Fire! Why the Leopard 2 Tank Remains a Fearsome Beast
This warmachine is very powerful and has received many upgrades.
Key point: This tanks is well made and has been bought by many different militaries. Here is how it was constructed to win on any battlefield.
The Leopard 2 is one of the world’s most common main battle tanks, used by militaries on four continents. As such, the market for upgrades that bring the older versions up to the latest standards of protection and lethality is large. The primary player here is Krauss-Maffei Wegman, the original designer of the Leopard 2, who markets a variety of kits and new versions of the Leopard 2.
This first appeared earlier and is being republished due to reader interest.
Before delving into the details of the update kits, it’s important to realize what standard the majority of the world’s Leopards are at. The majority of Leopard 2s operated worldwide are of the Leopard 2A4 standard, which was made between 1985 and 1992.
The Leopard 2A4 has the characteristic flat turret front, an all digital fire-control system, an L44 gun, hydraulic turret drive and a thermal gunner’s sight. They do not have an independent thermal commanders sight, advanced guns, or add on armor.
1. Leopard 2A6
The Leopard 2A6 is the most “traditional” upgrade, following the naming convention and general trend of the earlier 2A(X) series of upgrades. It builds upon the 2A5 upgrade, which introduced major changes to the turret design, including the distinctive “Wedge” turret. The wedge shape is a result of the application of a large spaced armor package to the turret. Most of the volume inside the wedge is empty, which provides stand off distance against HEAT shells, and some additional protection against KE shells.
Additional composite armor is also placed on the hull sides. Some subvariants of the 2A6 like the Leopard 2E operated by Spain have additional armor built into the front of the hull, turret front, and turret roof built into the original specification.
As the gunner’s sight in the turret was considered to be a rather large weak spot, it was moved on top of the turret. The 2A5 upgrade also introduced electric turret drive and introduced an independent thermal commander sight.
In the 2A6, the gun was also upgraded to the L55 gun, which increases the velocity of projectiles fired. This is considered a fairly critical upgrade, as it’s a significant boost to the Leopard 2’s anti-tank capability. 2A6M variants also included further belly armor to protect against mine as well as shock proof ammo racks and other improvements.
2A6s are in fairly wide service. Most types formerly belonged to the Royal Netherlands Army, which dissolved their Leopard 2 fleet (which included 2A6s) in 2012 as a result of defense budget cuts and were sold to other European nations. However, despite their age, they possess most features modern tanks should have, including some the T-72B3 and T-90A lack.
2. Leopard 2A7/2A7+ (2A7Q)
The 2A7 is the latest version of the Leopard 2 adopted by the Bundeswehr in 2014. The primary improvements were electronic. A new battle management system (IFIS) allows for similar capability to the US Army’s Blue Force Tracker system, sharing the position of friendly and possible enemy contacts. It also adds an auxiliary power unit (APU) and improved climate control for the crew.
Armament wise, a new programmable high-explosive round is integrated that can be shot out to 5 kilometers in impact, airburst, or delayed detonation modes. Defensively, a mine-protection kit superior to the 2A6M is installed.
In 2017 the Bundeswehr ordered their Leopard 2A4s, 2A6, and 2A7s to be upgraded to the 2A7V standard, which adds some additional armor modules to the hull, new thermal imagers (including a rear facing one for the driver), and a more powerful APU. Additional armament upgrades (including an increased pressure L55) were speculated to be present in the 2A7V standard but were not implemented in the final standard.
More advanced than the Leopard 2A7V is the Leopard 2A7+/2A7Q, which was procured by Qatar. It features the same upgrades on the Leopard 2A7V but has an even more powerful APU (so the air conditioning systems can be run when the tank is standing still). It also sports a remote-weapons station on top of the turret that mounts an American M2HB .50 caliber machine gun for close protection and additional top attack protection.
3. Strv 122C/D
The original Strv 122 was a Leopard 2A5 adopted by Sweden. However the original 2A5 was not satisfactory to Sweden, so they ordered it with the heavy add-on MEXAS-H composite armor package on the hull and additional roof armor against cluster bomblets and artillery fragments.
Also added was the French GALIX countermeasures system. The GALIX is an integrated laser-warning receiver and smoke grenade launcher with optional battlefield networking. It also can launch noise and flashbang grenades for crowd control.
The Strv 122B added the same mine protection kit as used in the 2A6M. Strv 122C and D variants will be fitted with a new commander’s thermal sight that includes a laser rangefinder. The Swedish Army is also considering replacing the L44 cannons on their Strv 122s with L55s and buying additional composite armor modules for their tanks.
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The Swedes have attempted to make up for the low velocity of the L44 by procuring advanced Israeli APFSDS rounds (under the designation spårljuspansarprojektil m/95) that are considered to be superior to the original DM33 rounds supplied with the tank, but ammunition can only go so far.
Overall, while the Strv 122 is not the best Leopard 2 due to the limited capability of the L44 cannon, it is an interesting parallel evolution of the platform and superior to a basic 2A5.
4. Leopard 2 Technologieträger/Revolution (variants adopted as Leopard 2SG and Leopard 2RI)
Unlike the upgrades above, which are largely based on the Leopard 2A5, the Leopard 2 Technologieträger is a tech demonstrator of the possible advanced upgrades that can be applied to the Leopard 2A4, which still serves in many militaries today. As KMW has largely been focusing on the 2A7 line, the Technologieträger has been developed by Rheinmetall instead.
The most distinctive feature of the upgrade package is the Advanced Modular Armor Package (AMAP) armor modules on the hull and turret. These give the tank a very chunky appearance. However, the 2A4 sight position in the hull remains the same (and a weak spot). Also added is the Rheinmetall ROSY countermeasures package, which provides similar functionality to the aforementioned GALIX.
The fire control system and sights are also revamped, and the ergonomics of almost every crew position is revamped with new screens and controls. A new independent commander thermal sight is added. The hydraulic turret drives are also swapped out for electric drives as they were on the 2A5. An optional .50 cal RWS can be fitted on top of the turret. In the latest versions of the Technologieträger, the L44 is also swapped out for the L55 and the ADS hard-kill active protection system is integrated
Singapore procured a roughly similar upgrade to the Leopard 2 Technologieträger/Revolution in their Leopard 2SG. They acquired the AMAP Armor package but opted for an Israeli Elbit Systems commander sight and an indigenous battle-management system. Some reports say that the Leopard 2SG was upgraded with an L/55 gun, but pictures show only an L/44 gun installed.
Indonesia procured a tank far closer to the original Technologieträger/Revolution package in the Leopard 2RI, which features the AMAP, German thermal sights, and new FCS. The ROSY smoke launchers and mine protection kit were not included, likely to keep costs down.
5. Leopard 2NG
Building off the success of the Leopard 2 Technologieträger/Revolution, Turkey’s Aselsan also built an upgrade package for the Leopard 2A4 called the Leopard 2 Next Generation or Leopard 2NG. As Turkey operates a very large fleet of 2A4s, this upgrade kit could be aiming for a domestic contract as well as export.
Like the German package, it features electric turret drives, reworked FCS, a commander thermal sight, a large and chunky armor package, a .50 caliber RWS and a battle-management system. Aselsan claims that the package is superior to the 2A6, however as the 2NG retains the L44 gun with no known upgrades, this is highly doubtful.
Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues. This first appeared earlier and is being republished due to reader interest.