Up to now, Leopard 2 has developed up to 9 versions and many of its variants according to the orders of the foreign armies. Leopard 2 excels in high reliability, modular design, simplicity in repair, and ease of operation. Many countries have taken inspiration from this main battle tank line to develop their own domestic tanks.
Referring to the powerful tank forces, besides Russia or the United States, almost everyone must remember Germany, which created the most terrifying “steel warriors” on the planet during the catastrophic World War II. During this war, German tanks swept through most of Europe, causing many nations to fail in just a few days. Even after 1945, Germany was divided, both West and East Germany still possessed powerful tanks. Continuing that tradition, in the early 1970s, Krauss-Maffei began developing Leopard 2 main battle tank on order from the West German army. By 1979, Leopard 2 was accepted to replace its predecessor, the Leopard 1, in the German army.
The Leopard 2 versions were developed into two main batches including the original models up to Leopard 2A4, with vertical turret armor, and improved batch, which are Leopard 2A5 and newer versions, which have angled arrow-shaped turret appliqué armour together with other improvements.
The Leopard 2 project inherited many advanced technologies and design solutions from the joint MBT-70 program between West Germany and the United States. As for the MBT-70, this was a revolutionary design developed in the 1960s, intended to counter the new generation of Warsaw Pact tanks developed by the Soviet Union. The new tank was equipped with many advanced technologies, excellent performance, maneuverability, protection and firepower. However, due to cost overruns, technical problems and various requirements, West Germany withdrew from the program in 1969. When the Germans left, the Americans tried to pass on their own, eventually becoming the excellent “M1 Abrams” Main Battle Tank. The Germans also had their own ways, resulting in the birth of Leopard 2. The advanced technologies available on the MBT-70 have been applied to both Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams tanks.
Essentially, Leopard 2 uses steel armor in combination with multi-layer composite panels to ensure the vehicle’s viability. From the A4 version onwards, Leopard 2 has been reinforced with new armor layers, protecting the crew against armor-piercing shells and modern anti-tank missiles. The protection of the armor is equivalent of standard 900 mm rolled homogeneous armour steel in the turret and 600 mm in the hull. The undercarriage uses a V-shaped structure to enhance protection against mines and improvised explosive devices. The side of the hull is covered by armour skirts to increase protection against projectiles and RPGs.
To reduce detection, Leopard 2 is also equipped with 16 electronically controlled Wegmann 76mm smoke grenade dischargers, provide a 2-minute camouflage smoke screen. A standard crew consists of 4, including commander, gunner, reloader and driver. The crew is also protected from biochemical-nuclear agents through air filtration. In addition, the survivability of the crew is enhanced by an automatic fire system with four 9 kg Halon fire extinguisher bottles are installed on the right behind the driver’s station. On upgraded versions, an automatic loader and IFIS battlefield management system have been added, which is reduced the tank’s crew to three members, as a dedicated loader was no longer needed.
The main firepower of Leopard 2 was a 120mm L44 or L55 smoothbore gun with 42 rounds of ammunition. The gun is fully stabilised, and can fire a variety of types of rounds, such as the German DM43 APFSDS-T anti-tank round, which is said to be able to penetrate 560 mm of steel armour at a range of 2 km, and the German DM12 multipurpose anti-tank projectile. Penetration can be up to 750mm for DM-53 projectile. In addition, Rheinmetall has developed an upgrade for Leopard 2 tanks to give them the ability to fire the Israeli LAHAT anti-tank guided missile through the main gun; the missile can engage targets out to a range of 6 km. Thanks to the gun stabilizer, Leopard 2 can fire on the move. The standard fire control system found on the Leopard 2 is the German EMES 15 fire control system with a dual magnification stabilised primary sight. During daytime conditions, Leopard 2 can detect targets at a distance of 5 km and aim them within 4 seconds.
To combat infantry and aircraft, this MBT series is equipped with two 7.62mm machine guns, one mounted co-axially, the other on an anti-aircraft mount. There were reports that Rheinmetall developed a 140 mm smoothbore gun for use in future tank designs.
Powering this 57-ton average MBT is the MTU MB 873 Ka-501 liquid-cooled V12 twin-turbo diesel engine with a capacity of 1,500 hp. It ensures that Leopard 2 can maneuver at a maximum speed of 68 km/h, 31 km/h on rough terrain and a range of 550 km with auxiliary oil tanks.
Leopard 2 was first operated during the Kosovo War as part of a peacekeeping force. Similarly, it was used during the War in Afghanistan after the US invaded the country after the September 11 event. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and 12 other European countries, as well as several non-European nations, including Canada, Chile, Indonesia, Singapore, and Turkey.
German and Western military theory is that tanks need a strong armor, “survive first, fire later”, as well as prioritize crew comfort, etc. As a result, Leopard 2 tanks, like other Western tanks, often have larger dimensions and weights than Russian or Chinese tanks. Although the standard version was designed specifically for European terrain, Leopard 2 tanks also have versions that are “tropical” or “desertified” to suit customers’ requirements. Typically for this is the version of Leopard 2 tank operating in the army of Singapore and Brazil. It can be said that Leopard 2 is a perfect blend of maneuverability, firepower and crew protection. Leopard 2 along with American M1 Abrams and British Challenger 2 are some of the best examples of Western tanks, different from the rest of the world.