Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank (Germany)

The origins of the Leopard 2 begin with the joint West German-US programme to develop an advanced main battle tank (MBT) known as the MBT-70 / Kampfpanzer-70. It involved General Motors on the US side and the Deutsche Entwicklungs-Gesellschaft mbH (DEG) consortium on the German side (which was made up of companies such as MaK, Rheinstahl-Henschel, Lutherwerke and Krauss-Maffei). The MBT-70 was intended to replace the M48A2G in German service and was designed to be around 50 tonnes, have hydro-pneumatic suspension, an advanced fire control system that had a laser rangefinder and infrared sighting system and an automatic loader for the 152mm XM150E5 main gun, which could fire the Shillelagh missile as well as conventional ammunition. Both test chassis were completed in mid-to-late 1966 and the first tests showed the superiority of the German suspension. In early 1967 both engine prototypes had been built, the German liquid-cooled MTU MB 873 Ka 500 (1,500hp) and the American air-cooled Teledyne-Continental (1,475hp). By mid-1967, construction drawings had been exchanged but after the component trial vehicles had been built, it was found the tank had become too heavy and so the next stage of the programme would have been to reduce the weight. But the two countries could come to an agreement on how to proceed and the cost of the programme had started to escalate rapidly.

The MBT-70 programme was finally halted in January 1970 and the two countries went onto develop their own national main battle tank programmes. The US continued with a cheaper version of the MBT-70 (the XM803) and eventually produced the M1 Abrams. The Federal Republic developed a tank using many of the components of the MBT-70 (the experimental tank being called 'Eber' (Boar)), as the German Office for Defence Technology and Procurement (BWB) had instructed Porsche to develop improvements to the Leopard 1that would bring it up to the standard of the MBT-70. The programme became known initially as the 'Vergoldeter Leopard' (Gilded Leopard) and then continued under Krauss-Maffei as 'Keiler' (Wild Boar). A decision was taken to continue with the programme and Krauss-Maffei were chosen as main contractor to build seventeen prototypes that had the MTU engine developed for the MBT-70. Sixteen hulls and seventeen turrets were eventually built, the prototypes looking like the Leopard 1 A4, and had quite a mixture of components including 105mm and 120mm guns. Further development continued with tests being conducted at proving grounds such as Meppen and Münster, troop trials and extreme weather testing in Shilo, Canada and Arizona, USA. The Leopard 2 was designed to fall into Military Loading Class (MLC) 50 but initially was found to be too heavy so Wegmann designed a new, lighter turret. The lessons of the 1973 Yom Kippur War were starting to be digested at this point though, and it pointed to superior armour protection as being vital in the future. MLC 60 was accepted for the Leopard 2 as was an increase in, and the use of, multi-layered armour.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between the USA and West Germany to try and standardise the components of their respective tank programmes in December 1974 with an amendment in July 1976. part of the MoU was the comparative testing of the XM1 prototypes from Chrysler and General Motors with the Leopard 2 from Germany. The design had to be modified somewhat to meet the performance and cost criteria from the USA and so the Leopard 2 AV (austere version) was built. The modifications and building of the prototypes took longer than expected and the US Army proceeded with an evaluation of the XM1 prototypes, however, a prototype was flown over to the USA for comparative testing at the Aberdeen Proving Ground. The US Army reported that the XM1 and Leopard 2 AV were similar in terms of firepower and mobility but the XM1 had better protection. The XM1 was selected. The German companies responsible for Leopard 2 development went away with some bitterness and the feeling that their prototype had been used as a source of technology for the XM1. After extensive testing it was decided to adopt the 120mm Rhinemetall smoothbore gun and to go ahead with the initial series production of 1,800 Leopard 2s. Krauss-Maffei was chosen as the prime contractor and systems manager, MaK as sub-contractor (who would produce 45 percent of the tanks) with Wegmann as turret integrator. The first three pre-series vehicles were used in the final testing at the German Armour School (Kampftruppenschule 2) in Münster. The fourth tank was handed over to the German Armour School on 25 October 1979, the first Leopard 2 in service. The initial Leopard 2 order was built in five batches. The first batch consisted of 380 tanks, 209 by Krauss-Maffei (Fahrgestell Nr. 10001 to 10210) and 171 by MaK (20001 to 20172), delivered between 1980 and 1982, which started to replace the Leopard 1s of 1 and 3 Panzer Divisions (1 German Corps) that in turn replaced the M48A2G tanks in the Panzer Grenadier divisions. The second batch was built between 1982 and 1983 and consisted of 450 vehicles, 248 from Krauss-Maffei (10211to10458) and 202 by MaK (20173 to 20347). Minor changes were made to the vehicle including the deletion of the cross-wind velocity sensor, repositioning of the fuel filters, an external head-set connection was added to the left-side of the turret, foot boards were added to the powerpack to avoid damage during maintenance and the tow table clamps on the rear deck were repositioned. This version was designated Leopard 2 A1. The third batch consisted of 300 vehicles built between November 1983 and November 1984, with 165 from Krauss-Maffei (10459 to 10623) and 135 from MaK (20375 to 20509). Only a few modifications were carried out including the movement of the commander's panoramic PERI-R17 sight and the fitting of a larger cover plate to the top of the NBC system. These were also carried out to the second-batch vehicles and so the third batch vehicles were also designated as Leopard 2 A1. The first batch of vehicles were modernised between 1984 and 1987 and received the EMES-15 fire control system (with the PZB 200 going to the Leopard 1s) along with the other small modifications to the second and third batches. These were designated Leopard 2 A2.The fourth batch consisted of 300 vehicles and was delivered between the end of 1984 and the end of 1985, with 165 vehicles being built by Krauss-Maffei (10624 to 10788) and 135 vehicles by MaK (20510 to 20644). There were some modifications to these vehicles including the new digital SEM 80 / 90 VHF radios, revised exhaust grilles, an adjustable chest support for the gunner, a new camouflage system and the welding shut of the ammunition resupply hatches (due to concerns over the loss of overpressure in the NBC system after being hit). These vehicles were designated Leopard 2 A3. Between December 1985 and March 1987, 370 vehicles were built constituting the fifth batch. Krauss-Maffei built 190 (10789 to 10979) and MaK built 180 (20645 to 20825). The modifications made to this batch included a new digital core for the fire control system to handle new ammunition, a new fire and explosion suppression system and the second and third return rollers were repositioned. The final MaK vehicle served as a 'Komponentenversuchsträger' (component trial vehicle) for the Leopard 2 improvement programme. Although only five batches were originallt intended to be built, three more batches were subsequently ordered. The sixth batch of 150 vehicles was built between January 1988 and May 1989 with Krauss-Maffei building 83 (10980 to 11062) and MaK building 67 (20826 to 20892). Modifications included new maintenance free batteries, new tracks, zinc-chromate free paint, the movement of the central warning light to a new position. New forward sections of the side skirts and the deletion of the left-hand ammunition resupply hatch. These vehicles were designated the Leopard 2 A4. The seventh batch consisted of 100 vehicles built between May 1989 and April 1990 with fifty-five being built by Krauss-Maffei (11063to 11117) and 45 by MaK (20893 to 20937). No changes occurred on these vehicles, and so these were designated leopard 2 A4 as well. The eighth and final batch of seventy-five Leopard 2s were built between January 1991 and March 1992 with Krauss-Maffei building 41 (11118 to 11158) and MaK building 34 (20938 to 20971). There were a few minor modifications to the vehicles including modifications to the base of the smoke mortars, the rear sections of the side skirts were redesigned and the collimator for the muzzle reference system was changed to the right side of the main gun (something that was done to all vehicles). The final Leopard 2 was handed over to Gebirgs-Panzerbatallion 8 (Mountian Tank Battalion) on 19 March 1992. Many of the gradual improvements were retrofitted to the first to fourth batches and so all vehicles now had the designation Leopard 2 A4 despite there being a number of minor differences between the various batches, for example, the fifth to eighth batch had a fire suppression system while those of the first four batches only had a fire extinguishing system.

The hull of the Leopard 2 incorporates a multilayered armour and is divided into three areas, the driver at the front, fighting in the centre and engine at the rear. The driver is seated on the front right side and has a single-piece hatch with three periscopes. The centre one can be replaced by a passive night periscope. The commander and gunner are on the right of the turret and the loader on the left. The commander has periscopes for all-round observation and a PERI-R17 primary stabilised panoramic periscope that can be traversed 360 degrees. The gunner has a dual magnification, stabilised EMES-15 sight with integrated laser rangefinder, thermal image unit and fire control computer.. There is also an auxiliary FERO-Z18 sighting telescope with magnification of x 8. The gunner's picture is also transmitted to the commander's PERI-R17 who can control all the functions of the fire control system. The gunner also has a roof-mounted observation periscope, as does the loader. The engine is at the rear of the hull and is a MTU MB 873 Ka-501 liquid-cooled, turbocharged diesel engine (1,500hp) coupled to a Renk HSWL 354 hydrokinetic transmission that has planetary gear shift with integral service brake. The suspension is of the torsion bar type and has seven dual rubber-coated road wheels on each side along with an idler at the front, drive sprocket at the rear and four track return rollers. The Leopard 2 includes an NBC system, engine preheating, crew compartment heater, fire extinguishing (later suppression) system and electric bilge pumps. The main armament is the Rheinmetall L/44 120mm smoothbore gun which can fire APFSDS-T (Armour Piercing, Fin Stabilised, Discarding Sabot) and HEAT (High Explosive Anti-Tank). The tank holds 42 rounds of ammunition for the mian gun, with 27 in the hull to the left of the driver and 15 in the turret. A 7.62mm MG3 machine gun is mounted co-axially with the main armament and on the turret roof.

There are two combat improvement programmes planned for the Leopard 2. The first involves conversion of the tank into the latest version of the Leopard 2 - the Leopard 2 A5. The first batch of 225 German Leopard 2s has been converted and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (the two companies amalgamated in January 1999) is working on a further batch of 125. The vehicles will equip units earmarked for the crisis reaction force. The modifications on the A5 consist of a thermal sight mounted on the roof for the commander; new all-electric gun control equipment; improved armour protection (which is modular) over the frontal arc with the turret having the new distinctive arrowhead shape; the turret interior has been fitted with spall liners; the side skirts incorporate improved composite armour; new driver's hatch; a TV camera at the rear to allow for safer reversing; a hybrid navigation system incorporating GPS technology and a modified laser range data processor. The second combat improvement programme will involve the installation of a new main armament, the 120mm L/55 calibre smoothbore gun, which can fire all existing ammunition as well as the new 120mm kinetic energy ammunition. Those Leopard 2s that have the L/55 gun installed will be designated Leopard 2 A6. The Leopard 2 is currently in service with:

The Bundeswehr (2,125);
Austria (acquired 114 tanks from the Netherlands);
Denmark (purchased 51 tanks from Germany);
Netherlands (formerly bought 445 between 1982 and 1986. Of these, 114 were sold to Austria, 180 are being kept and have been upgraded to A5 standard, the rest are for sale but may be kept and upgraded);
Spain (108 Leopard 2s are currently being leased from Germany - Spain is due to manufacture 219 Leopard 2s under license that will be armed with the L/55 calibre gun);
Sweden (bought 120 from Germany which are being upgraded to A5 standard and has an option on a further 90 and will assemble another 120 Leopard 2 (S) tanks. The Swedish tanks have a number of additional modifications including additional armour protection on the chassis front and turret roof, a modular Tank Command and Control System (TCCS) connected via a databus to the subsystems of the tank and an eye-safe laser. These raise the weight of the tank to 62 tonnes)
Switzerland (380 - 35 bought from Germany, the remainder built under license in Switzerland.

Greece is currently evaluating the results of its competitive tank trials which had the Leopard 2 A5 in pole position with an overall score of 78.65 percent. There are also Armoured Vehicle Launched Bridge, Armoured Recovery Vehicle and driver training vehicle variants.

(Leopard 2 / 2 A5) Hull length: 8.49m. Hull width: 3.7m / 3.74m. Height: 2.79m / 3.00m. Crew: 4. Ground Clearance: 0.54m (front), 0.49 (rear) / 0.50m. Weight: 55,150kg / 59,700 (combat). Ground pressure: 0.83kg/sq.cm / 0.89kg/sq.cm. Max speed: 72km/h. Max range (internal fuel): 550km / 500km (on road). Armament: 120mm L/44 smoothbore gun (L/55 on A6), 1 x 7.62mm MG3 machine gun coaxial, 1 x 7.62mm MG3 machine gun mounted on turret roof.

Foss, Christopher. 'Leopard wins Greek tank shoot-out' in Jane's Defence Weekly, 31 May 2000, p. 3.
Foss, Christopher. 'Spain selects 120mm L/55 gun to arm its MBTs' in Jane's Defence Weekly, 1 December 1999, p. 12.

Jerchel, M and Sarson, P. Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank 1965 - 1995, Osprey Publishing, 1995, London, New Vanguard Series No. 16.
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Schnellbacher, U Jerchel, M and Badrocke, M. Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank 1979 - 1998, Osprey Publishing, 1998, London, New Vanguard Series No. 24.
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How to cite this article: Antill, P. (24 April 2001), Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank (Germany), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_leopard2.html

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