Magazine article National Defense

Europe's Armies Upgrading Heavy Forces

Magazine article National Defense

Europe's Armies Upgrading Heavy Forces

Article excerpt

Tanks expected to remain in European fleets for the next two decades

As the U.S. Army continues to modernize its 20 year-old fleet of Abrams tanks, its European counterparts in Germany, France, England and Russia also are striving to upgrade their heavy combat vehicles to make them more lethal and survivable.

Even though military priorities have changed, these countries still plan to maintain their heavy armored forces. "In Europe, the chance of a major confrontation between East and West has now probably passed for good," said Christopher Foss, editor of Jane's Armored Vehicles. "But most countries will still maintain fleets of main battle tanks for the next 20 years at least."

Germany is working on upgrades of the Leopard 2 tank, from the A5 to the A6 configuration. Col. Werner Gral, the German liaison at Fort Knox, Ky., said that his country does not plan to buy a new main battle tank. Currently, the German Armor Corps uses 2,300 tanks in 20 active and eight non-active battalions, according to Lt. Col. Ulf Bartels, who spoke at a recent Armor Conference in Fort Knox. The force will be downsized to 13 battalions in the future.

The first Leopard 2A6 main battle tank was delivered to the German Army in March at the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann facility in Munich. About 350 AG tanks will be produced, said Bartels. The vehicle weighs 60.1 tons. The A6 offers more protection for the crew and more firepower, said Grdhl. A new smoothbore gun has been developed by Rheinmetall GmbH of Ratingen, Germany. The 120 mm L55 gun will replace the shorter 120 mm L44 smoothbore tank gun.

The L55 smoothbore gun is compatible with modern 120 mm ammunition and with advanced high penetration ammunition, said the manufacturers. The A6 also has improved mine protection and an air-conditioning system, said Bartels. By 2004, he said, 205 main battle tanks will receive mine-protection capability.

"This improvement shall result from an externally adapted reinforcement of the floor plate, a fixing of the torsion bars and the removal or reinforcement of all floor fixtures," he said.

A camera with a 65-degree horizontal and vertical field of view positioned at the rear of the vehicle, together with a television monitor, allows the driver to reverse at high speed, without receiving directions from the commander. This also allows the tank crew to see potential snipers hiding behind the tank.

"In the past, we said: `Thanks, we won't go into a town or city,'" said Gruhl. "But today, we say that tanks have to go to these places whether they want to or not and, therefore, it is important that they get more protection for the crews."

The driver's hatch of the Leopard 2A5, also in the A6 version, is electronically operated and slides to the right to open. A deflector is mounted to the left of the driver's station.

The turret has third-generation composite armor and add-on armor modules. The commander's station has an independent panoramic periscope sight for observation and target identification. The laser-range data processor was modified, so that the Leopard 2A5 and A6 can now engage helicopters with APFSDS-T ammunition (Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot with Tracer). Each tank also has Global Positioning System equipment.

By 2004, three armor battalions will begin receiving new situational awareness software, called IFIS, which is the German equivalent of the U.S. Army's force XXI battle command for brigade and below (FBCB2). Germany wants to digitize a mechanized division once the software becomes available.

"Key components, such as fire control, weapon sighting and testing systems of the main battle tanks contain technology that originated in the 1970s, and, therefore, they need to be replaced a few years from now," said Bartels. Among the outdated components that need to be replaced, he said, are the first-generation thermal imaging devices and the communications systems. …

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