The Leclerc tank is not simply a tank within the classsic meaning of the term, but rather a weapon system. As a tank incorporating the products of the most recent technologies, it reaches a level of excellence on each traditional quality: mobility, protection, fire power. As a system of weapons it integrates these functions in a unit whose management is optimized in particular by electro-data processing and the capacities of the communication systems.
The essential capacities of Leclerc are the following: a very great effectiveness in the duel against all the adversary armoured tanks in day or night (any time) at ranges of more than 3000 meters. Being able to resist the most severe stresses of combat of high intensity and to attack the most hardened targets, it is a powerful tool able to assume all the missions reserved for the units of the armored forces whatever the environment, the type and the form of engagement (traditional, chemical or nuclear, high average or low intensity).
The Leclerc has a classic configuration, with the driving compartment in the forward part of the hull, turret in the center and engine and transmission compartment in the rear. The crew is protected by composite armor using ceramic materials and multilayered steel armor made of layers of differing toughness and hardness.
The Leclerc includes a gun of with an automatic loading system which make it possible to quickly select the type of ammunition, capable of firing when the tank be moving and which improve appreciably the rate of fire of up to 6 shots/minute. The principal armament is a gun of 120 mm with a smooth bore and a length of 52 calibers, drawing all types of ammunition with combustible casings with standard NATO. The French 120-mm smoothbore gun (52 caliber barrel length) can fire various types of projectiles, including fin-stabilized armor-piercing discarding sabot [APDS] (muzzle velocity 1,750m/sec) and multipurpose (1,170 m/sec). West German 120-mm rounds which are part of the Leopard 2 tank's basic load also can be used for firing this gun.
A total of 40 shells can be embarked, including 22 in automatic loading. A turret recess contains an automatic belt loader for the gun designed for 22 rounds. The remaining 18 rounds of the basic load are accommodated in the front right part of the hull. Turret rotation and gun laying drives are electric. Use of the autoloader permitted cutting the crew by one person and reducing the turret silhouette.
The secondary armament is one 12.7 mm machine-gun and one 7.62 mm machine-gun in the superstructure. A 12.7-mm machinegun (basic load 800 rounds) is coaxial with the gun and a 7.62-mm antiaircraft machinegun (2,000rounds) is mounted on the turret roof plate. Smoke grenade launchers are mounted in the front part of the turret.
The long-range fire control system stabilizes the sight, and the gun remain permanently pointed at the target selected. There are two sights: one for the commander of the tank and the other for the operator. The fire control system includes an electronic ballistic computer, television and infrared cameras, and stabilized sights for the commander and gunner with built-in laser range finders. The turret can acquire the target with gyrostabilisers, and a video recopy of the images allows sharing of information between the two.
Unequalled mobility is obtained by the synergy between the motor, the kinematic chain, and the hydropneumatic suspension. The small eight-cylinder V8X 1500 liquid-cooled diesel engine with a hyperbar-process supercharging system is distinguished by high pick-up. The relatively low exhaust gas temperature (less than 400° C) gives the tank a low level of infrared signature. The turbocompressor also can be used as an auxiliary power plant (with an output of 12 hp). The engine is joined with an ESM 500 automatic transmission (providing six gears forward and two in reverse) and a cooling system in the same block, which permits replacing it in only 30 minutes. Two types of suspension—hydropneumatic and torsion-bar—were proposed for the Leclerc. After numerous tests, preference was given to the hydropneumatic suspension (firm of Messir). The running gear includes six road wheels per side, with driving wheels in the rear.
A very balanced general protection is obtained not only by modular shieldings but also by compactness and thus low visibility, which combined with the very great agility of the tank makes it a difficult target to hit. Centralized management is performed on a large number of parameters of a tactical or logistic nature: the digitalization of the data forward by a bus and are exploited inside the tank which optimizes the entirety of its functions. Also outside, via the radio operator station, it is possible to better employ the whole of the tanks engaged in an operation in particular by the use of the system of control and command installed on board.
The Leclerc tank used a large amount of varied electronics connected to a digital data bus which provides for a continuous exchange of data among electronic units and automatic restructuring of the entire system in case of the failure or partial damage of any of its assemblies. It is reported that the cost of electronics can be almost 50 percent of the tank's cost. The tank is equipped with a detector warning of laser illumination. In this case it is possible to lay smoke screens using the grenade launchers.
The sides are covered by anti-shaped-charge skirts. The tank can move over rugged terrain at a speed up to 50 km/hr and conduct continuous combat operations for 18 hours, supported by a fuel tank capacity of 1,200 liters. It was planned to install external fuel tanks on series models. Water obstacles 1.7 meters deep are negotiated without preparation, and those 4 meters deep are negotiated usingunderwater driving equipment. The Leclerc tank is equipped with an air filtration and ventilation system and an automatic fire-fighting equipment system. A frequency-hopping radio operating inthe 30-88 MHz band is used for communications.
When the program was launched in 1978, the French Army planned to purchase 1,400 Leclerc tanks to replace its existing fleet of obsolescent AMX-30s on a one-for-one basis. Because of cost overruns and troop cuts, however, by 1992 the Army planned to procure only 800 Leclerc tanks, and budget cuts reduced the production rate from 100 per year to less than 40.38 As a result, the unit cost of the Leclerc is expected to reach about F37 million, or more than $7 million-compared to about $3 million for the U.S. M-1 Abrams tank. Despite this high price, GIAT Industries still hoped to obtain major orders for the Leclerc from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Sweden, and Qatar [only the UAE came through]. Total production was 796 units, with 400 in service in France, and 390 serving in the UAE.
Phillipe LeClerc [1902-1947]
Phillipe LeClerc was born into a family from a long line of nobility dating back to the XIIth century, participated in the crusades, served at Fontenoy, at Wagram and held office as town councillors. He pursued an army career at Saint-Cyrien in the "Metz-Strasbourg" division. He was promoted to general of the 4th infantry division which was surrounded by the enemy in June 1940 in Lille. He was captured, before escaping to rejoin the front, where he was then posted to the 2nd armoured division. Wounded and hospitalised on army orders, he then escaped the advancing enemy and fled to Paris by bicycle. It was here that he decided to join general de Gaulle in London. The 2nd Free French division (the former "Force L") officially became the 2nd armored Division on the 24th August 1943.
At the end of 1943, de Gaulle entrusted Leclerc with a further political mission: to liberate the capital. The 2nd armoured division was therefore transferred to England at the end of April 1944 to hone their skills. Integrated into the general Patton's IIP Army, it landed at Utah-Beach on the 1st August and received a baptism of fire at Mortain. It then went on to distinguish itself once more during the battle of Normandy. In mid-August, general Leclerc waited impatiently for the order to liberate Paris and to establish the provisional government's authority. Leclerc's determination, as well as the missions sent by the colonel Roi-Tanguy, commandant of the FFF of Paris and general de Gaulle's insistence all convinced Eisenhower not to bypass the capital. The 2nd armoured division made contact with the FFF, forcing the enemy to surrender and preparing general de Gaulle's arrival. Thanks to the determination of its leader, the 2nd armoured division liberated Paris swiftly and with very few casualties. Leclerc, liberator of Paris but also its saviour.
Faced with the political difficulties in North Africa, he was in favour of a more moderate evolution of the situation over time, less extreme in its ends than for Indochina. However, on the 28th November 1947, his plane crashed near the border of Algeria and Morocco near to Colomb-Béchar. He died along with seven officers from his squadron and four flight engineers. The leader's public funeral was held on the 8th December, for which de Gaulle wrote: "Never was there any mediocrity about him, neither in his thoughts nor in his speech nor his acts" He was posthumously awarded the title of Marshal of France in 1952. His courage, tenacity, and influence on his soldiers and his sudden death, all contributed to making him a legendary character and ensuring his place in the history of France.
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