Donnerstag, 27. April 2017

Leopard 2: Poland wants more; Germany and Turkey opt for upgrades

According to a news report from Defence24.com, the Polish Army is interested in buying more Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs). Poland originally received 128 Leopard 2A4s for an extremely low price, a decision made in Germany in order to build up better political relationships between the two countries, which previously due to the second World War and previous conflicts had been terrible. A further 119 Leopard 2 tanks (including 105 relatively modern Leopard 2A5s) were ordered in 2013, after Germany (falsely) decided to downsize it's tank force. These second-hand tanks also were extremely cheap, costing only €180 million.
 
The Leopard 2PL is an upgraded Leopard 2A4 with AMAP armor, new optics, electronics and an APU
Given this history, it seems very unlikely that Poland is going to order newly built Leopard 2 tanks, which would cost between €5 and €11 million per vehicle, depending on variant and other parts and services being part of the contract value. Buying new tanks also would delay the introduction into service by some years, however the tanks could be more capable than what currently is possible with upgrading older vehicles - in order to keep upgrades cheap, most Leopard 2A4 users try to limit the weight of a modified version to 60 metric tons (above this limit the torsion bars need to be replaced, which requires some welding on the hull). 
Thus Poland is most likely looking to buy second hand Leopard 2A4 tanks for a much a lower price - before Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula, used Leopard 2A4 tanks were sometimes sold for less than one million Euros per tank.
If Poland purchased Leopard 2A4 tanks, these MBTs then should be upgraded to the modern Leopard 2PL standard, which features enhanced surivability, firepower and slightly improved mobility. A thick AMAP composite armor module at the turret front boosts the frontal turret protection to a level comparable to the Leopard 2A7, while optics and modifications to the gun, improved drive system and a computer unit to program the 120 mm DM11 HE-airburst ammunition boost the tank's lethality.

A possible source for these second-hand tanks might be Norway; recent reports suggest that Norway is considering giving up it's small tank force (52 Leopard 2A4s) in favor of a more mobile infantry-focused doctrine. Small infantry units should take out enemy tanks by using anti-tank guided missiles and other weapons. This is however only one of three options being considered by the Norwegian Army, in the end the tanks might be kept operational.
Finland might also be able to sell slightly less than a hundred Leopard 2A4 tanks, after purchasing 100 ex-Dutch Leopard 2A6 MBTs in 2014. Some of the 139 Leopard 2A4s originally bought by Finland have been relegated to reserve units, while others were converted into bridge layers, support vehicles or cannibalized for spare parts.
A third option for getting Leopard 2A4s at a low price might be Spain. Originally Spain leased 108 Leopard 2A4 tanks from Germany, which later were purchased by the Ejército de Tierra (Spanish Army), after Germany had downsized it's own military significantly and had no need for further tanks. Spain has offered the tanks to the Czech Republic and to Peru; however they were rejected due to being in a bad condition and thus requiring costly factory-level maintenance.
It is currently unknown what buying more Leopard 2 tanks means for the fate of the PT-16 tank developed by the Polish industry. It might result in no PT-16 being bought by the Polish Army, however the current government plans to increase the size of the military dramatically (together with it's budget), which might allow to upgrade some of the older T-72 and PT-91 tanks to the PT-16 configuration.

Leopard 2A5 of the Polish Army
Due to Russia's politics towards Eastern Europe (predominantely annexing Crimea and supporting the rebels in the civil war in Ukraine) being considered an aggression and inacceptable, NATO has increased it's focus on conventional warfare, shifting away from focusing on international peace-keeping, peace-making and anti-terror operations. To react faster and better in case of a Russian aggression, the Polish Army has moved some of it's currently most advanced tanks - the Leopard 2A5 - closer to it's eastern border. The tanks originally belonging to the 34th Armoured Cavalry Brigade located in Zagan (a city close to the German border) have been moved to the 1st Tank Brigade, which is stationed in Wesola, a place close to the country's capital, Warsaw. Likewise the PT-91, an enhanced, local version of the T-72 featuring ERAWA armor and improved electronics, will be used to replace some other tanks in the 1st Tank Brigade. Previously the unit was equipped with obsolete T-72M1 tanks.

The ADS system utilizes pre-warner radars, optronic sensors and box-based countermeasures
Meanwhile ADS Protection GmbH, a German company owned by Rheinmetall Defence and it's partner IBD Deisenroth Engineering, has suggested to the German military to adopt it's Active Defence System (ADS), a box-based active protection system (APS) capable of defeating (depending on exact variant) anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) - including top-attack weapons, RPGs, EFPs, aswell as HE(AT) and APFSDS ammunition fired by main battle tanks. A report following an investigation on the system was presented to the German Defence Commitee at the end of March. Due to the commitee working in private, it is not known what the result of this report are. According to an earlier report in a news magazine, the system could enter service in 2018 or 2019, when ordered in 2017. The system manages to exceed the NATO STANAG 4686 requirements for active protection systems (intercepting more than 85% of incoming projectiles for a reduction in penetration capacity by 50%), defeating over 95% of incoming threats during testing.
On the 26th April of 2017, the German parliament finally approved a contract to buy and upgrade 103 Leopard 2A4 tanks, which are currently owned by the German defence industry. Previously the contract was delayed due to disputes between the two companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall, which could not agree on how the contract value would be split between them. Most of the tanks will be upgraded to the new Leopard 2A7V configuration, an upgraded variant of the Leopard 2A7, while the other tanks will be converted to support vehicles or repurposed in another way. The Leopard 2A7V will feature a stronger 20 kW auxiliary power unit (APU), enhanced armor protection, superior optics and improved communication systems. It might also feature the improved L/55A1 tank gun, that allows to operate at higher pressures. Together with new ammunition, this is said to improve performance/penetration by 20% compared to the current gun.

Leopard 2's originally produced with old armor package can be identified by the welded ammo hatch (red arrow)
After loosing several Leopard 2A4 tanks in combat against terrorists, Turkey is trying to improve the protection of the tanks. Depending on production batch, the 2A4 version of the tank is either fitted with a first, a second or a third generation armor package. At least some Turkish Leopard 2A4 tanks are most likely fitted with the oldest and weakest armor option, because they belong to the earliest production batches. These can be identified by the ammunition hatch located in the left side wall of the turret; it was closed (by welding steel ontop of it) when the tanks were upgraded to the 2A4 configuration.
According to the Military Technology Magazine, Turkish sources claim that a about 80 MBTs were used in the operation "Euphrates Shield", of which 43 were Leopard 2A4 tanks. Based on available data about 7 to 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks were hit by anti-tank guided missiles, damaging or destroying the tanks. Due to IS propaganda filming the same tank from different angles and pretending that this would be different vehicles, the exact kill number might be inflated.

M60A3 fitted with ERA from Roketsan
Currently 40 Leopard 2A4, 40 M60A3 and 120 M60T MBTs of the Turkish Army are planned to receive an upgrade to improve the protection against ATGMs, after two M60T tanks were already fitted with a remote weapon station (RWS) and laser warners. The M60T is meant to receive an active protection system; given that the Akkor APS is still in development, Turkey plans to buy an existing system. Furthermore the M60A3s and Leopard 2A4s are to be fitted with a new ERA kit from Roketsan (scheduled to be tested on a Leopard 2A4 first), a fire supression system, a close proximity surveillance system and the same upgrades as the two M60Ts received (which are laser warners and a SARP RWS). The upgraded Leopard 2A4 tanks are also meant to receive an APS, just like the M60T Sabra tanks. Which APS will be chosen is unknown, but Rheinmetall has complained about Germany blocking several weapon exports to Turkey; this might include the AMAP armor package used on the Turkish Leopard 2NG upgrade and/or the ADS active protection system.

The Leopard 2 tanks from Germany, Denmark and Poland did enjoy great success in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2016, hosted by the US Army on the Grafenwöhr site located in Germany. This year's competition is scheduled to take place between the 7th and 12th of May. Denmark, Italy and Slovenia won't return after participating last year, however Austria (with Leopard 2A4s), France (with the Leclerc MBT), Romania (with the TR-85M1) and Ukraine (most likely using an upgraded T-64 version) join last year's competitors Germany, Poland and the United States. Let's see how the Leopard 2 can handle the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2017.

Mittwoch, 26. April 2017

Russian T-72B3 receive armor upgrades

The Russian Army has decided to upgrade the current T-72B3 to a new configuration, which was first seen in the middle of last month. The exact number tanks upgraded has not been disclosed yet. The tank has been called "T-72B3M" or "T-72B4" by different websites, suggesting that the new designation may also not have been revealed yet. It might be known as "T-72B3 mod. 2016" rather than receiving a completely new designation. 
The upgrade is aimed to improve the survivability of the tank by installing explosive reactive armor (ERA) at the flanks of turret and hull. This armor is apparently identical to that used on the current version of T-90MS "premium" export tank. This reactive armor is not known to provide protection against kinetic energy ammunition such as APFSDS rounds nor against anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) or rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) with tandem shaped charge warhead.

The upgraded T-72B3
Specifically on the turret sides the ERA boosts protection level considerably, because the T-72 and other Soviet-designed tanks rely mostly on turret geometry to obtain a high level of protection while staying at a relatively low weight. The turret flanks are covered by the heavily armored turret cheeks along the ±30° frontal arc, which allows having only very thin steel armor at the turret sides - about 70 to 120 milimetres thick (depending on location and variant).
In conventional warfare, the turret design of the T-72 is not considered to be a drawback, because the overwhelming majority of hits will occur within the frontal arc, as proven by the analysis of damaged and destroyed tanks. However it's turret design is a major reason why the T-72 is not suited for irregular or hybrid warfare. When the side armor is hit during an ambush, it can be penetrated by even the oldest and weakest RPGs. Meanwhile the turret side armor of the other tanks such as the Challenger 2, Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams is already much thicker - usually more than a feet (~300 mm) thick - this is believed to be enough to resist att least older types of RPGs. To deal with ATGMs and more modern RPGs, additional urban warfare packages have been developed and adopted on numerous modern main battle tanks, including the C1 Ariete, the Challenger 2, the Leclerc, the Leopard 2, the M1 Abrams, the PT-91/T-72 and the T-84M. The Russian Army is rather late with adopting the new armor package.
 
The rear of the upgraded tank is fitted with slat armor
Nine relatively large ERA modules are added to the turret sides of the tank: five are mounted on the right side of the turret, providing rather good armor coverage. Only four ERA modules are installed on the left side of the turret however, because there is a large gap caused by the smoke grenade dischargers. This area should be considered a weakspot that still is susceptible to penetration by even the oldest types of RPGs. The original T-72B upgrade with Kontakt-5 reactive was a rather "cheap and dirty" attempt to boost the protection of the tank, not trying to focus on perfect coverage, but rather being a low-cost option. This resulted in the old smoke grenade launchers being kept, rather than relocating them ontop of the ERA or on the turret roof, where they wouldn't cause a weakspot. Other tanks such as the T-80U and T-90 have a much better ERA layout.

The flanks of the T-72B3 are now protected by ERA
On each side of the hull there are twelve rather large, but thin, panels of reactive armor. Each panel might hold multiple reactive elements in order to maximize multi-hit capability - at least this design was used on the Kontakt-5 hull flank armor panels. Below the reactive armor modules is a rubber sheet with a zigzag pattern at the lower edge. In most cases it won't provide any armor protection, but can affect how much issues are caused when driving at high speeds through dirt and dust. At the rear sections of the turret and at the engine compartment in the hull, slat armor has been installed to provide a weight efficient protection solution against older types of RPGs. 

Frontal armor protection was enhanced only by the addition of a single ERA tile
With the original T-72B3, the Russian ministry of defence (MoD) settled for a rather poor upgrade of the T-72B tank; at least in terms of armor protection. The old Kontakt-5 armor is still utilized and it is covering only a relatively small part of the frontal aspect of the main battle tank: there are gaps inbetween the ERA tiles mounted to the turret, while the gun mantlet, aswell as the lower and upper portions of turret and hull are not even covered by it. The cast structure of the T-72B's turret is known for leading to inconsistent armor thickness - supposedly resulting in several weakspots according to articles in Russian language; the lackluster ERA coverage only increases this issue. Except of a single ERA tile located left to the main gun, the frontal protection hasn't been altered with the new upgraded variant. The Kontakt-5 ERA is outdated by modern standards - modern ammunition from NATO and other countries has been specifically optimized to defeat Kontakt-5 and similar types of explosive reactive armor.

T-72B2 Rogatka
UralVagonZavod (UVZ), the company responsible for manufacturing the T-72B, T-90 and upgrades thereof, has developed much more capable solutions to enhance the survivability of the T-72 main battle tank.
One of the better upgrade options is the T-72B2, which was first shown to the public in 2006. Like the T-72B3, this sub-version of the T-72B features a similiar fire control system (FCS) designed around the Sosna-U gunner's sight, which includes an optical day channel, a laser rangefinder and a French-developed Catherine-FC thermal imaging system. Unlike the current Russian T-72B3 variant however, the B2 upgrade features the latest generation Relikt ERA, which provides enhanced protection against ATGMs, APFSDS ammunition and RPGs. It is claimed to even have some anti-tandem-warhead capabilities. While the tank lacked the extensive ERA package at the turret and hull sides, slat armor was fitted to protect the sides against RPGs at least. The T-72B2 tank is also fitted with a Nakidka cover to reduce the thermal and radar signature of the tank.

T-72 with urban combat kit at KADEX 2016
At the KADEX exhibition in 2016 in Kazakhstan, UVZ presented an urban warfare kit for the T-72 tank, which also utilized the superior Relikt armor rather than the old Kontakt-5. Instead of using the same side armor as the T-90MS, this tank was fitted with a heavier ERA package at the hull sides, which appears to be similar to the one used on the more advanced T-14 Armata MBT. The urban warfare kit has worse ERA coverage at the turret sides (due to the different smoke grenade launcher configuration of the tank used to demonstrate the optional upgrade), but like the T-72B2 it includes the laser warning system from the Shtora-1 electronic countermeasure. A T-72B3 with such an armor kit should be considerable better than the T-72B3.

Supposedly UVZ offered to upgrade the Russians T-72B3 tank to an enhanced T-72B2 configuration, including an additional ERA package similiar to the T-72B3 mod. 2016 (aka T-72B3M or T-72B4 according to other websites) and a new independent commander's sight to enable hunter/killer operations at day and night. This upgrade was - like the previous T-72B2 upgrade - considered to be too expensive for the Russian MoD.

The T-90M features Relikt ERA, slat armor, a new RWS and an upgraded FCS
Some of the T-90 tanks will be upgraded to a new configuration developed as part of Proryv-3 (breakthrough 3) program. This enhanced version is understood to be largely based on the T-90MS, but introduces new slat armor covering the lower half of the turret front to further minimize weakspots - at least according to photo was leaked via a Russian calendar that was created in corporation with the corresponding institutions.
A model of the T-90M was first presented in 2011, but the tank still hasn't been adopted in Russian Army service. If and when Russia will adopt the upgraded MBT in a significant number is currently unknown, but there still is a relatively large time slot until the next-generation T-14 Armata tank will have entered service in reasonable numbers. With the upgrades the weight of the T-90 tank is supposed to reach 50 metric tons.

Mittwoch, 19. April 2017

US armor modernization plans

The armed forces of the United States of America are running a number of projects to modernize the land vehicle and amphibious vehicles during the next few years. The Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), based on a modified Bradley chassis, will replace the obsolete M113 (not called Gavin) in the Army's inventory. The AMPV features enhanced protection against mines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a total of 2,907 AMPVs will replace the M113-based vehicles as general-purpose vehicles, mission command vehicles, mortar carriers, medical evacuation and medical treatment vehicles in the US Army's Armored Brigade Combat Teams (ABCTs). On the long run a further 1,922 AMPVs might be procured, if the M113 should be replaced at brigade level (and lower) on a one-to-one basis by the AMPV.

AMPV in the medical evacuation variant
In general both Army and USMC are interested in upgrading or replacing the existing medium weight personnel carriers (both APCs and IFVs) in the near future. The Army is working on improving the  M2 Bradley and the Stryker, developing ECPs (engineering change proposals) and prototypes for future enhancements. The Marines meanwhile are working on a survivability upgrade of the tracked Amphibious Assault Vehicle (AAV), which is being developed by SAIC. It includes a new ceramic armor package (which supposedly offers the same protection level as the currently used Israeli-developed spaced applique armor, but improved buoyancy), an underbelly plate against mines, blast-absorbing seats for the passengers and crew aswell as improved mobility thanks to a new transmission and upgrades to the engine. The other big ground forces project of the USMC is the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV), a 8x8 wheeled vehicle with amphibious capabilities. Two contenders have been shortlisted, one of them being a proposal from SAIC and ST Kinetics, while the other offer is a version of Iveco's proven SuperAV incorporating technology from BAE Systems. However the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) has proposed to move the decision on the ACV into the fiscal year 2019.

Stryker Dragoon design overview
The US Army has recently accepted a prototype version of the Stryker 8x8 wheeled vehicle fitted with a Kongsberg Protector MCT-30 turret, which is armed with a fully stabilized 30 mm XM 813 chain gun, based on the Mk 44 Bushmaster II from Aliant Techsystems (ATK), as urgent operational requirement for the Germany-based 2nd Cavalry Regiment (aka the 2nd Dragoons). This variant of the Stryker is known as the Stryker ICV Dragoon or simply Dragoon, the official designation is XM1296. The vehicle is expected to enter actual troop service in May 2018.

The Stryker Dragoon is fitted with an unmanned MCT-30 turret from Kongsberg
Aside of the 30 mm cannon, the unmanned MCT-30 turret can be fitted with an optional coaxial machine gun, that is externally mounted above the gun shield, but apparently the US Army hasn't opted for it. Another option not taken on the Dragoon is the inclusion of a separate sight for the commander, which would have enabled the vehicle to be used in hunter-killer operations. The gunner is provided with an optronic unit including a thermal imager, a daysight camera and a laser-rangefinder.
The MCT-30 turret stores only 150 rounds of 30 x 173 mm ammunition (two types, of each 75 rounds), however unlike other unmanned turrets it can be reloaded from the interior, if the space below the resupply hatch is not occupied. It offers only limited ballistic protection, reaching only STANAG 4569 level 1 in the base configuration. With applique armor the protection can be boosted up to level 4 (resisting 14.5 mm AP ammunition fired from 200 metres distance); the Dragoon's turret is fitted with bolt-on armor, however the exact protection level has yet to be revealed. 

The new Stryker variant is not without it's issues. With only 81 old Stryker ICVs being converted to the Dragoon variant, is it a rather rare and hence will be relatively expensive. Spare parts might be limited and only be supplied to the repair depot(s) in Germany, making operations outside of Europe rather unlikely. The 30 x 173 mm calibre is also not very common in the Army, but used by the Airforce and Navy (with ammunition types not necessarily suited for the Dragoon). 
It is also limited in capabilities due to the fact that the Dragoon is based on rebuild Stryker with flat-bottomed hull - not on the improved vehicle with double-v hull, that was adopted after the Stryker's vulnerability to mines and IEDs became apparent. This means the vehicle is not suited for assymetrical and hybrid warfare, but also suffers from being non-optimal in conventional warfare (seeing how Soviet/Yugoslavian anti-tank and anti-infantry mines lead to the adoption of many mine protection kits during KFOR and how popular mines have become in Ukraine).
The Stryker Dragoon should be considered an interim solution, designed following an urgent operational requirement. If the Army decided to increase the amount of Dragoons, it should take a number of steps to enhance the basic design. Lithuania for example has ordered 88 Vilkas infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs), which are Dutch-German Boxer wheeled 8x8 vehicles fitted with the Israeli-made Samson Mk II remote weapon station (RWS). This offers the same level of protection as the Kongsberg Protector MCT-30, is however including a dual-launcher for Spike-LR ATGMs and an independent optic for the commander. Furthermore the Boxer includes a multi-layered composite floor to protect against large anti-vehicle mines, while the frontal area of the hull is resistant to the Soviet-made 30 mm APDS ammunition at combat ranges. Such ammo is currently still used by the Russian Army.

The M551 Sheridan was the last light tank operated by the US military
A key project for the US Army is to adopt a Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) vehicle to provide infantry units with enhanced firepower against opposing infantry, fortifications and lightly armored vehicles. According to the Army's requirements, the main gun has to be stabilized for on-the-move firing, while the optics and fire control system should support operations at all weather conditions including night operations. The new vehicle is required to be air-transportable via a C-17, although transportability with a C-130 is desired. The MPF vehicle should be capable of being low-velocity air-dropped from said aircrafts with initial combat capability (main gun and coaxial armament ready without any need for the installation or adaption of the equipment). The MPF vehicle has to be able to operate 24 hours in IBCTs (infantry brigade combat teams) without refueling. Protection has to be provided against small arms fire and artillery fragments with the option to install additional armor kits, including an underbelly plate against mines and IEDs.

The LAV-25A2 features add-on armor and a two-men tuurret fitted with a 25 mm Bushmaster chain gun
The US Army is currently experimenting with the USMC's LAV-25A2, an 8x8 vehicle based on the Swiss Piranha-design, in order to figure out the role of the future MPF vehicle, aswell as to develop tactics, techniques and procedures for the new vehicle. Soliders of the 82nd Airborne Division (at least some of the men belonging to the 73rd Cavalry Regiment) were trained on the LAV-25 in the past months before putting the new learned knowledge into use during training and excerises. Based on how well the LAV performs, the Army will create a number of new tactics and probably also a few more specific requirements. The LAV-25 itself is obviously not well suited for the current Mobile Protected Firepower requirements; it is being unnecessarily bulky and is using outdated armament, so it most likely won't even be considered by the US Army.
Despite some members of the US Army wishing for a lightweight MPF vehicle, which could be air-dropped and would be armed with a 50 mm autocannon, the Army has apparently decided to focus on a larger concept armed with either a 105 or 120 mm gun - that's at least what the industry has been proposing to the Army, following first talks between industry representatives and Army officials. The US Army hopes to field a solution for the MPF by the mid-2020s.

The Griffin technology demonstrator for the MPF program
General Dynamics is offering the Griffin tank, a light/medium weight vehicle testbed based on the proven ASCOD design, to start a conversation with the US Army on the topic of mobile protected firepower. To be more exact, it is said to be a variant of the improved ASCOD 2 design, which is also used for the British Scout-SV vehicles such as the Ajax. The turret of the Griffins is based on the Abrams' turret design, but is made of more weight efficient aluminum and lacks any sort of composite armor. It is fitted with the lightweight 120 mm XM360 gun originally developed for the Future Combat Systems, but can accept other types of 105 mm rifled or 120 mm smoothbore guns aswell. The gunner is provided with an optical daysight and a thermal imager, but there is no independent sight for the commander.
The weight of the vehicle is about 29 metric tons, the protection level has not been mentioned by General Dynamics representatives at AUSA 2016. However based on the lack of applique armor (as used on the Scout-SV Ajax and ASCOD Ulan), it seems unlikely that the vehicle manages to reach all-round protection against 14.5 mm AP ammunition.

M8 Armored Gun System with rubber band tracks
BAE Systems on the other hand is offering an updated version of the M8 Armored Gun System (AGS), the last light tank developed in the United States, but never adopted by the Army. The AGS has the advantage of being the only purpose-built light tank on offer in the Western world, being not based on a unnecessarily large infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) chassis.
There are variants of the M8 AGS fitted with either a rifled 105 mm XM35 gun or a 120  mm smoothbore gun. Up to two machine guns are provided for the crew: a coaxial 7.62 mm MG and a heavy, roof-mounted 12.7 mm M2 Browning machine gun, The vehicle uses a modular armor concept to adapt weight, ranging from approximately 19 to 25 metric tons, and protection level to the available transport methods and the threat scenario. This concept includes composite armor, perforated armor and explosive reactive armor (ERA). In the basic configuration, the vehicle is only protected against small arms and artillery splinters only. Up-armored to the second armor configuration, the vehicle becomes resistant to heavy machine gun (HMG) fire. Fitted with the third and heaviest armor kit, the vehicle becomes frontally resistant to Soviet-made 30 x 165 mm armor piercing (AP/APDS) rounds and light rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) without tandem charge warheads.

The vehicle is fitted with a modern fire control system including a daysight, a thermal imager and a laser rangefinder for the gunner. The gun is fully stabilized two axis. There is no proper independent commander's optic, thus the AGS lacks hunter/killer-capabilities just like the Griffin. The updated version of the M8 AGS is also fitted with a camera system for enhanced surveillance of the vehicles surroundings and weight-efficient rubber band tracks.

The NGAFV with Cockerill 3105 turret has been offered for the MPF requirement
Not only BAE Systems and General Dynamics are interested in the MPF contract - the Singaporean company ST Kinetics has also shown interest in providing a vehicle for the US Army's MPF requirements. The vehicle offer is based on a new and still unnamed, tracked APC/IFV chassis developed for to replaced the obsolete M113 Ultra APCs in the Singaporean Army. Currently it is being refered to as NGAFV (next gen armored fighting vehicle). The NGAFV is a tracked vehicle, which is fully digitized. It features a camera system for 360° surveillance and drive-by-wire technology. For the Mobile Protected Firepower program, the NGAFV has been fitted with a Cockerill 3105 turret from the Belgian company CMI Defence. This turret is armed with a 105 mm rifled gun with muzzle break, that can also accept ammunition with a higher pressure. It also can be used to fire the Falarick gun-launched ATGM, a co-development of the Belgians with a Ukranian partner. The turret is crewed by only two men, an autoloader in the rear bustle is responsible for taking over the loader's job. The turret features independent optics for gunner and commander, modern thermal imagers for night operations, and a coaxial machine gun.
The protection of the Cockerill 3105 turret can be adjusted from STANAG 4569 level 1 to level 5, depending on the customer's wish. Two banks of four smoke grenade launchers each provide the ability to disguise the vehicle and evade unwanted attention.

The NGAFV in the infantry fighting vehicle configuration
Unfortunately there aren't many details on the NGAFV available. It has a weight of 29 metric tons when fitted with the locally made Adder RWS with 30 mm gun, so the offer for the MPF vehicle is expected to weigh more than 30 metric tons. It is protected by composite armor of unknown origin to reach a currently unknown level of protection, but estimates from the Defence Technology Review magazine put it at STANAG 4569 level 4 ballsitic and level 4a/4b blast protection. Details on the powerpack are also lacking, aside of the vehicle having an engine output of 711 bhp and utilizing ST Kinetic's own HMX3000 fully automatic transmission. According to the Singaporean Ministry of Defnece, the NGAFV was considered to be the most cost-effective option for replacing the M113 Ultra.

The ACV contender based on the Terrex 2 design
The Singaporean company has a history of trying to sell it's products to other countries: The Bionix tracked vehicle was offered to the US Army as alternative to the wheeled 8x8 Stryker. ST Kinetics teamed up with Otokar to pitch a licence production of an improved Terrex 1 (known as Yavuz) to the Turkish Army. The Terrex 3 was used as base for the failed Sentinel II offer for the Australian LAND 400 program, while the Terrex 2 is currently being evaluated by the US Marine Corps as part of the Amphibious Combat Vehicle (ACV) program.
It seems rather unlikely that ST Kinetics' offer for the MPF vehicle will be successful, there is apparently a lack of competitiveness in vehicle performance or a lack of connections to decision-makers as proven by the failed tenders in Australia, Turkey and the United States.

M1A2 SEP v3 main battle tank
Meanwhile the M1 Abrams will be upgraded to the M1A2 Abrams SEP v3 configuration, development and testing of this is currently under way. First contracts for the development were awarded in 2015. In 2016 testing and development was continued, the new M1A2 Abrams variant is expected to become fully operational after the final full-up system-level live fire testing currently scheduled for 2019. The M1A2 SEP v3 features improved electric systems and power generation to deal with the increased power demands on main battle tanks (MBTs) following the integration and adoption of more electronics or other power-consuming components. Improvements to the networked warfare abilities are also an aspect of the new upgrade.

M1A2 SEP v3 with steel simulators to represent weight changes in armor and internal components
A big part of the third iteration of the system enhancement package (SEP) will be focused on improving the tank's survivability. To deal with the increased armor penetration characteristics oof modern ammunition and missiles, the Abrams' armor will be replaced with a newly developed NEA package. NEA stands either for Next Evolutionary Armor or New Evolution Armor, both names have been used in official documents. For the development of the NEA, three Abrams tanks were provided as Government Furnished Material (GFM) to a contractor. The contractor had to remove the old armor package from the tanks, install the NEA package and investigate the impact of the weight increase on mobility.
Furthermore a new underbody anti-IED kit will be installed on the tank. Together with other changes this kit will reduce the vulnerability of the Abrams to mines and improvised explosive devices. One of the measures is redesigning the crew seatings and fitting additional floors stiffeners to the floor structure. The material and dimensions of the structural supports will be altered to better resists large mine blasts. The crew will also be provided with lower limb protection.
The optics of the CROWS-LP are aligned horizontally
The M1A2 SEP v3 features a new digital interface - the so called Ammunition Data Link (ADL) - for the main gun, which will enable the usage of programmable multi-mode 120 mm ammunition. The older CROWS remote weapon station (RWS) is being replaced with the M153A1E1 CROWS-LP (low profile) variant, which doesn't block as much of the field of view and is about ten inches smaller, thanks to the ammo box, the laser rangefinder and the sights being located at the side of the gun rather than below the gun. Third generation thermal imagers have been investigated for installation in the main battle tank, but apparently will not be part of the third SEP variant. The M1A2 SEP v3 also has a more powerful auxiliary power unit (APU), which is located under armor.

The M1A2 Abrams SEP v3 will be followed by a fourth version of the System Enhancement Package, the M1A2 SEP v4, somewhere in the 2020s. Exact details of the M1A2 SEP v4 upgrade are not known (as development details have yet to become public), however the tank is said to then feature improved networking capabilities, next-generation optics - including a new laser rangefinder and color cameras, weather sensors, a laser-warning system and third generation thermal imagers. The internal electronics will be reworked, streamlining the concept and reducing the number of parts. The M1A2 SEP v4 will supposedly utilize the Advanced Multi-Purpose (AMP) round, which utilizes the ADL found on the SEP v3 and v4 versions.
Supposedly the M1A2 Abrams SEP v4 will be lighter despite being better protected. That future Abrams versions would become lighter without sacrificing protection is something that has been proclaimed even before the M1A2 Abrams entered service in the 1990s. While modern armor technology might allow some weight reductions, it's questionable if this would make any difference compared to the state-of-the-art NEA to be integrated in the SEP v3 main battle tanks.

Artist's illustration of an Abrams with Trophy
One project of the US Army and the US Marine Corps that has been mentioned in the past, is the planned adoption of an active protection system (APS). Apparently there is a big misunderstanding in this regard: The military is currently testing the Iron Curtain, Iron Fist and Trophy systems (testing of the Rheinmetall Active Defence System might start once the budget is cleared for purchasing a number of test systems), but merely for the sake of testing and evaluating currently available solutions. Neither the Army nor the USMC have a current intend to purchase an APS in the next years, at least according to budget allocations and the Congressional Research Service (CRS): "Both Army and Marine officials emphasized to CRS that their respective APS efforts are not in any sense either acquisition programs or Programs of Record by DOD definition. Although there is not a Joint Program Office (JPO) for APS, both services are working in concert on their respective APS programs, which they currently characterize as “vehicle capability assessments” and “technology demonstrations,” respectively, as opposed to formal acquisition programs."
A decision wether the US Army will acquire any APS will not happen before FY2018. Meanwhile "[T]he Marines describe their APS efforts as a “technology demonstration” [...]."

The longer gun barrel of the 155 mm ERCA gun
While it is not sure yet if the designation M109A8 will be adopted after the next upgrade, the US military has handed out a request for information (RFI) for the development of a future upgrade of the M109A7 self-propelled gun (SPG). The M109A7 Paladin Integrated Management (PIM) is an evolution of the 1960s M109 SPG, featuring numerous upgrades to drivetrain, powerpack, electronics and gun. Compared to the original vehicle, it includes improved ballistic protection, better electronics, newer sensors, electric drives instead of hydraulic ones, and numerous other changes. The M109A7 uses a new chassis derived from the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, featuring the same powerpack and tracks for reducing costs and improving logistics.
However it still has a relatively short gun barrel, which results in a shorter range than other current artillery systems. The M109A7 also has a lower rate of fire (ROF) compared to modern self-propelled gun designs such as the K9 Thunder and the Panzerhaubitze 2000. 

In a first step, the contractor answering to the RFI should modify the M109A7 design to integrate the XM907 Extended Range Cannon Artillery (ERCA), the XM208 gun mount and new drive systems into the vehicle. The ERCA was developed by the US military and uses a longer 155 mm L/52 gun barrel, which increases the effective combat range to the same level as other modern artillery systems. In a second step the contractor is required to modify the M109 design in order to fit the government furnished autoloader into the vehicle.
While these changes would enhance the M109A7 dramatically, such a hypothetical upgrade still would leave several aspects of the vehicle to be upgraded. E.g. the US Army demanded a higher level of protection and mobility in past SPG projects such as the XM2001 Crusader and the XM1203 NLOS-C.

BAE proposal for the failed GCV program
According to current plans from the US TARDEC (Tank Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center), a replacement for the the M2 Bradley (and possibly the M1 Abrams) will be developed in form of the Next Generation Combat Vehicle (NGCV). The vehicle is meant to transport a "half squad" of six men and has a crew of two - the latter figure being a reduction in crew members compared to the current Bradley. Because the US Army's doctrine focuses on very large infantry squads, two NGCV IFVs will transport a single infantry squad - this seems to be a lesson learned from the US Army atempt to develop the Ground Combat Vehicle (GCV), which due to carrying a nine men squad ended up being too heavy, too large and too expensive. Subsequently the GCV was canceled.
How exactly the NGCV will look and what it's capabilities will be is yet to be determined. It will replace the Bradley, but it also could turn into a wider program, being used as basis for a number of different variants, just like the T-14/T-15 Armata vehicles or like originally planned for the canceled Future Combat Systems (FCS) program. Then the NGCV could also serve as replacement for the M1 Abrams and possibly for the Stryker and MPF vehicle.
However the US Army doesn't want to repeat the mistakes from the FCS development: Instead of trying to develop a whole family of very advanced vehicles at the same time, the NGCV will be developed in iterative steps using rapid prototyping. This means that after an initial prototype with a certain set of capabilities has been designed, the system will be evaluated and then a more advanced prototype will be built with enhanced capabilities, based on the experiences with the previous version. This also allows to react to changes in the threat scenario and operational experience, something that wasn't possible with the development path chosen for the Future Combat Systems.

The Army hopes to field the NGCV by 2035. The industry has been asked to form development teams that create proposals for the NGCV or technology that should go into the project. The best design will be chosen by TARDEC and it's makers will be awarded a contract - according to current plans by September 2017. TARDEC and the contractor will develop and test a first prototype desgin over the following seven years. At least two IFV variant NGCV prototypes will be made. In the following three to four years, an enhanced second iteration of the NGCV prototype design will be created, potentially followed by even more. The fiscal year 2021 or 2022 will decide what happens with the Next Generation Combat Vehicle program - if funded, the vehicles could be ready by 2035, assuming everything goes according to schedule. Seeing how France and Germany supposedly will finish (or already have finished) the conception phase of the Main Ground Combat System tank project with 130 mm gun, but still expect to field the vehicle only by 2035, the Army's schedule seems to be quite ambitious... maybe a bit too ambitious?

Sonntag, 12. März 2017

Production version of the Karrar MBT unveiled (updated)

The new main battle tank (MBT) of the Iranian armed forces has finally been revealed to the public in March 2017. The original tank revealed as the so-called "Karrar" was an upgraded version of the T-72S Shilden, the last Soviet export version of the T-72 main battle tank. 

T-72 being upgraded to Karrar

The Karrar is inspired by the latest Russian T-90MS tank, an enhanced version of the T-90. Unfortunately finding detailed information in English about Iranian tanks is rather problematic, so that the exact relationship between the T-90MS and the Karrar remains uncertain. According to Iranian news websites, the army tested the T-90S or T-90MS in or before 2015, but penultimately rejected buying the tank in favour for a local alternative. This lead to the development of the Karrar, but it is not entirely clear if it is meant to be a copy of the T-90MS or the similarities between the two tanks are result of the a cooperation with the Russian industry. Both versions have been mentioned in different forums and blogs.

The Karrar features a new welded turret

The Karrar tank is still an upgraded T-72S, but it is fitted with a completely new, welded turret as newly released video footages shows. It is also fitted with digital control panels and a battlefield management system. The base armor package of the Karrar's turret was improved, offering a higher level of protection compared to the older composite armor in the cast T-72S turret.

The Karrar provides digital control panels for the crew

Compared to the T-72S Shilden, the current MBT of the Iranian Army, the Karrar offers improvments to armor protection, firepower and electronics. There is no indication that the engine was altered, so the mobility appears to be equal to that of the original T-72S, maybe a bit worse as result of the weight increase. 

Not the extruding steel casing at the gun mount

The tank features a new polygonal metal sleeve at the base of the gun barrel. The purpose of this design has not been revealed yet, but it might be an attempt to reduce oscillations when firing on the move. On some combat vehicles, such as the German Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and the Ukranian BTR-4, the gun barrel is enclosed in a metal casing in order to provide better stabilization when firing multiple rounds on the move.

Karrar MBT prototype: new armor is colored black, while the vehicle is painted grey

The armor protection has been improved by fitting a more modern ERA package to the tank. Previoulsy the T-72S was fitted with the Soviet-made Kontakt-1 armor. The new explosive reactive armor (ERA) covers the frontal aspects of turret and hull, while also protection the hull sides along the crew compartment. At the engine compartment and turret rear section, slat armor is utilized for protection against rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). The turret sides are fitted with spaced composite armor modules.

Note the odd shaped ERA the glacis, LED headlights, driver's optics and the new gunner's sight

While the explosive reactive armor at the turret front and hull sides appears to be very similar to the Relikt ERA solution used on the T-90MS, the ERA package mounted at the glacis uses oddly-shaped ERA tiles, that are very thick, but have a rather small overall size. It is about twice as thick as the normal Kontakt-1 ERA used on the T-72S Shilden. This type of armor is somewhat reminiscent to the ERA used on Iranian M60 tank.

Most likely the reactive armor of the Karrar provides protection against RPGs, anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) with single-stage shaped charge warhead, as well as some degree of reduction in the penetration capabilities of APFSDS ammunition. It might also provide some limited protection against tandem shaped charge warheads, but that is not confirmed.

The T-90MS features ERA also at the turret sides

It must be noted that the latest version of the T-90MS also features explosive reactive armor covering the spaced side armor modules of the turret. On the Karrar such armor is not found, suggesting that it might be reverse-engineered by the Iranian military industry based on older photographs of the tank instead of being a proper cooperation between Iran and Russia. Alternatively Russia might have only offered the older version of the tank, which lacked the enhanced side protection. Two banks of six smoke grenade launchers allow the tank to hide while retreating.

RWS and coommander's sight of the Karrar MBT

The Karrar is fitted with a remote weapon station (RWS), which is coupled to an independent optic for the commander. It includes a thermal imager, a day sight optic (probably a CCD camera with zoom functionality) and a laser rangefinder. The weapon station is armed with a 7.62 mm machine gun and also includes a secondary camera located left to the armament.
This RWS desgin is also used on the T-90MS and on some products of the German company Rheinmetall, where it is known as main sensor slaved armament (MSSA), consisting of a heavy machine gun and a SEOSS sight.

Prototype fitted with the older generation RWS

Older photographs show the Karrar being fitted with a different RWS, which usually is armed with a Soviet-designed PKT machine gun, but it seems to lack the same advanced optronics of the newer design. This remote weapon station is also a lot more bulky, because the ammunition container is located at the side of the gun.

The Karrar MBT features an upgraded fire control system

The fire control system (FCS) of the Karrar has been significantly enhanced. Aside of the new indepent sight for the tank's commander, the main optics for the gunner have been replaced. The gunner's sight now features not only a day sight, but also a thermal imager for enhanced target detection and acquistion at night and in situations with reduced visbility. The origin of the new FCS is unknown, but the local industry has utilized the EFCS-3 from the Solvenian company Fotona in the past to upgrade the dated M60A1 and T-54 tanks. The Defense Industries Organization (DIOMIL) of Iran also offered the KAT-72 FCS as upgrade for older generations of T-72 tanks. Both these systems however lack thermal imagers and independent sights for the tank commander, suggesting that the Karrar utilizes a newly developed system - probably incorporating imported technology. Iran has been supporting the Syrian government, which operates T-72 tanks fitted with the advanced Italian TURMS system. Iran also has good relations with North Korea, from which Syria imported components of thermal imagers for upgrading older T-55 tanks.
A small searchlight, which probably can be rotated, is located next the gunner's hatch. The driver is provided with a new camera system next to his vision block, which contains two optics - probably a daysight CCD camera and a night vision optic. The tank also features new LED headlights. 

Suprisingly the Karrar appears to be one of the most advanced modernizations of the T-72 tank, albeit the performance and specifications of most components are currently unknown. If the engine was replaced - but there currently is no sources suggesting that this happned - the tank could be even better. It might be able it compare favourable to tanks such as the Russian T-72B3 and the Polish PT-91 Twardy in many aspects (such armor protection and firepower) - but in the end the crew performances matters just as much as the equipment.

Freitag, 10. März 2017

Leopard 2 projects

In April 2015 the German Army announced it's plans to increase the operational Leopard 2 fleet by 103 tanks. Since then not a lot has happened, as revealed in official documents and in newspaper articles from the Februrary of 2017. At least some of the tanks are currently owned by the German defence industry, so the government has to buy them back - but no contract has been signed within nearly two years of planning. The Leopard 2A4 main battle tank (MBT) is an improved version from the mid/late 1980s of the original Leopard 2 tank. By modern standards it has outdated armor, a short gun with inferior armor penetration and range, while lacking of modern electronics, optronics and relying on the more dangerous hydraulic systems instead of using electric drives. 

Leopard 2 tanks in long-term storage

Original reports from last year expected 84 of the new tanks to be upgraded to the Leopard 2A7 or the improved Leopard 2A7V configuration. The costs for buying and upgrading the tanks are expected to be about 760 million Euros, the contract might be signed before summer of 2017; if not the whole program might be delayed by another year due to the German elections in September 2017. The reason for the current delays is a disagreement between the two companies Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and Rheinmetall. Current workshare plans see about a third of the work (and the money) going to Rheinmetall, but the company demands more. Rheinmetall acquired the military division of Maschiennebau Kiel (MaK) in 1990, which was responsible for manufacturing 45% of all German Leopard 2 tanks. Rheinmetall is also a major subcontractor for the main armament, delivering the L/55 smoothbore gun for the tank.
KMW on the other hand doesn't want to share any more work and money with the much larger competitor, which has decided to invade KMW's core business by offering Leopard 2 upgrade since 2010. The company has a much more specialized portfolio than Rheinmetall, pretty much offering combat vehicles and remote weapon stations (RWS) only.

PERI R17A3

Meanwhile the upgrade of fifty Leopard 2A6M to the so-called Leopard 2A6M+ configuration is under way. This is an inofficial name only, which is supposedly used to differentiate between upgraded and stock Leopard 2A6M tanks. After the upgrade the 2A6M+ designation will be dropped and all vehicles will be refered to as Leopard 2A6M. The commander's sight will be replaced by the new PERI R17A3 incorporating a third generation ATTICA thermal imager, which was first adopted on the Leopard 2A7 in 2014.

The Leopard 2A6M+ can be identified by the bulge for the ultracaps and the spaced armor above the SOTAS-IP system

The SOTAS-IP multi-media communication system from the French company Thales is installed in the Leopard 2A6M+. Aside of the Leopard 2A7 tank, it is also used on the Boxer armored personnel carrier (APC) and the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV); it is also part of the IDZ soldier system. To deal with the increased power demands, the tank is fitted ultra capactiors, which can deliver energy faster and increase the stability of the electrical power supply. The Deugra fire supression system has been reactivated using the extinguishing agent DeuGen-N FE36 (for a certain period of time the fire supression system was not utilized due to the previous extinguishing agent violating environment laws). The upgrade also features new digital control panels for the crew.

At the IDEX 2017 military exhibition two variants of the Leopard 2 were present: Rheinmetall demonstrated a prototype or testbed of the, currently in development, Leopard 2PL tank, while KMW presented the Leopard 2A7Q, which has been refered to as Leopard 2A7+ or Leopard 2A7 QAT by numerous other sources. Rheinmetall is also delivering the Leopard 2RI to Indenonesia, which features greatly enhanced armor protection, air conditioning and other features.

Leopard 2PL with MSSA

The Leopard 2PL is an upgraded Leopard 2A4 tank meant for the Polish Army. It is based on the modular MBT Revolution upgrade, which has been renamed to Advanced Technology Demonstator (ADT). The tank features improved armor protection by adding thick AMAP composite armor modules to the turret, supposedly increasing protection level beyond the Leopard 2A5 level. New optics with a Polish-made third generation thermal imager and Jenoptik's electric turret drives are also part of the upgrade. Changes to the fire control system (FCS) allow the usage of the programmable 120 mm DM11 high explosive (HE) ammunition and the DM63A1 APFSDS round with temperature independent propellant and high penetration capabilties.
A new addition of the vehicle presented at IDEX 2017 is the MSSA (main sensor slaved armament) remote weapon station, which does not have it's own optics and is coupled to the commander's independent sight. It is not part of the upgrade of the Polish Leopard 2A4 tanks. The installation of the MSSA also means that the digital SEOSS sight is utilized instead of the PERI R17A3.
Rheinmetall is in the process of bidding for an upgrade contract of the Turkish Leopard 2A4 tanks, which suffered heavy losses in Syria - or at least ISIS wants us to believe that. The company is also part of a joint venture that is trying to get the contract for producing the new Turkish Altay MBT.

Leopard 2A7Q at the IDEX 2017

The Leopard 2A7Q is a version of the MBT made for the Qatari Army. It is based on the Leopard 2A7+ demonstrator from KMW, thus it includes a number of changes currently not found on the German Leopard 2A7, such as the additional hull armor kit, the passive bomblet and top-attack protection on the roof and the FLW 200 RWS. The Leopard 2A7Q is fitted with a modified APU, which is even running when the vehicle is standing still in order to power the air conditioning system. The Barracuda camouflage system of the Leopard 2A7Q is having longer skirts, which reduces dust clouds when driving through the desert. According to unconfirmed rumors an unknown nation has purchased (or ordered) a large number of Leopard 2 tanks from KMW. An indicator for the validity - or maybe the origin - of this rumor is a sheet of paper being attached to the Leopard 2A7Q at IDEX 2017, which contained the text "SOLD".

After the purchase and upgrade of the Leopard 2A4 tanks, the German Army will have 103 Leopard 2A7(V) tanks in service. 48 Leopard 2A6M(+) and 152 Leopard 2A6 will supplement them. Seventeen Leopard 2A5 will remain at the combat training centre, being the last vehicles fitted with the short-barreled L/44 gun. Thirty-two Leopard 2 tanks (including 20 of the re-purchased Leopard 2A4) tanks will be kept for conversion to combat engineering vehicles, bridge-layers and other variants. Two Leopard 2A5, two Leopard 2A6, two Leopard 2A6M and one Leopard 2A7(V) tank will remain at the German military procurement office, the BAAinBw as reference and for tests, trials aswell as upgrade proposals. On the long run all tanks should be converted to a single version in order to keep logistics at a reasonable level.

For the Leopard 2A7V many technologies and features have been considered, but the only known demonstrator from KMW is a rather conventional upgrade. All Leopard 2A7 tanks are meant to be upgraded to the 2A7V configuration until 2022. What exactly will be changed is unknown, but apparently the engine will remain the dated MB 873 Ka-501 from MTU. It's very reliable and fuel efficient, but bulky by modern standards. Instead of replacing the engine, the powerpack and drivetrain will be modified - in particular the transmission and the side drives - to improve the mobility of the tank. If this allows to reach the original requirement for the Leopard 2A7V - regaining the mobility of the 10 tons lighter original version of the Leopard 2 - is questionable at least. The drivetrain also will be strengthened to deal with the high weight, while the APU's power output has been raised to 20 kilowatts.

The Leopard 2A7+ prototype includes a hull armor kit

The Leopard 2A7V will feature enhanced armor protection, which might be limited to the installation of a hull armor kit. However the basic Leopard 2A7 is already fitted with connectors, which allow fitting additional armor packages to the sides of the hull and turret when required. The composite armor modules at the upper front plate (the glaics) are about 45 mm thick; including the slope this boosts armor thickness from aproximately 328 milimetres to 697 milimetres. The relatively thin glacis relies on it's extreme slope; against highly sloped armor most shaped charge warheads fail to fuze, while APFSDS penetrators have a tendency to break, which greatly reduces the penetration performance. At the hull nose and lower front plate, the increase in armor thickness is estimated to be about 200 to 300 milimetres. This is a considerable improvment compared to the original Leopard 2 hull.
While thickness and shape are similar to the MEXAS-H hull armor of the Strv 122, Leopard 2A5DK, Leopard 2A6HEL, and Leopardo 2E, the size and locations of the mounting bolts has been altered. This might imply a change in armor composition, a more modern version (using newer AMAP technology) would offer better resistance to penetration or lower weight for a given protection level.
 
The ATTICA thermal sight will replace the WBG-X

The Leopard 2A7V upgrade is said to include improved main optics for the gunner - the old first generation WBG-X thermal imager would be replaced by a third generation ATTICA device. The SPECTUS sight from Airbus (originally developed by Zeiss, but the military divison was sold to Airbus) provides the driver with IR night-vision aswell as a thermal image. A new camera system for better situational awareness was fitted to the KMW demonstator vehicle at Eurosatory 2016. The FLW-200 remote weapon station is also expected to be part of the Leopard 2A7V upgrade. It can be fitted with (heavy) machine guns and automatic grenade launchers. Denmark supposedly will upgrade at least some of it's tank to a similar configuration.

Last year the company Rheinmetall announced, that the new L/55A1 gun will be delivered to the first costumer in 2017. According to the company, the launch costumer will be the German Army, implying this gun will be part of the Leopard 2A7V upgrade. The L/55A1 smoothbore gun is an enhanced Rh 120 L/55, which can handle higher pressures: This will result in an increase in performance (penetration and range) by 20% according to earlier data from the manufacturer.

The new 130 mm smoothbore gun from Rheinmetall

On the long run the Leopard 2 and the French Leclerc MBT will be replaced by the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS), a next-generation tank for which Rheinmetall developed a 130 mm smoothbore gun with 50% improved penetration capabilties. The MGCS is a co-development between Germany and France, but other countries are expected to join the development. Rumors - or speculation from random forum users - suggests that the turret might be developed in France, while the hull would be made in Germany. These speculations seems to be rather questionable, although the French know-how in autoloader-design might be an important aspect for the MGCS. The conception phase for the Main Ground Combat System is expected to end in 2017, after that the development of first prototypes would start. In the timeframe from 2025 to 2030 the first vehicles should be ready.