Samstag, 13. Mai 2017

Austria won the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2017

Two days ago the Strong Europe Tank Challenge (SETC) 2017 ended. The winning platoon comes from Austria, one of the first time participants. The soldiers of the Austrian Bundesheer deployed the 1980s' Leopard 2A4 main battle tank (MBT), beating last year's winner Germany. In the challenge held from 8th to 11th of May, teams from Austria, France, Germany, Poland, the Ukraine and the United States tried to show their skill in a number of different disciplines. These included offensive actions, defensive actions, target recognition/identification of thirty allied and enemy targets, estimating the range to a target without using the laser rangefinder, accurately reporting targets in a simulated urban area and firing crew weapons (pistols or submachine guns). Also part of the SETC was to recover a tank with simulated damage from an NBC attack, evacuating and treating wounded, calling for fire support by artillery/aircraft and precision driving along a pre-defined track. Crews also had to endure a physical fitness test. In comparison to last year the scoring was changed.

The confirmed rankings are:
  1. Austria (Leopard 2A4)
  2. Germany (Leopard 2A6)
  3. United States (M1A2 SEP v2)
As expected, the top ranks were occupied by the Leopard 2 tanks; last year the three top-scoring teams were all operating the Leopard 2 tank. That the older Leopard 2A4 managed to beat the sixteen years newer Leopard 2A6 gives a lot of reasons to speculate. It shows that the Leopard 2A6 tank (just like the Leclerc and M1A2 MBTs) probably could not make full use of their more advanced optics, as no night operations were tested. The Leopard 2A4 - fitted with only a single, older thermal imager - should perform a lot worse than these tanks. The limited range during firing trials also makes it impossible for the German and French crews to make full use of their longer barreled main guns.

The crews of the four Austrian Leopard 2 tanks with their trophy
However there is also another major factor for the Austrian victory: crew training. The Strong Europe Tank Challenge is not meant to be an evaluation of the technical characteristics of a main battle tank, but instead tries to measure how well a platoon from a country can perform with it's own equipment. The Austrian crew won, because they were the best trained crew (or rather: they could make the most use of their training).
Based on a photo from a score sheet, that was taken during the competition, the Austrians managed to perform best in calling for fire, the highest scored part of the competition. The Austrian crew got 696 of 700 possible points, while other teams such as the Germans and the Poles got only 500 and 450 points respectively. The Leopard 2s managed to get the best results in offensive operations, which might be related to the high quality and performance of the Leopard 2's fire control system (FCS) and optics. The platoons manning the Leopard 2A4 and the Leclerc tanks both managed to get the fastest time in the precision driving challenge; both these tanks happen to have the highest power-to-weight ratio of the competing models. This should give some of the tank designers a reason to think, if upgrading the engines shouldn't be a priority for the future, specifically after armor upgrades lead to an increase in combat weight of tanks like the M1 Abrams and the Leopard 2 by more than seven metric tons.

The score sheet during the competition
According to the US Army's own news report, there were different 12 events/challenges in the SETC 2017, which allowed for a total score of 1,500 possible points. However official data from the Austrian Army (scores during the competition, not all teams have finished the same amount of tasks) and the photo from a score sheet during the competition suggest that there were more than 1,500 possible points.
Unconfirmed rumors from an Ukranian websites suggest that the French team with the Leclerc MBT managed to get the fourth place, while the Ukranian platoon - operating an upgraded version of the T-64BV tank (sometimes described as T-64BM) - got the fifth place. These tanks were fitted with new radios, GPS systems and night vision optics before being send to SETC 2017. Apparently the crews managed to beat other Ukranain soldiers with T-64BM Bulats and T-80BVs in a national competition before being send to Germany. Supposedly the Polish team with the Leopard 2A5 was on the last place, something that has been blamed on poor training; last year the Poles managed to outperform all but the Danish and German crews. Based on the score sheet from during the competition the Polish crews apparently underperformed in the recovery of a damaged vehicle in a CBRN scenario, in precision driving, in calling for fire, in identifying vehicles and in determining the range. Other claims to justify the poor performance of the Polish platoon say that the fire control system of a single Leopard 2A5 broke in such a way, that the crew couldn't repair it. However the Polish press claims, that they managed to get the fourth place, beating the French and the Ukranian squads - it might be possible, that after the challenge a modifier was added to compensate the lack of a single tank.
According to claims from the US website Stripes.com, all scores are rather close to each other.

The trophy and the awards for first, second and third place
In 2017 the US Army had only one single platoon competing in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge; previously two US platoons tried their best to win the trophy. Back then the M1A2 SEP v2 tanks managed to only secure the fifth and sixth place, beating out only the M-84s of the Slovenian platoon. For the second time in a row, the US Army used the most modern of all tanks (the M1A2 SEP v2, which first entered service in 2011), but again failed to beat at least some of the Leopard 2 users with much older hardware. This means that the either the training of the US tank crews is lackluster, or that the M1A2 SEP v2 still requires some work in order to reach the same level of performance as the older German designs. Based on the very few known scores, the US tank platoon did perform slightly worse in offensive actions (gunnery, target spotting) than either German-speaking team, while also being a lot worse in precision driving. Specifically the offensive actions should be among the events, that are most affected by equipment.

The runner-up of the SETC 2016, Denmark, couldn't afford to participate. The Strong Europe Tank Challenge is rather expensive, it not only requires sending four tank crews, but also four tanks, to Southern Germany. Denmark instead decided to compete at the Worthington Challenge in Canada and the Nordic Tank Challenge in Scandinavia; both these competitons require only two crews, while tanks can be leased.
Next year Sweden will compete in the Strong Europe Tank Challenge, probably with an upgraded version of the Strv 122; there are hopes that the United Kingdom with the Challenger 2 and Canada with the Leopard 2 (2A6 or 2A4M) will also be part of the Strong Europe Tank Challenge 2018.  

New Turkish combat vehicles presented at IDEF 2017

The thirteenth International Defence Industry Fair (IDEF 2017) has been held in Turkey. While not extremely popular with foreign companies - despite having "international" in the name, not many international AFV manufacturers were present - this exposition serves as an opportunity for all Turkish defence companies to present their latest and greatest developments.
The company FNSS Defence Systems, a joint-venture of the Nurol Holding and BAE Systems, has presented a number of vehicles from the wheeled PARS family of vehicles (FoV) and the tracked Kaplan-20 and Kaplan-30 armored fighting vehicles (AFVs).

The Kaplan family of tracked vehicles
There are three main variants of the PARS: a light-weight 4x4 vehicle suited only for scouting, a slightly larger 6x6 variant and a large 8x8 version. The PARS design was originally developed by the the US company General Purpose Vehicles Inc. (GPV Inc., previously GPV LLC.), but failed to gain any orders by the US Army and USMC. In terms of weight and protection level, the PARS 6x6 and PARS 8x8 are more comparable to the previous generation of wheeled vehicles including AFVs such as the German Fuchs, the Swiss Piranha III, the French VAB and the US Army's Stryker interim armored vehicle (IAV). This is probably one of the main reasons for it's lack of sales, being not able to compete in performance (payload, protection, mobility and features) with more modern European designs such as the GTK Boxer, the Patria AMV and General Dynamic's Piranha 5.
The PARS vehicles have however been successfully exported to Malaysia, where a local version is known as AV-81 Gempita and manufactured by the local company DefTech.

The PARS 6x6 Scout features a new driver's cabin
At IDEF 2017, three new versions of the PARS were presented. The PARS Scout is also known as Special Purpose Tactical Wheeled Armoured Vehicle (SPTWAV) and is competing in the Turkish tender for a special purpose vehicle (SPV) against an offering from Otokar (probably a version of the Arma vehicle). The biggest change compared to other variants of the PARS 6x6 is the two-seat cabin at the vehicle front, which now features large windscreens made of ballistic glass, that allow a 230° horizontal viewing angle. A SARP remote weapon station ontop of the roof of the vehicle serves as main armament. The combat weight of the PARS Scout has yet to be made public, however it has a power-to-weight ratio of 22 horsepowers per ton and can reach a road speed of up to 100 kilometres per hour. The weight has not been announced, but if it's power by a 500-600 horsepower engine (like other PARS variants), the PARS 6x6 Scout would weigh around 22-27 metric tons. The hull belly is designed to withstand blasts from mines and IEDs, the seats are blast-proof. The amphibious vehicle is powered by two water blades located at the rear, reaching a swimming speed of 8 kilometres per hour (4.3 knots). On roads, the vehicle has a maximum operation rangee of 600 kilometres. It can cross 1.2 metres wide trenches and climb over vertical obstacles up to 600 mm high. It's maximum fording depth is one metre.

The PARS III is a further evolution of the old GPV design
Aside of the PARS Scout, the third generation of the baseline vehicles were presented. The PARS III 8x8 now has a maximum combat weight of 30 metric tons and can carry 12 soldiers (in the configuration presented at IDEF 2017, which included the Saber-25 one-man turret): Three crew members (commander, driver and gunner), aswell as up to 9 dismounts. The PARS III 6x6 has a lower combat weight of only 25 metric tons, and can carry only six dismounts in the configuration presented at IDEF 2017. Both vehicles have an operation range of more than 700 kilometres.
The main focus of the third generation PARS vehicle was apparently protection against current threats in assymetric warfare, FNSS claims that the resistance against mines is comparable to a MRAP, without stating anything more specific (some vehicles with relatively low level of protection are also called MRAPs...). The fuel tanks of the PARS III vehicles are designed to not detonate upon penetration and also to not leak fuel after being hit.

FNSS' Teber turret system
The company also presented it's TEBER-30/35 turret, which exists either as a manned turret for a crew of two or as an unmanned version, which does not penetrate the hull roof. The unmanned version - designated the TEBER-30/35 Remote Controlled Turret (RCT) can be fitted with either a 30 mm autocannon, such as the Bushmaster II Mk 44 chaingun from Aliant Techsystems, or a larger 35 mm autocannon such as the more powerful Bushmaster III gun. There is also the option of using the Bushmaster II Mk 44 with the 40 mm SuperShot (40 x 180 mm) calibre, which provides more payload, but lower penetration than the 35 x 228 calibre. The gun has dual-axis stabilization.

Depending on gun, ammunition storage varies. Up to 250 rounds of 30 x 173 mm ammunition fit into the turret, the amount of 35 x 228 mm ammo is limited to only 100. A 7.62 mm machine gun with 750 ready rounds serves as coaxial secondary armament. The maximum gun depression is -10°, the maximum elevation is +45°. The TEBER turret has two seperate sets of optics for gunner and commander, allowing hunter-killer operations. The type of optics has not been disclosed. The TEBER-30 unmanned turret is a welded aluminium construction with add-on steel or composite armor modules in order to reach what is believed to be STANAG 4569 level 4 protection all-around at most. Eight smoke grenade dischargers enhance the self-protection of the vehicle.

CGI showing the two-men Teber-30 turret
The manned TEBER-30 turret is operated by a crew of two. It's largely identical to the TEBER-30/35 RT, but provides storage options for up to 300 ready-to-fire rounds of 30/40 mm ammo and up to 1,000 rounds of 7.62 mm machine gun ammunition. Unlike the unmanned version, the TEBER-30 cannot be fitted with the more powerful 35 mm autocannon, due to the gun's greater size and recoild path. The turret has a weight of 3.85 metric tons when fitted with an unknown armor package. Like the unmanned version, it is consisting of aluminium with applique steel and composite armor options. The maximum possible ballistic protection level is STANAG 4569 level 5 (protection against 25 mm ammunition along the frontal arc).

Kaplan-20 armored personnel carrier
Like the PARS, multiple different versions of the Kaplan tracked combat vehicle were presented at IDEF 2017. The Kaplan-20 amphibious infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) has already been presented in 2015. It is meant to replace the ACV series of vehicles, which are essentially upgraded M113s, sometimes fitted with one-man turrets. FNSS calls the Kaplan vehicles also NG-AFV (next generation armored fighting vehicle).
The weight is depending on turret configuration, but it leads to a power to weight ratio between 22 and 25 horsepower per ton; 23 hp/ton in case of the exact vehicle displayed at IDEF 2017. Six roadwheels per side, which are connected to a torsion bar suspension, spread the weight of the vehicle along the lightweight rubber band tracks.
The IFV variant is fitted with the Teber-30/35 RT turret, usually armed with a 30 mm gun. It can carry up to 9 passengers, of which three are crew members (commander, driver and gunner). This year at IDEF, the armored personnel carrier (APC) configuration was showcased, which is armed with a remote weapon station (RWS) that is fitted with a machine gun. Modular composite armor provides protection against ballistic threats and mines of a yet to be officially announced level.

The Kaplan-30 is an enlarged Kaplan with betterr protection
First presented at IDEF 2017 is an enlarged version of the vehicle, known as the Kaplan-30 NG-AFV. Like the Kaplan-20, it is fitted with an automatic transmission coupled to a diesel engine. It was demonstrated with the latest version of the Teber-30/35 RT remotely controlled turret system, newer as the version used on the Kaplan-20 in 2015. The increased size of the vehicle offers greater payload. The Kaplan-30 has lost the amphibious capabilities of it's smaller cousin, while the power-to-weight ratio is reduced to only 20 hp/ton. These drawbacks were accepted in order to obtain a higher level of protection and to transport a a crew of three (commander, driver and gunner) plus eight dismounts instead of only six.
The Kaplan-30 might be a reaction to Otokar's Tuplar IFV. The Turkish Army is expected to open a tender for replacing the outdated ACV-15s; while FNSS developed the rather light Kaplan-20, the Tuplar is much heavier, providing a higher level of protection and room for twelve soliders (9 dismounts plus the crew of three).

The Kaplan Medium Tank is designed for the Indonesian Modern Medium Weight Tank (MMWT) program, competing with Rheinmetalls offer - a modified Marder 1A3 fitted with a Leonardo's Hitfact II turret. It is being developed by FNSS in cooperation with PT Pindad. The vehicle is based on a modified Kaplan chassis with rear-engine instead of the front-mounted concept used on the IFVs. With an estimated weight of 30 to 35 metric tons, the medium tank might be the development link between the Kaplan-20 and the Kaplan-30. The Cockerill 3105 turret from CMI Defence is fitted ontop of the modified hull. It is armed with a with 105 mm high-pressure Cockerill gun, capable of firing ammunition exceeding the official pressure limit of the 105 mm clabire according to NATO standards. The turret provides the commander and the gunner with two separate sets of optics (including thermal imagers and laser rangefinders), allowing the crew to carry out hunter/killer operations.
Previously the Kaplan medium tank for the MMWT project was only presented in form of computer-generated images, while Rheinmetall already had a working Marder medium tank by last year. The Kaplan Medium Tank was presented at IDEF 2017 to the public for the first time, it is expected to be ready for service by 2018.

Aselsan's Korhan features an advanced 35 mm gun-turret
Another armored fighting vehicle has been made by Aselsan, the largest defence company of Turkey; however Aselsan is usually focused on providing electronics and sub-components for combat vehicles. The new vehicle is known as Korhan and might be also meant to compete against Kaplan-20/30 and Tulpar for a potential contract with the Turkish Army. Unfortunately at the time of writing this passage, no reliable source provides enough adequate information about the vehicle.

It is fitted with an Aselsan-developed unmanned turret featuring advanced optics. Thanks to two separate sight units, the system is enabled for hunter/killer operations. The optronic units include laser rangefinders, daysight cameras aswell as thermal imaging systems. A further number of smaller optics is fixed to the turret; some of them are part of a 360° close-range surveillance system, while others optics located at the turret sides are part of a laser warning system.
The remotely controlled turret is armed with a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun as secondary armament. The main armament consists of a 35 mm autocannon, which is capable of firing locally developed KETF (kinetic energy time fuzed) airburst ammunition - essentially a direct copy of the AHEAD (advanced hit efficiency and destruction) concept for KETF rounds developed by Rheinmetall Oerlikon. AHEAD-based systems include various 35 mm anti-air guns such as the Rheinmetall Oerlikon GDF series, the Skyshield gun and the MANTIS C-RAM (counter rockets, artillery and mortar) system. It is also used on the CV9035 and on the German Puma IFV. The Turkish copy is also used in the new Korkut self-propelled anti-air gun (SPAAG), which is based on an upgraded M113 hull.
The Korhan's gun has a maximum elevation of +45°, the maximum gun depression is only -10°. A remote weapon station can be added ontop of the turret, if desired by the costumer. Alternatively the Akkor active protection system (APS) with two twin-launchers or a hatch for a mini-UAV (controlled
from inside the vehicle) can be added.

The Korhan's hull can be used for a mortar carrier
The Korhan's turret system is fitted with a modular armor system, utilizing bolt-on panels of composite armor atop the metal structure. The hull however apparently lacks any sort of modular armor in the demonstrated version. A sniper detection system and two banks of four smoke grenade dischargers each provide improved protection for the vehicle and nearby infantry. Like most IFVs, the Korhan has a front-mounted engine in order to allow the designers to incorporate a rear hatch for the dismounts. Up to eight dismounts can be tansported inside the rear compartment. Three crew members (commander, driver and gunner) are located in front of them. The vehicle utilizes steel tracks with rubber padding, the hull has six roadwheels per side, which are connected to an unknwon type of suspension (most likely a torsion-bar system or a hydropneumatic suspension). Aselsan also proposed a mortar vehicle based on a modified variant of the same hull.

Upgraded M60T Sabra
Other vehicles presented by Aselsan at IDEF 2017 include the Korkut SPAAG, and upgraded versions of the M60T Sabra and Leopard 2 NG. The M60T Sabra, a Israeli-developed upgrade for the Turkish M60A1 main battle tanks, now has been fitted with a SARP remote weapon station (RWS), a 360° camera system, laser warners and a new commander's cupola with increased situational awareness. The SARP RWS accepts either a 7.62 mm general purpose MG, a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun (HMG) or a 40 mm automatic grenade launcher.
The Leopard 2NG is an upgrade for the Leopard 2A4, which has been developed by Aselsan. It is based on the Leopard 2 Evolution armor package from the German company IBD Deisenroth, while Aselsan has developed new optics and electronics. On the enhanced Leopard 2NG, Aselsan has added a laser warning system and a SARP RWS.
The company Otokar presented it's range of wheeled vehicles, including four different variants (two 6x6 and 8x8 vehicles) of the Arma wheeled AFV fitted with the Mizrak and Mizrak-S unmanned turrets - the latter being a new development first presented at IDEF 2017. The up to 24 metric tons heavy Arma failed to gain contracts by the Turkish Army, but has been successfully exported to other countries in the Middle East.

The Altay has been fitted with the SAAB Barracuda MCS
Otokar demonstrated two variants of the new Turkish Altay main battle tank (MBT), which is expected to enter production within the next year. However the project mightr be delayed after severe issues with the local engine development: while all original prototypes were build using the EuroPowerPack made by the German companies MTU (engine) and Renk (transmission), the Turkish government was interested in using an indigenous engine for the tank - in the end the only reason for the development of the Altay was to have an own Turkish tank, rather than buying the licence to locally manufacture the M1A2 Abrams, the Leopard 2A6 or the Leclerc MBT. When South Korea offered a transfer of technology (ToT), the Altay project was born. The MTU powerpack might still be used for the very initial batch of Altay tanks, but makes exporting the Altay quite complicated - Germany could block possible export contracts to countries with poor human rights record. The Turkish industry however failed to develop a proper replacement engine on it's own, which is why the Austrian company AVL List was chosen to deliver technology and components to TUMOSAN, the Turkish engine manufacturer.

The Ukrainian 6TD-3 six-cylinder engine might be fitted to some Altay batches
Due to political issues between Turkey and Austria, the Altay engine project the was delayed. The Austrian government decided to forbid AVL List to export know-how to Turkey, after the Turkish president insulted and threatend Austria and other European countries. Thus the Turkish government searched for another source of engine technology and ended up finding Ukraine's State Enterprise Malyshev Plant. About a year ago in May 2016, this state-owned company presented the 6TD-3, a six-cylinder two-stroke enigne with an output of 1,500 horsepower, which is supercharged and liquid-cooled. It is a further development of the 6TD-2E used on the Oplot MBT from KMBD, which can be traced back to the times of the Soviet Union. It's very questionable that this six-cylinder engine can achieve the same performance in all aspects (including size, fuel consumption, operational range, etc.) as the current offerings from the market-leading German and US enterprises. Pakistan supposedly is interested in using the same engine for the upgraded Al-Khalid 2 tank variant.

The Altay AHT
Also presented at IDEF 2017 for the first time was the Altay-AHT, new Altay variant optimized for assymetrical warfare and urban combat - why a modern tank, designed after the bad experiences of the US military in Iraq, lacks the armor for urban combat shows that something went wrong within the development process. The tank should have been designed with either a proper applique armor package or enough armor to be used in urban combat from the get go.
When upgraded to the AHT configuration, the tank's sides are protected by an unknown type of explosive reactive armor (ERA); given that Otokar is not known for making it's own armor solutions, this might be a type of new ERA designed by Roketsan. ERA from Roketsan will be fitted to a large number of Turkish M60 and Leopard 2 tanks. The turret front now has a sloped shape rather than flat walls, due to addition of passive applique armor. This might imply that the original frontal armor was not meant to resist all possible threats encountered in Syria. At the rear section of the hull and turret, slat armor is adopted to protect against rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).

The flanks of the Altay AHT are covered by ERA and slat armor
The tank is fitted with a new suite of optics in order to detect enemies approaching from all sides. The commander's independent periscope was dropped out of the AHT's design, instead a remote weapon station (RWS) fitted with a 12.7 mm heavy M2 machine gun, aswell as telescopic elevated observation system (EOS) have been added to the turret roof. The EOS is mounted on a retractable mast, it can be raised in order to enable the tank's crew to observe and spot targets, while the vehicle completely remains behind cover. It is apparently fitted with a thermal imager, but probably also includes a laser rangefinder and a daysight CCD camera - there are at least three openings for optics at the EOS' top module.

At the corner of the turret, the YAMGÖZ system and laser warners are mounted
The YAMGÖZ close-range surveillance system provides 360° degree coverage using cameras and thermal imager with a rather limited resolution. It consists of eight modules, each being a tandem of a camera and a night vision optic. Two modules are mounted at each corner of the turret, with a laser warning system located inbetween them. Each detector of the thermal imaging sensors has a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels, they operate at a spectral band of 8 to 12 µm. The daysight camera's have a slightly better resolution at 976 by 582 pixels. The field of view of both optics is limited to 40° horizontally and 30° in elevation. In terms of design this arrangement is similar to Rheinmetall's situational awareness system (SAS), but due the worse sensor unit layout, more optics are required - potentially leading to a higher price than Rheinmetall's offering.

Unlike the current Altay prototypes, the Altay-AHT's hull makes use of  a torsion-bar suspension; it can however be fitted with the original hydropneuamtic suspension if desired. Otokar cites easier maintenance for this decision. Indirectly the move to a torsion bar suspension might imply, that the Altay's hydropneuamtic suspension is not capable of dealing with the higher weight of the Altay-AHT, that it might offer lower reliability than the torsion-bar design or that replacing damaged components is a pain in the arse for the maintentance crews. A dozer blade is fitted to the hull front, which can be used for self-entrenching and clearing obstacles.

Like most modern tanks designed for urban combat, the upgraded Altay is also fitted with an electronical jammer to counter radio-fuzed improvised explosive devices (IEDs) by jamming the frequencies used to fuze them. Furthermore the Altay-AHT has an acoustic location system to track the position of enemy snipers and soldiers. The laser warning system allows to launch the smoke grenade dischargers, acting like a simple soft-kill active protection system. Depending on setting, either the RWS, the EOS or the turret can be turned to face into the direction of a laser, from which the turret-mounted warners were triggered.

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 (originally ordered 52 Leopard 2A4s, 46 left operational) 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?