Getting Lighter And Meaner

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Demonstrator main battle tanks were introduced at Eurosatory 2024 to address the weight issues associated with Western main battle tanks. The solution involves retaining the legacy chassis and mounting an unmanned turret. This is merely an interim measure until completely new main battle tanks are developed.

The war in Ukraine has kept main battle tank (MBT) manufacturers busy developing lighter and more mobile MBTs to meet the challenges of modern warfare. The conflict has highlighted that Western MBTs do not enjoy the same mobility as lighter Russian ones, despite being superior in almost every other respect.

France unveiled an updated Leclerc tank at Eurosatory 2024, the Leclerc Evolution. It is equipped with a manned turret that hosts a 120 mm Ascalon main gun. (Image: NDR)

The weight of the main battle tanks cannot increase any further. Therefore, it is essential to find ways to reduce their weight. One approach is to move the crew entirely into the chassis and install an unmanned turret.

Two siblings side by side. On the left, the Leopard 2A8 with EuroTrophy APS, and on the right, the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 with its unmanned turret. (Image: NDR)

The manufacturer KNDS showcased two unmanned turret solutions at Eurosatory 2024, the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 and the EMBT-ADT 140. Both MBTs retain the legacy chassis of the Leopard 2 and are equipped with a completely new unmanned turret. The Leopard 2 chassis is a highly versatile platform and is ideal for any interim MBT solution until the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) comes into service.

The vehicle’s overall mass can also be reduced with other solutions, such as converting the power source to a hybrid. Rolls-Royce launched such a solution at Eurosatory.

Unmanned Turret

The unmanned turret mounted on the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 allows for a significant weight reduction of 10 percent compared to a manned turret. It can be installed on all previous Leopard 2 MBTs. The main gun is the proven Rh-120 L55, which can be interchanged with 130 mm or 140 mm calibre guns.

EMBT-ADT 140: The EMBT-ADT 140, with its 140 mm main gun, is a true kinetic tank killer. The automatic loading system holds up to twenty-two rounds. (Image: Jukka Janhunen)

At the heart of an unmanned turret is the automatic loading system. It must provide ammunition to the main gun rapidly and reliably under all operating conditions.

The Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 features a modular autoloader with a high loading rate and modular rack, reducing the crew to three. It can load three rounds in ten seconds, an impressively fast rate. There is no turret chassis intrusion, meaning that the rounds are stored in the rear of the turret, not in the hull. The autoloader of the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 MBT can hold twenty rounds.
Russian designs, such as the classic T-series tanks and the T-14 Armata, store ammunition in the hull. The crew in the Armata is also isolated from the ammunition by an armoured bulkhead. Storing ammunition in a hull-mounted carousel allows more ammunition to be carried than storing it in an unmanned turret.

The other KNDS tank showcased at Eurosatory 2024 fitted with an unmanned turret is the EMBT-ADT 140, featuring the Ascalon 140 mm main gun.

The manufacturer claims that up to twenty-two rounds can be stored in the autoloader, which has caused astonishment on social media. This is understandable because fitting twenty-two monstrous 140 mm rounds into such a small volume is a significant achievement. The autoloader magazine is said to resemble a drink can manipulation system.

Judging by the height of the ADT 140 turret, the ammunition might be stored vertically. This is exactly how soda bottles are stored in a vending machine, which seems to be what is meant by referring to “manipulating drink cans” in the media.

Storing twenty-two 140 mm rounds in the ADT 140 turret can be considered a remarkable engineering achievement, especially since only twenty 120 mm rounds are stored in the autoloader of the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 MBT. The kinetic punch of the EMBT-ADT 140 is formidable; it’s a real tank killer!

The Definitions of a Ton

Full nameCommon nameQuantitySymbol
long ton“ton” (United Kingdom)1016,0469088 kilogramsLT
short ton“ton” (United States)907,18474 kilogramstn or st
tonne“tonne” (“metric ton”)1000 kilogramst

In most media, the weight of the KNDS Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 Main Battle Tank is given as under 60 tons. As a unit of mass, “ton” can mean three things: long ton, short ton, and tonne (metric ton). Tonne is the SI-derived unit and weighs exactly 1,000 kilograms. It is crucial to be precise about which definition of a ton is being referred to when providing weight measurements. Unfortunately, the word “ton” is often used when “tonne” is meant.

KNDS states that the Leopard 2 A-RC 3.0 weighs less than 60 t. The lowercase “t” refers to a tonne, in other words, a metric ton. So, this MBT weighs under 60 tonnes. In short tons, this would mean under 66.14 tons, and in long tons under 59.06 tons. This all demonstrates the importance of being clear about which ton is being referred to.

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