Leopard 2

The original Leopard 2A1 (right) and highly modernized 2A6 (left). The substantial modifications and enhancements to the AOA package are evident.

Schematics showing protection offered over surfaces of the Leopard 2A4

The Leopard 2 is a German MBT designed by Krauss-Maffei throughout the 1970s as a successor to the earlier Leopard 1 MBT. Entering service with the West German army in 1979 the Leopard 2 had received numerous modernization upgrades since then. With Germany and the Netherlands as the major operators of the vehicle, and with a number of other NATO nations also receiving orders, a total of approximately 3500 vehicles were built. The latest common configuration, the Leopard 2A6, was built at a unit cost of US$5.74 million in 2007 funds. Following the cold war Germany sold most of their Leopard 2s to various allies, including Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey. The Leopard 2 is considered to be one of the premier MBTs in operation today.

The Leopard 2 MBT is a 137,000 pound (62.3 tonne) vehicle that is approximately 33 feet (10 meters) long with the main weapon oriented in a forward direction, 12.25 feet (3.75 meters) wide and 10 feet (3 meters) in height to the top of the turret roof. The vehicle is operated by a crew of 4, consisting of a driver, loader, gunner and commander. The crew layout is traditional, with the driver located at the front center toward the right hand side and the others located within the turret. The main weapon of the Leopard 2A6 is the 120 mm Rheinmetall L/55 smoothbore gun.

The vehicle is powered by a 1500 hp MTU MB 873 liquid-cooled V-12 twin-turbo diesel engine. A HSWL 354 transmission provides four forward gears and 2 reverse gears and the vehicle is equipped with torsion bar suspension and advanced friction dampers. Seven dual rubber tire road wheels and four return rollers provide the vehicle running gear on each side, with a forward idler wheel and a rear drive sprocket. The vehicle is able to attain speeds of 45 mph (70 km/h), is able to drive through water 13 feet (4 meter) deep without alteration through use of a snorkel, can climb 3 ft (1 meter) high vertical obstacles, and travel 340 miles (540 km) with the 317 gallons (1200 litres) of internally stored fuel. With a design emphasis on mobility the Leopard 2 is regarded as without competition in regards to speed and cross-country capability.

Most fielded Leopard 2s have been upgraded from the earlier Leopard 2A1, 2A2 and 2A3 versions to either the Leopard 2A4 or 2A5 designation, with principle modifications being to the weapon, firing control system and armor package. The latest fielded version is the Leopard 2A6. A Leopard 2A7+ configuration has also been developed but this involves only minor sub-system upgrades compared to the 2A6 version. The 2A7 package can be selected by customers as a future optional upgrade.

The primary weapon of the Leopard 2 MBT is the 120 mm Rheinmetall smoothbore gun. Developed by the Germans and recognized and one of the premium guns of its class in the world this weapon is built under license by many other NATO and allied nations for their own MBTs, including the M1 Abrams. The Leopard 2A1 had the 120 mm L/44 installed while later configurations were provided with the L/55 version. The ‘L’ designation is for ‘length’ and the numerical value indicates the length of the barrel in proportion to the weapon calibre (diameter) of the barrel. So L/44 is a barrel with a length equal to 44 times the diameter of the gun tube. The L/55 is more than 4 feet longer than the L/44 barrel. As barrel length increases the muzzle velocity of exiting rounds corresponding increases, improving both accuracy (flatter trajectory) and lethality. The significant increase in barrel length of the L/55 versus the L/44.

The 120 mm gun is a fully stabilized weapon in which firing accuracy is facilitated through a fire control computer and laser rangefinder which has an effective range out to 10,000 yards (9000 meters). The fire control system targeting computer calculates the optimum firing position of the gun barrel by evaluating target distance, vehicle tilt angle, ammunition ballistic data, wind speed and vehicle direction and speed with respect to target. The gunner is provided with panoramic periscopes, tower sights and low-lighting enhancing capabilities. The tank has the ability to engage moving targets while moving over rough terrain. The A1 and A2 upgrades involved added thermal sights as replacements for the low-lighting enhancers while the A4 upgrade provided a completely new digitized fire control system. The A5 upgrade provided for all-electric turret controls and a gun braking system which permitted firing of a more powerful APFSDS that was being developed at the time. And the A6 upgraded the existing Rheinmetall L/44 120 mm cannon to the 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun. The gun comes standard with a thermal sleeve, fume extractor and a muzzle reference system.

Primary ammunition for the 120 mm cannon consists of armor piercing and high explosive rounds. The latest rounds are of a 5th Generation configuration. The anti-tank round is the DM63 Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot-Tracer (APFSDS-T), specifically designed for optimized performance in high temperature (i.e., desert) environments. The DM63 replaced the previous DM53 APFSDS-T, which itself replaces the DM33, DM23, and the original DM13 APFSDS-T round. Each evolutionary step of the round tended to increase the length to diameter ratio, thereby improving penetration capability.

The high explosive round is the DM12 High-Explosive Anti-Tank Multi-Purpose – Tracer (HEAT-MP-T), which incorporates a programmable fuze to optimize performance against infantry that might be concealed behind buildings or trenches. The fuze permits an air burst mode, effectively converting the DM12 into an artillery shell, permitting directed fragmentation attacks. The round has an effective range of over 5000 yards. For Leopards that have the L/55 cannon but not the upgraded Fire Control System, the DM11 HEAT round is used. The upgraded Leopard 2s can also use the recently developed Penetrator with Enhanced Lateral Effect (PELE), which is an APFSDS-T round with a modified penetrator designed to reduce collateral damage when used on targets in an urban setting. The Leopard is provisioned with 42 rounds of ammunition for the cannon.

The secondary weaponry consists of 7.62 mm MG3A1 machine guns, provided with 4,750 rounds of ammunition. The Leopard 2A7+ vehicle has also been upgraded to provide a FLW200 Remote Control Weapon Station (RCWS), ensuring that the weapon operator is not exposed during firing, as is the case with the roof mounted 7.62 mm MG3 machine gun. The FLW200 can be configured to fire a 50 calibre, 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm machine gun, or a 40 mm grenade launcher, all of which are fully stabilized. The unit is operated by the vehicle commander and targeting is provided through a Charge Couple Device (CCD) day camera and a thermal imager. A laser range finder is also provided to evaluate target distance.

The Leopard 2 MBT is constructed from welded ballistic steel to which supplemental add-on-armor (AOA) modules are added. The AOA consists of a 3rd generation composite solution optimized to defeat shaped charge warheads, as used in HEAT rounds, RPGs and ATGMs. This composite armor consists of a spaced multilayer combination of high-hardness steel, tungsten, ceramic and various elastic polymer components. The original vehicle had a box-like geometry with vertically faced turret and frontal arc armor, much as the Abrams. The vehicle offered protection of the vehicle and its occupants against both large calibre kinetic energy penetrators and shaped charge warheads. The vehicle frontal arc armor is up to 31 inches (780 mm) thick and has been suggested as able to provide protection against a standard Soviet 125 mm APFSDS round at 1500 yards.

The vehicle sides are protected against lesser calibre anti-tank rounds, the vehicle rear is able to defeat heavy machine gun rounds and there are ballistic skirts over the tracks to improve RPG protection. The lower portion of the tank has been configured to offer effective anti-tank mine protection by sloping the floor of the hull near the sides at 45°. The vehicle floor is also reinforced with corrugations which are meant to protect the crew by absorbing blast energy. Additional crew protection is provided by an Active Fire Suppression System (AFSS), nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) over-pressure system and by compartmentalization of the fuel and ammunition from the crew occupied area. Blow-off panels located above the ammunition storage areas are designed to direct outward from the vehicle the energy generated by possible secondary explosives. Smoke grenade launchers are mounted on each side of the turret to provide a smoke screen when required.

With the introduction of the A4/A5 upgrade the vehicle geometry was significantly modified to provide further enhanced protection by angling the armor at high obliquities where practicable. Most notably the turret armor was upgraded with titanium/tungsten modules and the forward turret armor was steeply inclined through the addition of laminated appliqué armor. This “arrowhead” design is meant to improve protection through deflecting incoming rounds by offering a highly oblique strike surface. It also increased the effective thickness of the protection offered in these regions from 31 inches (780 mm) to 59 inches (1500 m) against APFSDS rounds. There is also a significant improvement to the protection provided against sharped charge warheads. Side skirt armor was also further enhanced to protect the uppermost portion of the tracks and the idler wheel while a 25 mm thick spall liner was added to the vehicle interior to reduce the Behind Armor Debris (BAD) spall cone in the event of an overmatch event (i.e., threat penetration occurs).

The A6/A7 upgrade included further improvements to the vehicle armor laminate configuration as well as enhancements to the vehicle underbelly to provide better protection from anti-tank mines and IED threats. This later system is known as the Mine Protection Package, or M-Package. It has a total weight of almost 4000 pounds. As well as adding energy absorbing materials to the floor of the vehicle, the M-Package also replaces the floor mounted driver seat with a suspended system which isolates the driver from floor deformations resulting from an attack. The vehicle also replaces the loader and gunner seats in the turret with upgraded Energy Absorbing (EA) seating. Extensive modifications occur to the lower hull with the M-Package, including a protection plate under the vehicle floor and reinforced torsion bars with cover shields. The vehicles were also configured with mounting arrangements to add ERA modules if deemed necessary for particular combat missions (the extra weight of the ERA reduces mobility, so a trade-off analysis is performed).

There are also a number of urban combat configurations available for the Leopard 2 involving the addition of modular armor over surfaces that were not be regarded as sufficiently protected in a 360 degree threat environment. Composite armor modules can be selectively added along the sides of the turret and hull, and SLAT armor can be added to enhance RPG protection at the rear of the vehicle.

The protection level offered by the A5 configuration is estimated at up to 690 mm RHAe on the turret against kinetic energy penetrators and up to 1000 mm RHAe against shaped charge warheads. Glacis and lower front plate are protected to 600 mm RHAe for kinetic projectiles. For the A6/A7 upgrades, this protection is believed to have been enhanced to up to 940 mm RHAe for the turret and 620 mm RHAe on the glacis and lower front plate for kinetic projectiles. The schematics below provide what are believed to be the protection level offered by surface on the Leopard 2A4 front a frontal and a side perspective.

Leopard 2A4s and 2A5s saw deployment to Kosovo with the German Army as part of KFOR. The Dutch also operated the same vehicles as part of the IFOR forces in Bosnia-Hercegovina. The vehicles were reported to have operated to expectations, though no direct combat exchanges were experienced during these operations.

More critically, Danish and Canadian Forces deployed Leopard 2s to Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force ISAF and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) contingents. The Canadian deployment consisted of 20 Leopard 2A6s borrowed from Germany specifically for the mission. In late 2007 one of the Canadian vehicles was struck by an IED during an attack on an enemy position but suffered only minor damage as a result and with no crew being injured. The M-package proved itself successful at protecting both vehicle and crew. In October of the same year the Danish deployed Leopard 2A5s to the region. Early in 2008 a Danish vehicle struck an IED. A track was damaged, but the crew were uninjured and the vehicle was able to return to base unassisted. In July of 2008 however a Danish Leopard 2A5 struck an IED which resulted in the death of the vehicle driver. Essentially no level of armoring of an armored combat vehicle can protect the occupants against truly large threats. As effective as the protection systems are on the Leopard 2 or any other vehicle, weapons can always be contrived to overwhelm and defeat these systems, either through sheer size or volume. The goal of armor is to maximize the challenge to an opponent to produce and field threats able to defeat it, to minimize the opportunities for such threats to be used, and to make the use of such threats highly risky to the attacker.