Thursday, December 22, 2016

Marders to Jordan

Jordan has received an initial batch of 16 ex-German Marder infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs) on the 11th December of 2016 as part of German military aid. The delivery also included 20 mm RH202 autocannons, spare parts and a Marder driver training vehicle. It must be noted that the permission for an export of 24 Marders, 28 Rh 202 autocannons and one Marder driver training vehicle to Jordan was given for 2016. The costs of this equipment is €12.8 million. This means that most likely a second batch of Marders will be shipped this year. A total of 50 Marder IFVs are being delivered to Jordan until end of 2017. Furthermore Jordan is set to receive surveillance equipment, 56 vans and 70 trucks.
The military aid to Jordan is part of a bigger initiative, which costs about €100 million in 2016 and €130 million in 2017. Other recipients of the German military aid are the Iraq, Tunesia, Mali, Nigeria and Niger. Jordan received about €25 million from the German government in order to be able to purchase the Marders.

Marder 1A3s being handed over to the Jordanian Army
The Marder IFV is an older design, being introduced into German Army service in 1971. It replaced the HS.30 Sch├╝tzenpanzer lang, the first infantry fighting vehicle of the world. While offering only average firepower for it's time, the Marder was designed to feature a higher degree of armor protection, being heavier than all other IFV counterparts of the same era.

The Marder 1A3 is fitted with spaced applique armor, even at the roof

The engine cover of the Marder has a thickness of 11 mm, which together with the slope of 78° leads to an effective thickness of 53 milimetres. Supposedly the rest of the upper hull front is slightly thicker at 15 mm. The lower hull front has a thickness of 32 mm sloped at 24°, leading to a thickness of 35 mm from the front. The side armor is only 15 mm thick, but sloped at the upper part and covered behind the sideskirts at the lower sections. The armor of the low-profile turret is 25 mm thick at the front, which due to the 40° slope results in a line of sight thickness of 33 mm.

Marder 1A3 turret after being hit by 30 mm ammunition
Jordan received the Marder 1A3 variant, which can be identified by the thicker armor, but still features the old sideskirts with a wave-pattern. This version features no additional mine protection plate, which seems to be a miscalculation, based on how improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and mines are commonly used by insurgents and terrorists.
The main change in the Marder 1A3 compared to earlier versions is a further layer of spaced armor being fitted to the front, sides and also the roof. This raised the weight of the vehicle by about 5.5 metric tons. The exact protection level of this armor is unknown, but it has been tested against 30 mm ammunition (either AP or APDS) fired from 400 metres distance without any penetration of the main armor. The sides are resistant against 14.5 mm AP ammunition fired from short ranges.

The Mader 1A3 upgrade entered service in 1989
The exact thickness of the add-on armor is still unknown, but it's frontal add-on plate is estimated to be about 7 to 10 mm thick. The add-on armor is spaced several centimetres apart form the base armor, the steel stand-offs include a special rubber padding. This allows the armor to be a lot more effective than just a single layer of steel with equal thickness. Unlike many other combat vehicles such as the Bradley and Warrior, the Marder's armor upgrade also enhanced the roof protection.

The biggest downside of the Marder is the firepower. While being rather well armed in the 1970s and still very acceptable in the 1980s, the lack of firepower upgrades has worsened the situation. The Marder has no fire on the move capability and hunter/killer capability, two features that were added to the M2A3 Bradley in the late 1990s. The 20 mm Rh 202 autocannon of the Marder was still capable of defeating the Soviet-designed BMP-1, BMP-2 and BMP-3 at 1,000 metres or more using the APDS ammunition.

Currently all Marders are armed with the Rh 202 gun
The original upgrade proposal of the German industry that lead to the Marder 1A3 also featured a 25 mm autocannon and a 720 hp engine, but neither of these features were not adopted by the German Army. A main reason for this the development of a Marder successor, starting with the Marder 2 infantry fighting vehicle developed in the late 1980s. The development of the Marder 2 was started in 1984 (first requirements), the first prototype was delivered in 1991. The collapse of the Soviet Union however meant a re-thinking of the German defence doctrine, which lead to the cancellation of the Marder 2. After the Marder 2 project was ended, the requirements for a new IFV were incorporated in the Neue Gepanzerte Plattform (NGP, "new armored platform") in 1996. While the original NGP was meant to include a modular chassis for all tracked combat vehicles (including main battle tanks, recovery vehicles, self-propelled guns, etc.), all of them were canceled except for the IFV. The IFV version of the NGP then became - after numerous design and requirement changes, reducing the maximum weight by 45% - the current Puma IFV. In German service the Marder 1 is currently being replaced by the Puma IFV, it entered service in 2014.

The Marder 2 was the first IFV with hunter/killer capabilty and ceramic armor
Meanwhile Germany has decided to upgrade a small amount of Marders as a result of cuts to the Puma order (reduced from 410 to 350 vehicles) and production delays (most of which are result of modifying the Puma's design to meet new requirements). The upgrade is scheduled to include new thermal imagers for 200 Marders and the MELLS (multi-role guided missile system), a version of the Israeli SPIKE-LR anti-tank guided missile.
The Marder has been exported to Chile and Indonesia. 237 Marders were sold to Chile, while Indonesia bought only 50. A sale of more than 400 Marder 1A3 IFVs to Greece failed due to the international finance crisis. Tunesia is scheduled for receiving the Marder infantry fighting vehicles in an unknown quantity.

Aside of the planned German Army upgrades to optronics and missile system, a number of further upgrade options are available for the Marder. A very simple upgrade option is replacing the turret with an off-the-shelf turret design for enhanced firepower. KUKA, now a part of Rheinmetall, offered the M12 with Mauser 30 mm autocannon for the Marder in the late 1990s. Furthermore a number of different turrets have been tested on the Marder during the 1970s to 1990s.

The protection can be enhanced by installing add-on armor, the Marder still should have enough weight left for this. Two types of explosive reactive armor, the French BRENUS and the German CLARA designs, have been tested on the Marder. Alternatively slat armor or lightweight composite armor such as RUAG's SidePRO-RPG could be fitted to the Marder, if needed (Germany considered slat armor a bad solution and has rejcted the use of it). The Active Defence System (ADS) developed by IBD Deisenroth in cooperation with Rheinmetall has been tested on the Marder 1A5.

The Marder CCV is fitted with an unmanned Lance-RC turret
More complex upgrades inlcude the Marder CCV, which was developed for Canada's close combat vehicle (CCV) requirement. This variant is fitted with thick layers of AMAP composite armor, a remotely-controlled Lance-RC turret with Wotan 30 mm chain gun, an air conditioning unit and an upgraded engine. The Marder CCV has not been purchased by any country yet.

The Lynx is apparently based on the Marder's hull
The new Lynx family of combat is believed to be based on the Marder 1A3. More specifcially, the Marder hull is used as the base of the Lynx, but essentially all internal components are replaced by Rheinmetall. The powerpack is changed, the tracks are replaced, a new turret is fitted, some armor elements are replaced. the Lynx also includes modern computer systems and optics.
The IFV variant of the Lynx is fitted with a two-men Lance modular turret armed with either a Wotan 30 mm or 35 mm chain gun. These guns have a magnetic coil for firing Rheinmetall's suite of programmable ammunition. Furthermore the turret can be fitted with a remote weapon station (RWS) slaved to the commander's main optic and a dual-launcher for SPIKE-LR ATGMs. The Lynx has been offered to Australia as part of the LAND 400 program.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Leopard 2 in Syria

Turkish Leopard 2 tanks are actively operating in the war in Syria. The tanks have been photographed at different locations near the town of Al Bab, which is located about 35 kilometres (21.7 miles) north-eastern of Aleppo. A few photos were shared on Twitter, apparently taken by Turkish soldiers. More detailed photos and video footage was provided by the SMART news agency, which is said to have ties to Syrian rebels.

Turkish Leopard 2A4 in Syria
The Turkish Army is operating the Leopard 2 main battle tank (MBT) since 2005, when an initial batch of 298 Leopard 2 tanks was ordered. A further 56 tanks were purchased in 2010 and 2013. The Turkish military previoulsy tested the Leopard 2 Improved (Leopard 2A5/6 prototype), the Leclerc with additional armor package, the Ukrainian T-84-120 Yatagan tank (a version of the T-84 fitted with 120 mm gun and bustle-mounted autoloader) aswell as the M1A2 Abrams fitted with the MT883 diesel engine (as the gas turbine proved to be a main issue for potential buyers). The Leopard 2 Improved performed best, however the Turkish government didn't purchase the tanks in the originally planned volume and version (up to a thousand Leopard 2A5 tanks were wanted by the military). Instead the Turkish goverment favored the  local production of MBTs, where the bid by the South-Korean company Hyundai-Rotem was chosen over Krauss-Maffei Wegmann's offer, because it included the full transfer of technology instead being a licence production agreement. This lead to the Altay main battle tank, based on South-Korean technology used on the K2 Black Panther MBT.

The Turkish Army has been operating the M60 tank and the upgraded M60T Sabra in Syria since a few months already. The Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks were held back, despite offering a few key advantages over the other tanks. The reason for this is that the Turkish purchase of the Leopard 2 was very controversial in Germany, Turkey even had to sign an agreement permitting the usage of the tanks for other tasks than pure self-defence. As revealed in an interview with the Turkish journalist and military expert Mete Sohtao─člu by the German BILD magazine, the agreement on cooperation between the two countries in 2009 gave the Turkish Army the permission to use the Leopard 2 tanks in combat. It seems possible that this permission was still limited to operations in Turkey only and the Turkish Army was allowed to use the Leopard 2 in Syria just a few months ago.

Turkish Leopard 2s after arriving in Syria
The exact number of Leopard 2 tanks being used in combat is currently still unknown. However photographs show that there are at least eleven tanks painted in the new desert camouflage scheme, suggesting that at least a full company of tanks is operational in Syria. It has been claimed that the Turkish tanks operate in platoons of three tanks, which is rather unique as most tank platoons consist of four or even five tanks. According to a Spanish blogger, 18 Leopard 2A4 tanks arrived in Syria at the 8th December 2016, followed by a further 25 tanks arriving two days later. This information is apparently based on various photographs of tanks being transported to the border. If correct, this means that there is most likely a complete Leopard 2 tank battalion deployed in Syria or to the Syrian border region.

Leopard 2 being hit by an ATGM (click to enlarge)
In one incident a tank was apparently hit by an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). The Leopard 2 was in a hull-down position, the hull being located behind a large heap of ground. The missile hit the turret section of the tank, it is not known if it was penetrated or not. The missile that hit the MBT is supposedly an US-made TOW-2A ATGM. Rumors are conflicting on what happened to the tank: some sources claim that the tank's armor was not penetrated, other suggest that the armor was penetrated, but noone died due to the ammunition not being incinerated by the spall.

Two further Leopard 2s being engaged by ATGMs (click to enlarge)
In a further incident two further Leopard 2 MBTs were attacked with ATGMs. The enemies attacked the tanks from behind the Turkish lines, launching the missiles at the sides and rear of the tanks. A first ATGM disabled the tank closest to the camera, but no ammunition was set on fire - this means that even if the ATGM managed to penetrate the tank's armor, there is a rather high probability that not all crew members died, but were only injured. On a tank without separated ammunition storage in the turret, such as the Italian Ariete MBT or different versions of the T-72 and T-80, a penetration at this spot could lead to the death of the whole crew.

The second tank was apparently hit from diagonal from behind, hitting the turret bustle. It was hit after the first tank already took an ATGM to it's turret, the crew apparently was completely ignoring this fact. The tank did not try to secure the flank from which the enemy ATGMs were launched, something that should have been done after the first missile hitting. The missile set either the hydraulic systems or the turret ammunition on fire, leading to a visible blast and flames. In the Leopard 2 the turret hydraulics and the turret ammunition are located in separate compartments, which are isolated from the crew. So in theory there still is no proof that the crew compartment was penetrated - the crew might have survived with no or little injuries only. However when being hit by a powerful ATGM from behind (which could lead to a penetration of the compartment walls/door) or when the door of the ammunition compartment is open, the detonation could also kill the crew. It is not known if any Turkish soldiers died in any of the three Leopard 2 tanks hit by ATGMs.

The armor generations of the original Leopard 2 production models
A big issue with the Turkish Leopard 2 tanks is the fact that they are outdated, they are not designed to resist currently available ATGMs and their armor is completely focused on protecting the frontal arc. It is not clear which armor package is fitted to the Turkish Leopard 2A4. While the late production Leopard 2A4 tanks received stronger armor inserts, all older production models were converted to the Leopard 2A4 configuration - without changing the armor composition! In fact even a few of the newly built Leopard 2A4 tanks were built with one of the older armor packages. Between 1979 and 1992 (the time were the Leopard 2 tank was series produced in Germany) three different generations of armor were used. It is not known if these are identical with single armor packages or mutliple different armor packages were used within a "technology generation". The first generation armor was introduced in 1979, while the second generation armor (1988) and third generation armor (1991) were exlusively used on Leopard 2A4 tanks.

Leopard 2A7 prototype fitted with additional armor to protect against RPGs and ATGMs
More modern armor packages were introduced in the German Army variants in the late 1990s with the Leopard 2A5/2A6 and in 2014 with the Leopard 2A7. Furthermore a number of companies such as Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), Rheinmetall/IBD Deisenroth and RUAG are offering armor upgrades beyond the current Leopard 2A7, usually by mounting external armor modules at the front, sides, rear and roof. The protection can also be enhanced by adding a new softkill or hardkill active protection systems (APS). The MUSS softkill system has been tested on the Leopard 2 in 2003 and has been fielded on the Puma IFV. It is capable of jamming most missile systems and automatically hiding the tank behind a multi-spectral cloud of smoke, generated by firing special smoke grenade dischargers.

Why does this matter? Because the Turkish Leopard 2 tanks are older models upgraded to the 2A4 variant (easy to identify thanks to the old ammunition hatch) and not newer production vehicles, which were built with better armor packages. While KMW does offer upgrading the armor inserts to a newer generation - or at least the company did offer this option in the past - there are no reports about the Turkish Leopard 2A4 tanks being upgraded. As the Turkish Army wanted and tested the Leopard 2 Improved, it seems most likely that the original plan saw the upgrade of all purchased Leopard 2A4s to the Leopard 2A6 configuration at a later point of time, a plan probably stopped in favour of the Altay development.

The AMAP armor modules installed on the Leopard 2NG

Turkey might attempt to push the Leopard 2NG into service. The Leopard 2NG (Next Generation) is an upgrade developed as a private venture by the Turkish company Aselsan with a number of partners. While this upgrade replaces the optroncis and fire control system, it also includes new electric gun and turret drives, a remote wepaon station (RWS) and a new fire supression system. The Leopard 2NG is also using IBD's AMAP armor package for enhanced protection against anti-tank ammunition, missiles, mines and improvised explosive devices.

More important than the technology used on a tank might be the tactics on how the tank is being used. The Turkish Leopard 2 tanks seem to be poorly employed, sitting always behind heaps of ground in a hull-down position. While a hull-down position is favourable in certain situations -  such as symmetric warfare when the direction from which the enemy will approach is known - it is not a good idea for the tanks to remain in a static position without proper protection, when they can be attacked from the side and rear aswell. In the incident where two tanks were hit, the crew of the second tank was apparently not reacting at all - they simply ignored that the other Leopard 2 has been hit by an ATGM some time ago, the crew apparetnly didn't care about taking out the enemy ATGM team. 
When using tanks in a static emplacement just for fire support, one should expect them to be used in a secured perimeter. If the tanks are not capable of securing the area by themselves, then infantry or other combat vehicles should take over the task. Surveillance and reconnaisance vehicles with thermal imagers should have no issues detecting enemy ATGM teams and infantry even at long distances. The Turkish Army doesn't seem to employ the tanks as part of a combined arms doctrine - tanks are always seen operating alone and not together with (mechanized or motorized) infantry. Instead the Leopard 2 tanks seem to play sitting ducks and serve as more expensive artillery replacement... a cheap 120 mm mortar carrier vehicle would probably be better suited for this job.