France needs to rebuild retired Leclerc tanks – a French General

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Before becoming President of Coge Events and General Commissioner of the EuroSatory show, General Charles Beaudoin was the Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army for Plans and Programs. He retired in 2020. Nowadays, he shares his views on land weapon trends. 

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In an interview with La Tribune about the 2024 EuroSatory show, General Beaudoin talked about the army’s current state. He said that after thirty years of external operations, the army has shifted from a fully mechanized armored force to a more mobile, lightly armored expeditionary force.

General Beaudoin attributed part of this transformation to the post-Cold War “peace dividends.” He explained that these dividends forced the army to make “major sacrifices,” leaving it as a “shadow” of its former self. These cuts, he added, have severely impacted the army’s ammunition stockpile and training, both of which he described as having “collapsed.” 

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“Back in 1988, as a lieutenant, we spent 150 hours annually maneuvering our AMX-30B2s and fired about 50 rounds each year to prepare for the Warsaw Pact,” one expert recalls. “Today, our crews only get 60 hours in Leclerc tanks and fire around 20 shells per year. While simulations are used to fill the gap, we had simulation training back then too. Our soldiers are tough and experienced, but we lack the numbers, the equipment, and high-level comprehensive training.”

“From 1990 to 2017, military budgets faced cuts and losses, shifting funds to other government areas,” says General Baudouin. This meant the army had to adapt to asymmetric warfare, becoming a ‘high-intensity army’ but lacking strong resources.” Currently, the army isn’t fully prepared in terms of military assets, training, medical evacuation, or readiness for high-intensity conflicts,” says General Baudouin. However, he adds that in a severe situation, the French army will work with a coalition, “and France still has nuclear options as a last resort.”

Scorpion program

General Beaudouin, a supporter of the SCORPION program, has some doubts. He believes vehicles like the Griffon, Serval, and Jaguars are important in intense conflicts but argues they cannot “bear the brunt,” as the VAB armored vehicles and AMX-10RC did during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. 

“These vehicles are not tanks or infantry fighting vehicles. Their wheeled design limits their armor and mobility in central Europe, where tracked vehicles are the main force will common. They rely on Leclerc tanks and VBCIs [Armored Combat Vehicles],” he explained. He suggested “rebuilding a larger Leclerc force from old tanks and upgrading the VBCI.” However, the future of the Leclerc family is not simple.

Photo credit: MSN

Right now, the army has 200 Leclerc tanks. According to the EuroSatory 2024 press kit from the Ministry of the Armed Forces, 130 of these tanks, instead of the planned 160, will be upgraded to the new XLR standard by 2030. Another 40 will be upgraded by 2035. 

Well-balanced armored corps

Transforming the military is not easy. It needs more money, which is hard because of the current public finances and funding other urgent priorities like deterrence and emerging conflict zones. General Baudouin also mentions that there’s resistance to changing the current model. 

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“The military doesn’t rely on one system for superiority. It uses a mix of effects and generates forces based on the conflict’s nature. But, often acquisitions minimize some effects. Thirty years of focusing on expeditionary forces have left their mark at all levels. We need to shift our mindset to a well-balanced, fully mechanized armored corps, though this transformation will take a long time,” he concluded.

The Leclerc

The Leclerc tank is a main battle tank made by the French company Nexter Systems. It’s named after General Philippe Leclerc from World War II. The Leclerc is known for its advanced technology and high mobility, making it one of the world’s top tanks. 

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The Leclerc tank is quite large. It is about 9.87 meters [32.4 feet] long with the gun forward, 3.60 meters [11.8 feet] wide, and 2.53 meters [8.3 feet] high. These dimensions give it a strong presence on the battlefield. 

The Leclerc’s engine is a V8X-1500 Hyperbar diesel that produces 1,500 horsepower. It has an automatic transmission, letting the tank reach speeds of up to 72 km/h [45 mph] on roads and 50 km/h [31 mph] off-road. It also has a hydropneumatic suspension system to help it move smoothly over different terrains.

Advanced systems

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The Leclerc tank has an advanced fire control system with a digital computer, laser rangefinder, and thermal imaging, allowing it to hit targets accurately at long distances, during both day and night. It ensures high first-shot accuracy, even while moving. 

The Leclerc tank comes with features to boost its combat abilities and survival. It has an automatic loading system for its main gun, which means only three crew members are needed. It also has modular armor that can be upgraded as needed. The tank includes a management system that gives the crew real-time data and helps coordinate with other units. 

The main weapon of the Leclerc tank is a 120mm smoothbore gun, which can fire different types of ammo. This is supported by a 12.7mm machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun on the roof for air and close-range defense. The tank’s weapons can target enemy tanks, soldiers, and fortifications.

Shell types

The Leclerc tank can fire various types of ammunition. These include armor-piercing [APFSDS] rounds, high-explosive anti-tank [HEAT] rounds, and high-explosive squash head [HESH] rounds. This variety lets the tank hit different targets, like armored vehicles, bunkers, and infantry. 

The range of these rounds depends on their type. APFSDS rounds can hit targets up to 4,000 meters [2.5 miles] away with high accuracy. HEAT and HESH rounds are used at shorter ranges but are still effective against certain targets. The tank’s advanced fire control system helps it to fire accurately, making it highly effective in battle.


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