At the IDET 2023 exhibition in the Czech Republic, the German company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall first demonstrated the updated tank in the Leopard 2A8 modification.
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Even though the operational characteristics of the updated Leopard were not disclosed, it was stated that the tank received several improvements, including multi-layer armor based on steel, tungsten, ceramics, and composite materials, which was also reinforced with an additional set of passive armor.
In addition, the tank received improved anti-mine protection, increased turret protection, and the Israeli EuroTrophy active protection system.
The first 18
It is known that the German Ministry of Defense has already signed a contract worth 565 million euros with KMW for the delivery of 2026 of the first batch of 18 tanks in the Leopard 2A8 modification. It is also known that the contract provides for the possibility of expansion to 123 machines.
Berlin originally planned to upgrade its Leopard 2A6s to the 2A7+ level. There were even rumors that Rheinmetall might receive a large order for the sale of KF-51 Panther tanks. However, Germany subsequently chose the Leopard 2A8 version.
According to sources, the 2A8 modification will be built based on the Hungarian version of the Leopard 2A7HU tank. Hungary ordered 44 units of this tank some time ago. Although some features have not been officially confirmed, those familiar with the tank suggest that a new engine will also be integrated into the Leopard 2A8.
The Czech Republic also wants 2A8
Earlier, the Czech Ministry of Defense already announced plans to join the German contract for the project to upgrade its fleet from Leopard 2A4 main battle tanks to the Leopard 2A8 version. This was announced on May 24 by the Minister of Defense of the Czech Republic, Jana Chernohova.
According to her, under this contract, the Czech Republic plans to receive 70 of the latest Leopard 2A8 tanks to compensate for its T-72M1CZ tanks transferred as military aid to Ukraine.
Bad news for France
The appearance of the Leopard 2A8 is undoubtedly bad news for France. Although officially the Main Ground Combat System [MGCS] project still exists, the appearance of the 2A8 may end it.
This program aims to renew the tank fleet of the two countries – France and Germany. In the future, the new European tank is expected to be offered on international markets as well. But Germany has apparently independently solved the problem of renewing its tank inventory. Not only is the 2A8 a threat to the MGCS but so is the KF-51 Panther.
France needs to renew its tank fleet by replacing 160 aging French Leclerc tanks. Paris is aware of the situation. Already early April, the French Minister of Defense, Mr. Sebastien Lecornu, expressed his concern about the MGCS. Seeing what is happening in Berlin, Mr. Lecornu has every reason to be worried.
Moreover, the MGCS is in its infancy and is already causing disagreements between Germany and France. The disagreements are operational-management: the manufacturers involved in the MGCS project cannot agree on who should take what role. Put simply – everyone wants to be a leader, but no one backs down.
And if the MGCS was to overcome this challenge, suddenly Rheinmetall appeared on the scene with its KF-51 Panther. The balance was broken, and France saw a threat both to the general project and to her own defense. A “second slap” hit Mr. Lecornu when a confidential report by German industry to the Bundestag’s budget committee said, “the MGCS would hardly materialize until 2035”.
Will Leopard dominate Europe?
It appears that the Leopard tanks could become the main battle tanks of both a large part of the European military and NATO capabilities in Europe.
The desire of the Czech Republic to buy the Leopard 2A8, the updated German tanks with this modification, the Hungarian purchase, the purchase from Norway of the Leopard 2A7 just a month ago, as well as an alleged Leopard tank factory in Greece speak of precisely such a possibility.
France will be forced to look for an alternative if the MGCS project does not materialize. And soon, because her Leclerc tanks will not become more compatible with modern conditions of war. Paris may move towards modernization of the Leclerc tanks with its own resources in the coming years. This will cause MGCS to fail and most likely terminate.
BulgarianMilitary.com recalls that three years ago, Poland wanted to join the MGCS. However, then France and Germany clearly did not realize what kind of market Poland was. It might have been Warsaw that catalyzed the rapid development of the MGCS and that the project had a clearer and more welcoming future than it does now. After being refused, Poland made one of the largest tank purchases in European history – hundreds of American Abrams and at least 1,000 K2 Black Panther tanks. Moreover, Poland will most likely produce K2 for the European market.
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