The Leopard 2 is a German main battle tank developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s and first entering service in 1979. The Leopard 2 replaced the earlier Leopard 1 as the foremost MBT in the German Army. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and ten other European countries, as well as non-European nations. More than 3,480 Leopard 2s have been manufactured.
There are two main development batches of the tank, the original models up to Leopard 2A4 which have vertically-faced turret armour, and the "improved" batch, namely the Leopard 2A5 and newer versions, which have angled arrow-shaped turret appliqué armour together with a number of other improvements. All models feature digital fire control systems with laser rangefinders, a fully stabilized main gun and coaxial machine gun and advanced night vision and sighting equipment (first vehicles used a low-light level TV system or LLLTV; thermal imaging was introduced later on). The tank has the ability to engage moving targets while moving over rough terrain. It can drive through water deep using a snorkel or without any preparation and climb vertical obstacles over one metre high. The tank is powered with a turbo-charged multi-fuel V12 diesel engine that produces 1,500 PS (1,479 hp, 1,103 kW).
Work on a national development was started in 1970 by Krauss-Maffei. A year later, a choice was made for it to be based on the earlier Experimentalentwicklung (later named Keiler) project of the late sixties (itself derived from the vergoldeter Leopard or "gilded Leopard"), instead of being a modified MBT-70 or Eber. The name of the design was determined in 1971 as "Leopard 2" with the original Leopard retroactively becoming the Leopard 1. Seventeen prototypes were ordered that year (only sixteen hulls were built). They had to have a maximum weight of fifty metric tons.
On 11 December 1974 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed with the USA for the possible joint production of a new MBT, after the Americans had bought and investigated prototype hull number seven in 1973. In view of the experiences in the Yom Kippur War a much higher level of protection was demanded than was implemented in the prototypes, that used heavily sloped spaced armour. The weight class was increased to sixty tons. Prototype turret number fourteen was changed to test a new armour configuration, and was turned into a blockier looking turret as a result of using vertical steel perforated armour; it already had been much more voluminous than the turret of a Leopard 1 because of a large internal ammunition storage locker in the rear bustle. The Leopard 2 thus initially used perforated armour but not Chobham armour as often claimed. PT-14 used the 120 mm Rheinmetall gun (as eventually did the U.S. Abrams). After this, two new prototype hulls and three turrets were ordered, one (PT-20) mounting the original L7A3 105 mm gun and a Hughes fire control system, a second (PT-19) with the same fire control system but able to "swap out" the gun for the 120 mm Rheinmetall design (it was indeed so changed by the Americans), and one more (PT-21) mounting the Hughes-Krupp Atlas Elektronik EMES 13 fire control system, with the 120 mm gun.
In mid-1976 prototype 19 was assembled and shipped to the USA, together with hull number twenty and a special target vehicle to test the armour. The prototype was called Leopard 2AV (Austere Version) because it had a simplified fire control system. It 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 held from 1 September at Aberdeen Proving Ground, lasting until December 1976. The US Army reported that the Leopard 2 and the XM1 were comparable in firepower and mobility, but the XM1 was superior in armour protection. Today we know this was true as regards a hit by a hollow charge; but against KE-attack the Leopard 2 was almost twice as well protected as the original M1 (650 mm to 350 mm). Its more traditional multi-fuel diesel engine was also more reliable, and provided similar performance with less fuel consumption, although it did produce more noise but a smaller heat signature. Hull twenty was fitted with simulation weights, which transpired to equal only the weight of a turret without armour modules fitted, invalidating all performance data. After the comparative test the Leopard 2 hulls were returned to Germany for further evaluation, but turret 19 remained and was fitted to the hull of prototype seven, whilst its gun was changed for the 120 mm Rheinmetall. In tests until March 1977 it was found to be far superior to the 105 mm L7 mounted on the Abrams, which was confirmed by subsequent NATO tank gunnery contests.
Before tests had begun the United States had selected the Chrysler XM1 prototype for full development. However, the military still agreed to consider adopting the Leopard 2. In January 1977 Germany ordered a small pre-series of three hulls and two turrets, delivered in 1978. These vehicles had increased armour protection on the front of the hull. In September 1977 1800 Leopard 2 were ordered, to be produced in five batches. The first was delivered on 25 October 1979. At that moment the Dutch army had already rejected the M1 because of its high operating costs and the refusal by the Americans to fit a Dutch version with the 120 mm gun and instead ordered 445 Leopard 2s on 2 March 1979. The Swiss ordered 35 tanks on 24 August 1983 and started license production of 345 additional vehicles in December 1987. Thus hardly being a major export success in the eighties (no tank of the latest generation was), the type became very popular in the nineties, when the shrinking German army offered many of its redundant Leopard 2s at a reduced price. Today it has become successful enough in Europe that the manufacturer has started calling it the Euro Leopard. However, France, Britain, and Italy all have their own MBTs currently (Leclerc, Challenger 2 and Ariete respectively).
The first export customer were The Netherlands which received 445 vehicles between July 1981 and July 1986. The Netherlands later resold 114 of these (and one turret) to Austria, 80 to Canada in 2007, another 52 tanks to Norway and finally 37 to Portugal. Sweden also acquired 280 Leopards, 160 2A4s from German stocks, designated Stridsvagn 121, and the rest Leopard 2(S) models (designated Stridsvagn 122) similar in configuration to the Leopard 2A5 variant. Spain first leased and later bought 108 2A4 models in the interim period before 219 license-built Leopard 2A6 models (Leopardo 2E) were ready to replace them. Switzerland bought 380 between 1987 and 1993. A number of countries also use versions of the tank, including Poland, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Turkey and Chile. Germany has fielded about 2125 Leopard 2s in various versions. The design was also tested by Britain in the 1980s, which ultimately decided on the Challenger 2. The Australian Army evaluated ex-German Leopard 2s as a replacement for its Leopard 1 tanks in 2003 but instead selected the M1A1 Abrams.
The recent bidding wins for the Leopard 2 (such as Greece selecting the Leopard 2 over the M1 Abrams and the Leclerc) are strong evidence that the Leopard 2 is one of the best selling tanks in the world. Until now, the only combat engagements of the Leopard 2 has been during operations by the KFOR in Kosovo and by Canadian and Danish forces in the War in Afghanistan.
Denmark has also deployed its Leopard 2s in support of operations in southern Afghanistan. In January 2008, Danish tanks halted a flanking maneuver by Taliban forces near the Helmand River by providing gunfire in support of Danish and British infantry from elevated positions. On 26 February 2008, a Danish Leopard 2 was hit by an explosive device, damaging one track. No one was injured and the tank returned to camp on its own for repairs.
The first fatality suffered by a crew operating a Leopard 2 happened on 25 July 2008. A Danish Leopard 2A5 hit an IED in Helmand province. The vehicle was able to continue before it halted. Three members of the four-man crew were able to escape even though wounded, but the driver was stuck inside. Despite being treated on site by Danish army medics, he died. The vehicle was towed to FOB Attal and then later to FOB Armadillo for investigation and possible redeployment. During the same contact with Taliban forces, a second tank was caught in an explosion but none of the crew were wounded.
The Danish version of the Leopard 2A5 has a conventional drivers seat bolted on the floor of the tank, wherereas in the Canadian 2A6M (as part of the mine-protection package) the driver's seat has been removed by a "Dynamic Safety Seat" , which is a parachute-harness like arrangement that the driver wears around his hip. 6 large belts hold him in the right position. Like that the driver does not have any contact with the hull except on the pedals and is out of the shockwave area of exploding land mines or IEDs.
The Leopard 2 proper, sometimes informally called the "A0" to differentiate it from later versions, was the first series manufactured version. The vehicles were manufactured from October 1979 until March 1982, altogether 380 vehicles. 209 were built by Krauss Maffei and 171 by MaK. The basic equipment consisted of electrical-hydraulic WNA-H22, a fire control computer, a laser rangefinder, a wind sensor, a general purpose telescope EMES 15, a panorama periscope PERI R17, the tower sight FERO Z18, on the tower roof as well as a computer controlled tank testing set RPP 1-8. 200 of the vehicles had a low-light enhancer (PZB 200) instead of a thermal imaging. Two chassis served as driver training vehicles.
A third batch of 300 Leopard 2; 165 by Krauss-Maffei (Chassis Nr. 10459 to 10623) and 135 by MaK (Chassis Nr. 20375 to 20509.) 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 most wide-spread version of the Leopard 2 family, the 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 improved turret with flat titanium/tungsten armour.
The Leopard 2s were manufactured in eight batches between 1985 and 1992. All the older models were also upgraded to 2A4 standard. Germany operated a total of 2,125 2A4s (695 new built and the rest modified older versions), while the Netherlands had an additional 445 tanks. The 2A4 was also license manufactured in Switzerland as the Pz87. This version included Swiss-built machine guns and communications equipment, and featured improved NBC protection. Switzerland operated 380 Pz87 tanks.
After the end of the Cold War, Germany and the Netherlands found themselves with large stocks of tanks, which they did not have any need for. These tanks were therefore successfully sold to NATO or friendly armies around the world. Austria (114), Canada (80), Chile (140), Denmark (51), Finland (124), Greece (183), Norway (52), Poland (128), Portugal (37), Singapore (66), Spain (108), Sweden (160), and Turkey (298) were among the buyers of the surplus tanks.
The Pz 87WE is a Swiss modification and upgrade of the Leopard 2A4. The modification significantly improves protection, through the addition of the Leopard 2A6M's mine protection kit, thicker armour on the front glacis, and the turret is equipped with a Swiss-developed armour package that use titanium alloy. The turret roof armour is improved, and the smoke grenade launchers have also been redesigned. Further improvements enhance survivability and combat capability, such as a turret electric drive similar to the Leopard 2A5, a driver rear view camera, a independent weapons station for the loader, and enhanced command and control systems. The fire control system is also upgraded, using the Carl Zeiss Optronics GmbH PERI-R17A2 fire control system. A remote weapons station containing a fully stabilized Mg 64 0.50 caliber machine gun is also fitted to the tank.
The Leopard 2(S) is a Swedish Army variant of the Leopard 2A5, which has received the local designation Strv 122. It is based on what was then called "Leopard 2 Improved" and features increased armour on the turret top and front hull, and improved command and control and fire control systems. Externally, the vehicle can be distinguished from the Leopard 2 A5 by the French GALIX smoke dispensers, different storage bins, and the much thicker crew hatches. It's also equipped with a new command system.
The Leopard 2A5 DK is a variant of the Leopard 2A5 similar to the Leopard 2A6 with some small modifications, used by the Danish Army.
Includes the addition of the 120 mm L55 smoothbore gun (Rheinmetall DeTec AG) and a number of other changes. All German tank battalions of the "crisis intervention forces" are equipped with the A6, as are all Dutch operational units. Canada has also announced its willingness to purchase 40 Leopard 2A6s from the Netherlands. These were delivered in 2007.
The Leopard 2A6M is a version of the 2A6 with enhanced mine protection under the chassis, and a number of internal enhancements to improve crew survivability. Canada has borrowed 20 A6Ms from Germany for deployment to Afghanistan in late summer 2007. The new tanks all have turret electric drive.
The Leopard 2A6M CAN is a Canadian variant of the Leopard 2A6M. Significant modifications include distinctive black boxes mounted on the rear of the turret bustle, originally expected to be the new air conditioning unit but instead likely contains Canadian Forces designated communications gear (as they lined up with the new antennae stands), and stand-off slat armour. The first tanks configured in this variant are the twenty tanks loaned from the German Bundeswehr, in an effort to increase firepower and to increase protection given to Canadian troops operating in the south of Afghanistan. The loaner tanks are expected to retain their German MG3 machine guns, while the ex-Dutch tanks are expected to retain their FN MAG machine guns due to commonality with existing Canadian stocks. Due to the loaned status of the first 20 tanks, the air conditioning unit cannot be installed as only minimal changes could be made (crew will wear cooling vests, and the turret's electric drive generates less heat than the hydraulic drive of Canada's older Leopard C2), while the ex-Dutch tanks are expected to receive more extensive modifications. However, the loaned German tanks may be kept by the Canadian Forces and upgraded even further, while the ex-Dutch Leopard A6's may be modified to German Leopard 2A6M's specifications, and be used as restitution for the loaned tanks.
The Leopard 2 Hel is a derivate of the 2A6, ordered by the Greek Army in 2003. The "Hel" stands for "Hellenic". The 170 tanks are to be delivered between 2006 and 2009. A total of 140 will be built in Greece by ELBO, which delivered the first units in late 2006.
The Leopard 2E is a derivative of the 2A6 (with greater armour protection), developed under a program of co manufacture between the industries of Spain and Germany. The program is developed within the frame of collaboration decided in 1995 between the Ministries of Defence of both countries, in which also was included the cession of use by a period of five years of 108 Leopard 2A4 from the German Army to the Spanish Army. However, this cession was extended up to 2016, and after that those tanks will be the sole property of the Spanish Army, as has been made public on 24 January 2006, then having been paid a total of 15,124,014 euros in ten yearly installments, giving the Spanish coproperty from 2006. In 1998, the Spanish government agreed to contract 219 tanks of the Leopard 2E line, 16 recovery tanks Leopard 2ER (Bufalo) and 4 training vehicles. They chose Santa Bárbara Sistemas as the main contractor. The program, with a budget of 1,939.4 million Euros, includes also the integrated logistical support, training courses for crew instructors and maintenance engineers and driving, turret, maintenance, aiming and shooting simulators. Deliveries of the first batch began in 2004 and should complete in 2008.