Krauss-Maffei Wegmann’s Leopard 2 has set world standards in combat tanks. A total of sixteen countries, mostly in Europe, have opted for this amazing combination of fire power, armour and mobility. No other western combat tank on the world market is used by so many armies – Scandinavia, the Alps, or Afghanistan, a KMW Leopard 2 is up to any deployment setting.
The Canadian decision to deploy the Leopard 2A6M in Afghanistan army is one example, a model that currently represents to the latest version of the Leopard 2, the A6 version, additionally equipped with added armour against mines and booby traps.
This armour proved its worth in November, 2007, when the Taliban attacked a Canadian Leopard 2A6M-CAN with a large booby trap. The tank did sustain damage, but the entire crew survived. The Canadians had purchased the tank from the German federal army’s inventory. The Canadian commander wrote a letter of thanks to the German ministry of defence, emphasising that survivors would have been highly unlikely in any other vehicle. Canadian Chief of Staff General Rick Hillier also pointed out that the Leopard 2A6M had not been destroyed, but was indeed back in operation after repairs.
Denmark is another country that has opted for the Leopard 2 to support its troops in the UN ISAF mission. Their Leopard 2A5-DK models proved their worth in January this year while supporting British troops in armed conflicts against the Taliban.
Leopards taking the world
In its role as a general contractor, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) has already delivered more than three and a half thousand combat tanks. While the tank’s final assembly takes place in Munich, specialists mount and assemble the turrets from a variety of parts in Kassel, and the tank’s chassis is assembled at KMW’s Hamburg welding facilities. Originally designed in the 60s, strategists speculated that a conflict between NATO and the Warsaw Pact could result in tank battles on European territory; the German Bundeswehr needed a heavily armoured combat tank superior to those built in the Eastern Bloc, one that could also be deployed together with other vehicles.
The first Leopard 2 prototypes had been developed by 1972, and the first trial deployments with troops were performed at the tank training facilities in Münster, Lower Saxony, from 1973 onwards. Then still known as Krauss-Maffei, the company and general contractor received orders for 1.8 thousand Leopard 2 combat tanks in 1977, the first of which were delivered to the German army at the manufacturing facilities in Munich Allach on October 24, 1979, with a ceremony to mark the event. The following thirteen years were to see KMW and MaK/Rheinmetall manufacture 2,125 Leopard 2 tanks for Germany and the Netherlands for delivery by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann as the general contractor. Most of these tanks have since been revamped to A5 or A6 versions.
This variety in version names demonstrates how the modular Leopard 2 design has been continuously modernised and revamped over time. As an example, the 2 A5 includes reinforced turret armour, while the hydraulic weapon stabilisation has been replaced by an electrical system (Kampfwertsteigerung combat strength improvement I). The A6 versions are based on the enhanced KMW Leopard 2 A5, where a longer 120 mm Rheinmetall smooth-tube main gun was installed as part of the combat strength enhancement I strategy – a substantial improvement in the tank’s fire power.
There has been an additional version of the Leopard 2, the Leopard 2 PSO (Peace Support Operations) specifically developed for street-level combat in UrbOp (urban operations) deployment and asymmetrical threat such as in Afghanistan. This version was developed by KMW in close consultation with the German army and other customers. The German army has expressed its great interest in the Leopard 2 PSO, which boasts features such as reinforced all-round armour, additional mine protection, and a special communication platform to ease coordination with the infantry.
The Leopard 2’s superior combat qualities have not only persuaded Germany’s Bundeswehr, but also other national armies from the very beginning. The Netherlands opted for the Leopard 2 as a combat tank as early as on March 2, 1979, for the Koninklijke Landmacht. KMW has delivered a total of 445 vehicles to its European neighbours in Dutch NL specification, some of which have since been sold to Austria and Portugal. The remaining tanks, like those in the German army, have been revamped to A6 combat strength. Switzerland has deployed the tank under the Panzer 87 name; differences include holders for additional snow grips to act as “snow chains.”
The STRIDSVAGN 122 is another export model ordered and deployed by the Swedish army. Like the Swiss PANZER 87, this model was partly manufactured locally with KMW acting as the general contractor. Spain has ordered two hundred new Leopard 2E models from KMW licensee company Santa Barbara Sistemas in addition to 108 used Leopard 2 A4 models from the Federal Republic of Germany; the new 2E models are roughly equivalent to the Leopard 2A5. Greece has ordered 170 Leopard 2 HEL tanks – a version of the Leopard 2A6 modified to customer specification – from KMW in 2003, which are currently being delivered. Apart from Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden and Denmark, the Finnish, Norwegian, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish and Polish armies have opted for the Leopard 2. A total of sixteen countries have deployed the combat tank from Munich Allach; the Leopard 2 is the last word in European combat tanks. Outside Europe, the Leopard 2 has been deployed by the national armies of Canada and Singapore, and as of last autumn, Chile. Chile is an important reference market for the Latin-American market, also demonstrating the leading technological position of KMW’s weapon system.