A number of countries has presented or ordered upgrades for main battle tanks (MBTs) in the past months. Unfortunately low activity on this blog has resulted on some of the more recent events not being properly covered. This article is trying to recapitulate a few new developments and news reports that couldn't make it into a full-sized article. While this approach will increase the coverage of "recent" events, the quality of the post might not be up to typical standards. In three countries low-cost upgrades of the T-72 were presented, while three other news a related to the Leopard 2 tank. The Argentine Army is also looking to improve more TAM tanks.
|The T-72BME is fitted with Kontakt-1 ERA|
The T-72BME is a new upgrade developed by the 140th repair plant of the Belarussian Army, which was first presented at the MILEX 2017 defence exposition. The upgrade is focused on improving the electronics mainly - in Soviet/Russian nomenclature, the original T-72 variants didn't even feature a proper fire control system (just a "ballistic calculator") - but it also includes a few improvments to armor protection and mobility. While called T-72BME, the MBT is apparently not based on the T-72B version, but is rather a T-72A as identifiable by it's turret. The main change in regards to protection is an altered layout for the Kontakt-1 explosive reactive armor (ERA) compared to the old Soviet layout. The T-72B1 originally feature a single ERA row mounted flat to the turret, whereas the T-72BME now uses multiple tiles arranged into a wedge shape - similar to the Kontakt-1 ERA layout on the T-80BV and the T-72AV. The rear section of the turret and the rear section of the hull sides are fitted with slat armor, which should provide protection against older types of RPGs. The slat armor on the turret rear section is used as mounting point for Kontakt-1 ERA.
|The turret shape reveals this tank to be an upgraded T-72A|
The T-72BME also features a more powerful engine, now providing up to 840 horsepowers output instead of only 780 hp. This is an increase of only 60 horsepower; it is not known if the Belarussian tank designers opted for uprating the existing engine or adopting a new one. There are quite a few different sub-versions of the V-84 that provide 840 horsepowers.
The upgraded MBT from Belarus is fitted with new LED headlights and a Barret-2082 radio system from the Perth-based Australian manufacturer Barret Communications. The gunner's sight is replaced with the ESSA-72U from the Belarussian manufacturer Peleng. This sight is commonly including a French-designed Thales Catherine-FC thermal imager, providing three different magnification stages - x3, x12 and x24, although the latter is understood to be digital zoom only. The respective fields of view are 9° x 6.75°, 3° x 2.25° and 1.12° x 1.5° (in case of the electronic zoom stage). The original ESSA-72 had no independent dual-axis stabilization, however the improved ESSA-72U might feature it. The thermal imager works at a wavelength of 8 to 12 micrometres; overall the target detection range is claimed to be 8.6 to 11.7 kilometres, however this is not based on NATO-standardized testing.
Different versions of the ESSA sight have also been used on the Indian T-90S tank and the Russian T-90A. It is not known if the T-72BME will be introduced in the Belarussian Army, it seems rather unlikely given that a number of upgraded T-72B3 MBTs was recently handed over by Russia.
|The M-84AS1 is a Serbian upgrade of the Yugoslavian M-84|
In Serbia an upgraded version of the M-84 main battle tank was demonstrated to the public, although this supposedly won't be adopted by the Serbian Army in the near future. The M-84 is a Yugoslavian version of the T-72 tank that received several local improvments. The new model by Yugoimport has been described as the M-84AS1, a designation that is extremely similar to the M-84AS, an older M-84 upgrade including many Russian-made components of the T-90 tank, including the Shotra electro-optical protection system, Kontakt-5 ERA and a new fire control system. In many aspects the M-84AS is superior to the newer upgrade solution.
|The side armor coverage is quite lackluster|
While the previous model already had a digital fire control system, the upgrade to the M-84AS1 configuration introduces thermal imagers with the DNNS 2ATK sight and gives the tank commander the ability to override the gunner's input in case of emergency. The commander of the M-84AS1 is responsible for operating the new KIS M84 battlefield management system. A new radio from French manufacturer Thales is replacing the older Yugoslavian-made radios.
As common for most T-72 upgrades, the commander of the M-84AS1 is not provided with a proper turret-independent main optic, but has to rely on his fixed optics, cupola and the sights of the newly added remote weapon station (RWS). The RWS is armed with a 12.7 mm heavy machine gun (HMG) and contains three different optical devices, understood to be a thermal imaging system, a daysight camera and a laser rangefinder.
Like the T-72BME, the new tank upgrade makes use of Kontakt-1 ERA; however a locally improved type is used, which has been claimed to provide a very limited amount of additional protection against kinetic energy projectiles such as APFSDS ammunition. This new ERA covers the frontal aspect of the main battle tank. The rear section of the hull and turret are fitted with slat armor to resist older types of RPGs. Three large panels - probably containing six smaller ERA tiles each - are mounted at the frontal section of each hull flank. However the largest aspect of the hull sides is still only covered by rubber skirts, which are understood to be either a single or two approximately 25 mm thick rubber sheets with an internal steel wire mesh for increased rigidity. At most impact angles this won't be enough to reduce the armor penetration of even the oldest RPG-7 warheads in such a way, that the 80 mm steel plate forming of the M-84 hull sides would be able to stop the residual penetration. Therefore the decision to not extend the slat armor or ERA over the full hull sides appears to be questionable.
The tank is fitted with a radar and laser warning system connected to the smoke grenade launchers in order to work like a simple softkill system. Upon detection the smoke grenades can be used to disguise the tank's position with a multi-spectral smoke screen.
|The T-72 Scarab uupgrade focuses on improving frontal protection by adding DYNA ERA|
In the Czech Republic defence company Excalibur Army spol. s r.o. has presented a new upgrade solution for the T-72 tank, which has been nicknamed Scarab. The T-72 Scarab is mainly intended for export, although it was supposedly also offered to Czech Army according to Defence-Blog.com. The Scarab is focused on increasing the tank's protection level by adding a new ERA package to the turret and hull front. This is claimed to be a variant of the DYNA reactive armor, that is also used on the T-72M4Cz tank. It's installed in a new, sloped configuration and provides nearly seamless coverage in case of the turret. Some photos show the turret front with an additional layer bolted ontop of the ERA package, creating the illusion of a passive composite armor package being used instead. If the new armor is really based on the DYNA ERA, then it should not only protect against ATGMs and RPGs, but also affect the armor penetration of tandem shaped charge warheads and APFSDS ammunition.
The ERA covers the frontal arc and the some parts of the roof of the turret, aswell as the upper front plate (UFP) of the hull. The rear section of the turret is fitted with slat armor, the hull sides and rear however are not fitted with any type of applique or add-on armor.
Aside of the new armor package, the T-72 Scarab provides only minor changes to the tank. A new RWS with a 12.7 mm NSVT machine gun is installed ontop of the turret roof, while the old V-46-6 engine is replaced with the 840 horsepower V-84 engine. The new powerpack has a maximum torque of 3,335 Nm when running at 1,350 rotations per minute (rpm). The engine can provide at most 2,100 rpm. The T-72 Scarab is claimed to reach a top-speed of up to 60 kilometres per hour on road and 45 kph in light terrain; this is (together with the unaltered T-72 suspension) not on par with other modern tanks. The fire control system received no major upgrade, but apparently the night vision sight was replaced by a passive system, leading to the removal of the Luna IR searchlight usually located at the side of the main gun. Overall this leads to a combat weight of 45 metric tons.
All these T-72 upgrades seem to have a rather small scope, being either limited by budget or avialable technology. Other tank upgrades developed in Europe and Asia seem to be much more capable. The T-72M4 Cz, currently in service with the Czech Army, might be the most capable T-72 upgrade operational within NATO, being fitted with anti-tandem HEAT ERA (the previously mentioned DYNA), the British Condor CV12 with 1,000 horsepowers output and the Italian TURMS-T fire control system with modern thermal imagers and turret independent optic for the tank commander. Despite some minor issues of the current model, the PT-91 of the Polish Army also seems to have a number of advantages over the T-72 Scarab, T-72BME and the M-84AS1. Both the T-72M4 Cz and the PT-91 are however much older tanks, which were accepted in general service more than a decade ago! A more modern T-72 upgrade like the PT-16 will enhance the tank's capabilities even further. There is not much wrong with the T-72 tank - at least when considering it's age - but poorly made, budget-oriented upgrades won't help much to boost its combat value or its reputation!
Even the Iranian Karrar tank seems to be superior to the three recent European upgrade solutions, despite Iran being a third world country based on various available definitions.
|Leopard 2SG with COAPS sight (red arrow)|
Singapore has decided to upgrade an unknown quantity of its Leopard 2SG tanks. The Leopard 2SG originally was a standard Leopard 2A4, formerly used by the German Army, fitted with parts of the Evolution armor package from the German company IBD Deisenroth Engineering. This package consists of various types of AMAP (Advanced Modular Armor Protection) composite armor, covering the frontal section, sides, roof and bottom of the tank, while slat armor is protecting the rear part of hull and turret. Singapore is understood to have bought only some parts of the Evolution package, giving the Leopard 2SG a distinctive shape with a flat-walled turret compared to the partially rounded/sloped turret front of tanks like the Leopard 2PL, Leopard 2RI and Rheinmetall's Leopard 2 ADT. At least one Leopard 2SG - maybe only a single prototype at the current point of time - was fitted with the Commander Open Architecture Panoramic Sight from Elbit Systems.
The COAPS is apparently marketed with a rather aggressive pricing, having being featured in tank upgrades with very limited budget such as the Arjun upgrade and the Argentinian TAM-2C modernization. It is dual-axis stabilized and includes a thermal imager operating at either a mid-wave infrared spectrum, an extended medium-wave spectrum or at a long-wave infrared spectrum - based on the size of the lens opening the Leopard 2SG apparently uses one of the former options - a HD daysight camera and an eyesafe laser rangefinder. The thermal imager is available with a detector resolution of either 640 by 512 or 1,024 by 768. This allows the tank commander to detect targets at ranges up to 10.5 kilometres, recognize them at a distance of up to 4.5 kilometres and identify the target at 2.2 kilometres range or closer. The daysight camera provides slightly better DRI (detect, recognize and identify) ranges of 11.5, 5.1 and 2.3 kilometres respectively. The laser ramgefinder has a range of 7,000 metres.
|Leopard 2A5DK: To be upgraded in the near future|
Other countries also have decided to upgrade their Leopard 2 tanks. Denmark has contracted Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) for a midlife update of 38 Leopard 2A5DK main battle tanks. Sixteen of the tanks will receive a full upgrade to a Leopard 2A7V-like configuration, including the new 120 mm L55A1 high-pressure smoothbore gun from Rheinmetall, aswell as a mine protection kit. The other 22 MBTs will receive a basic modification package with reduced scope. The midlife update is claimed to improve firepower, protection and mobility at the same time. It will likely include a better armor package (or interfaces require for mounting such) and a new Danish Army communication and battlefield management system. All tanks will be repaired and obsolete or worn components will be replaced. Denmark has chosen KMW as supplier due to the company having exclusive rights to several components used on the Leopard 2A5DK. A contract was made on the 21th December 2016, which had a value (excluding VAT) of €112.6 million.
|Norwegian Leopard 2 upgrade plans|
Norway is still waiting on a decision regarding the upgrade of the Leopard 2A4NO; the website of the Norwegian defence materiel agency (Forsvarsmateriell) claims that no contract has yet been made, although mentioning that a contract was planned for 2016. It appears that budget cuts have lead to a stalling of the Leopard 2 modernization. Norway also plans to acquire a number of bridge-laying vehicles based on an in-service Leopard 2 solution.
The upgrade is meant to improve the tank's protection while staying within the military loading (weight) class (MLC) 70, i.e. staying at a weight below 63.5 metric tons. This means the tank has to be lighter than the current Leopard 2A7 of the German Army. The protection is increased using a modular approach and is planned to incorporate modules for enhanced ballistic protection at the frontal arc aswell as a thick applique belly plate for additional mine and IED protection. Foils from a Norwegian presentation include photographs of the Leopard 2A5/2A7 from Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, Rheinmetall's Advanced Technology Demonstrator (formerly known as Leopard 2 Revolution), aswell as the Leopard 2 Mid-Life Upgrade (MLU) from the Swiss company RUAG. These choices are similar to the upgrade options for the Chilean Leopard 2A4 tanks. While the former two Leopard 2 variants have been quite successful - e.g. Rheinmetall is currently delivering upgraded Leopard 2 tanks to Indonesia and Poland - the RUAG-made upgrade has yet to win any contracts. The Leopard 2 MLU makes use of RUAG's armor portfolio featuring the armor types SidePRO-ATR and SidePRO-RPG (the latter on the rear section only) for ballistic protection, while MinePRO and RoofPRO armor enhances the MBT's survivability against artillery submunitions and mine blasts.
|Protector Super Lite on a Leopard 2A4 turret|
The Norwegian Leopard 2 tanks are meant to retain the shorter barreled 120 mm L/44 smoothbore gun, but firepower will still be enhanced by the use of a digital fire control system (FCS) for ranges up to 5,000 metres, including third generation thermal imagers for improved DRI ranges. Electric turret drives improve the turret's rotational speed, while being less dangerous than a flammable, hydraulic system. A new computer system with data link added to the gun's breech for firing programmable air-burst ammunition (such as the 120 mm DM11 HE-ABM ammunition) is also part of the planned upgrade.
After being upgraded, the Leopard 2 tanks are prepared for the adoption of a remote weapon station (RWS). Most likely a solution from the local manufacturer Kongsberg will be chosen in a future upgrade; a Kongsberg-made Protector Super Lite RWS has been tested on a Leopard 2A4 some time ago in Norway.
|The TAM 2IP prototype is fitted with Iron Wall armor from Israel|
According to Jane's IHS, the Argentinian Army has finally decided to purchase a larger number of tank and other combat vehicle upgrades. The vehicles scheduled to be upgraded include 400 TAM (Tanque Argentino Mediano) tanks and derived variants (such as the VCTP infantry fighting vehicle and the VCA self-propelled howitzer) aswell as 400 US-made M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs). A further 100 M113 APCs might be purchased by the Argentine Army from the United States inventory; the US Army is replacing the M113 with the Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle (AMPV), essentially a turret-less Bradley with enhanced IED protection. The TAM is by modern definition a light tank, although being de facto used as a main battle tank by the Argentine Army. It was developed in the 1970s by the German company Thyssen-Henschel and makes use of a modified Marder infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) hull fitted with a 105 mm gun turret.
|The TAM 2C features advanced optics and electronics|
Argentina has contracted the three Israeli companies Elbit Systems, Israel Military Industries (IMI) and Tadiran to develop an upgrade for the TAM tank beginning in 2008. Originally it was announced in 2015, that only 74 TAM tanks were to be upgraded to the new standard, costing $111 million USD. Under this program two different prototypes were developed, the TAM 2C focusing on upgraded firepower by adding Elbit System's COAPS sight for the commander, the Thermal Imaging Fire Control System (TIFCS) sight for the gunner and a laser warning receiver on a mast on the turret. An APU and new internal electronics are also part of the TAM 2C.
The other prototype has been designated TAM 2IP and features IMI's Iron Wall composite armor to improve protection against kinetic threats and IEDs. The TAM 2IP upgrade however doesn't include any changes to electronics and optics compared to the original TAM. The weight of the TAM with armor kit is increased to 31 metric tons.
|The applique armor gives the TAM turret a wedge-shape|
The exact content of the TAM modernization to be purchased by Argentina is not directly known. The most capable solution would be to adopt both the TAM 2C and TAM 2IP upgrades into each vehicle, although this could be too much weight for the existing running gear. Confirmed by Jane's IHS is an upgrade of the tank's ammo suite and electronics, which will enable the TAM to fire Israeli-designed gun-launched anti-tank guided missiles (GLATGM) through it's 105 mm rifled main gun. The LAHAT missile from IMI has a tandem shaped charge warhead against targets protected by ERA and has an effective range of above 5,000 metres; however Jane's mentions an effective range of 3.5 kilometres with the new guided munition made under licence in Argentina. The LAHAT missile has currently been withdrawn from Israeli service, but might be issued to frontline units in case of war.
An interesting fact is the number of 400 TAMs: this suggests that the previously mentioned 74 TAM tanks contracted in 2015 are included in the figures - otherwise it would be hard to explain the number of vehicles. It is known that the production number of TAM tanks and IFVs wasn't very large (and only 20 artillery systems were made), and a they are not in very good condition due to maintenance and repair issues; as Argentinian forum users have discovered on Google Earth image data, at least 19 TAMs have been scrapped or cannibalized for spare parts.