards the cold air stream; 2) elastically clamping the return rollers, roadwheels, idlers and drive sprockets; 3) reducing the engine idle or either stop the operation of individual pistons (as the performance of the alternator reduced in such way would still be enough to cover the requirements of energy when the tank is waiting in a ditch); 4) transforming the turret's motor group into a purely electrical one.

The parking brake represents a factor of no little importance in the maintenance of the hull. With the incorporation to the Leopard 2 of the KPz-70 engine, developed for the abandoned MBT-70 project, the independent parking brake was in that time required as supplementary brake by the Technical Inspection of Vehicles. According to later knowledge, the supplementary brake could be removed if on the assembly or disassembly of the engine a mechanical lock could be achieved in the sliding sleeve towards the drive sprocket. This way, when the driver actuated the hand brake the effect would be produced on the road brakes in the gearbox.

Firepower and protection

Firepower, determined by the components weapon (caliber and length of the tube), ammunition and fire control system, experiments a continuous improvement despite keeping the same cannon by means of a constant development of its ammunition. Since the precision of kinetic-energy ammunition is very good, the manufacturers would be preferably dedicated to the increase of the piercing capability based on constant developments on the metallurgy and design of the piercing cores. The values of the depleted-uranium cores manufactured in United States were almost matched by those produced in Germany, based in alloys of tungsten and heavy metals. According to the knowledge acquired, reactive armor did not reduce their piercing power. An increase on the length of the cannon would provide higher muzzle velocity and hence a higher piercing power, which was a viable growth potential. Given that the cannon is subject to wear and the transformation of ballistic values is not a problem for the digital computer of the fire control system, it would be possible at any time to replace the cannon to achieve the increased piercing power. It was proposed as well an increase in the caliber of up to 145 millimeters, which however would require a new concept of turret and this seems feasible only if united to an automatic loading system. The 120-millimeter shaped-charge projectiles are less suitable, for they no longer would be able to pierce the frontal armor adopted in the most modern Soviet tanks (improved by means of reactive armor), being insufficient as well a possible improvement of the shaped charge in these projectiles.

Increase of the combat capability of the Leopard 2

Electric mechanisms for rotation (left) and elevation (right) developed by AEG Aktiengesellschaft, and graphical depiction of their installation in the turret of the Leopard 2.

Since the perfecting of composite armor in the form of integrated protection packs led to a considerable enhancement of protection, the time arrived to undertake the interchangeability intended in the construction. The tanks of the sixth batch, delivered from 1988, would receive the new protection packs for the hull and the turret. It was still in study whether the steel front skirts should be replaced by more effective ones made of reactive armor. The limited effectiveness of shaped-charge ammunition, either as projectile or rocket, against the modern composite armor placed in the front and sides has led to the necessity of developing ammunition against the weak point of the turret, that is, the top. These are represented in the first place by cluster munitions, and in the second place by special missiles which, while overflying the target, project a shaped-charge stream that easily pierces the top of the turret. As a defense against this it was thought to install reactive armor packs, shields or gratings above the top of the turret. This would require the following modifications: new hatches, raising of the vision blocks placing new and elongated protection covers, raising of the periscope and remodelation of the commander's position. This decision would be related to the future suppression of the manually operated machine gun mounting, as it would be very convenient the adoption of a mounting which allowed to operate the machine gun from the interior (as in the M1 Abrams and AMX-56 Leclerc).

The ammunition magazine located in the fore part of the hull was particularly vulnerable to mines, but the installation of aditional protection would greatly reduce the number of available projectiles. These could be allocated in the bulb of the tower if the electro-hydraulic stabilization system were replaced by a fully electric installation, which is smaller, lighter, cheaper, less noisy and less energy-demanding. On the other hand, even if certain projectiles are not necessarily lethal, the particles that they create could damage the fire control system, leaving the tank out of action. Because of this it was studied the installation of kevlar panels in the interior of the combat room to protect devices and ducts. The introduction of the kevlar-boron fabric would serve as well as a protection against neutron radiation. The NBC (Nuclear-Biological-Chemical) protection by means of the overpressure system is ensured only if the hull and turret are protected against the effects of projectiles, so it would be convenient to install an air circuit with breathing devices for all the crew members. Additionally, the service life of the filter system in the NBC installation could be lengthened by continually drying the carbon-filter cartridges, by taking advantage of the heat from the engine cooling system.

The diverse systems that are used for the guidance of anti-tank missiles could be countered by: 1) introducing materials that are absorbent of laser and radar radiation (as the aeronautic industry has been doing), which would represent about a 3 percent of the overall cost of the project; 2) fitting the tanks with alarm devices that can detect the laser and radar radiation, and which would be linked to the infrared smoke launchers and electronic jammers; 3) deploying tarpaulins that reduce the thermal signature and which could be complemented by a thermal camouflage net while the tank is waiting in a ditch. The cabling of newly-installed devices should be of the optical fiber type to reduce the electromagnetic signature of the vehicle while suppresing the influence of external electromagnetic radiation on the electronic systems.

Observation and fire control

For its part, the fire control system must ensure the combat capability during the 24 hours of the day in every of its possibilities of operation, with an increase in precision at distances ranging from 2000 to 4000 meters, and an improvement of the survivability by means of an important automatization of the observation procedures and destruction of the targets. At the lead are the improvement of the possibilities of observation of the tank's commander during nighttime, with mist and fog, by means of the integration of a thermal imaging system and a laser rangefinder on his periscope, as well as the configuration of this one to fight helicopters. To set the maximum compatibility between the laser and the thermal imaging system, the right decision would be a carbon-dioxide laser, which besides is not hazardous for the eyes. At first, due to the 10.6-micrometer wavelength, the cooler, the sensors and some optical elements are simultaneously usable by both the carbon-dioxide laser and the thermal imaging system. It has been proven that, even with artificial fog, a carbon-dioxide laser rangefinder can measure accurately the distances to targets aimed through the thermal imaging system. The fog is not perceived by the thermal imaging system, but it would be measured as a distance to a target by a Nd-YAG (Neodymium-doped Yttrium Aluminium Garnet) laser.

Increase of the combat capability of the Leopard 2

The Special Products Division of the Wild Leitz business group created the PERI-RTW 90 (Periskop-Rundblick-Tag/Warme) circular-vision diurnal/nocturmal thermal-image periscope (left) and the SUA (Sight Under Armor) periscope (right), whose principle was perfected as a proprietary solution for vehicles, becoming the MODUS-P (MOdulares DUospektrales Sensor-Periscop) bispectral modular sensor periscope.

With the combination laser/thermal imaging system in the tank's commander periscope a notable improvement would be achieved of the reaction capacity during the 24 hours of the day, since this would allow the commander to immediately open fire if necessary. As this equipment became a very important requirement for third-generation main battle tanks, the most important technology companies based in Germany (Wild Leitz Group, Krupp Atlas Elektronik GmbH or AEG Aktiengesellschaft, among others) dedicated themselves to the development of a device of this kind and several prototypes were offered for the enhancement program of the Leopard 2. Since the performance of the Nd-YAG laser in the EMES-15 gunner's sight did not cover all of the operating conditions found on sights that integrate a thermal imaging system, such laser should be replaced or otherwise modified by a laser of different type (a carbon-dioxide or a supplementary Raman-effect laser). But given that the carbon-dioxide laser is technically complex and very expensive, it should be checked first whether a Raman-effect laser could suffice or not.

Also the driver should have available a night vision device of higher performance, which could be either a thermal imaging system, like those used by the gunner and the commander, or a third-generation starlight intensifier comprising the infrared spectrum. In any case, side vision should be improved in the future, posing in this case the necessity of not modifying the housings of the vision blocks. For the changes of emplacement during nighttime a starlight-intensifying camera should be installed on the rear part of the hull, whose imaging could be displayed in the driver's vision device, while the commander and the gunner could watch the reverse march through screen displays. In addition, given that observation is easy through the vision blocks on the commander's cupola, a relatively low expense is represented by a system that allows to align the commander's periscope towards the direction of a particular block by just pressing the corresponding button.

Automatization and computerization

The longer firing range available to German tanks in comparison with Soviet tanks was diminished due to the technical achievements of the latter. Besides, the numerical superiority of the Warsaw Pact was increasingly evident and this forced to think in ways to increase the effective range. Given that optical devices have their vision very limited beyond 2000 meters, a multispectral sensor (infrared and radar, preferably one of millimetric waves) should be added, whose information were independently displayed or integrated in the gunner's sight. The information delivered by the sensor should be elaborated for an automatic tracking, which would allow to reduce the reaction time. Technically, this would allow to engage and destroy several targets in a fast succession. However, an increase in the rate of fire without introducing an automatic loading system is not feasible if the loader is not provided with an auxiliary system (either an assisted loading process or an ammunition drum next to the cannon). The objective to achieve is to open fire in two or three seconds.

To preserve the current precision even at long ranges the registry, evaluation and correction of all of the ballistic influences, external and internal, should be automatized. These influences include, among others, the muzzle velocity of the projectile, the temperature of the propellant charge and the speed of the side wind on the trajectory, which must be processed as a correction value. It would be useful to link every information through a digital databus to a battlefield control and information system that should complement the fire control system. It is also imaginable the adoption of vocal control through a Voice Integrated Computer that receives instructions, emits alerts and performs tasks. The operativity of the fire control system could be increased if the internal control system had its logic support and memory capacity extended. The possibility of displaying texts and graphics in the tank's commander position had to be considered as well.

Anti-helicopter capabilities

The most important innovation for nighttime operations might be the anti-helicopter detection equipment. The combat between tanks in the third dimension (at distances between 4000 and 5000 meters) forces the tank to take measures against that threat. The first necessity is the detection and localization, but the observation of the airspace from inside an armored vehicle is impossible through the current observation means. A device specially designed for this task should effectuate a localization and then direct towards it the commander's periscope or the gunner's sight. A prototype officially entrusted to Philips GmbH demonstrated the viability of this requirement. By means of a laser integrated in the commander's periscope the distance to the helicopter could be measured, which would allow to program the proximity fuze of an anti-helicopter projectile. This programming is made through an electric signal once the projectile has been introduced in the cannon breech.

On the other hand, with an anti-helicopter projectile of terminal-phase guidance, like that conceived by Rheinmetall GmbH in collaboration with Bodenseewerk Geratetechnik (BGT) GmbH, the rangefinding process would be unnecessary. As the "intelligence" is inside the projectile, the commander's periscope or the gunner's sight would have to effectuate instead the designation of the target until the projectile reaches it. Out of the two aforementioned possibilities a choice would have to be made by assessing the expenses generated and the precision achieved by each method. Moreover, a decision should be made on whether every tank or only one per section should receive the anti-helicopter equipment.

Increase of the combat capability of the Leopard 2

Test model of a laser alarm sensor (left) patented by MBB (Messerschmitt-Bolkow-Blohm) GmbH and anti-helicopter alarm sensor (right) developed by the Systems and Special Technology Division (Unternehmensbereich Systeme und Sondertechnik) of Philips GmbH.

Inertial reference system

The necessity of a navigation system, posed already in the 1960s, gained importance with the advent of the third generation of main battle tanks, which had to be fully capable of fighting during nighttime, when navigation becomes particularly difficult. Mist and fog, as well as the management of the battlefield, render orientation as absolutely necessary. Thus, a navigation system, or at the very least a compass, should be present in the equipment of every tank. It would be the most desirable the integration of an inertial reference system. Making use of inertial gyroscopes and monoaxial accelerometers, a navigation computer could use the orientation and speed data of the vehicle to calculate and display its position in UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates. From the orientation of the vehicle the inertial reference system can also determine the spatial position of the cannon, allowing for a precise stabilization of the main weapon. Besides, the relative movement of the target could be obtained from the aiming motion, since the movement of the own vehicle is known. This way it could be possible to obtain, in addition to the correct ballistic computation, a correct prediction of the path followed by the target. This navigational capability along with the aiming reference opens the possibility of performing indirect fire, that is, without a direct visual link with the target.

Increase of the combat capability of the Leopard 2

Sensor block of the LPR-85 (LITEF-Panzer-Referenz) tank-mounted inertial reference system developed by LITEF (Litton Technische-Werke der Heilige) GmbH.


All of the measures presented in this article could be implemented without altering the basic concept of the Leopard 2, and would keep the tank as an important threat during the 21st century. The transformation would be gradually carried out within the main maintenance run, approximately every ten years. The assembly of the different components is efectuated in a modular way to achieve without problems the perfecting of the cell by means of successive enhancements of the combat capability. The wide improvement of this capability is achieved thanks to a cell that is sufficiently ample and solid to host a weapon able to face the armored threat in the future. This will provide a long service life for the system prior to the obsolescence of the cell. A global transformation into a new tank would happen with the introduction of the electromagnetic cannon, of which no date can be given.

Note from the author/translator: to consider that the previously exposed improvements were formulated during the mid 1980s may give an idea of how foresighted the industry of military technology is. Which of these measures would be eventually carried out depends not only on the military requirements but also largely in the ecomonic situation. In 1987 the version of the Leopard 2 that was in production was the A4, which as 2018 goes by still represents the most widespread version of the series. The cannon of increased length was introduced in the A6 version, which entered service in 2001, and the remotely-controlled machine gun has been included only in the A7+ version designed for urban warfare, shown to the public for the first time in EuroSatory 2010.

Categories: Tanks - Engineering - 20th Century - 21st Century - [General]


Website: Military History

Article submitted: 2018-01-28

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