The Leopard 2 is a tank developed in the early 1970s by Germany first entered service in 1978, with versions of it serving with them and other countries in the late 1900s and into the 21st century. In the Bundeswehr it replaced the earlier Leopard in the MBT role. There are two main versions, the KWS-I which has vertically faced armor, and the KWS-2 which has angled arrow shaped turret armor.
Work on the Leopard 2 design was started in the aftermath of the MBT-70 project, with development work proceeding in the 1970s, the design was selected from one of 17 prototypes in 1974. The design was to be known as the Leopard 2 with the original retroactively becoming the Leopard 1. It used the 120 mm Rheinmetall gun (as eventually did the U.S. Abrams). The Leopard 2 initially used perforated armour (but not as is often claimed Chobham armor) and a host of new features; it has been successful in Europe enough that the manufacturer has started calling it the Euro Leopard. However, France, Britain, and Italy all have their own MBTs tanks currently; it is mainly the smaller countries that have adopted it.
The first export customer was The Netherlands which received 445 between 1981 to 1986; 114 of these were later sold to Austria. Sweden also purchased 280 Leopards, 160 early model designated Stridsvagn 121 and the rest 2A5 models (122). Spain leased 108 2A4 models in the interim period before 219 licence made 2A5 models (Leopardo 2E are built. Switzerland bought 350 between 1987 and 1993. A number of countries also use versions of them including Poland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Greece. Germany has fielded about 2100 of them in various versions, depending on what time frame.
Even as the Leopard 1 was entering service in the 1965, a up-gunned Leopard with the new Rheinmetall 120-mm gun being was considered to keep pace with the newer Soviet designs, but this was canceled in favor of the joint MBT-70 "super-tank" project with the United States. The MBT-70 was a revolutionary design, but after large cost overruns, Germany withdrew from the project in 1969.
As mentioned, the new project resulted in 17 prototypes being done, with one being selected in 1974 for production. The tank was dramatically better protected then the earlier design, and included a much larger and blockier looking turret as a result of using perforated steel block armour and a large internal ammunition storage locker in the rear.
Several test articles were produced, and in 1976 the US indicated its interest in the design as well. In response several more test turrets were produced to US standards, one mounting the original L7A3 105 mm gun and a Hughes fire control system, a second with the same fire control system but able to "swap out" the gun for the 120 mm Rheinmetall design, and two more mounting the Hughes-Krupp Atlas Elektronik EMES 13 fire control system, one with the L7 and another with the 120 mm gun.
The prototypes 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 done at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, lasting until December The US Army reported that the Leopard 2 and the XM1 were comparable in firepower and mobility, but the XM1 was superior in armor protection. Today we know this was only true as regards a hit by a hollow charge; against KE-attack the Leopard 2 was almost twice as well protected as the original M1 (650mm to 350mm). After the comparative test the Leopard 2 prototypes were returned to Germany for further evaluation.
In September 1977 the German Ministry of Defense decided to go ahead with plans for production of 1,800 Leopard 2's, to be delivered in five batches. Krauss-Maffei was again chosen as the main contractor, but this time Maschinenbau Kiel (MaK), of Kiel, Germany would be a major (45%) subcontractor. Deliveries started in 1979, and by 1982 the first batch of 280 Leopard 2's was completed. The first 200 of these mounted an image intensifier, the last 80 with a new thermal night-sight system, and this was later retrofitted to the earlier models.
The design was also tested by Britain in the 1980s, which ultimately decided on the Challenger 2.
A number of minor modifications was worked into the second batch of 450 vehicles. Deliveries of the 2A1 models started in March 1982 and ended in November 1983. The two most notable changes were the modification of the ammunition racks to be identical to those in the M1 Abrams, and redesigned fuel filters that reduced refueling time.
A second batch of 300 2A1's of the third batch were built between November 1983 and November 1984, which included more minor changes that were later retrofitted to the earlier 2A1's.
The next batch of 300 vehicles was delivered between December 1984 and December 1985. The main change was the addition of the SEM80/90 digital radio sets (also being fitted to the Leopard 1 at the same time), and the ammunition reloading hatches being welded shut. Even with these minor changes the new batch was known as the 2A3.
Another 370 vehicles were delivered between December 1985 and March 1987. These 2A4 models included more substantial changes, including an automated fire and explosion suppression system, an all-digital fire control system able to handle new ammunition types, and much improved armor on the turret.
Although only five batches were originally ordered, another batch of 150 was ordered in 1987. These included new batteries and tracks, and moved the warning light so it could be better observed by the driver when he was driving "head out". Yet another batch of 100 was delivered between May 1989 and April 1990, identical to the sixth. A smaller batch of 75 were delivered until 1992.
|General characteristics (Leopard 2A5)|
|Height||3 m |
|Range|| 550 km|
|Primary armament||120 mm L44 smoothbore Gun|
|Secondary armament||two 7.62 mm MG 3is|
|Power plant||1,500 hp (1,100 kW)|
The Leopardo 2E is a version of the Leopard 2A5 developed by the industries of Spain and Germany under an agreement signed in 1995 between the Ministries of Defence of both countries. On 23 December 1998 the Spanish Cabinet approved the contract, designating Santa Bárbara Blindados as the main contractor. The Leopardo 2E will be made totally in Spain, with German technological support. SBB, a branch of Santa Barbara in Seville, is responsible for the final assembly, integration and testing of the vehicles.
The Leopard 2 was first produced in 1979 and is used by Austria, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Spain. Finland and Poland have purchased used German Leopard 2's and Greece has recently purchased Leopard 2A6's.
The Leopard 2 is found in different configurations:
- 120 mm L55 smoothbore Gun by Rheinmetall GmbH
- 120 mm L44 smoothbore Gun by Rheinmetall GmbH
Leopard 2(S) (aka Strv 122) used by the Swedish Army
- Based on the 2A5
- Has upgraded Command and Control systems and a new passive armor.
- Can be distinguished from the 2A4/Strv 121 by its wedge-shaped turret armor.
- aka Strv 121 used by the Swedish Army
- Has flat titanium/tungsten turret armor.
Pz87 used by Switzerland
- Indigenous machine-guns and communications.
- Improved NBC protection.
- Basic combat engineering vehicle used by Germany.
- Armored recovery vehicle used by Germany (as Büffel), The Netherlands (Buffel) and Sweden, where the slightly modified version is known as the Bgbv 120.
- Bridgelayer built upon the Leopard 1 chassis. In use in Norway.
- SPAAG variant armed with a twin 35 mm turret.