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.

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