Armor: Germany Expands Its Tank Force


April 23, 2015: The growing Russian threat has prompted the German government to authorize a 46 percent increase in the size Germanys Leopard 2 fleet. In real terms that isn’t saying much. Since Germany was reunited in 1990 (and the Cold War ended) the German Leopard 2 fleet shrank over 85 percent (from 2,000 to 225). Germany also retired over 2,200 Leopard 1s. Most of the retired Leopards were sold off or scrapped. But nearly a thousand Leopards were put in storage and the 103 Leopards being upgraded and put into service will comes from those stored Leopards that remain after most were sold off.

Even before this expansion decision active duty Leopards (German and foreign) continued to receive upgrades. For example in 2014 Germany, Canada and Denmark agreed to upgrade 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.

In 2009 Germany began upgrading its few active duty Leopard tanks from the 2A6 to the A7+ standard. That would include more armor on the sides and rear (especially to protect against RPGs), more external cameras (so the crew inside could see anything in any direction, day or night), a remote control machine-gun station on top of the turret, better fire control and combat control computers and displays, more powerful auxiliary power unit and better air conditioning, and numerous other minor improvements to mobility (engine, track laying system, wheels and related gear), sound proofing and the thermal sights. This would increase the weight of the tank to nearly 70 tons.

The Leopard 2A7+ is also getting more effective ammunition for the 120mm gun (fragmentation shells that detonate above or behind a target). Non-lethal ammo has also been developed for the Leopard 2A7+. The manufacturer also announced it was beginning work on Leopard 3 (a major upgrade of the Leopard 2) before the end of the decade.

The 55 ton Leopard 2A6 was introduced in 2006, is still the most commonly used model, and is a contemporary of the American M-1. The 2A6 model has a stabilizer (for firing on the move) and a thermal imager (for seeing through night, mist and sand storms.) Germany has been selling less capable (but refurbished) 2A4s since the 1990s. This enabled many nations to inexpensively upgrade their aging armored forces. Since 2000 many nations have upgraded to the A6 standard. Most users prefer to continue upgrading their Leopards, mainly because there are no new tanks to buy. Thus the appeal of an upgrade to the Leopard 2A7+ standard.

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. Although 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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