A Question of Procurement 1: MBTs

Okay, so all the boilerplate out is out of the way. On to the problems! Since Borgundy is very much a traditional, continental power that focuses on conventional warfare, we’re going to be spending some time with the army first. We’ll buy some front-line combat vehicles: MBTs and IFVs. First up, the MBT.

I love tanks. Tanks are wonderful things, and modern tanks are fascinating beasts of battle. But which to buy? Well, that very much depends on your combat doctrine. Borgundy’s ground doctrine is a lot more tank-centric than you might expect from being a NATO member. In fact, they’ve probably stolen more than a few pages from the Soviet doctrine on ground combat. And, being in Northern Europe, there are rivers and other waterways, which mean bridge crossings are going to be a factor in movement in theater. At first, this would seem to suggest that I’d go Russian for my tanks, which tend to be good at fording and light to pass over the crappy infrastructure of Eastern Europe.

But this would be wrong. For one thing, they’re not logistically compatible with NATO weapons.  More importantly, they’re not as good from a firepower or protection standpoint. The Russian 125mm smoothbore is lower pressure than the 120mm NATO ones, and the Russians haven’t kept up on their projectile design, so their APFSDS rounds penetrate less armor than the current state-of-the-art from Germany or America. Russian tanks, historically, have been small and light. They get their protection from ERA tiles–which have gaps which the tiles don’t cover and are weak where different tiles meet. They’re also not very good against follow-up shots. Frankly, I trust boring old composite armors more. Plus, Russian tanks don’t have the fancy internal electronic systems that the Western tanks do. So, we’ll be going Western for our tanks.

Here’s where it gets interesting. There are lots of western tank makers. Probably the most obvious choice to anyone who knows me is the M1 Abrams. This is my favorite tank, actually. Great speed and tactical mobility, great firepower, and great protection. Plus, it pioneered fancy electronic things like an independent commander’s sight and a battle managment computer. However, there are a few factors that make it a poor procurement choice for Borgundy. The first and most obvious is its gas turbine engine, the AGT-1500. This has notoriously poor fuel economy at idle. It’s closer to, but still not as good as, a diesel at high speeds. Fuel economy would have been improved if they had put in the LV 100-5, a newer gas turbine design with improved fuel economy, but that program died with the Crusader Project (Thanks a lot, Rumsfeld). The AGT-1500s are also old and a pain to maintain. There are some good things going for the gas turbine though, namely really nice acceleration and that they start in cold environments easily. They’ll also run on just about any flammable liquid.

If the only downside to the Abrams was its gas turbine engine, I’d probably be okay with it. However, there’s another issue: materials. The Abrams has some really nice armor of some top secret composition. The export models (“Monkey Models” in analyst parlance) have a lesser form of armor. Export customers also don’t get the fancy American depleted uranium-alloy rounds. Again, you get something less. Is it bad? No, but it’s not as good as the top shelf. So it’s also almost certainly less good than the competitors. A lot of this is speculation, I don’t actually get to see real-world data on these, just the estimates. But all estimates put the newest Abramses in about the same protection class as it’s contemporaries, so a downgraded export model wouldn’t be as good. And who wants to get the ‘monkey model’ anything when they don’t have to? So, Abrams is out.

Another obvious choice, since I do put a premium on protection, is the Challenger 2. This is a British tank, and by all accounts it’s very tough to kill. To make the export model competitive, the Brits even put a proper 1,500 hp engine in it to make up for the weight. For some reason, they use a 1,200 hp diesel in the regular army ones. There are two problems with the Challenger though. First, it has a rifled gun that uses two-piece ammunition. So you’re stuck with developing for something different than everybody else’s smoothbore 120mm guns that fire one piece ammunition, and you can’t share. Second, the rounds it does have aren’t quite as good at tank killing as the latest from Germany or America, because the Brits haven’t kept up with round development. So you’re stuck behind the curve. (Also, it’s technically not offered any more, but it was recently, and it’s a pretty well-known tank to discuss all the same).

Next we come to the Leclerc. It’s a French tank of relatively recent design. It has an autoloader that does a good job of isolating rounds from the crew, an improvement over Soviet designs. It also is good at deep fording, is relatively mobile, and has a very good fire control system. However, I’m not generally a fan of autoloaders. And the protection on the Leclerc is mediocre. Not bad, just not as good as its contemporaries. It’s also stupidly expensive because of the low production rate. I’m not averse to expensive things (ask Fishbreath), but I really don’t see myself as getting more bang for my buck here.

So now we come to my choice: the Leopard 2E. It’s got a big, 1,500 hp V12, so it has plenty of power. It has the most powerful tank gun…in the world, the Rheinmetall 120mm/L55 smoothbore. The Germans develop some very nice tungsten APFSDS rounds for it, and you can use any NATO standard 120mm one-piece ammo. So you’re not shackled ot one supplier. It’s even been tested firing the Israeli LAHAT gun-launched ATGM. The 2E has enhanced armor on the turret face, on the hull glacis, and on the roof over the older Leopards. It even has good deep-water fording capability (4 m if you erect the snorkel) and has a modern, computerized fire control suite with all the usual trimmings.

So there you have it. My pick of Tank Buy. I’ll let Fishbreath write up his own ode to the T-90. I know this is probably a really boring pick (Sweeden came to a similar decision in a test of these very tanks), but them’s the breaks. It’s the most popular tank on the export market for a reason–it does a lot of things very well. There are some that do specific things better, but it’s really hard to find a big enough improvement to justify the other trade-offs. And no, I’m not going to apologize for picking the Glock of modern MBT procurement. I’m no tank-hipster. No points for guessing the standard sidearm of Borgundy either. On to Infantry Fighting Vehicles.

Comment on our procurement posts in the Procurement Games comment thread.