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Leopard 2 Forever
by James Dunnigan
July 20, 2014

Germany, Canada and Denmark are upgrading over a hundred of their Leopard 2A6 tanks with ATTICA thermal imaging systems. The ATTICA sights will upgrade commander and/or gunner sights. In most modern tanks both the commander and the gunner have high tech sights, usually with thermal (heat imaging) capability. The ATTICA sight is 3rd generation and that means images are sharper, more easily linked with other systems and the equipment is more reliable and easier to maintain. Third generation also means the engineers have added more wish-list items they have been receiving from earlier users over the years. The upgrade costs about $100,000 per sight.

Until the 1980s, the German Leopard I was considered one of the best tanks available. Entering service in the late 1960s, it was the first post-World War II German tank design. Although a contemporary of the American M-60A3, the German tank was considered superior. For this reason, Germany was able to export Leopards to many nations. Most of the 4,744 produced (plus 1,741 Leopard chassis adapted to other uses, like recovery and anti-aircraft) have since been retired (in storage) or scrapped. Many owners may have to melt down theirs Leopard Is, for there's not much of a market left for 44 ton tanks, even those equipped with a lot of nifty upgrades. The original buyers of Leopard I have already flooded the market but now only Leopard 2s are wanted.

The German Leopard 2 appeared in 1979 and was an immediate export hit, especially to replace elderly U.S. M-60 tanks (a 1960s design.) But when the Cold War ended in 1991 many Leopard 2 users looked to sell off many of their Leopard 2s. Already over 1,500 of the original 3,500 Leopard 2s have been sold as second-hand vehicles to Austria, Canada, Norway, Sweden, Singapore, Denmark, Finland, Poland, Portugal, Greece, Chile, Turkey and Spain. Originally, West Germany bought 2,125 new Leopard 2 tanks, the Netherlands 445, Switzerland 370, Sweden 120, Spain 219 and Greece 170. A contemporary of the U.S. M-1, many consider the 62 ton Leopard 2 a superior tank, even though the M-1 has much more combat experience and subsequent upgrades based on the experience in battle.

In 2003 both Germany and the United States believed the usefulness of heavy tanks like the M-1 and Leopard 2 were over. Then came Iraq and Afghanistan where it was found that these traditional designs were still very useful, especially with the most modern accessories (like thermal sights, vidcams for all-round visibility from inside the tank and modern air-conditioning systems that can withstand tropical heat). Thus upgrading the Leopard 2s remains a big business.


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