The Leopard 2 is a German main battle tank (Kampfpanzer) developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s and first entering service in 1979. The Leopard 2 replaced the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army. Various versions of the Leopard 2 have served in the armed forces of Germany and twelve other European countries, as well as several non-European nations. The Leopard 2 first saw combat in Kosovo with the German Army and has also seen action in Afghanistan with the Danish and Canadian ISAF forces.
There are two main development batches of the tank, the original models up to Leopard 2A4 which have vertically-faced turret armour, and the “improved” batch, namely the Leopard 2A5 and newer versions, which have angled arrow-shaped turret appliqué armour together with a number of other improvements. All models feature digital fire control systems with laser rangefinders, a fully stabilised main gun and coaxial machine gun, and advanced night vision and sighting equipment. The tank has the ability to engage moving targets while moving over rough terrain.
Even as the Leopard was entering service in 1965, an up-gunned version with the new Rheinmetall L44 120 mm gun was being considered to keep pace with newer Soviet designs, but this was cancelled in favour of the MBT-70 “super-tank” project developed jointly with the United States. The MBT-70 was a revolutionary design, but after large cost overruns, Germany withdrew from the project in 1969.
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Work on a national development was started in 1970 by Krauss-Maffei. A year later, a choice was made for it to be based on the earlier Experimentalentwicklung (later named Keiler) project of the late sixties (itself derived from the vergoldeter Leopard or “gilded Leopard”), instead of being a modified MBT-70 or Eber. The name of the design was determined in 1971 as “Leopard 2” with the original Leopard retroactively becoming the Leopard 1. Seventeen prototypes were ordered that year (only sixteen hulls were built). They had to have a maximum weight of fifty metric tons.
On 11 December 1974 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the USA for the possible joint production of a new MBT, after the Americans had bought and investigated prototype hull number seven in 1973. In view of the experiences in the Yom Kippur War a much higher level of protection was demanded than was implemented in the prototypes, that used heavily sloped spaced armour. The weight class was increased to sixty tons. Prototype turret number fourteen was changed to test a new armour configuration, and was turned into a blockier looking turret as a result of using vertical steel perforated armour; it already had been much more voluminous than the turret of a Leopard 1 because of a large internal ammunition storage locker in the rear bustle.
The Leopard 2 thus initially used perforated armour, and not Chobham armour as is sometimes claimed. PT-14 used the 120 mm Rheinmetall gun (as eventually did the U.S. Abrams). After this, two new prototype hulls and three turrets were ordered, one (PT-20) mounting the original L7A3 105 mm gun and a Hughes fire control system, a second (PT-19) with the same fire control system but able to “swap out” the gun for the 120 mm Rheinmetall design (it was indeed so changed by the Americans), and one more (PT-21) mounting the Hughes-Krupp Atlas Elektronik EMES 13 fire control system, with the 120 mm gun.
In mid-1976 prototype 19 was assembled and slotsvocarped.com shipped to the USA, together with hull number twenty and a special target vehicle to test the armour. The prototype was called Leopard 2AV (Austere Version) because it had a simplified fire control system. It arrived in the US by the end of August 1976, and comparative tests between the Leopard 2 and the XM1 (the prototype name for the M1 Abrams) prototypes were held from 1 September at Aberdeen Proving Ground, lasting until December 1976. The US Army reported that the Leopard 2 and the XM1 were comparable in firepower and mobility, but the XM1 was superior in armour protection. Today we know this was true as regards a hit by a hollow charge; but against KE-attack the Leopard 2 was almost twice as well protected as the original M1 (650 mm to 350 mm).
Its more traditional multi-fuel diesel engine was also more reliable, and provided similar performance with less fuel consumption, although it did produce more noise but a smaller heat signature. Hull twenty was fitted with simulation weights; later it was discovered that these equalled only the weight of a turret without armour modules fitted, invalidating all performance data. After the comparative test the Leopard 2 hulls were returned to Germany for further evaluation, but turret 19 remained and was fitted to the hull of prototype seven, whilst its gun was changed for the 120 mm Rheinmetall. In tests until March 1977 it was found to be far superior to the 105 mm L7 mounted on the Abrams, which was confirmed by subsequent NATO tank gunnery contests.
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Before tests had begun the United States had selected the Chrysler XM1 prototype for full development. However, the military still agreed to consider adopting the Leopard 2. In January 1977 Germany ordered a small pre-series of three hulls and two turrets, delivered in 1978. These vehicles had increased armour protection on the front of the hull. In September 1977 1800 Leopard 2 were ordered, to be produced in five batches. The first was delivered on 25 October 1979. At that moment the Dutch army had already rejected the M1 because of its high operating costs and the refusal by the Americans to fit a Dutch version with the 120 mm gun and instead ordered 445 Leopard 2s on 2 March 1979. The Swiss ordered 35 tanks on 24 August 1983 and started license production of 345 additional vehicles in December 1987. Thus hardly being a major export success in the 1980s (no tank of the latest generation was), the type became very popular in the 1990s, when the shrinking German army offered many of its redundant Leopard 2s at a reduced price. It became successful enough in Europe that the manufacturer started calling it the Euro Leopard, but with further non-European orders, the name “Global-LEOPARD” is now used instead. However, France, Britain, and Italy all have their own MBTs currently (Leclerc, Challenger 2 and Ariete respectively).