Saturday, June 25, 2016

Boxer prototype for Lithuania being tested

In December 2015 the Lithuanian Ministry of Defence announced, that they were favouring the Dutch-German Boxer multi-role armored vehicle (MRAV) over numerous other offers from international armored vehicle manufacturers such as General Dynamics (offering a version of the ex-MOWAG Piranha/Stryker), Patria (which offered a version of the AMV), Nexter (offering the VBCI), Iveco, Otokar, and FNSS. Subsequently they ordered the Boxer in an infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) configuration.

However the Lithuanian Army did not go for the original offered Boxer variant, which mounted the unmanned turret of the German Puma IFV on a special Boxer mission module. Instead the Lithuanian Army prefered to fit a Samson Mk II remote weapon station (RWS) from the Israeli company Rafael. A number of photographs from the trials of a Boxer with the Samson Mk II RWS have been released by the Lithuanian MoD.

Compared to the Puma's turret, the Samson Mk II RWS is in many aspects a downgrade. It is understood that the choice to opt for the Israeli weapon station is related to the high costs of the German offer. The Boxer with Puma turret was criticized by the Lithuanian government for being considerable more expensive than all other offers.
The Puma turret however offers a much higher level of protection to begin with: The Samson Mk II RWS is not protected at all, but can be fitted with additional armor modules for protection in accordance to the STANAG 4569 levels 1 to 4, which essentially means protection from assault rifles to 14.5 mm armor-piercing (AP) ammunition from heavy machine guns (HMGs) depending on armor package. The Puma´s turret offers the same STANAG 4569 level 4 protection in it's basic configuration, but can be fitted with additional armor for an even higher level of protection (protection against 30 mm ammunition). This armor package also includes hedgehog armor against anti-tank bomblets from artillery and mortar shells aswell as an armored flap to protect the gunner's main optics.

Furthermore the Puma's turret has the option to fit the German MUSS softkill active protection system (APS), which has already been fully integrated into the turret for the German Army. This system offers protection against anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), by using jammers and multi-spectral countermeasures.

The Puma's turret offers better optics and for the commander's sight, there is a fibre-optical channel to directly guide the image to the commander's oculars, instead of only providing a digitized (and thus pixelated) image at the display.
While in theory able to accept other guns, the Samson Mk 2 RWS on the Boxer module for the Lithuanian Army has apparently been fitted with the very common Mk 44 Bushmaster II gun from ATK (chambered in the same 30 x 173 mm calibre as the Puma's MK 30-2/ABM). This gun has two drawbacks compared to the MK 30-2/ABM originally offered on the Boxer with Puma turret: the dispersion of the Bushmaster gun is higher (at least when firing APFSDS ammunition from NAMMO) and it has no or only limited air-burst capabilities. The MK 30-2/ABM is fitted with a magnetic coil to measure the ammunition's velocity at the muzzle and to then program the fuze of airburst ammunition accordingly. The Mk 44 Bushmaster II lacks such a coil, instead airburst capability is only optional (and this has not been chosen by a customer to this day) with programming being done at the chamber - this system is less accurate, as it has to rely on estimated (or pre-programmed) data for the muzzle velocity.

The Samson Mk 2 RWS has a weight of about 1.5 metric tons. It includes two MINIPOP optics (one each for commander and gunner) from IAI with daylight camera, laser rangefinder, and thermal imager; it thus can be used in a hunter/killer mode of operation. Ammunition storage is provided for 200 rounds of 30 x 173 mm ammunition and 230 rounds of 7.62 mm machine gun ammo. The RWS also includes a retractable dual-launcher for the Spike ATGM. Gun depression up to 20° and elevation up to 70° are possible with the Samson Mk 2 RWS.

A benefit of the Samson Mk 2 RWS is the ability to reload the turret from inside of the vehicle. This can be beneficial when the gun runs out of ammo during combat - under other circumstances reloading form the exterior is better, because one does not have to move through the rather cramped exterior of the vehicle, which enables faster restocking of ammunition.

The Boxer's modular design allows a faster and easier integration of new systems and mission modules compared to other vehicles. By separating the mission module (which here includes the RWS and seats for the gunner, commander, and dismounts) from the chassis, engine and driver's place, only a new mission module has to be developed. The mission module just needs to have the same interfaces as required by the chassis. This allowed testing the new module for the Lithuanian Boxers on an already existing German Boxer.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Upgraded Leclerc presented at Eurosatory 2016

Nexter has presented a Leclerc tank upgraded according to the demands of the French Army. In 2015 the French Army ordered a total of 200 Leclerc tanks to be upgraded to this specific configuration. The Leclerc is the French main battle tank (MBT) and entered service in the early 1990s, replacing the 1960s AMX-30 tank. It features a 1500 hp hyperbar engine, an hydropneumatic suspension, a 120 mm L52 smoothbore gun with autoloader, a modern fire control system (FCS), and (semi-)modular composite armor.

However the configuration presented at Eurosatory 2016 seems to be slightly downgraded compared to earlier 3D renderings of the Leclerc upgrade. The upgraded Leclerc features a remote weapon station (RWS), new radios, the SCORPION battlefield management and command system aswell as additional modular armor at the hull and turret. The frontal two thirds of the hull flanks are protected by thick passive armor, while the last third and the rear are fitted with slat armor only. The turret rear is also protected by slat armor. New electronics allow firing air-bursting high-explosive ammunition.

Compared to the earlier renderings, the Leclerc upgrades lacks the wire-cutters located on the turret and hull aswell as the additional smoke grenade launchers at the turret front and sides. The laser-warning sensor required to turn the Galix smoke screen system into a softkill active protection system (APS) and the close-proximity surveillance system were also not adopted with the upgrade.
It appears that budget is once again a killer of military innovation. Even a tank upgraded to the better configuration used for the renderings has been considered here to be somewhat lackluster, because this seemed to be too focused on assymetrical warfare, lacking any improvments really relevant for tank-vs-tank combat or symmetric warfare (such as a more powerful gun, better frontal and roof armor or a hardkill APS).

Team Challenger 2's upgrade suggestion

The British Army is actively looking for an upgrade for it's Challenger 2 main battle tank (MBT) in order to keep it relevant. The Challenger 2 (CR2) main battle tank (MBT) originally entered service in 1998, after first vehicles for troop and reliability testing were already delivered in 1994, and has seen no major upgrade since then.

Compared to the current versions of other tanks (like the Leclerc, Leopard 2 or Abrams), the Challenger 2's performance and design are lackluster in a number of points. In terms of mobility, the CR2 is underpowered thanks to using an old Condor-Perkins V12 engine with a rather low output of only 1200 hp output. This leads to a lower hp per ton ratio than common on other tanks of Western and Eastern origin. While the CR2 is fitted with a rather advanced hydrogas suspension, this is still rather mediocre, because the wheel travel - which determines the suspensions performance in heavy terrain - is only average and by about 10 to 20% smaller than the wheel travel on some other modern tanks.
The biggest issue of the Challenger 2 is however the fire control system (FCS). Even the Challenger 2E with improved FCS was not able to compete with the alternatives from France, Germany and the US in the Greek tank trials. Due to being designed as retrofit option to the Challenger 1 and even the Chieftain tank, its FCS is in many design aspects antiquated by more modern standards. Compared to the usual configuration on all other Western tanks, the TOGS-2 thermal imager and the gunner's main sight are two separate units. This causes a number of issues in terms of stabilization (mostly caused by mounting the TOGS-2 on the rather unstable gun) and line-of-sight alignment. When aiming at high elevations, the TOGS-2 won't be able to see the target.
While all modern tanks since the 1990s are fitted with a thermal imaging system as part of the independent optronics of the commander, the commander of a Challenger 2 has only a day sight. During operations with low visibility (night operations, dusty/desert environments, etc.) the commander of the CR2 has to fall back to mirroring the image of the gunner's TOGS-2 into his own optics. So currently, the Challenger 2 design does not allow hunter/killer operations during night.
The main reason why the British Army demanded an upgrade for the Challenger 2 was the questionable lethality of the L30A1 tank gun. When the Russian Army presented their new T-14 Armata tank, the lackluster penetration of the L30 gun made the British Army worry, wether this weapon is still useful. Unlike pretty much all other modern tanks (bar the Arjun, but this isn't really modern in various aspects), the Challenger 2 uses a rifled gun. This means the gun barrel has grooves at the interior, which leads to two problems: for one, they limit the maximum pressure for autofrettage, which directly affects the maximum operating pressure for tank ammunition - the L30 gun of the Challenger 2 cannot withstand as high pressures as the old Rheinmetall L44 gun from 1979! The second problem of the rifling is the increase of the internal surface by 20-30%, which increases surface friction and thus reduces muzzle velocity. In fact the British Army even considered replacing the Challenger 2 due to the L30A1 gun's poor performance.

Ammunition for the L30 tank gun
The L30A1 gun uses three-piece ammunition: the projectile, propellant charge and primer are separate parts, a design decision that affects both lethality and storage options. The ammunition stowage of the Challenger 2 is designed to accept only certain types of ammunition parts (propellant charges, primer magazines and projectiles) at certain places (for example all propellant charges are stored within the hull below the turret ring). It is not possible to fit longer or wider ammunition into a CR2, which prevented the upgunning of the Challenger 2 with the German 120 mm L55 smoothbore gun during the Challenger Lethality Improvement Programme (CLIP). It was only possible to create storage for six rounds of unitary 120 x 570 mm NATO ammunition without deeper modifications of the Challenger 2's interior layout.
The length limitation imposed by the ammo rack design and location also affects armor penetration with compatible ammunition. In order to improve penetration characterstic, the length of the penetrator has to be increased besides muzzle velocity. This is not an option in the CR2.
Last but not least, the rifled gun and the three-piece ammunition design require larger-than-average sabot petals, which increases the parastic mass propelled by the powder and thus lowers armor penetration.

General Dynamics, originally an own contender for the Challenger 2 upgrade and considered one of the favorites for being among the two shortlisted companies, decided to withdraw from the competition and not offer an upgrade solution to the British Army. Instead General Dynamics has jointed the Team Challenger 2, which is lead by previous competitor BAE Systems.

The Team Challenger 2 consists of BAE Systems, General Dynamics (Land Systems UK & Mission Systems), QinetiQ, Leonardo, MOOG and Safran.
The upgrade proposed by Team Challenger 2 is limited to the electronics and optics of the tank only. The thermal imager of the TOGS-2 is replaced with a better model (but apparently still located in the same bad spot at the gun barrel), the commander's primarey sight now also includes a thermal imaging system for day and night operations, while the gun control systems and fire control systems are upgraded/replaced. The proposal from Team Challenger 2 also includes a new electronic architecture for the computer systems of the tank.
However the tank is still underpowered, nothing on the drivetrain or powerpack has been changed. It also lacks an active protection system (APS), which is currently in the process of becoming a standard for modern armored fighting vehicles.
Let's also not forget about the elephant in the room: a Challenger 2 upgraded according to the proposal of Team Challenger 2 still uses the same old gun as the original tank. The Challenger 2 Life Extension Programme (LEP) was mostly initiated because the CR2 gun and ammunition combo doesn't offer enough performance against the T-14 tank! How can they not try to change it!

There is however a glimmer of hope for the CR2. Team Challenger 2 claims that they would like to offer further upgrades and have proposed such - so we might see more. Apparently the British Army is actively looking into the topic of APS, but with a different contract independent of the Challenger 2 upgrade. The CR2 might receive an APS in the future, but this wouldn't be related to the LEP.
Also it has been rumored already a few years ago, that the British Army has tested uprating the Challenger 2's V12 engine to about 1500-1600 horsepowers, albeit this supposedly was stopped following a great increase in engine and track wear.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Improved version of the TAM revealed

For quite a while the Argentinan military has partnered with a number of foreign companies - predominantely (or exclusively) from Israel - to upgrade the TAM medium tank. The known partners of  the Argentine Army for upgrading the TAM are Israel Military Industries (IMI), Elbit Systems and Tadiran.

A TAM tank lacking a thermal sleeve and side skirts
The Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM) is a "medium tank" developed by the German company Thyssen-Henschel. By today's nomenclature it would be rather a light tank, due to the relatively low weight and the fact that it's based on the chassis of the German Marder infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) - calling it a medium tank made sense back in the 1970s for Argentina however, due to the TAM being considerable heavier than the AMX-13 light tank and the SK-105 tank destroyer, while being about as heavy as the medium M4 Sherman tank and the local Nahuel tank.
The TAM is de facto being used as a main battle tank (MBT), being the heaviest Argentinian armored vehicle and not being used exclusively by scout and (air-/sea-) mobile units, but rather by the tank units.

As previously mentioned, the TAM was designed by Thyssen-Henschel, a company later bought by Rheinmetall. It is based on the hull of the Marder IFV, which entered service with the German army in 1971. Compared to the Marder, the TAM uses a more powerful 720 horsepower (530 kilowatt) engine and is fitted with a large turret amred with a 105 mm gun. The gunner's sight is the TZF-LA, whereas the commander has a TRP or PERI RITA depending on production batch. The TAM has a total weight of about 30 metric tons.
An improved version of the TAM for export was already created by Thyssen-Henschel with the TH 301. The TH 301 utilizes the same hull and turret, but is fitted with a more advanced fire control system (FCS) and better optics. The gun and the gunner's sight are stabilized in two axis and allow combat on the move. A PZB-200 image intensifier can be added to the TH 301 for improved night vision compared to the more primitve IR systems used on the TAM. It is also fitted with track skirts and a slightly more powerful engine, providing an output of 551 kW.

TAM 2C prototype being presented in 2013
The original TAM upgrade has been designated "TAM 2C". It's development was initially started as part of the TAM modernization project in 2009. As reported here previously, a contract for the upgrade of 74 TAM tanks was signed in 2015.

The APU is externally mounted at the rear of the hull
At the rear of the hull an auxilary power unit (APU) has been fitted. This reduces fuel consumption and allows operating the tanks electrical systems when the main engine is turned off, which can be extremely beneficial for ambushes. TheAPU is located at the exterior of the tank and apparently lacks any sort of proper armor, making it vulnerable to even small arms fire.
Night vision for driver is provided by a camera sight added onto the tank's hull. It is probably fitted with a thermal imager or an LLTV image intensifier (low-level light TV).

A close-up of the TAM 2C's turret
While some TAM tanks supposedly already have one, many still lack a proper thermal sleeve for the main gun. The TAM 2C includes a new thermal sleeve, which will reduce the temperature influences on the barrel and thus will increase accuracy.

A new commander's sight — the COAPS sight from Elbit Systems — has replaced the earlier PERI RITA. The COAPS includes a CCD zoom camera, a thermal imager and an eyesafe laser rangefinder. Compared to the earlier PERI RITA this enhances the night vision and enables faster hunter/killer operations, however the lack of a proper optical daysight is a disadvantage due to the lower image quality of a digital sensor.
The gunner's sight is also replaced with a newer model from Elbit Systems, it appears to be a variation of the gunner's sight of Elbit's Thermal Imaging Fire Control System (TIFCS). The sight includes at least an optical day-channel, an eyesafe laser rangefinder and a thermal imager, although there is also an option for incorporating a CCD camera. This new FCS allows the tank to accurately fire on the move, something the original TAM could not achieve.
On a small mast ontop of the turret a laser warning system (LWS) made by Elbit is installed. This can provide up to 360° coverage and react to laser beams and in some cases can also pinpoint radar/RF sources.

The interior of the TAM 2C
With all the upgrades, the TAM 2C is supposedly about one metric ton heavier than the original version, increasing the weight to 31 metric tons.

Another TAM has been fitted with new armor elements from Isreali Military Industries and first photographed in late 2015. Officially the new version was revealed on the 31st May 2016. Once fitted with the new armor configuration, the TAM tank is designated TAM 2IP. Jane's IHS has confirmed the new armor of the tank to be a variant of IMI's Iron Wall armor. Iron Wall is a type of applique armor designed primarily to increase protection against improvised explosive devices (IEDs), explosively formed penetrators (EFPs) and self-formed fragmentation charges. It consists of composite materials and metal to offer a higher protection per weight than steel armor. The thickness of Iron Wall typically ranges from 110 to 150 milimetres, the areal density from 200 to 230 kilograms per m².

TAM 2IP prototype
According to IMI, Iron Wall fullfills the STANAG 4569 level 4 requirement for protection against kinetic energy penetrators such as AP and APDS ammunition. This means it cannot be penetrated by 14.5 mm AP ammunition from relatively close ranges (200 metres), which can penetrate about 32 to 38 mm of steel armor at point blank. If the new armor of the TAM 2IP is really only Iron Wall as claimed by Jane's, the actual protection of the TAM 2IP is not much superior to the spaced armor of the late Marder IFV versions in German service (Marder 1A3 and follow-up models). In best case the frontal armor would offer protection against up to 30 mm APFSDS at medium ranges, while the side armor would only offer protection against 30 mm AP ammunition at long ranges only. Against EFPs and IEDs Iron Wall would likely offer much more protection, however these threats are usually only found in assymetrical warfare.

TAM 2C (foreground) and TAM 2IP (background)
Apparently for pure KE protection Iron Wall is a rather poor performing composite armor system - a 25 mm steel plate has an areal density of about 200 kg/m² areal density. If this steel plate is not normal armor steel (RHS; rolled homogenous steel), but rather high-hardness armor steel (HHS), it should provide enough protection to reach the STANAG 4569 level 4 requirements for ballistic protection.
For protection against kinetic energy penetrators, Iron Wall seems to have a mass efficiency of about 1.3 - in best case about 1.5. The thickness efficiency is much lower. Ceramic armor system for ballistic protection like MEXAS and AMAP-B developed by the German IBD Engineering has managed to reach a mass efficiency greater than 3 against armor-piercing ammunition.

It is not clear if the ordered modernization of 74 TAMs includes the armor upgrades. Officially the armor upgrade was not revealed at the point of time when the TAM 2C upgrade was ordered. Apparently the armor upgrade is completely independent of the TAM 2C development and can be applied to every tank regardless of other upgrades. The photograph above shows a TAM 2IP tank based on the original TAM configuration (with thermal sleeve however), which still has the TZF-LA and PER RITA sights. The photographs below shows a prototype from late 2015 labeled "TAM 2C IP" and incoporates all changes of the TAM 2C modernization aswell as a version of the Iron Wall armor kit for the TAM tank. It is possible that all of the 74 ordered upgrades might end up looking like this.

It is obvious that the Argentinan Army is operating on a very tight budget, otherwise buying a new tank would have been a much better option. But even with a relatively low budget, a probably better (and slightly more expensive option) would have been the Marder Medium MBT presented by Rheinmetall on Eurosatory 2012.

Marder Medium MBT at the Eurosatory 2012
Unlike the TAM 2IP, the Marder Medium MBT is based on the proven Marder 1A3 chassis, which in terms of KE protection should be comparable to the TAM 2IP with Iron Wall armor. However the Marder Medium MBT is fitted with additional AMAP composite armor at the flanks and a mine protection kit against up to 8 kg anti-tank mines. The AMAP armor should provide protection against EFPs and the average RPG. The turret of the Marder Medium MBT is an off-the-shelf offering by Oto Melara, the HITFACT turret with 105 mm gun (optionally it can be fitted with a 120 mm smoothbore gun) and an advanced FCS with thermal sights, eyesafe laser rangefinders, hunter/killer capability and an optical channel for the day sight. The HITFACT turret also includes electrical drives and stabilization systems, the old TAM tank might still use the more dangerous hydraulic approach.