Written by V. Boryushin, V. Sokolenko; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review #3 2019, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront. The article was first published in July 2020
In recent years, the leading military and economic powers of NATO have increased their activities in analysing possible directions for the development and use of the combat vehicle arsenal (CVA) of the ground forces in future wars. For this purpose, the experience of combat application of such equipment in past wars is studies and generalised, new tactical methods for conducting CVA combat operations in open terrain and in urban conditions with complex infrastructure, including the joint use of robotic complexes, and various options for the modernisation of armoured combat vehicles (ACVs) are developed.
A characteristic feature of the activities carried out at the present stage is the transition from theoretical research, which was started in certain areas in the 1990s, to the practical implementation of many complex and expensive programmes for the development and modernisation of CVAs. Some of this work has already moved from the field of R&D to the creation of experimental and demonstration models, and in some cases, to serial machines. In the course of research work on CVA samples, modern technologies are being introduced to increase their combat capabilities.
Materials published abroad today on current trends in the development and application of CVAs present a wide range of views, sometimes contradictory, both by the leadership and the military-industrial complex (MIC) of the Alliance countries and individual authors.
For example, some foreign experts identify in these publications the following fundamental provisions that will have a decisive influence on the reforms being carried out of the ground forces and the direction of further improving the combat effectiveness of the CVAs: “in the wars of the future, mass use of tanks is not expected”; but at the same time, it is believed that “mass use of tanks, AIFVs, APCs are not excluded when performing certain tactical tasks, for example, when attacking poorly prepared anti-tank defences”; further, experts say that “large-scale tank battles are no longer intended to play a decisive role for a positive outcome of a ground operation”; “the time of mass tank battles in open terrain has passed, and in the future we should expect the use of tanks mainly in operations in urban conditions.
This will require improvement of both the design of combat vehicles and the tactics of their use”; “the main use of tank units of the ground forces will be time-limited operations, involving rapidly changing ways of conducting combat operations, decisive manoeuvres by forces and means of the modular organisational structure of the military formations in close cooperation with units of other arms and services of the armed forces”.
At present, the above views have not yet been widely adopted in all NATO countries, but they have already been reflected in a number of military doctrines and policy documents of some European states, which have become the basis for reforming the basic provisions of the concept of developing the weapons systems of the ground forces of these states.
The concept of development of the Main Battle Tank (MBT) was particularly deeply affected by ground forces reform processes. The number of heavy armoured fighting vehicles (AFVs) in the forces of many NATO member countries has become noticeably reduced, and despite numerous statements by foreign experts that “MBTs will remain in service with the Alliance until 2045-2050”, their modernisation programme has become sidelined, and work on creating a new generation of tanks in most of these countries has been completely frozen.
The dominant position in almost all foreign countries during this period was assigned to programmes for the development and production of light combat weight (up to 30 tons) and medium (30 to 40 tons) tracked and wheeled AFVs.
When equipping such combat vehicles, preference was given to powerful cannon and rocket weapons that could provide both fire support for existing infantry units and combat armoured targets and fortified ground structures.
Work priority areas were the development and improvement of AFVs, which are intended for use in localities as part of peacekeeping and anti-terrorist operations. It is characteristic that in such NATO countries as France, Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands and Italy, a bid was made to equip the ground forces mainly with wheeled light and medium-weight AFVs (AIFV, APC, ARV), as well as tank support vehicles and other combat equipment based on them. However, in other participating countries (USA, Germany, Great Britain), they try not to give such preferences to the wheelbase and develop both tracked and wheeled versions of the AFVs.
The German military leadership, as follows from the publications of foreign military media, actively supports the reform of its ground forces, including the transformation of the CVA system. The directive document “Main Directions of German Defence Policy”, approved by the government in May 2011, continues to have a significant influence on the formation of new views. In this document, in particular, it is noted that “an armed attack on the territory of the country in the near future should be considered unlikely.
The most important task of the German ground forces at the present stage is to participate in operations for the crisis settlement of the international situation”. This document has more than once had a decisive impact on the level of funding for the development and production of armoured and tank weapons and equipment at enterprises in the country, for example, in the case of allocation of quite significant amount of funds intended for R&D, carried out in order to modernise the existing fleet of armoured vehicles and the development of a new generation of AFVs.
The following works are planned for the near future:
- replacing the fleet of outdated MBTs with modernised ones (Leopard-2A7/A8) (it is expected that by 2019, the tank battalions and motorised infantry brigades will have 232 Leopard-2A7 tanks, but the ground forces command has already made an additional request for another 84 such vehicles);
- development of new models of CVAs that meet the nature of content of future wars to a greater extent that before (within the framework of these R&D, the creation of a number of modifications continues: AIFV Puma, the APC Boxer, the ARV Fennek, the ACV Wiesel), as well as work on the creation of a new generation of MBTs, called the Leopard-3 (third series), and other types of tanks;
- the application of fundamentally new technologies and promising materials for the development and modernisation of the components of the existing and future CVA fleet.
A distinctive feature of the current stage of development of the German CVA from other NATO countries was the work on the creation of a new generation of MBT. Previously, the solution to this problem did not go beyond R&D, sketching and technical design. Experts explained this by the fact that in the course of the work carried out quite a powerful potential for the creation of a new generation tank was created, but due to the foreign policy conditions in the world at that time, as well as for economic and other erasons the decision on this complex and expensive issue was temporarily postponed, and more attention was paid to the priority development at that time.
An important reason was also the conceptual uncertainty of design features depending on the intended nature and content of future wars, as well as the choice of rational directions for the development of a new generation of MBTs in these conditions.
In recent years, the relevance of such work has increased due to the appearance of the Russian high-tech, highly secure and equipped with the latest generation of onboard electronic equipment T-14 Armata and modernised T-90 tanks in the proposed theaters of military operations.
Currently, German military experts argue that the technical appearance of the Leopard-2 tank and is main combat properties at the time of its creation were optimised in advance to solve problems in a large-scale war. But to use it in local wars and armed conflicts, in urban combat or in the fight against terrorist groups and organisations, it is necessary to adjust individual combat properties and specify a number of TTCs.
For these reasons, the German Ministry of Defence has put forward for specialists in the MIC and firms – manufacturers of equipment requirements to improve the MBT development concept and to study the feasibility of creating specialised types of CVAs, such as a tracked tank support vehicle (TTSV, which is currently in the technical design stage, can be created on the basis of the Leopard-2 tank, options for its development are being considered on the basis of the Puma and Marder AIFV), a wheeled TTSV (which is at the stage of creating a prototype, is being developed on the basis of the APC Boxer with a turret, weapons and instrument complex from the Puma AIFV, it is possible to adopt for service by 2024); a vehicle for urban combat (at the stage of creating a prototype, the layout is based on the American 155-mm self-propelled howitzer M109, but with a Swiss 120-mm gun), a medium tank (at the stage of demonstrating a pre-production model, created on the basis on the modernised AIFV Marder with a 105-mm standard NATO gun). Work is underway to evaluate the effectiveness of these new types of ACVs in future wars on simulation models and experimental exercises.
The military conflicts of recent years have convincingly proved that an enemy equipped with modern and fairly effective anti-tank weapons acts against tanks both in open areas and in urban conditions. In these conditions, the MBT and other armoured vehicles (AIFVs, APCs) are “…unsuitable for such scenarios of combat use and do not provide the required protection for the crew”.
Most operations conducted in urban environments resulted in large irretrievable losses of tanks, AIFVs and personnel, even if these AIFVs were equipped with equipment aimed at improving the effectiveness of their use for urban combat.
According to German military experts, currently the country’s ground forces do not have a universal combat vehicle (including the Leopard-2 MBT and the Puma ARV) for conducting offensive operations both in open terrain and in urban conditions, when the enemy has a large number and variety of reconnaissance and anti-tank weapons, has wide opportunities for maneuvering fire and movement, is protected by walls of city buildings and field fortifications.
In addition, after an analysis of existing urban warfare in other states with the use of armed forces, developers were required to equip AFVs with special weapons and ammunition in order to minimise the destruction of urban infrastructures.
Consequently, a number of comprehensive R&D activities are planned in Germany, aimed at creating innovative technologies for the CVA of the future. In April 2017, the commander of the German ground forces, Lieutenant General J. Vollmer in the conversation “About the future of the German ground forces”, said to the correspondent of the magazine “Military Technology” that in the long-term, in the interests the armoured and tank weapons and systems, scientific research has been directed at creating high-energy laser and electromagnetic weapons of high power, the main ground combat system, protective nanosteel and nanocomposite materials, ground-based robotics, active and passive protection systems, powerful generators and more.
It should be noted that attempts to create a new generation of CVAs have been made in the leading NATO countries many times over the past few decades, but due to the lack of relevance of projects, the appearance of other higher-priority works, or as a result of changes in the military-political situation in the world and insufficient funding, most projects have remained unrealized.
For these reasons, the full technical profile of the new generation of MBT has not yet been finalised in any of the participating countries.
It is known that for the development of a new tank, the ground forces command and the management of the German machine-tool companies plan to use a significant scientific and technical reserve that was created in previous years. In the period from 1980 to 2018, more than a dozen projects were developed in the country to modernise tanks and create a new generation of MBTs, which reflected the following main concepts.
First, assumed an evolutionary path of development of the existing tank of the Leopard-2 series, based on industrially developed technologies and partially on new ones.
This concept has consistently led to the creation of more and more advanced modifications.
Second, it provided for the creation of a new generation of MBTs, based mainly on newly developed and partially on existing technologies. In accordance with these concepts, projects for the creation of the Leopard 2A8 MBT and the new Leopard-3 series are currently under development.
MBT Leopard 2A8. The decision to release a new modification of the tank, which received the designation Leopard 2A8 (in some sources, the tank is designated as Leopard-2A7V), was made by the command of the German army and the management of KMW in 2013.
Several versions of layout solutions were worked out: on the basis of modifications of the A7 and A7+ tanks, as well as on the basis of the demonstration model of the Leopard-2 Revolution tank.
The versions differ from each other mainly by the armouring schemes. Deliveries of serial Leopard 2A8 tanks to the troops are planned to be carried out in stages until 2025.
It is expected that in the next five to seven years 104 Leopard-2 tanks will be upgraded to the A8 (A7V) standard, of which 68 are Leopard-2A4, 16 are 2A6 series and 20 are 2A7. According to preliminary estimates, the cost of the upgrade package together with additional services will amount to 118 million euros. One Leopard 2A8 tank is estimated by experts at the level of 8-8.5 million dollars. Small-scale production of its foreign counterpart, the American M1A2 SEP V3 tank, will amount to 8.5-9 million dollars.
The relatively high costs of MBT development has become currently one of the main limiting factors for their mass production. Small annual production volumes of new and modernisation of existing machines (not more than 10-20 tanks per year) reflects the general trend of CVA development of leading NATO countries and testify how the technical difficulties and high costs of using particular technologies, and the insufficient funding of the development programmes, so the leadership of the MIC of NATO countries invests more not in production but in the development of innovative technologies to ensure the future creation of a new generation of CVAs in the short term.
For example, due to the high cost of work associated with the use of new technologies, only 30 tanks out of 100 A8 modifications are planned to strengthen the anti-mine protection of the sides and bottom of the hull. Earlier it was reported that the troops already have 70 Leopard-2A6M MBTs with similar design improvements. Moreover, for economic reasons, it was decided to postpone until 2020 the implementation of a set of measures aimed at improving the effectiveness of the use of Leopard 2A8 tanks in urban areas.
Foreign information materials indicate that the Leopard 2A8 tank is planned to be created as a universal combat vehicle intended for use in high-intensity conflicts (large-scale war), in local wars, peacekeeping, anti-terrorist and special operations.
Modifications of the A7 and A8 tanks are planned to remain in the military until 2035-2040. German experts see the feasibility of such a decision in the fact that it will require a long-term in-depth study of individual technologies for a new promising tank. Under the current conditions, the development of the A8 modification will ensure that the Leopard-2 TTC is maintained at the required level for the specified period of time, and the designers will be provided with the necessary reserve of time to solve complex and knowledge-intensive tasks when creating new technologies.
The Main directions of improving the combat capabilities of the Leopard 2A8 MBT. The R&D directions taken in order to create the A8 modifications give the following ideas of its tactical and technical characteristics.
The combat weight is 63 to 67 tons, crew of 4 people. Layout of all compartments (combat, control, engine and transmission) with minimal changes in the design of the hull and turret, compared to the Leopard 2A7 series tank.
The specific capacity is 22.4-23.8 HP/t with an MTU engine with a capacity of at least 1,500 HP.
The vehicle is planned to be adapted as much as possible to conduct combat operations both in open terrain and in urban conditions. To maintain the TTC of such a vehicle at the required level until 2035-2040, it is planned to conduct a number of complex R&D aimed at developing its combat properties, namely: firepower, security, mobility, command manageability.
Fire power. Several options for the tank cannon armament are under development: first – with a 120-mm cannon with a shortened barrel (L44) which meets the increasing demands of warfare in an urban environment; second – with a 120-mm (L55A1) smoothbore gun of the Rheinmetall company, which allows the new tanks to be equipped with the sub-calibre armour-piercing projectile KE2020, which is to enter into service by 2022; third – with a 130-mm (L51) smooth-bore gun (from the same company), which is planned to be installed on upgraded models after 2020. The decision to equip the tank with guided weapons is expected to be made after receiving the results of complex fire tests of the 130-mm gun.
All Leopard 2A8 tanks will be equipped with a remote detonation system and multi-functional programming of the 120-mm high-explosive DM12 projectile response time, which will allow these projectiles to be used against bunkers and heavily fortified field structures. This system will also be used to fight helicopters, infantry in open terrain and lightly armoured targets.
More than 2,500 such shells have already been ordered. In addition, all A8 tanks will be able to use DM11 high-explosive shells with a programmable fuse. The DM63 remains the main armour-piercing sub-calibre projectile. The use of the DM12 shells and the advanced fire control system (AFCS) increases the firepower of the tank, especially when firing at enemy infantry in shelters.
It is also planned to finally switch to the use of electronic panoramic surveillance system “through the armour”, when the display of the surrounding space around the machine will take place on the screens of panoramic monitors installed at the crew workstations.
The vehicle commander workstation is planned to be equipped with a new stabilised panoramic sight RTWL-B of the Karl Zeiss company. It has the same design and characteristics as the sight on the German AIFV Puma.
The scope kit includes an ATTICA thermal imaging device with day and night thermal imaging channels of the third generation, a laser rangefinder and a day-vision television camera.
The commander’s sight can be used with the upgraded EMESs gunner’s sight, which will provide the crew with high search and strike capabilities when firing from the tank when stationary and on the move.
The detection range of ground and air targets is planned to be increased to 5,000 m. A two-channel SPECTUS periscope viewing system will be installed in place of the driver-mechanic, which will combine two channels (visual and opto-electronic) in one observation channel. It is planned that all Leopard 2A8 tanks will be equipped with the automatic detection and tracking system AZEV (Reinmetall).
Protection. The tank is planned to be equipped with additional modular passive armour to strengthen the protection of the front sector of the hull and turret, as well as the sides and roof of the turret, the standard set of which will include protection of the bottom from mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
In addition, lattice armour or light cellular packages will be installed to protect the aft part of the tower and the hull from rocket-propelled anti-tank grenades. This protection has already been tested in combat on Canadian and Danish Leopard-2 tanks in Afghanistan.
The protection of the Leopard 2A8 tank will be enhanced with new additional armour on top of the front part of the roof of the hull and turret. This version of tank protection has already been tested in combat conditions (in Iraq and Afghanistan) and, as tests have shown, provides a reduction in the damaging effect of manually operated and unguided anti-tank weapons launched from the upper floors and roofs of buildings.
To reduce the visibility of the tank in the parking lot and in motion, it is planned to include the improved camouflage thermal control system Barracuda from the Swedish company Saab in the equipment set of the vehicle.
Maneuverability. The power unit will probably remain unchanged, although the possibility of installing a new engine with a capacity of about 1,650 HP (at the R&D level) is being considered.
The power of the autonomous power auxiliary power plant (APP) of the company Steyer is planned to increase to 40-50 HP.
The tank will have a significantly improved chassis (reinforced torsion shafts, improved brakes, new tracks installed and upgraded hydraulic system for pulling tracks from the driver’s seat). In addition to providing improved mobility, the goal of these measures is to increase the potential for improving security through additional booking, which will lead to an increase in the combat weight of the vehicle to approximately 70-75 tons.
Command manageability. The tank will be equipped with an upgraded onboard information and control system, which will increase the level of automation and “intellectualisation” of combat and work processes that occur during firing, movement, as well as survivability and improve command management (especially inter-object interaction).
All crew displays are to display information from the standard battle control system. All electronic instruments and communication systems will be connected to each other via the CANBUS data bus, which will provide the crew the information on flat-panel displays installed at the commander’s, gunner’s and driver’s workstations.
To be continued…
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