The news that Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands will join forces to supply 100 Leopard1A5 is good news for Ukraine. That is the case even if it is significantly older than the Leopard 2A6 and a step below the 2A4 when it comes to protection and raw firepower. It is, however, in some ways what Ukraine needs.
The Leopard 1 (known simply as ‘Leopard’ when it first entered service) was an attempt to push the Mobility – Firepower part of the performance triangle while sacrificing some of the Protection in the process. It wasn’t an overly successful concept and the Leopard 2 took a step back to a more balanced (and successful) concept. The bad news is that the Leopard 1 has not improved with age as the Cold War has faded into history. The prime example is the main armament: the legendary 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 (M68 to you US tankers) which was responsible for the firepower-part of the original Leopard’s design. Once the finest tank gun of the west and fitted to a host of different tanks, it is by now (as are rifled 105 mm guns in general) outdated for tank killing. The 105 mm rifled has been gradually replaced in the West by 120 mm smoothbores as the main tank armament starting in the 80’s with the introduction of the Leopard 2. However, on the positive side, while the L7 is outdated, so are a lot of the potential targets on the battlefield in Ukraine. The T-62 and T-64 are roughly of the same generation, and a lot of the T-72 running around are not the latest and greatest T-72B3M, but Cold War carry-overs.
Another key aspect here is that when discussing tank guns, ammunition is often forgotten. There are huge differences between the capabilities of individual tank rounds also when fired from the same gun. It is somewhat unclear how the 105 mm rounds will be sourced, and what ammunition will be used by the Leopard 1A5s. Countries that still operate 105 mm equipped tanks obviously have rounds in storage, and likely relatively new ones. Greece with both the Leopard 1 and M48 Patton is a good example, and they might share a few rounds even if their tanks are expected to stay where they are. There are still modern 105 mm on offer which includes e.g. Nexter offering the MECAR developed M1060A2 and -A3 APFSDS-T anti-tank rounds (as well as a HEAT-round). What kind of production numbers you get is anyone’s guess, as is how many and what kind of rounds are left in storage. An interesting round that is unlikely to reach Ukraine is the M900 APFSDS-T which was used by the US in the now retired Stryker-version desginated M1128 Mobile Gun System, which while very cool-looking was retired due to a number of different issues. As one of the last modern platforms to bring the M68 to the battlefield, its failure is the kind of thing people point to when questioning whether the 105 mm has any role on the modern battlefield. Still, the fact is that the vehicle did see the light of day and operational service up until recently means the US does have modern 105 mm APFSDS-T rounds in service despite the 105 mm Abrams having been retired, though these rounds come with depleted Uranium penetrators which are controversial and unlikely to be exported.
For the Leopard 1 in particular, the best widely used round for the Leopard 1A5 is the DM63, a German license produced version of the Israeli M426. You might/probably/perhaps/will bag a T-72B with it, but I wouldn’t want to be the one to try. There are Swedish trials which have seen DM63 (locally called Slpprj 90, a wonderfully impossible to pronounce abbreviation from the words SpårLjus PansarPRoJektil) pass “straight through” the turret of a T-72M1, though it is notable that the M1 is a relatively weakly armoured export-version of the tank. A Finnish armoured officer in turn makes the comparison to the older 120 mm DM33, so most older versions of T-72 and T-80 (and T-62/T-64) should be vulnerable.
Yes I did analysis 10 months ago on the same issue. 105mm DM63 is roughly same in terms of capability as 120mm DM33 that was main ammo for Leopard 2A4 that time. So adequate to T-72/T-80's. Let's face it, Kontakt-5 ERA effect on APFSDS-T is controversial.https://t.co/QKrublGEiS
Of course, the Israeli connection might be an issue. Or then not. There’s unconfirmed (and I stress that word) reports the Slovenian delivery of the M-55S included the DM63 (seems likely Israel had to sign off on the M-55S in either case considering Elbit’s role in the upgrade, giving some credibility to the rumour). If you could get the Israelis onboard, you might also be able to low-key buy an even nicer piece of kit – Elbit’s M428 Sword. In either case, the M-55S has brought the L7 to the Ukrainian battlefield already, meaning that at least on a smaller scale someone has been studying the options for supplying the gun with ammunition.
However, in either case, let’s not bash the L7 too much. Ukraine currently has tanks capable of using significantly better rounds in the form of the Soviet-origin 125 mm smoothbore 2A46 fitted to the T-64, T-72, and T-80 families of vehicles. With the capture of T-90 and the modern Svinets-family of rounds, Ukraine has access to the most modern Russian APFSDS rounds available which are expected to be decades better than anything that can be fired from the L7. However, that statement – while factually correct – is still misleading as at the same time it seems clear that in many cases Ukraine has had to settle for Cold War-relics as ammunition due to lack of modern rounds. As such, a modern 105 mm round you have has better performance than a modern 125 mm round you don’t.
However, everything is not terrible with the Leopard 1. Key among the nice features are the sensors. The Leopard 1A5 is an upgrade to the baseline Leopard 1 based around the EMES-15 sights and fire control system developed for the Leopard 2 (the 1A5-version being designated the EMES-18) which are top notch compared to almost every tank rolling around in Ukraine at the moment. The Leopard 1A5-designation is also more vague than might initially be expected, as among the possible candidates for delivery is both ex-German 1A5 and ex-Danish 1A5DK which are even further upgraded (described as “except for the gun, much better than the [Leopard 2]A4“). In addition, though so far not approved for export, there are also a number of ex-Belgian Leopard 1A5BE in storage as well as Canadian Leopard C2 which correspond to the 1A5-standard.
The 1A5DK are expected to make up a serious part of the deliveries initially, and as such will further improve on the strengths of the tank (as a side-note, the Danish Leopard 1A5 have also seen combat, when the Jydske Dragonregiment squared off against a number of Srpska T-55s in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1994). In modern tank combat, seeing the enemy first and hitting with the first round are a big plus (you will still have to get through the enemy armour, but it’s a start), so the value of these features shouldn’t be underestimated. The lower weight compared to the Leopard 2 (and Abrams and Challengers) will also be a benefit on the battlefield where the lack of (undamaged) heavy road infrastructure and muddy terrain in parts of the country benefit a lighter vehicle. Sure, you probably would prefer to have the armour and 120 mm gun, but better mobility is at least something.
…and perhaps most importantly, the 1A5 are available in nice numbers. Yes, they are old. Yes, sourcing spares and ammunition will be a headache. Yes, they will take time to get out of storage. But having tanks is better than not having tanks.
The following proposal is madness. I’ve been told so in no uncertain terms by people knowledgeable of the matter who’s opinions I highly respect. It runs against both the common discourse as well as what the authorities and officials with detailed classified knowledge about the issues at hand has said in their communiques. It also comes with a hefty price tag, and I have no proposal what should be cut in order to make it fit in under an already unhealthy Finnish budget. But with all that said, isn’t it for these kinds of out-of-the-box craziness that non-aligned defence analysts are valued?
As I think most serious defence analysts are in agreement on, the War in Ukraine has shown the value of armoured protection in general and tanks in particular on an increasingly lethal battlefield. As such, it only makes sense that a very valuable kind of support for Ukraine would be tanks. Tanks, like other high-tech systems such as fighters or warships, age, and while older equipment can be both useful and effective, modern equipment is usually significantly more so. Modern tanks also benefit from more readily available spares and munitions. As such, handing Ukraine modern tanks instead of trying to buy up every available T-72 makes sense.
Of the modern tanks available in Western forces today (M1 Abrams, Leopard 2, Ariete, Challenger 2, Leclerc, and K2 Black Panther), most are either high-maintenance and supply intensive (M1 Abrams), available in very limited numbers (Ariete, Challenger 2, K2 Black Panther, Leclerc), or using non-standard munitions (Challenger 2). As such, the Leopard 2 is the obvious choice (the Leopard 1 is a Cold War-relic that isn’t particularly relevant to the discussion on modern tanks, though the Leopard 1 in later versions certainly can take down a T-62 in a fight).
Finland has the Leopard 2 in two different (MBT) versions, the older Leopard 2A4 and the newer Leopard 2A6. As opposed to what some has reported, both are very much in use and occupy a key role in the Finnish wartime forces as the main armoured spearhead (again, a key capability when it comes to throwing out an attacker that has gotten over the border). The exact numbers are somewhat uncertain for the 2A4, as a number of older hulls have been bought for the express purpose of being cannibalized for spares, and a number has been converted to specialised roles such as bridge-layers, self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, engineering vehicles, and so forth. However, it is safe to say that the number of operational Leopards in Finnish service sits at roughly 80 Leopard 2A4 and 100 Leopard 2A6.
If European countries start sending Leopards to Ukraine – and by now it is starting to be evident that as with most German red lines, this one will become void at some point – the talk in Finland is that Finland would participate, but that the number of tanks would be very limited and that the support would likely focus on training, spares, and similar support missions. Because Finland “can’t send many tanks“.
And here is where I call a foul. Finland can send a significant number of tanks, but it would be expensive and we would take a national security risk.
The short version is that we could send all Leopard 2A4, which would mean the tank part of an under-strength armoured brigade (your order of battle will vary, in Poland 58 tanks is a battalion, in the US 87 tanks is a brigade). The Leopard 2A4-force was slated for a mid-life upgrade already a decade ago, but that was eventually scrapped due to cost and the opportunity to buy second-hand 2A6NL from the Netherlands at throwaway cost. The word then was that they would replace the 2A4 which we couldn’t afford to upgrade, but as it turns out the Finnish Defence Forces decided to instead double the armoured force.
Here we run into a particular quirk of the Finnish Defence Forces: The Army doesn’t like to talk. This isn’t just restricted to tanks, but in general they don’t discuss their wartime formations, and as such they don’t talk about their plans for the future as that would lead to people getting ideas about the current situation. While I can understand that from an OPSEC-perspective, it also leads to situations of serious questions about civilian and budgetary oversight, and for the Army it is significantly harder to “sell” their needs compared to the Navy or the Air Force who rather clearly communicate their equipment needs (which granted are more straightforward, as the number of platforms and their capabilities are to a certain extent simpler). The Army has a hard time saying “Trust us, anything less than 180 main battle tanks and we’re open for invasion” when we apparently were okay with 100 for quite some time after the T-72s all went to scrapheap and the 2A4 was the sole tank in the fleet.
However, I will go out and say that I agree with the current discourse that a single brigade’s worth of tanks is significantly too few for a country the size of Finland, and even two brigades is a questionable minimum. However, defence budgets are tough, so let’s say we are at the rough equilibrium where we can balance the costs of operating 200 tanks with the combat capability needed. Until someone open up the calculations and capabilities a bit more, that sounds like a reasonable equation. If we send the Leopard 2A4s somewhere else, they would obviously need to be replaced, and for once we have something approaching a reasonable cost-estimate. The Norwegian project to acquire new tanks sport a budget of approximately 1.8 billion Euros (19.3 Bn NOK) for 72 new tanks. Say an even 2 Bn EUR for 80 tanks and a solid replacement on a one-to-one basis for Finland. The original plan for the Norwegian deal was deliveries from 2025, but that would have included contract signing last year, and it is safe to assume delivery times might have gone up a bit. As such, shipping away the Leopards now and at the same time ordering a replacement would leave our tank force cut by ~45% for 5-8 years.
So why would Finland send tanks to Ukraine? Why can’t anyone else do so? The whole point was that the Leopard 2 is in widespread use, right?
Numbers are deceiving, and not all Leopard 2s are the same. The 2A4 is the oldest current version, and is in relatively widespread use, while the 2A6 represent a new standard with among other things a more modern gun. The 2A5 sit in-between the 2A4 and the 2A6, while the 2A7 is significantly more modern and only now really starting to roll off the production lines in any serious numbers. However, not all 2A4s are the same either, as most countries do a certain amount of local changes. This can range from mounting your favourite 7.62 mm machine gun to developing national standards calling for their own designations (looking at you, Swedish Strv 122). The Finnish 2A4 is rather close to the German baseline, sporting new and enlarged storage compartments, modified side skirts, and a number of minor detail changes.
As such, while you can certainly mix and match – in particular as long as you stay with the same version – maintenance and spares will obviously be easier the closer you stick to a single national variant. In other words, taking ten vehicles here and ten vehicles there isn’t necessarily the most efficient way (although vastly better than getting ten Challenger 2 and ten Leopards).
And then the numbers aren’t as overwhelming as some would like to make them out to be. There are twenty countries operating the Leopard 2 (21 if you count UAE and their four Wisent 2 AEVs). If we look at the 2A4, in addition to Finland, Spain, Norway, Poland, Greece, Turkey, Chile, Singapore, Canada, and Indonesia operate the tank in any sizeable numbers. Scratch the countries in Asia and South America, because so far the Ukraine aid has been a decidedly North American and European affair. Then you can remove Greece and Turkey, since neither will part with any armour before it literally is falling into pieces. This leaves Norway, Spain, Poland, Canada, and Finland. Poland and Norway are as much of frontline states as Finland, and while Poland already has shipped serious amounts of tanks to Ukraine the roughly 50 2A4s are the only tanks in Norwegian service. Spain indeed has been interested in sending the tanks, but found them to be in too poor condition to be of use. Canada has 42 used in a training role, so these might be of use.
Going to the 2A5 and related versions (including modernised 2A4s), we are looking at Switzerland (strictly “neutral”), Sweden (120 tanks of the unique Strv 122 version, sole tank in use), Poland (frontline state), Singapore (in Asia), Canada (just twenty 2A4M), Indonesia (in Asia). For 2A6, we have Germany, Spain, Finland, Greece, Portugal (just 37 tanks), Canada (just twenty tanks), of which Spain has a serious number (219) of their Leopard 2E-version which could provide a serious number. Germany obviously would be the big player, but they are in fact situated at less than 150 tanks currently, and can hardly be expected to be the leader for this project (or generally when it comes to hard security in Europe).
As such, Finland is – while not completely unique – one of the few countries that could send a sizeable number (more than a battalion) of tanks in good condition, of a single configuration, without giving up most or all of our most modern tanks.
The counter-argument is obviously that we aren’t a NATO-member (yet), which makes things tricky. I agree on that, and that is indeed the key question which only the top-diplomats can currently answer – how safe does the current status as applicants make us feel? How much of a risk would we take by halving our tank force for half a decade?
At the same time, there is a number of other issues affecting Finnish security that would support the decision to send tanks. Ukraine’s success on the battlefield has measurably increased Finnish security in that the forces on the other side of the border are getting shot to pieces somewhere else. Similarly, the war dragging on would in itself be destabilising for the region, as a more desperate Russian political leadership might lash out in unexpected actions, or groups or parts of society inside Russia might start acting in ways counter to Finnish interests and security. On the opposite, further Ukrainian success on the battlefield would likely cause yet more Russian forces to leave their garrisons for a battlefield away from our borders. I believe that most of my readers would agree that a decisive Ukrainian victory on the battlefield in the near-future would be the most preferable outcome for Finnish security (and that is from a strictly realist point of view, there certainly is a moral aspect here as well, but that is a more complex question which would require too much space for me to open up in detail in this post).
A key issue for the FDF would be the question of personnel where we suddenly would train half the number of wartime tank battalions for a few years. This would need careful planning to ensure that there are available officers and NCOs with experience once the new tanks are brought into service. But considering the high tempo of operations during recent years and the fact that the 2A4 and 2A6 gun tanks are only one part of an armoured force that include a number of platforms (at the same time, I realise that going from the 2A4 to a MT-LB might not be a career development to everyone’s liking…) it might be possible to work out a reasonable solution to this issue as well.
As mentioned, the Leopard 2A4 are by now approaching a decade since the planned MLU was cancelled, meaning that they will need either a serious upgrade or a replacement within the next five to ten years in either case. As such, the option of shipping them off to secure Finnish interests in another country is not as outrageously expensive compared to what the eventual budget for them will be in either case (2 Bn EUR is still a huge amount). However, there is the issue with the new replacement tank being several years away. Here, it is notable that Finland has likely never been safer since before the Bolsheviks managed to secure power after the Russian civil war, meaning that we possibly have been offered a unique window that allow for the risk-taking required (if indeed the risk of sending them is seen as greater than the risk of Ukraine not getting a brigade worth of Leopards and how that would benefit Finnish security). It is also notable that even if the war ended tomorrow and Russia started rebuilding their forces, missing the officers and NCOs who have been killed or wounded on the battlefield will cause issues for any rebuilding program.
What could be the next steps if those with access to the folders with red stamps on would decide that the risk of sending Leopards would be smaller than the risk of not doing so? The government and leading opposition parties would have to get together (we are close to a parliamentary election, and this kind of radical decision would need broad parliamentary support to survive), and take the decision to prepare the shipment of the Finnish Leopard 2A4 fleet to Ukraine, publicly announcing it to put pressure on Germany to allow for the export, and decide on additional funding outside of the ordinary defence budget to fund the 2 Bn EUR replacement program. Next step would be to call Norway and the suppliers for their program (Hyundai Rotem and KMW), and ask to be let in on the program. In the best of words, we would be able to just rip off the Norwegian evaluation and ask if everyone would be happy to include an option for an additional 80 or so tanks to Finland according to the same terms and conditions of the Norwegian contract in the same way Estonia has tagged along on Finnish buys of radars and artillery (if we talk really nice to the Norwegians, we might even reach some compromises when it comes to delivery slots despite that causing some delays for them. After all, a strong Finnish Defence Force is a good thing for Norwegian security as well). If there is something with the Norwegian requirements we can’t agree to, we might have to run our own procurement competition, but in either case it should offer plenty of valuable experiences from both bidder and buyer points of view to start the discussion with them – ensuring we hit the ground running in a procurement program where speed would be of the essence.
As such, it’s not that Finland can’t deliver a serious number of tanks to Ukraine – it’s that we aren’t prepared to pay the costs and take the risks such a decision would include. And I for one does not know for certain if that is the correct decision or not.
The Republic of Korea has obviously a long history of being on more or less permanent war-footing, but it was somewhat more recently that they really fired up their own arms industry. For the MBT-side of things, this kicked off with the K1, which entered service in the late-80’s. This was a tank related to the M1 Abrams, although sporting enough differences – most visibly the integration of a combined torsion bar/hydrodynamic suspension as well as a more traditional diesel engine, but also a somewhat different approach when it came to sensors and sights – to ensure it was a new tank a not just a local copy of the M1. The K1 has moved through a number of versions, including following the path of the Abrams of going from a 105 mm rifled main gun to a 120 mm smoothbore one, and by all accounts have provided good service to the ROK Army even if never quite grabbing the headlines. Interestingly, one of the few export attempts was to Malaysia, where it was beaten by the PT-91. It’s a small world…
But there was still room for more tanks to replace old M48 Pattons. One of the solutions was to accept a battalion of T-80U from Russia – apparently as payment for debts owed by the Soviet government. A large-scale order for Russian steel was not, however, in the cards. Instead, development of a new tank started.
There is obviously no proof that the ROK would have used that inside knowledge of what was then one of the most modern non-Western tanks of the battlefield when designing what would become the K2. But I guess it didn’t hurt. Neither probably did the fact that ROK also operate a limited number of (ex-IDF) T-62 and T-72M1 in the aggressor role.
If the K1 had borrowed from the Abrams, the K2 would borrow from the Leclerc. Exactly how much is somewhat open for discussion – one anecdote gives that the autoloader is copied based on ‘YouTube-videos‘, though it should be noted that development work of the K2 was quite far along by the time YouTube was launched, leaving open the option that the term should not be taken literally but rather in general for video-clips on the internet, that a video clip helped iron out the final design at a rather late stage, or that the whole anecdote is fake. In any case, like the Leclerc, the tank is relatively light and sport a three-man crew tanks to the autoloader removing the need for a dedicated loader.
The K2 Black Panther entered service in 2014 – two years after the Japanese Type 10 and as such laying claim to being the newest tank in operational service. This newness has to some extent been exaggerated, as while the tank might be decades newer than much of the competition, the continuous development of the current generation of western tanks means that the latest and greatest version of the Leopard 2 and Abrams are more or less sporting the same level of protection, firepower, and combat management systems as the K2 does. There is without doubt a benefit to being able to integrate 21st century systems from day one of the design instead of bolting them on afterwards, which is seen in e.g. the growth in weight and lower mobility of the latest versions of the Leopard and Abrams, but this is more along the lines of bonus points in the margin than evaluation winners. All in all, it is a good and very modern tank, but it is still a competitor to the current generation of M1A2 SEP-series and Leopard 2A7, rather than to the next generation such as MGCS.
South Korea had faced issues with entering the European market for quite a while, the most successful defence export being the world’s greatest Les Misérables parody – Les Militaribles, set at the ROKAF’s 22nd Fighter Wing. However, in the last decade, sales of the K9 Thunder has picked up pace, as has interest in a number of other systems, such as the K21 IFV. The K2 has also showed up in Norway, where the tailored K2NO-variant is competing against the Leopard 2A7NO for the contract as Norway’s next MBT. While the Leopard arguably is the favourite, the K2 is reported to have outperformed the Leopard in recent winter testing, thanks to the advanced suspension and low weight allowing for good mobility (it should be remembered that the Korean peninsula is no stranger to snow).
It deserves to be emphasised that the market for a supplier of a modern tank is really limited, in particular if you aren’t interested in Russian (or rather, Soviet) or Chinese designs. The Leclerc scored a single export order to UAE, who eventually donated a number of tanks to Jordan. The Challenger 2 saw a small order from Oman, while the Ariete never left Italy. As such, all three are more or less out of the game at this stage. Just how dominant the Leopard 2 has been on the export markets is evident when one remember that the M1 Abrams has scored a whooping six export deals before the Polish one – all except Australia being to the Middle East or North Africa. So if you have burned your bridges over the Oder-Neisse line, have been politely declined to come aboard the MGCS in the earlier phases of the project, and still want to get your own tank production line with transfer of technology and the potential of a future tank design, where do you go? To Seoul.
The South Koreans were ready to supply not only tanks to Poland, but to participate in setting up a complete associated infrastructure including technology transfer, license production, development of an improved local version known as K2PL, local production of spare parts, and joint development of a future tank tentatively described as the K3PL. This all weighed heavily in the Polish decision, with some Polish analysts going as far as calling the K2 inferior to the M1A2 SEPv3, but the overall deal making a K2-buy interesting.
M1A2SEPv3 is considered by Polish Army as a superior tank, however Republic of Korea offers much more than just tanks. Besides K2PL which will be produced in Poland, there is also proposed cooperation on new tank, let's call it K3/K3PL. And there is more.
After years of rumoured interest, the outbreak of the war ensured that Polish authorities saw the K2 being the preferable way forward, and earlier this week signed a huge framework agreement covering buys and local production of not just the K2, but also K9 howitzers and FA-50 light fighters. In addition there are discussions regarding the IFV-side of things – in practice a further developed version of the K21-version known as AS21 Redback which is currently on offer to Australia – as well as about the K239 Chunmoo multiple-rocket launch system to complement the HIMARS ordered by Poland.
The scope of the framework agreement is huge. For the K2, it starts with 180 tanks of the current K2-version delivered starting this year and stretching out to 2025. As said, these would cover three battalions of 60 tanks each. Edit: Seems a Polish battalion is 58 tanks to be exact, this changes a few numbers down the line, but nothing drastic. This batch would be followed by an additional 820 tanks built locally to an upgraded K2PL-standard, with deliveries starting in 2026. All in all, that makes it a nice even 1,000 K2 in Polish service, which would fill a total of 17 tank battalions. Looking back at the OOB, that would mean converting all three remaining divisions into more or less the same pattern as the 18th with its six tank battalions, leaving Poland with a full four divisions of around 360 tanks each (one of them being a battalion short).
The cost of the tanks, according to the framework agreement, would come in at approximately 12.86 MEUR per vehicle, which is a lot but not overly expensive. In fact, it ties in rather nicely with the 11.2 MEUR per vehicle that Slovakia reportedly is paying for their CV90 IFVs, as well as with the reported 2009 unit cost of 8.5 MUSD for the Korean production run which inflation-adjusted to 2022 dollars (CPI. Yes, not ideal for military systems) and converted to Euros sits at 11.6 MEUR (and which at the time earned the K2 a Guinness World Record as “Most Expensive Tank”). Now, comparing vehicle costs are always complex and usually sits somewhere between “As relevant as the price of fish in Goa” and “Moderately useful” on the scale of relevancy to the discussion, but it does not feel like the Poles are paying a lot considering the reported scope – if the 12.86 Bn EUR really cover the whole acquisition program.
Approximately here we ought to stop and acknowledge the fact that Polish defence procurement has a history of not being straightforward, and with the politicians and armed forces having a tendency of being better at presenting plans and concepts rather than actually seeing them through. A framework agreement, even if a signed document and certainly of value, is not and should not be confused with an acquisition contract proper. However, several of the programs now kicked off are not new, but rather ones that have been in the pipeline for years without anyone actually pulling the figurative trigger. The war next-door certainly has given them a renewed importance, and as such it certainly is possible that the framework agreement will lead to serious orders – and fast, if the scheduled first deliveries in 2022 are to be met.
Still, it is difficult to overstate how ambitious the current framework agreement is. One thing that almost certainly will suffer is the ambitious K2PL-variant proposed during the last few years, which would have been a radical redesign that also included a lengthened hull with an additional roadwheel. It does seem unlikely that the currently described K2PL which will be ready for local production in four years would feature all the envisioned improvements, and as such that particular concept is likely dead. More likely, the K2PL is an iterative design on the current chassis, as the variant is said to feature improvements to the armour and observation system, a new active soft-kill/hard-kill protection system (the Elbit ASOP/IFLD), as well as integration of new types of programmable ammunition and the locally built 12.7 mm WKM-B heavy machine gun as the secondary weapon of choice (this is a Polish NSV chambered in .50 BMG).
However, the really interesting side is the industrial aspect, and here we have a true ‘glass half full/empty’-situation.
Poland has been a regular feature on the blog, largely due to it being one of the few European and the sole western country bordering the Baltic Sea to actually count the strength of its ground forces in divisions and not brigades (or battalions…). Poland is also a country that has extremely bad memories of Russia during the last few centuries, and as such has taken a prominent role in the response to the war in Ukraine. Crucially, this include the transfer of quite a few tanks and self-propelled guns to Ukraine, leading to a renewed hurry to rearm the Polish Army with modern equipment.
A brief summary for those who don’t have keeping track of Polish tanks on the top of their to-do-list. The Polish Army sport four divisions, one of which is the 11th ‘Lubuska‘ Armoured Cavalry Division, with the other three being the three mechanized ones: the 18th ‘Żelazna‘, 12th ‘Szczecińska‘, and 16th ‘Pomorska‘. There has been quite a bit of cut and paste and general moving around of units and equipment in recent years, so with the caveat that I certainly might have missed something, the 11th and 18th operate mixes of Leopard 2 and older tanks (T-72 for 11th, PT-91 for 18th), while the 16th uses a mix of T-72 and PT-91. Despite the name, the 12th is a motorised unit based around the Rosomak (local version of the Patria AMV) rather than a true mechanised division. The PT-91 is a locally upgraded T-72, while the ‘real’ T-72 that are in use are made up of a combination of T-72M1 and the lightly upgraded T-72M1R. For IFV, the BWP-1 (BMP-1) soldier on, while the Rosomak is in use alongside tracked vehicles in the 11th and as mentioned a key vehicle for the 12th. For artillery, the venerable 2S1 Gvozdika 122 mm SPG is slowly on the way out, while the Krab is on the way in. This is a unique Polish hybrid sporting the chassis of the South Korean K9 Thunder but with a British AS-90M Braveheart turret. The Braveheart traces its roots to a cancelled upgrade-program for the British standard AS-90 SPG, crucially fitted with a modern 52-calibre gun instead of the 39-calibre one used by the UK.
Edit:Turns out the 12th also is a mechanized division, and I was just fooled by their homepage which prefer to show off the modern wheeled brigade and not the old Soviet-designed iron. Funny that. Thanks to Piekarski for pointing that out!
Just one thing about Rosomak and 12th division has one (12th MechBde) wheeled brigade the other ones are tracked (BMP-1). 2th Mech Bde is typical heavy brigade (one tank Bn, two mechanized) and the third brigade (7th Coastal Defence Bde) has only BMPs, no tanks 1/n
Now, Poland and Germany has had a somewhat complicated relationship over the years (mild understatement), and the Polish Army and political leadership has not been happy with their recent dealings with the German defence industry (another mild understatement). This is to the extent that the planned Leopard 2PL upgrade program has been cancelled, and instead all Leopard 2A4 and 2A5 are to be withdrawn from service. Edit: I was under the impression that the severely delayed 2PL-program had been cancelled with the decision to withdraw the Leopards from service, but apparently it (at least) for now continues, with the goal of converting another 20+ tanks this year. Good catch by nonameplease! At the same time, you do not need to be a genius to realise that the T-72M1 and PT-91 really ought to have preceded the Leopard 2 into the greener pastures beyond, meaning that the Polish Armed Forces are looking at replacing all tanks in the current inventory, an inventory which as mentioned is one of the largest in Europe.
What has made the situation even more urgent for both generations of tanks is the war in Ukraine, which for the Leopard 2 has seen the faith in Germany as an arms supplier take a serious hit, while for the T-72/PT-91 an undisclosed but significant number – it could eventually be possibly 240 T-72M1 and all 230 PT-91 – have suddenly found themselves on a train heading east. Add the 140+ Leopard 2A4 (perhaps two companies of which are converted to 2PL-standard) and 105 Leopard 2A5 which are all to head out, and Poland is looking at replacing something in the order of 700 tanks in total. One possibility has been to temporarily increase the number of Leopards in service, and Poland has been in discussion with Germany about getting another Leopard battalion (44 tanks), but German officials have stated there simply isn’t that amount of tanks available and has instead offered 20. The whole thing is something of a mess, and while it is unlikely that this is (just) about German reluctance to meaningfully help Ukraine in a serious – if indirect – way, it has certainly further widened the gap between Warsaw and Berlin (interlude: go read this excellent piece on the background to the German mindset. It doesn’t help Ukraine that we know why the system is broken, but it offers a refreshing take from the inside).
So the Polish Leopard is dead – as much from industrial issues and politics as from anything else. What to do instead?
Back in April Poland received approval for the purchase of up to 250 M1A2 SEPv3 tanks from US authorities. Not 700, but still a sizeable number. However, building 250 tanks will take time, and time is obviously something Warsaw feel they are a bit tight on at the moment. As such, this was followed up by the announcement that they will procure an additional 116 M1A1 SA tanks, which thanks to being used US tanks are available for if not immediate then at least rapid delivery. The M1A1 SA is an upgrade program from 2006, which saw older vehicles equipped with newer sensors, improvements to the engine and armour, as well as generally overhauling the old vehicles to give them longer life. It might not be the newest and greatest, but it is certainly a huge step above any of the Soviet designs rolling around. The M1A2 SEPv3 is on the other hand currently the latest and greatest of US tank designs, sporting things such as improved armour, the CROWS-LP remote-weapon station, and an under-armour auxiliary power unit which allows the vehicle to produce power without using the notoriously thirsty gas turbine. It has been stated that the M1A1 SA vehicles will also be upgraded to M1A2 SEPv3 standard once things are starting to fall into place.
An interesting detail is that Poland has indicated that all 366 Abrams tanks will go to the 18th, which alert readers will remember is a mechanised and not an armoured division (at least for the time being). However, the OOB is somewhat non-standard, with the single armoured brigade operating the Leopard 2A4/2A5, and with the 21st infantry brigade and the 19th mechanised brigade both operating a single battalion of ex-Soviet tanks – despite one supposedly being mountain infantry and the other a mechanised unit.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about this number – because 366 tanks deserve to be put into perspective.
A US Army armoured brigade combat team sports 87 M1A2 tanks, with three battalions of 29 tanks each (a total of six 14-tank companies and a single tank attached to each battalion headquarter company). This means that a traditional US armoured division with three armoured brigades would put a grand total of 261 tanks in the field. That’s just over 100 tanks less than the 18th division would field, but perhaps more striking is the fact that it’s significantly more than twicethe 148 tanks the whole of the British Army will be able to muster. ‘Żelazna’ means ‘iron’, and the division will certainly field plenty of that. In essence the division will either sport three very heavy (122 tank) armoured brigades, which each have 40% more tanks than a US ABCT, or there will be four 90 tank brigades. The Poles have earlier experience of four-brigade divisions, as the 16th used to have control of the 1st armoured brigade before the 18th was stood up as a new division, so it is not impossible to imagine that being the plan. However, as we will get to eventually, there is also talk about 60-tank battalions in the Polish Army, which would mean that 366 tanks would give a nice even six battalions Edit: Seems a Polish battalion is 58 tanks to be exact, so that leaves about a dozen in reserve. In that case, the division would likely be built around three brigades with two armoured battalions each.
But that still leaves at least one armoured and one – or possibly two – mechanised divisions without replacement tanks for outgoing ones (even if it is a low-stakes bet that in the short-term the Leopards of the 18th will replace the T-72M1 of the 34rd brigade in the 11th division, bringing the unit back into an all-Leopard division until the withdrawal of the Leopard). The solution for this was found in a somewhat less likely direction.
Eurosatory saw some interesting developments when it comes to western tank designs – a field which honestly hasn’t seen an overly impressive pace for the last few decades. Are we finally moving into a stage of more than incremental developments? Possibly, although I believe it is fair to say we are not there quite yet.
Following a period of the tank having been relatively hard to kill without the use of another tank, we are back in a place where tanks can be killed by a number of different systems. This is nothing particularly new, but throughout history we have seen the ebb and flow of the relative vulnerability of the tank on the battlefield. Still, nothing has quite been able to provide the mix of protection, mobility, and (direct) firepower, and this unique mix of capabilities is the key driver explaining why countries keep investing in the increasingly expensive and complex system that is the modern main battle tank. At the same time, most tanks in service today are based on late-Cold War designs, and already for a few years the question of what’s next has been on the mind of mechanised forces in the west.
The answer for Europe has so far been MGCS, a new joint Franco-German tank which will be designed and built by KNDS (the merged European land-defence giant consisting of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Nexter Systems) and Rheinmetall. However, as usual there does seem to be questions regarding the workshare and the role of the different companies within the larger setting, and for the time being rather than a nice clean-sheet design the most tangible result has been the EMBT (Enhanced or European Main Battle Tank, depending on who you ask). This debuted on Eurosatory back in 2018, and back then was in essence a Leclerc-turret on a Leopard 2-chassis. What exactly made that tank better than just buying either of the original ones was a bit unclear, unless you absolutely positively must have a Leopard with an autoloading 120 mm gun, so it was largely seen as a case of just proving that the different branches of KNDS really could work together.
The EMBT made a renewed appearance at this year’s show, but it has been rather heavily reworked. It still sports the 120 mm autoloader with 22 rounds (capable of taking Nexter’s latest SHARD APFSDS-round), but the tank has gotten quite the update. This include a RWS clearly tailored to provide anti UAV-capability in the form of Nexter’s ARX 30 sporting the 30 mm 30M781 gun also found on the Eurocopter Tiger, which has air-burst capable rounds. UAV-intergration on the tank is also a big deal, and the whole concept is built around a four-crew setup, with gunner and commander in the turret, and a driver flanked by a systems operator handling the UAV/RWS/BMS-side of things. The new drive-by-wire and digitalisation of other systems are also made with an eye on future reduced crews or fully-unmanned operations. Notable is that it seems apparent that very few of the systems employed are new, but rather this is a technological low-risk approach that combine a number of existing technologies to provide something new and better. A detail that a Swedish tanker caught was that the turret is wider than the hull, which might not be what you want in a dense forest.
-> det INTE funnits 2 friktioner: 1. Pjäsen är fortfarande en 120mm, och även om Leclerc testats med 140 är det ingen garanti för att det funkar med denna vagn. 2. Tornet sticker utanför chassit. Kan verka vara en skitsak, men det betyder väldigt mkt när föraren väljer väg i -> pic.twitter.com/8QO9jDEDdY
My understanding is that KNDS does not try and market the EMBT, but that this is a pure technology demonstrator to keep up the momentum of the MGCS at a time when it seems to be facing the frankly expected issues of joint-projects of this scale.
Rheinmetall is left out of the EMBT-fun, and the company is likely questioning whether there is meaningful room for two German companies in MGCS. At the same time, much of the extremely lucrative Leopard 2 upgrade work as well as current new-builds are heading to KMW, including the latest 2A7-based variants which have found a place both in Germany as well as for export customers such as Qatar and Hungary. However, Rheinmetall is far from ready to give up on the MBT-market just yet, and has launched a counter-attack in the form of the Panther KF51.
The Panther is described as a new tank and not a Leopard-upgrade, although the situation might not be quite as straightforward as Rheinmetall’s marketing department would want us to believe. The turret is indeed new, however, the hull is a more open question. Rheinmetall states that it borrows the “mobility” part from the Leopard 2, which is confirmed to mean the whole tracks (suspension, tracks, rollers, …) as well as the powerpack. This is reported as consisting of an unspecified 1,100 kW engine – almost certainly the MTU MB 873 – and the HSWL-354 gearbox. Whether the hull itself is a Leopard 2 hull is more unclear. Early rumours were talking about a refurbished Leopard 2A4-hull, and from the outside there isn’t much in the way of differences that couldn’t be put down to a bit of laser-cut plates and a visit to the welding shop to ensure a more streamlined look with the new turret. The latest word seem to be that it is indeed a newbuilt hull, albeit one that borrows heavily from the Leopard. However, Rheinmetall also discuss it along the lines of the Panther being of interest to current Leopard 2 users as “this could mean that the existing chassis could continue being used, even if a change of calibre became necessary”.
Interestingly enough, despite being all-new-ish the Panther does in some ways feel like a more conservative approach to tank design compared to the EMBT. As an example, the tank does not come as standard with the fourth crew-member, but is designed to be able to facilitate one in case the user want a systems operator. The remote-weapon station is also a rather more bland affair, being a 7.62 mm Natter on the tank shown in Paris (although Rheinmetall is keen to point out they are flexible on this point). The Natter with the 7.62 mm is said to offer counter-drone capability, but to be honest while 7.62 mm is better than just keeping your head down and praying, it is so only by the tiniest of margins.
The most eye-catching specification is obviously the new 130 mm main gun, which really is a beast. It is an in-house product marketed as the Future Gun System, and has earlier been seen on a Challenger 2-testbed (the seemingly unlikely choice of platform was related to the UK modernisation program, which eventually opted for the 120 mm L55A1). It is described as sporting “a 50 per cent longer kill range” compared to an unspecified 120 mm gun, and doing so with “an unrivalled rate of fire due to the autoloader performance”. The second point certainly sounds like it deserves some caveats – although I haven’t seen any confirmed numbers for the rate of fire I would be surprised if the autoloader is able to match a trained loader on a Leopard 2 or Abrams. Still, even with those caveats, it does seem clear that the 130 mm offer significantly more energy in the anti-tank role, and allows for quite a bit more punch when packing explosives in HE-shells.
The obvious downside is that the rounds take up space. The tanks fit two 10-round magazines in the turret, and an additional 10 rounds in the hull for a total of 30 rounds maximum. While this is eight more than the EMBT, it is less than the roughly 40 which is the current standard for most western tanks. Everything is a compromise, and the question of how few is too few is obviously open for debate, but it needs to be remembered that if the tanks wants to use either of two of the main marketing points – the ability to have a four-round launcher for HERO 120 loitering munitions or the fourth crew member as a systems operator – these would replace one of the two magazines in the turret and the rounds stored in the hull respectively. In other words, the tank would be down to just ten rounds, at which point the tank would in effect be a heavily armed sensor/reconnaissance vehicle with a 130 mm self-defence weapon. Don’t get me wrong, there certainly might be a role for a small number of such vehicles in the mechanised units of the future, but you won’t do much traditional tanking with just ten rounds. One detail which is notable is that Rheinmetall has fitted a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun as the co-axial buddy of the main gun, meaning that for some lighter targets where a normal 120 mm/7.62 mm tank would spend a 120 mm round, heavy machine gun fire might do the job and allow the Panther to save a few of precious rounds. How big the target set is that is A) too hard for 7.62 mm, B) soft enough for 12.7 mm, and C) so soft that 120/130 mm is overkill, is up for anyone to ponder but that will certainly be part of the answer if you approach a Rheinmetall sales-representative and ask about the 30 round maximum capacity.
Of course, anything you can do with the 12.7 mm, you can most certainly do even better with the 30 mm of the EMBT, which is a calibre that really open up the possibility of engaging lightly protected vehicles and wreaking havoc in urban terrain without wasting main gun shells, so while the 12.7 mm is nice compared to current tanks, it isn’t really a selling point compared to the EMBT (unless the Panther is fitted with a 30 mm RWS as well).
While 120 mm is plenty enough today – especially in the most modern form with uprated maximum pressure and latest ammunition – on the horizon looms better protected vehicles such as the T-14 Armata. A key detail is that while it is entirely possible that 120 mm APFSDS can penetrate the Armata, going up in size to a 130 or 140 mm gun ensures more margins in circumstances where the 120 mm can struggle (such as hits in highly protected spots) and allow the same performance as the 120 mm at longer ranges (hence Rheinmetall’s statement that the 130 mm “enables a 50 per cent longer kill range”).
As a side-note, Israel – the country with the most experience of successful peer-level armoured combat after World War II – has consistently ensured that their Merkava-series of tanks have been among the western ones carrying most rounds. The Merkava-series overall has some interesting and rather specific design choices to match the unique Israeli requirements, and it is open for debate which lessons can be generalised, but this is something I fell is worth noting when discussing two tanks sporting 22 and 10-30 rounds respectively for their main guns.
However, what really caught my eye with the KF51 was not the weapons or seating arrangements, but the weight and mobility. The combat weight is stated to be below 59 (metric) ton, which is a lot, but significantly less than any modern competitor. The latest version of the M1 Abrams, the M1A2SEPV3, tips the scale at almost 67 ton (66.77 to be exact), while the similarly heavy 66.7 ton Leopard 2A7V has had to receive changes to its gearbox, lowering the top speed to 63 km/h, to ensure being able to accelerate as the does 2A4. The EMBT sits in the comfortable middle ground, at 61.5 ton. In short, with the Panther we have a vehicle sporting the engine, transmission, tracks, suspensions, and weight of a ‘legacy’ Leopard 2 (2A4 is 55.1 t, 2A6 is 59.9 t), and it is a quite safe bet that the mobility of the Panther KF51 is on par with those. Rheinmetall goes as far as calling it a medium tank, but outside of the marketing world this is still well and truly a main battle tank, even if it is on the lighter side in today’s world. This also grants it a 500+ km range (compared to 460 km for the EMBT), and in addition the dimensions are set to ensure “it also fits the tunnel profile AMovP-4L without preparation: a requirement that no current MBT upgrade fulfils” – a marketing line I have no idea about the significance of (tunnels are a curiosity in our very flat part of the world, so profile AMovP-4L does not tell me anything).
The question is obviously how this affect protection, as armour has a tendency to add weight. Rheinmetall describe the tank as sporting “a ground-breaking, fully integrated, comprehensive, weight-optimised survivability concept”, a statement which include too many descriptive phrases to pass as good writing. However, they do open up on the details a bit more, stating that the tank is protected through a combination of active, reactive, and passive technologies, including a top-attack protection system, smoke launchers, pre-shot detection capability, and the holy grail of active protection systems: a large-calibre KE APS, which supposedly can disrupt incoming tank-calibre anti-tank rounds. If they have nailed the technology, that is really an outstanding feature. Designing the tank from the ground-up (more or less…) does indeed allow for more weight-efficient protection compared to just bolting on more modules as is done during upgrades of old designs, but it is notable that Rheinmetall does not make any claims on the passive armour being world-beating. It seems safe to assume it is good, but not outstanding.
Another key element of both the EMBT and the Panther KF51 is that they are built around fully digital systems, allowing for greater integration with new sensors, weaponised commander sights, and seriously improved ability to share information between both other tanks as well as other systems, such as offboard UAVs. An interesting step with the Panther is that the digitalisation allows for sensor and weapon control being passed between crew members, in theory letting any workstation take over any task or role. This is obviously also a major step in the direction of allowing for unmanned turrets or vehicles.
But is there a market for the Panther (besides the obvious “let’s battle-test it at Kursk”-joke)? At first look the answer might seem to be “No”. The Leopard 2 is still offering plenty of tank for the money on today’s battlefield in a tried and tested format, while if you want to buy into the next-gen hype there will almost certainly be something coming out of the MGCS/EMBT and the 140 mm ASCALON gun (offered as an option for the EMBT) even if I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go the way of the MBT-70/KPz 70 and split into two distinct national projects borrowing technology from the common predecessor. Why then would anyone want to buy a tank with a non-standard gun that might end up as just a niche calibre, and where several of the key components seem to be incremental upgrades rather than radically new? The Panther might trace its lineage to the older MBT Revolution concept – Rheinmetall’s earlier modular upgrade package – but in many ways the Panther is an evolution rather than a revolution, especially when put side-by-side with the EMBT (which as noted I fell is a bit more radical in its design choices and concepts of operation, even if it as well largely rests on proven sub-systems).
But to be honest that is also the strength of Rheinmetall’s proposal. The Panther KF51 is still quite a bit from an operational vehicle, including questions being raised about seemingly mundane but operationally extremely important stuff such as storage lockers, but many of the more modest aspects of it might sit better with smaller and more risk-averse customers found along Europe’s more eastern countries, from Greece to central and Eastern Europe. Take for example the obvious difference with the gun. If the 120 mm is to be replaced as the main gun due to a need for better anti-armour performance, the 140 mm ASCALON obviously will deliver the biggest bang on the market. But it also will eat up the round count even further, which on the EMBT that already is constrained to 22 rounds in 120 mm almost certainly means a drops to sub-twenty rounds in 140 mm. On the other hand, if the 130 mm round is good enough, the Panther allow for a significantly heavier round than your everyday 120 mm while still keeping 30 rounds aboard the tank. So is the 130 mm FGS a half-measure that gets you an unwieldy non-standard round without being the best tank-killer in town, or a good compromise between effect and round count? The jury is still out.
The same principle goes for the fourth crewmember which comes as standard on the EMBT but optional on the Panther. Is it worth ten rounds, or do you take the loss in situational awareness for 50% more ammunition?
So where would we find the Panther? The obvious answer is countries who feel that they need more killing power, and who wants it now. This is a key selling point, as while KNDS seems to have their sights squarely set on the MGCS which is still well over a decade away – the current plan being that “the commissioning of the MGCS should take place between 2035 and 2040 if the Armée de Terre and the Bundeswehr agree on a common requirement and if industrial companies find a fair workshare” – Rheinmetall seems to be more focused on offering something here and now. To put it bluntly, if you want a new tank by 2030, you are not going to order the MGCS.
Another key detail is that as it seems one can indeed rework a Leopard 2 hull for most or all of the systems involved, this could offer a radical upgrade path for current users of older Leopard 2-variants. This is likely of particular interest to those sporting the shorter 120 mm Lh-120 L44 and thereby being unable to benefit from the latest advances when it comes to 120 mm ammunition. These include vehicles such as the 2A4 and 2A5 (including the Swedish Strv 122). An interesting detail in the case of Finland is also found in an interview with then-commander of the Finnish Army, Gen.Lt. Petri Hulkko back in 2021. In the article in Finnish paper Ilta-Sanomat, Hulkko briefly discusses the current and future state of the Leopard 2-family, and states in no uncertain terms that the 2A7V is not an interesting option, because of the weight leading to lowered mobility and as Finland is not particularly interested in an APS-system capable of defeating incoming anti-tank missiles. “Our protection isn’t based on armour alone, but also mobility,” the general stated. Finland is, however, following the development of the Leopard-family to see if it will bring something interesting in the future.
Say for example a tank that is lighter than the current 2A6 while sporting heavier weaponry. Or a fully digital 2A4.
Finland managed to get the ex-Dutch 2A6s approximately ten years ago for roughly the same cost as the planned 2A4 MLU, raising the number of Finnish main battle tanks back closer to 200. The current line is that the Leo 2A4 stays in Finnish service until their usage becomes prohibitively expensive, although they have indeed undergone some upgrades recently. Considering the current situation, as well as the fact that the 2A6 in Finnish service will soldier on for at least twenty years more into the 2040s, it doesn’t feel like a stretch to expect the discussion about a possible MLU-program for the 2A4s to pop up again. A Panther-based solution could certainly then be in the cards as a way of getting a serious boost in combat capability without trading mobility if there is seen to be a need for a tank with a larger gun than the 2A6.
A middle of the ground but still significant upgrade could see a mixed fleet with the majority of modernised Leopard 2A4s retaining their 120 mm guns but including other improvements – such as the digitalised systems and crew stations – and a smaller number also switching to the larger calibre. While mixed tank units have become a rarity following the development of the main battle tank, back in WWII and during the immediate post-war era sporting a smaller number of tanks with better firepower was not an uncommon feature of armoured units – such as the 17 pdr-armed A30 Challenger and Sherman Firefly of the UK forces in WWII, or the heavy M103 that accompanied US M48 Pattons in the 60’s and early 70’s. For that to be a feasible option, a few things need to align, the most important of which is the presence on the battlefield of an enemy vehicle that is heavily armoured enough that it is not reasonable to equip most tanks with a weapon that can defeat it – either due to cost, weight, or poor performance in other aspects (such as overly large rounds or poor performance against other targets).
Are we heading into that perfect storm again after over half a century of the main battle tank reigning supreme? I wouldn’t say it’s a likely scenario, but it isn’t impossible either. In general the modularity of platforms such as EMBT and Panther might open up for greater diversity among the tanks, as weight and space restrictions in all likelihood will ensure that no single tank will be fitted with all the optional extras. This could see e.g. the aforementioned recce tank with unmanned systems/loitering munitions and a dedicated systems operator operating alongside more traditional MBTs, or say one tank in each platoon having enhanced anti-UAV/loitering munitions capability in the form of heavier RWS.
Regardless of the outcome, both the EMBT and the Panther shows that there is still surprisingly much life in the old Leopard 2 chassis, and while the Panther KF51 might struggle to find buyers in the current form, I would not be surprised to find some of the technology demonstrated in the two tanks to eventually end up in either a Swedish Strv 122 MLU or a restarted Finnish Leopard 2A4 MLU.
The Finnish Army has always been largely infantry-based. This has come naturally, as not only is armour expensive, but it has also been seen as poorly suited for the Finnish terrain (a challenged notion) which in large parts of the country is dominated by forests and lakes, with differently sized streams connecting the latter. As such, there has been a single unit operating our tanks, known either as the Armoured Company/Battalion/Brigade/Division depending on the number of tanks in service at any given time. For the past decades, the Armoured Brigade (PSPR) has been based in Parolannummi, Hattula.
Here, an interesting variety of tanks have come and gone, with the last years being dominated by a fleet of Leopard 2A4 backed up by the venerable T-55 in small (and diminishing) numbers. 139 Leopard 2A4’s have been bought by Finland, some of which have been converted to bridge-layers (2L for ‘Leguan’) and engineering vehicles (2R for ‘Raivaaja’, Finnish for mine-clearing), as well as some hulls being cannibalised for spares. The eventual number of operational main battle tanks is secret, but assumed to be somewhere around 100.
The acquisition of 100 ex-Dutch Leopard 2A6’s effectively doubled the amount of MBT’s in Finnish service, as well as providing a considerable upgrade over the 2A4. The 2A6 is easily recognisable by the wedge-shaped spaced armour attached to the turret (introduced on the 2A5), as well as the longer Rheinmetall 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun. A number of other less evident improvements are also found on the tank, ranging from upgraded sights for the gunner and commander to a new hatch for the driver.
This obviously raised the question what to do with the large number of 2A4’s? To begin with, it allowed the upgrading of some of the older supporting AFV’s, with the Marksman SPAAG being the most evident example. The 35 mm anti-aircraft system mounted on T-55AM hulls had already been mothballed, but was now brought back in service mounted on Leopard hulls. In addition, it opened up the possibility to increase the fighting value and/or number of Detached Armour Companies that are to be set up in case of mobilisation.
The latest decision was announced yesterday, with a number of Leopard 2A4’s moving out of Parolannummi.
Edit: As Capt. Mäenpää explained in his comment below, my interpretation of the press release was less than optimal.
Conscripts from four different brigades and the Army Academy will indeed get trained as tank crews on the Leopard 2A4 starting with I/17, with the stated aim being to provide a higher level of proficiency in working with armoured and mechanised units, as well as providing the opportunity for more varied training in different parts of the country. However, these units haven’t been complete strangers to MBT’s earlier, as limited numbers of T-54/55’s have served in the OPFOR role at the Jaeger and Kainuu Brigades as well as in the Army Academy. The Karelia Brigade has included some Leopard’s in their wartime units’ TOE earlier as well, so these tanks have trained at the brigade earlier. The main news here is therefore that the OPFOR equipment is being upgraded (and possibly expanded in numbers?), which certainly is welcome, but not the kind of dramatic change that my first reading of the press release pointed to. Also, the CV9030 in Finnish service is unique to the Karelia Brigade.
In what I believe is a first in the history of the Finnish armoured forces, conscripts will from four different brigades and the Land Battle School will serve as tank crews, starting with the next contingent to step into service, I/17. This will provide a higher level of proficiency in working with armoured and mechanised units to the soldiers serving in the units now getting tanks, as well as providing the opportunity for more varied training in different parts of the country.With regards to the former, the Karelia and Kainuu Brigades train mechanised infantry with CV 9030 IFV’s, and the addition of integrated tank units are probably a welcome addition for them. Granted, there has been a small number of T-55’s attached to the units earlier (and some engineering vehicles), but no tank crews have been trained on them, and the T-55 is a far cry from the Leopard when it comes to sensors (and more or less any other aspect). The Jaeger Brigade and Land Battle School Army Academy probably places a higher importance on the possibility to vary their training, with e.g. the Jaeger Brigade’s anti-tank unit now being able to train against modern tanks on a regular basis in their home environment.
While not explicitly stated as a goal, the move will also make it possible to mobilise (small) tank units in different parts of the country, which increases resilience to surprise attacks, the importance of which has been emphasised by the Russian invasion of Crimea. All in all, the move will provide a number of benefits to the armed forces, both with regards to peacetime training and wartime service.