Leopard tanks – generations and modifications, relevance for Ukraine, probability of deliveries

Leopard tanks - generations and modifications, relevance for Ukraine, probability of deliveries

The Leopard tank is the most massive heavy fighting vehicle in Europe. The Leopard 1 model is in service with 14 countries, 7 of which are European. The first generation, leading history since 1956, has been withdrawn or is being withdrawn from service at the moment. In total, at least 4744 of these tanks were produced, not counting other equipment on their platform.


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Replacing the first generation Leopard 2, which has been under development since the late 1970s, 3,600 units have been produced (according to 2013 data, the number is currently higher) – the main option for modernizing European armies. Of the 18 tank operators, 12 are in Europe. Six more countries of the world plan to put it into service.

Given the increasing de facto integration of Ukraine with the defense industry of neighboring countries and cooperation with their armies, Leopard tanks are of paramount interest.

Leopard 1 – outgoing generation

The first Leopard was the main tank of Germany until the 1980s and was in service until 2010. Its mass production started in 1965 – in addition to Germany, the car was assembled under license in Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Italy and Australia. The original goal of the project was to replace the American M47 and M48, which the West German army had in the 50-60s. The latest models A4 and A5 are the most relevant (the development of A6 was curtailed).

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Basic modification and subsequent updates

The Leopard received a welded hull and a cast turret, the vehicle weighed 40 tons. The tank was 9.54 m long, 3.37 m wide, and 2.7 m high. The engine was 830 hp. with two tanks of 985 or 1010 l made it possible to reach speeds of up to 65 km / h. The tank could overcome water obstacles up to 1.2 m and 2.25 m deep with underwater driving equipment.

Leopard 1 1965
Leopard 1, 1965

The main weapon is an unstabilized rifled gun Royal Ordans L7A3 105 mm long 51 caliber. 15 shells for it are located in the tower, another 60 are stored in the hull. Secondary armament – coaxial machine gun MG3 7.62 mm with 1250 rounds of ammunition. Also included is the gunner’s rangefinder TEAM-1A (x8 and x16 magnification), the reserve TZF-1A (x8) and the commander’s pancratic sight TRP-1A (x6-x20).

Leopard 1A3, Australia
Leopard 1A3, Australia

Subsequently, the tank received a stabilization system and thermal protection of the gun, upgraded tracks, passive infrared surveillance devices and an improved kit for water driving. Later, the turret armor was strengthened, engine filters and weapon protection were improved. Modification A3 received a welded turret with spaced armor, with a large interior space and the same protection as the cast one. Leopard A1A1 received additional steel turret armor screens.

Leopard 1A4 – the first radical design change

In parallel with the development of the Leopard 2, the first model received improvements that arose during development. A4 can be called in many ways a new tank. The turret has been completely redesigned to improve the spaced armor system.

Upgraded Leopard A1A4
Upgraded Leopard A1A4

The electrical equipment, range finder and sights have been replaced, a ballistic computer has been added. Installed Mercedes Benz engine with 830 hp. with two turbochargers. To optimize the internal space and armor, the ammunition load has been reduced by 5 rounds.

Leopard 1A5 – well-equipped latest production model

As a result of research, the design of the Leopard was changed to more effectively counter the Soviet tanks T-64B, T-72B, T-72M1 and T-80. the tank received a Krupp-Atlas Electronik (KAE) EMES 18 fire control system with a Carl Zeiss thermal imager (similar to the EMES 15 in Leopard 2). Instead of a stethoscope, a laser rangefinder appeared.

Leopard 1A5
Leopard 1A5

From Leopard 2, a ballistic computer and a computer control unit passed into the tank. a collimator was installed on the barrel to speed up the adjustment of the sight.

Leopard A5 received improved ammunition – armor-piercing feathered shells (APFSDS) DM23 and DM33. The A5 also has the ability to install a 120 mm gun from the Leopard 2, but serial modernization was considered inappropriate.

Ukraine still has a chance to get the closest to modern tanks Leopard A5 – negotiations on the transfer of this model have been underway since the summer.

Leopard 2 – modern heavy tank

In parallel with the development of the main branch of the Leopard, research and experiments were carried out to equip the tank with the latest technical achievements, including significant processing and improvement of all nodes – later developments were transformed into the next generation.

Leopard 2A6

With the same dimensions as the first Leopards, representatives of the current generation of tanks weigh 62.2 tons or more. 1500 hp engine. With. allows the combat vehicle to reach speeds of up to 70 km / h. Modern modifications of the Leopard 2 combine the most advanced developments in the field of armor, weapons and equipment. Many of the released modifications can technically be divided into two sub-generations – before and after the Leopard 2A5.

The development goal was to achieve capabilities and firepower comparable to the MBT-70 model, a joint development with the Americans, from which Germany withdrew in 1969. Among the basic tasks was to achieve high firing accuracy at a distance of 2 km and to accurately hit moving targets using a computer guidance system. In 1971, the name of the project took shape in Leopard 2 (the original leopard became known as Leopard 1). After 8 years of element design selection and prototype testing, the first Leopard 2 was born in 1979, informally referred to as the A0.

Tanks are equipped with combined multi-layer armor with protection against weapons of mass destruction. The original armor subsequently underwent many significant modifications, as did the fire control system. Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore guns are stabilized in two planes. Additionally, two 7.62 mm machine guns were installed – coaxial with a cannon and anti-aircraft. Also on the tower are smoke mortars that create a curtain.

Ammunition rack Leopard 2A4

The turret and hull of the Leopard 2 are welded. The armor includes rubber screens, as well as high-strength fabric mats on the inside – to reduce kinetic energy and fragmentation in the event of a hit and penetration of the armor.

The computerized fire guidance system makes it possible to achieve a high percentage of hits on moving targets. For guidance, you only need to put a marker on the target. The system is equipped with a thermal sensor, which helps to detect hidden targets. Leopard 2 is capable of hitting moving targets while moving over rough terrain.

The EMES 15 gunner’s sight from Carl Zeiss combines a stereoscopic and laser rangefinder. The PERI-R-12 commander’s sight can be used for aiming the gun by aligning the axes of the sight and the gun barrel. Target detection means include an infrared detector and image intensifiers. The infrared module is permanently installed and covered with armor.

Tank engine Leopard 2 MB 873 Ka-501 V12
Tank engine Leopard 2 MB 873 Ka-501 V12

The peculiarity of the power plant is the execution in a single unit. The design allows you to remove and replace the engine system in 45 minutes. in the field. The motor manufactured by MTU is equipped with liquid cooling and turbocharging, as well as two two-stage air cleaners. The chassis has the ability to quickly switch from forward to reverse, at a speed of not more than 8 km / h.

Modifications Leopard 2A1-A3

In the first of the modifications, 2A1, a thermal imager was added to the gunner’s sight. Modified stacking of charges similar to Abrams. Redesigned fuel filters have reduced refueling times. Also, all systems received a number of minor improvements that differ between the three main batches released.

In 2A2, they continued to introduce thermal imagers where this was not done. Added fuel fillers to tanks to make refueling easier. The design of the periscope and protection against weapons of mass destruction has been improved. Towing cables were replaced, minor changes were made. Leopard 2A3 received this marking despite a minimum of changes – the replacement of walkie-talkies and a change in the design of ammunition trays.

Leopard 2A4 – the most common model

The fourth modification received a huge number of changes and was released in the amount of 2125 units – including modified old and 695 brand new cars. The tank received a turret with flat tungsten-titanium armor, full digital fire control and an automatic fire extinguishing and explosion suppression system. All earlier Leopard 2 modifications were upgraded to 2A4.

Leopard 2A4, Austria
Leopard 2A4, Austria

The huge number of these tanks and their prevalence in different countries of the world gave rise to a whole subfamily:

  • Pz 87 – Swiss Leopard 2. It features 7.5 mm MG 87 machine guns, a Swiss communications system and improved protection against weapons of mass destruction.
  • Pz 87-140 – Swiss model with a 140 mm cannon and additional armor.
  • Leopard 2 Revolution (Leopard 2RI) – Rheinmetall modification for tanks acquired by Indonesia. Includes AMAP armor, Rheinmetall Chempro fire control system, battlefield control and situational awareness systems.
  • Leopard 2A4CHL – Chilean Leopard 2A4 equipped with new electronics and surveillance systems level 2A6 and gun L / 55. Includes upgraded undercarriage and many other changes.
  • Leopard 2A4M CAN – Canadian version with L/44 long-barreled guns, also added some parts of the slat armor. the tank is equipped with appliqué armor, as in the Leopard 2A7+.
  • Leopard 2NG is an upgrade for Turkey with modular composite armor, upgraded optics, new turret mechanics and a new fire control system.
  • Leopard 2A4TR is another Turkish modification, with explosive reactive armor, reactive passive armor, high ballistic strength frame armor, laser warning system, remote weapon control and many other high-tech and intelligent systems.
  • Leopard 2PL – Polish model with upgraded sights, additional ballistic modules, electric stabilization system instead of hydraulic, auxiliary power unit and many other advanced systems. In fact, one of the most technically advanced versions of the tank.

Leopard 2А5

Model based on the prototype Leopard 2 Imp. Equipped with wedge-shaped spaced armor, more durable frontal armor, anti-fragmentation liners for interior upholstery. The commander’s sight was moved and received an independent thermal imaging channel, the gunner’s sight was also moved to the roof of the tower. the tower is fully electrically controlled, the braking system of the L / 55 gun has been improved. Of the modifications, it should be noted the Danish Leopard 2A5 DK, improved to the level of Leopard 2A6.

Leopard 2A5
Leopard 2A5

Swedish tank Stridsvagn 122

Like 2A5, based on Leopard 2 Imp. The armor of the turret and the frontal part of the hull, as well as the crew hatches, has been strengthened, the combat control and fire control systems have been improved. Installed smoke generator system GALIX, other minor improvements.

Stridsvagn 122
Stridsvagn 122

Leopard 2-140

Tank from the 1990s with a 140 mm smoothbore gun with improved armor penetration. The main disadvantage is that the shells are too heavy for the crew and the worst handling characteristics. the shortcomings were supposed to be covered by the KWS III modernization program – but it was curtailed.

Leopard 2A6

The tank originally received the 120mm L/55 cannon, which was added to earlier generations. It also received many different improvements and varieties that allow it to be distinguished into a separate family.

Leopard 2A6M
Leopard 2A6M
  • The Leopard 2A6A1 is a command version developed under the KWS I modernization program. It is richly equipped and equipped with radio communications for unit coordination in battle.
  • Leopard 2A6M – version with enhanced mine protection and internal improvements for crew safety, proven by combat in Afghanistan.
  • Leopard 2 Hel – Greek version with some modifications.
  • Leopard 2E – modification of 2A6 with reinforced armor, developed jointly by Germany and Spain.
  • Leopard 2 PSO (Peace Support Operations) – tank for urban combat. Equipped with close-range cameras, dozer blade, non-lethal weapons, auxiliary weapon station and reconnaissance systems
  • Leopard 2A6M CAN – Canadian variant. Equipped with black boxes of lattice armor. Initially, due to leased status, they could not be equipped with air conditioning for the war in Afghanistan – the crew used cooling vests. Then the defect was eliminated.

Leopard 2A7 and 2A7+

The tank was developed on the basis of the A6NL. Received a fighting compartment cooling system used in the A6M-HEL, an auxiliary power unit with a capacity of 20 kW, a mobile camouflage with a heat transfer reduction system, and an active protection system. All monitoring and control systems have been modernized. The armament is adapted for firing high-explosive fragmentation projectiles.

Leopard 2A7+
Leopard 2A7+

The Leopard 2A7+ is positioned as a versatile tank for low- and high-intensity battles. The protection is reinforced with modular armor, as well as double armor for the turret and front of the hull. It can fire programmable high-explosive fragmentation ammunition, the turret machine gun has been replaced with a stabilized remotely controlled weapon station FLW 200.

The need for Leopard for Ukraine and the possibility of supplies

The use of the main European tank, Leopard 1 or 2, promises much less difficulty in manufacturing, completing, upgrading and repairing on the continent, in contrast to the situation with the American Abrams. This feature is critically important given the limited ability to maintain equipment on the territory of Ukraine due to rocket attacks.

There are really a lot of Leopard tanks in close proximity. A significant number is preserved in European countries – most of the created Leopard 1 fleet. Thanks to a rich selection of modifications, in the future it is possible to order the production and modernization of Leopard, taking into account the peculiarities of Ukraine.

In the event that Western partners lift the unspoken embargo on the supply of tanks to Ukraine, Leopard looks like a priority model. To obtain these tanks, extremely active diplomatic work is being carried out on all possible fronts.

Diplomatic efforts and the likelihood of obtaining Leopard

The history of the supply of tanks to Ukraine (not only Leopard) is full of interesting episodes. Back in April, the Rheinmetall concern expressed its readiness to sell at least 50 Leopard 1А5 to Ukraine – but the permission of the German government was not received.

In July, Germany refused to provide Poland with 2A4s to replace the Soviet tanks transferred to Ukraine (which had previously been agreed upon). The same refusal was received by Slovakia and Slovenia. Instead, Poland was offered 100 Leopard 1A5s, which were previously intended for Ukraine. There was also talk of providing Poland with 20 Leopard 2s until the fall of 2023.

At the end of July, Defense Minister Alexei Reznikov spoke about the provision of Leopard tanks by a friendly country in the future for training tankers. How this story ended is not exactly known.

In early September, Spain refuses to provide the previously announced Leopard 2A4s, citing their unsatisfactory technical condition (earlier it was said about $ 15 million needed to restore 10 machines).

Also in early September, Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal expressed hope for the supply of Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, noting Germany’s progress in providing weapons to Ukraine. He also again mentioned the provision of tanks for training by a certain country.

At the end of September, the United States confirmed its readiness in principle to transfer M1 Abrams tanks or other modifications to Ukraine, while noting the difficulties with logistics and maintenance, as well as the long period of crew training. No decision has been made yet.

Germany also cites long training times as an obstacle to delivering Leopard tanks right now. German Defense Minister Lambrecht spoke of the reluctance to start deliveries of modern tanks first.

The Bundestag recently postponed the adoption of a law on the supply of armored vehicles to Ukraine, presented by the opposition and part of the ruling coalition. The proposal of a number of deputies to provide Ukraine with more weapons was also rejected – supposedly this would weaken the Bundeswehr.

If we analyze the reasons for not providing Ukraine with Leopard tanks, they can be divided into objective and political ones. The former include the relatively small number of tanks in some European armies and the poor condition of the equipment in storage. However, this does not explain the ban on enterprises that have expressed their readiness for deliveries to sell tanks and other armored vehicles to Ukraine.

Another reason lies on the surface. Most likely, there is a fear of tanks falling into the hands of the Russians during the hostilities. As we can see, the modern Leopard 2 and other combat vehicles are packed with smart technology. In the conditions of modern remote warfare, the tank, in fact, becomes a “close” combat weapon, and its hitting the enemy is very likely. Having got to the Russians, the technologies can spread even to China or Iran, which Western countries do not want at all.

Of the obvious and directly stated political reasons – Germany’s unwillingness to provide tanks first. At the same time, Leopard cannot be transferred to other countries either – we are talking about the transfer of German technology, which requires coordination. Their eyes are turned to Germany, which, in turn, most likely expects a similar decision from the United States.

At the same time, in Germany itself, the number of voices in support of providing tanks and other equipment to Ukraine is growing. The decision is supported by the parliamentary opposition and two of the three coalition parties. The voices of the public and former military are heard more actively. Ukrainian diplomacy is simply torpedoing the political circles of Germany with this issue.

Claus Wittmann
Claus Wittmann

In this regard, a statement made back in June by a retired general of the Bundeswehr, Klaus Wittmann, is interesting. On the air of Die Welt , he said that talk of long training does not stand up to scrutiny – he himself allegedly had experience learning the basics of driving and fighting a Leopard tank in just a week.

The situation seems strange: in fact, only Chancellor Scholz’s party actively opposes the process – however, it finds arguments to convince other members of the coalition. However, it should be understood that many details of both the internal political “kitchen” of states, as well as negotiations on arms issues, remain behind the scenes and do not allow drawing strict conclusions.

German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and Alexei Reznikov
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht and Alexei Reznikov

One of the latest statements by Minister Reznikov inspires optimism. He talked about intensive cooperation in terms of providing Leopard tanks and did not rule out that the issue would be resolved within a few weeks. Ukraine’s success in liberating the territory inspires confidence in Western partners, and the desire to end the war as soon as possible is growing.

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