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Battle tank Leopard 1 A5
Kampfpanzer Leopard 1 A5

The Leopard 1 was first produced in 1963 by Krauss-Maffei for the German Ministry of Defence and more than 6000 vehicles have been exported to nine NATO countries, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey and also Australia. The main armament is capable of engaging with effective fire, while on-the-move, through the use of an electronic , hydraulic gyroscopic gun stabilizer. This is known as fully stabilized power traverse. In addition, the Leopard is fitted with two banks of smoke grenade dischargers on the turret to create local obscuration.

In the summer of 1958, Rheinmetall first began developing tank main armament for the German Bundeswehr. This set a process into motion at Rheinmetall' then development and production centres in Düsseldorf und Unterlüß which the company continues to profit from a half a century later. Today, the Leopard main battle tank is the most advanced and powerful vehicle of its kind.

Rheinmetall was involved in developing the tank right from the start, as were Henschel and MaK, two of the companies which now form Rheinmetall Landsysteme. Founded in 1956, the Bundeswehr initially had to make do without a domestic defence industry and without German armoured vehicles. At first, West Germany' new military was equipped with the US-built M47 and M48 Patton tank. But it was not long before voices were heard calling for German troops to be equipped with a German tank.

The concept envisaged a vehicle that would meet the requirements of a medium-weight tank while simultaneously performing the tasks of a light tank in armoured and mechanized infantry formations, i.e. reconnaissance and security. An earlier heavy tank was deemed to be expendable, since its only salient feature was heavier armor, and this was no longer capable of withstanding modern shaped charge ammunition, a situation which seemed unlikely to change in the near future.

In defining the requirements, the procurement authorities oriented themselves to the main potential opponent. The Soviet Union possessed a relatively new heavy tank, the Joseph Stalin 3. A modernized version, in service since 1952, was armed with a 122 m gun. Moreover, despite a combat weight of 48 tons, it could attain a maximum speed of 40 kilometres per hour. The Western Allies were taken completely unawares by the existence of this tank, which the Soviets did not deploy until the final phase of the Second World War. To destroy it, a new Western vehicle would have to be able to engage it a longer range than the Joseph Stalin 3 was capable of attaining. It would thus have to be low, fast and agile - and possess massive firepower.

The M48 A2C Patton tank, 3,000 of which the Bundeswehr received from the US in 1955, was only half as fast as required. Under pressure to achieve quick results, the Federal Agency for Defence Technology and Procurement (BWB) demanded that West Germany be able to field a tank of its own by 1961. Rheinmetall chief Carl Waninger considered this to be impossible, objecting that "the German defence industry won't be able to make the best tank in the business given the relatively short period of time available to it."

As it was, the German defence industry took an extra two years to develop the new Standardpanzer. Dubbed the Leopard even during the prototype phase, it was indeed destined to become "the best in the business". Although Rheinmetall did not take part in developing the vehicle, it was in charge of the turret and main armament. Waninger belonged to an advisory committee of experienced specialists which took up its duties on 14 March 1957, tasked with producing a prototype tank. Franz Etzel (CDU), the Federal Minister of Finance, provided the committee with a budget of DM 50 million - hardly a princely sum even at the time, especially given the ambitious task at hand. None of the companies involved could expect to make a profit from producing the prototype. The best Rheinmetall could hope for was an adequate utilization of capacity.

The German government put three working groups in charge of developing the prototype. One group consisted (among others) of Porsche and MaK; Wegmann was to design the turret. Rheinmetall developed the tank turret for a rival consortium made up of vehicle makers Ruhrstahl, Rheinstahl-Hanomag and Henschel. The company also developed the turret for the third prototype, which was designed by Borgward. In addition, Rheinmetall was responsible for developing the Leopard's 105 mm main armament.

However, the German government decided to adopt an already existing British gun, which the British intended to use in upgrading their Centurian tank, and the Americans for arming the M60. In this way, the Federal Republic of Germany took an important step toward standardization of tank ammunition in Europe, which would reduce costs and simplify logistics. At the end of 1958, Rheinmetall contracted with the German Ministry of Defence to develop a turret that would incorporate a 105 mm gun with the British barrel.

In January and September 1961, the working groups presented their respective prototypes; after numerous trials the Porsche/MaK design was finally selected. The Leopard met most of the German government's original requirements. Weighing just 42 tons, it was considerably lighter than the Joseph Stalin 3; with a top speed of 65 km/h, it was also substantially faster and a lot more agile. As early as the prototype trials, BWB decided to select a general contractor to coordinate manufacture and delivery of this complex weapon system. Following a yearlong competition, Krauss-Maffei emerged as the victor, and would henceforth be in charge of reading the necessary components and subassemblies for serial production, organizing the manufacturing process and coordinating the work of subcontractors.

Development of the tank turret, conducted by Rheinmetall in cooperation with Wegmann, began in 1964, when manufacture of the 105 mm main armament and the two MG 3 machineguns for the new prototype tank began. This part of the production process took place in the former Gollnow Hall at Works No. 4 in Düsseldorf, the so-called "Big Building". Final assembly of the Leopard tank was carried out here, something the vehicle companies originally wanted to do themselves - but Rheinmetall's proposal carried the day. In the years that followed, local residents in Düsseldorf-Derendorf - and especially the municipal employees whose windows looked directly out on Works No. 4 - were frequently treated to the sight of tanks being shipped by rail on a special track leading from the local freight station, to be equipped with a turret and main gun in the "Big Building".

The first Leopard-1 series tank moved off the assembly line of the Krauss-Maffey corporation in 1965. Foreign experts believed this tank had good mobility but inadequate armor protection. In September 1965 Krauss-Maffei transferred the first Leopard main battle tank to the Bundeswehr. It met the full array of requirements established by the German armed forces ten years earlier for the "Standardpanzer". As a contemporary journalist commented in the magazine "Soldat und Technik", "For an experienced tanker, the general feeling of going from an M48 A2C to the Leopard was like a cavalry soldier switching from a Holstein workhorse to an East Prussian thorough-bred."

Marking the formal handover of the first Leopard tank, the president of the BWB wrote to Rheinmetall chief Otto Paul Caesar: "The Federal Minister of Defence has requested me to express his thanks and appreciation for your outstanding achievement in developing the new main battle tank. The difficult task you took on seven years ago, and solved through multifaceted development work, made a material contribution to enabling the Leopard main battle tank to go into series production in its current form".

The body of the Leopard-1 is welded out of rolled armor sheets. The turret is cast. The tank's main armament is the British L7A3 105-mm rifled cannon (with combatload of 60 rounds). A 7.62-mm machine gun is coaxially mounted, and a second of the same caliber is mounted on the turret roof. The gunner has a stereoscopic monocular range finder and telescopic sight; the commander has a panoramic sight. The gun's control drives are electrohydraulic. The engine block includes a 10-cylinder V-shape multi-fuel MB 838 Ca-M500 engine and ZF 4HP 250 hydro-mechanical transmission. The engine block can be replaced in 20 minutes. The chassis has torsion suspension. The tracks are rubber-metal.

The tank is equipped with filter ventilation system. The Leopard may be "sealed-off" against nuclear contamination on the nuclear battlefield. It is a minimum-maintenance armoured fighting vehicle with visual lubricant level checks and minimum daily crew maintenance required. Properly fitted with external gear, it is capable of deep-fording or submerged fording where river banks are prepared for exit and entry. Complete engine replacement is possible in 30 minutes under field conditions.

West German efforts undertaken to modernize the Leopard-1 tank at the beginning of the 1970's resulted in improved versions. The Leopard main battle tank, subsequently known as the Leopard 1, was produced in six lots. The vehicles of the fifth lot carried the suffixes 1A2 and 1A3, and were considerably improved in several respects. At the same time, the tanks from Lots 1 through 4 were upgraded to form the 1A1 version. Rheinmetall developed an entirely new turret for the 1A3, as well as a gun stabilization system for the 105 mm gun and coaxial MG 3 machinegun. The sixth and final lot of 250 vehicles rolled off the assembly line at the end of March 1976.

  • Leopard-1A1 (1845 tanks). Mounted on the Leopard-lAl tanks were an armament stabilization system in two planes, thermal-insulated barrel casing for the gun, new rubber-metal tracks, anti-shaped-charge side plates, and equipment toallow underwater operation.
  • Leopard-1A2 (232 tanks). In contrast to the previous model, the armor of this tank's cast turret was reinforced. The tank had a more effective filter ventilation system and the night vision illumination devices for commander and driver-mechanic were replaced with a non-illuminated variety.
  • Leopard-1 A3 (110 tanks delivered). In addition to the improvements enumerated above, this version has a welded turret with spaced armor protection.
  • Leopard-lA4 (250 tanks). This version has the same turret as the previous model. It differs chiefly by virtue of a new fire control system which includes electronic ballistics computer, combined (day and night) commander's panoramic sight with stabilized line of sight, and stereoscopic rangefinder.
  • Leopard-lA5. By 1988 West Germany was presently modernizing its Leopard-1 Al tanks, converting them to the Leopard-1A5 version. Plans then called for delivery of 1300 of these to the Bundeswehr prior to 1992. The main effort consisted of outfitting the tank with more modern fire control system components.

A family of armored vehicles intended for various purposes was developed based on the Leopard-1 tank. These include the Gepard self-propelled anti-aircraft system, Roland self-propelled guided missile system, Standard armored recovery vehicle, Biber armored bridgelayer, and Pioneer-Panzer-2 combat engineer tank. In addition to the Bundeswehr, the Leopard-1 tank (in its various modifications) joined the army inventories of Australia, Belgium, Greece, Denmark, Italy, Canada, the Netherlands, Norway and Turkey.

The LEOPARD 1 main battle tank is an international success story for KMW: Since 1965, more than 4,700 units have been manufactured and remain in service in eleven countries on five continents. Thanks to its continuous upgrading and modernization process, the LEOPARD 1 remains a state-of-the-art design. Users of earlier versions have the choice of several retrofit kits to adapt the product configuration, putting corresponding emphasis on firepower, protection, mobility and logistics as needed.

Technical modifications to the LEOPARD 1 have also produced a comprehensive range of tactical features. This includes a high first-shot hit probability with all types of munitions operating in day and night, under limited visibility, while on the move and while engaging moving targets. Other attractive system features include rapid firing procedures, high adjusting precision and reliability, quick weapons system checking and the verification of combat readiness status without the need for external test equipment.

The LEOPARD is the synonym for worldwide leading battle tank technology. Its close to 50 year history is a unique success story. As a powerful answer to the manifold threats of the past, present and future, it constitutes the backbone of modern, visionary and effective armed forces all over the world. Its outstanding combat effectiveness, consisting of an optimal combination of fire power, protection, mobility and state-of-the-art manoeuvrability, set worldwide standards. For this reason, the LEOPARD has excelled in every comparative test. The modular design allows the deployment of this battle tank well into the middle of the 21st century, always well adapted for any threat scenario.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2019 17:58:33 ZULU