Saturday, December 16, 2017

Up-armored Leclerc operational with UAE Army

The United Arab Emirates is operating a variant of the Leclerc main battle tank (MBT) fitted with applique armor. This armor is understood to be explosive reactive armor (ERA) made by Dynamit Nobel Defence (DND) of Germany. In 2016 the company was contracted by the military of the UAE to provide reactive armor kits for more than 200 Leclerc MBTs. According to the official report on arms export from Germany, the contract has a total value of €125.84 million, suggesting that each ERA kit costs about €500,000.

Extract of the arms export report
Footage showing an up-armored Leclerc MBT was released by the Emirati News Agency on the 9th December 2017. According to the corresponding news article, the video shows forces of the United Arab Emirates together with allies advancing on the western coast of Yemen, where the vehicles are used to combat Houthi rebels.
Dynamit Nobel Defence used to market its explosive reactive armor under the acronym CLARA, which stands for "composite lightweight adaptable reactive armour", but in the recent years the name HL-Schutz Rad/Kette ("shaped charge protection for wheeled and tracked vehicles" abbreviated in German) has been used on the domestic market at least. The key difference between other ERA solutions and DND's CLARA/HL-Schutz Rad/Kette lies in the construction. While conventional reactive armor utilizes metal (usually steel) for the flyer plates, which is rather heavy and endangers nearby infantry, the armor from DND is free of metals. Tests have shown that fragments from the flyer plates of ERA can reach several metres distance from the impact point, forming dangerous projectiles for dismounted soldiers and civilians in close proximity of the vehicle.
To deal with this issue, DND's ERA solution is totally free of metal (except for the screws to hold the tiles). According to patent descriptions, the armor might make use of glas fibres, carbon fibres, aramid fibres, ceramic fibres and/or PBO (Polybenzbisoxazolediylpenhylene) fibres. The fibres can also be combined with each other or with particles made of the previous mentioned materials. A secondary plate made from a ballistic textile (such as kevlar) can also be incorporated into the armor. It has been suggested to wrap the explosives in aluminium foil for easier handling.
For optimal performance, the ERA can consist of multiple spaced plates; the empty space can be filled with rubber, ceramics or plastics to maximize protection.

CLARA/HL-Schutz Rad/Kette has been claimed to provide more than ten times as much protection as "conventional armor" against shaped charge warheads as found on rocked-propelled grenades (RPGs) and anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs). It is not mentiond wether this means simple steel armor or some type of passive composite armor. When including an anti-KE plate, DND's ERA can also provide sufficient protection against kinetic energy penetrators (KEPs) to stop medium calibre ammunition and explosively formed penetrators (EFPs).
CLARA has been trialed on the Marder infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) and on the Boxer armored personnel carrier (APC), while it was proposed as armor upgrade for the Fennek scout car. HL-Schutz Rad/Kette has been adopted on the Puma IFV, where it is used to protect the upper section of the hull flanks; the lower sections are fitted with composite armor modules instead.

Leclerc fitted with ERA from Dynamit Nobel Defence
In case of the UAE's Leclerc Tropicalisé, the armor kit makes use of very large ERA modules. On the right side of the vehicle are 17 modules covering the hull side and the turret side, but leaving the the engine compartment exposed. Presuambly the same amount of armor modules is used to protect the left side of the tank. The turret rear of the is protected by six smaller tiles.
The large size of the ERA modules suggests that inside each module, multiple smaller ERA plates are located; otherwise it would be a rather bad design, given that ERA has a low multi-hit capability and thus a single hit would leave an unnecessarily large gap in the armor array. At the moment it is not known if the ERA also covers the Leclerc's front.

Leclerc with AZUR kit operated by the UAE's military
The basic Leclerc Tropicalisé operated by the United Arab Emirates Army already features upgraded armor protection over the French model, at least in terms of side armor: while the French MBTs have only three heavy ballistic skirt elements made out of composite armor on each side of the hull, the tropicalized variant of the tank features a total of eight composite armor skits per side instead - a configuration also offered to Greece during the early 2000s. The UAE also purchased the AZUR (Action en Zone Urbaine) urban combat package, which is comparable to the American TUSK (Tank Urban Survival Kit) for the M1 Abrams and the PSO (Peace Support Operation) package for the Leopard 2. The AZUR upgrade was ordered by the UAE for 15 MBTs in 2011. A version of the AZUR kit is part of the upgraded Leclerc Rénové as part of the French SCORPION program. 

On some of the AZUR-equipped tanks operated by the United Arab Emirates a further slat armor section was added to protect the lower front hull. Supposedly the combat performance of the Leclerc (and the UAE Army in general) has been rather good, but a few months ago it was reported that a single tank was penetrated by a RPG-29 at the lower front plate.

Addendum: Puma IFV performance in Czech trials

The latest issue of the InfoBrief Heer, a newsletter from the Förderkreis Deutsches Heer e.V., includes an article on the performance of the Puma infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) in the Czech trials written by Mathias Kraus, Head of Sales and Marketing of the company Projekt System & Management GmbH (PSM). The Förderkreis Deutsches Heer e.V. is a club and lobby group consisting of members of the military, politics and industry that is focused on the German land forces and its military procurements. PSM is a joint-venture between Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KWM) and Rheinmetall, the two companies that together manufacture the new IFV and various other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs).
Puma climbing a slope during the Czech trials
According to the article, the trials consisted of three parts: static trials, dynamic trials and firing trials. Static trials were focused on gathering data regarding size, weight, ergonomy, protection, armament and optics. The dynamic trials included driving along a test track and determining factors affecting the mobility of the vehicle, such as top speed on road and cross-country, maximum fording depth, the ability to drive along (side) slopes and the ability to climb over smaller obstacles. The firing tests included firing at targets at a distance of 1,200 and 1,800 metres. Given the armament and optics of modern infantry fighting vehicles, this is far below the maximum effective range of the 30 x 173 mm guns used on all of the tested IFVs (the German Army requirement for the Puma was an effective gun range of 3,000 metres), but it might be a valid representation of the combat range expected in the Czech Republic; during the Cold War the average distance for tank-vs-tank combat in Central Europe was estimated to be between 1,000 and 2,000 metres according to different studies from NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.

IFV Production line in Germany
Each IFV fired a burst of five rounds against each target; therefore each contender for the BMP-2 replacement fired overall 40 shots on eight targets that had to be hit. At the day of the firing tests, the weather was supposedly extremely windy, making it rather hard to hit the targets. The Puma IFV missed three shots and hit all of the other 37 rounds, thus every target was hit more than once, most of them were hit five tims. The other contenders - BAE Systems' CV90 in two variants, the ASCOD 2 from General Dynamics and Rheinmetall's Lynx IFV - all missed at least one of the targets. In fact Mr. Kraus claims that the second best IFV managed to score only about half as much hits as the Puma, which based on the other information should be about 18 to 19 hits on targets.
Due to the high complexity and sophistication of modern armored fighting vehicles, relability is often a problem, specifically if it is an untested AFV or new variant of an existing design. In case of the Czech trials, except for the Puma - the only IFV tested in a production variant - all IFVs had some sorts of issues with the reliability of some major components. The ASCOD 2, both CV90 variants and the Lynx all had to repeat at least one of the tests, because parts broke down or malfunctioned. That doesn't mean that the Puma IFV had no issues - it only means that there weren't any major troubles during the tests that required the components. Smaller/less important parts of the IFV still might have failed, as the statement from the article only speaks about the reliability of components relevant to the tests.
A difference between the Puma and the other contenders was the fact that the former was a production vehicle for the German Army, fitted with all equipment and tools required by the military. This included a battlefield management system and radios, which were absent on (some of) the other IFVs tested as BMP-2 replacement.

Model of a pre-series Puma IFV with MELLS
Already a long time before the trials, the governments of Germany and the Czech Republic decided to deepen their defence cooperation. On the 15th of February 2017 the ministers of defence of both nations signed a memorandum of understanding regarding this topic, which also includes the Czech 4th Rapid Deployment Brigade being subordinated to the German 10th Tank Division. Last but not least one should not forget that the source of this information: the head of sales from PSM should hardly be considered an impartial observer; still there are reasons to believe that he didn't blatantly lied or greatly exaggerated the performance of the Puma and the problems of the other contenders. In the end 50% of the company PSM is owned by Rheinmetall, which offered the Lynx IFV as alternative to the ASCOD 2, CV90 and Puma. Thus if Mr. Kraus lied in regards to the lower accuracy and reliability of the other options, he also would have lied about the Lynx which most likely would result in him loosing his job (negatively reporting in the press about a product from the company that writes part of your paychecks won't make your employer keep you).
Meanwhile the MELLS dual-missile launcher for the Spike-LR anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), which should be compatible with the improved Spike-LR II due to both variants of  using the same interfaces, is being tested in the WTD 41 technical centre in Germany.