It appears that I have made a minor screwup, dear reader. In my 2018 MBT roundup, I neglected to come down on a choice for Borgundy. Also, I completely left out the Merkava 4. I will rectify them both here.
To make our comparison easier, it will help to pick a winner from our roundup. It is a tossup, and we don’t have much in the way of political or pricing configurations to throw in. But let’s break it down anyway. As far as I’m aware, the Abrams has never been offered for export with the depleted uranium armor. That said, it’s been offered with arrays of similar weight, so it shouldn’t be terribly worse off. Sweden’s testing showed that even with some supplemental armor on M1A2, Leopard 2A5 had overall better protection. Abrams could also really use a gun upgrade or else we’d be stuck hoping the US will sell their latest antitank rounds. The Abrams has been fitted with an L55 gun, but there were stabilization issues and the US Army hasn’t paid to fix them yet with a new stabilizer. We could, but that violates my COTS rules. So the Abrams is out.
My COTS rules also give the Leopard 2 the win over the K2, though here it’s much closer. The superior gun and some of the available protection options make the Leopard the better buy given the rules I have set for myself. Clearly Samsung Techwin could work up a solution and present it for evaluation (fixing the gun problem is pretty simple, really), but as I am limited to armchair analysis, I have to make do with what I have. The K2’s lack of a good top-attack armor protection solution is problematic, as is its acceptance of more weaker zones on oblique shots in the pursuit of less weight. So the Leopard 2 is our champion.
Let’s now throw the Merkava 4’s hat into the ring. I know it hasn’t been compared in any trials, but that’s part of the fun. I’m pretty confident the Israelis would export it if someone asked. The Merkava is a big, heavy, generally well-protected tank with some unique design features. These features are based on Israel’s experience in the Yom Kippur war, among others. These features include a front-mounted engine, door at the rear of the hull for easy resupply, removable ammo racks at the rear of the hull to allow the Merkava to evacuate soldiers, and a 60mm mortar in the turret.
The Merkava 4 has a 120mm L44 smoothbore gun. The MG253 on the Merkava 4 has a longer than standard recoil length, and should be able to take higher pressure ammunition. As far as I am aware, the Israelis do not use depleted uranium in their APFSDS rounds. Admittedly, they don’t have much in the way of modern armor threats to prepare for these days.
On to the comparison. I would expect the Leopard’s L55 gun to be able to get better penetration than the L44 gun on the Merkava, even with enhanced ammunition in the Merkava. I would certainly expect the L55A1 gun to do better. Advantage Leopard.
In terms of protection, it’s hard for me to adequately gauge protection levels. Merkava 4 seems to have better protection on the sides and roof of the turret. It also seems to lack wide skirts like those available on the Leopard 2. Also, the Israeli armor arrays are optimized towards the threats they face, which tend to be lots of ATGMs, and not much in the way of APFSDS threats. We’d expect Merkava, with all of its heavy side and roof protection and very large frontal profile to be less well protected towards the front.
I’d also like to talk a little about ammunition stowage. The Leopard 2 has 15 ready rounds in the rear of the turret. There’s another 22 or 27 (depending on version) rounds stored in the front hull, next to the driver. This provides good protection across the frontal arc, but does leave the ammunition vulnerable to side hits. No blow out panels or bulkheads are provided. The Merkava 4 has ten ready rounds in a pair of drums which can present rounds to the loader. Remaining rounds are stored in cases at the rear of the hull. These can be removed to facilitate evacuating wounded. There are no bulkheads or blowoff panels for the Merkava’s hull ammo storage either. Given its location, the ammo storage on the Merkava is vulnerable to side hits as well as wider-angle shots from the front arc that penetrate the side armor and hit the front of the storage area. It’s a small thing, but I prefer the storage arrangement on the Leopard 2. I also prefer the Leopard 2’s larger ready ammo supply.
Merkava 4 has an in-production active protection system. The Leopard 2’s has been trialled, but none have been ordered yet by Germany. At least one user has placed orders, though.
Overall, I think the Leopard 2 is the better buy. It’s better suited for tank v. tank combat, which is the first mission of Borgundy’s MBT Corps. Leopard 2 has the better main gun. It has very good frontal armor, and adequate side protection considering that we do not expect to fight an irregular war with extremely well equipped terrorists.1 Plus, the Leopard 2 has a number of available configurations, and is more easily tailored to the customer’s needs. Additionally, it’s protection is more forward oriented. And of course, Leopard 2 has a ton of excellent upgrades available.
- I.e. we are not fighting Hezbollah anytime soon. ↩
I know you’re somewhat prejudiced against Chally 2, but would you be willing to consider Leclerc or Ariete? The Leclerc variants serving with the UAE have some pretty nifty applique armor modules to look at.
Challenger 2, Leclerc, and Ariete were not considered above because they aren’t in production right now (and the procurement games frown upon that). That said, I’ll briefly talk about them.
Re: Leclerc, the applique modules seem mostly to be on the side, and there was the one hit from iirc a Kornet that went through the glacis and killed the driver. Plus, Leclerc has done poorly in both the Greek and Swedish trials. The side applique armor is nice, but Abrams and Leopard 2 also have some high quality side applique packages available, and with better frontal armor and more useful variants (bridgelayer etc.).
Ariete has questionable protection and was never offered for export anywhere. I know very little about it, though picture seem to indicate the turret side armor is awful. And I have no idea where the Italians would have imported tank engineering talent from.
I wouldn’t say I’m prejudiced against Challenger 2. I lack evidence of the superiority of its protection/firepower/mobility. I am open to evidence that would convince me otherwise.
Ariete doesn’t seem very special right now, but apparently the Italians are putting together a MK2 variant with an autoloader, new hydropneumatic suspension, modernized FCS and additional armor. Once it shows up, that might be interesting.
Sure. It could be. Maybe. But there’s no history of quality there.
Or I could buy a known good tank from an established maker now, and play around with their upgrade packages that may actually happen.
It could become the next supertank! If I’m looking at that maybe-never project, why not all kinds of American/German projects that might not get off the ground? Or resurrect Crusader or something? There are experimental projects I’d have more confidence in than the broke italians who have never made a good tank before.
For that matter we could also look into the Abrams Autoloader conversion, the Abrams L55 project, the Abrams diesel conversion, slapping the Falcon turret on Challenger 2….
The Jordanians replacing the turrets of their Chally 1s with Falcon is the biggest slap in the face known to man. The Chally 1’s turret is the most aesthetically superb turret of all time, and still manages to look futuristic 35 years after it first appeared. Chally 2 comes close, but not completely.
I don’t really have that strong of an opinion on the superiority of one modern MBT to another, but I was just throwing a couple of ideas off the wall. Buying Leopard 2…. just like everyone else – is kind of a boring answer, even if it isn’t wrong.
Haha, it is a massively ugly turret.
Oh it’s totally a valid ask, and bouncing ideas off the wall is always welcome! The Leopard 2 is kind of a boring answer, but I often tend towards conservative, boring solutions. If everyone is picking the same something, it’s usually pretty good, and I’ll probably be picking it too. There’s a pretty good reason for it.
Between the two of us, Fishbreath is more likely to be unconventional (unless it’s heavy armor).
Also I tend to heavily weight competitive evals when I can find them because they get the classified briefings that I don’t have. For things like small arms, I can actually do eval work myself and form opinions there…
It’s important to note that one of the reasons I’m more unconventional is that I don’t do as much research.
Competitive evals and inter-nation tank trials are all fun and good, but the real crucible is combat. The Chally 1 got absolutely demolished at the Canadian Army Trophy Competition (CAT ’87), but when sent to Iraq, the British advanced nearly 350 km within 97 hours, and smashed the Iraqi 46th Mechanised Brigade, 52th Armoured Brigade and elements of at least three infantry divisions belonging to the Iraqi 7th corps. In total, Chally 1 knocked out 300 Iraqi tanks and thousands of other vehicles without taking a single loss, and still holds the record for longest range tank kill at 5 km+, all while maintaining higher serviceability rates and fuel efficiency than the M1A1 serving alongside it.
I’m not saying that competition results and evals are invalid, but the Brits have yet to let me down.
For a poorer country, I wonder if the K1A2 would not work…
Out of production, IIRC. I don’t know if there are extras laying around.
There are a ton of M1A1s in storage that could be bought and lightly/moderately modified. Ties you to the thirsty gas turbine though.
Heck, the large stocks of existing tanks could let the US put their thumb on the scale if they wanted, since they could probably get everything to Borgundy a lot faster than KMW. We’d just have to settle for the L44 gun or paying for the new stabilizer.
What’s wrong with the L44 gun if your politicians haven’t banned DU darts? Besides, it’s not like you’re going to have to fight the T-14 anymore.
Mostly that I have a strong preference for the best tank gun available. 🙂 It’s a lot easier to develop new shells than fit a new gun. Plus, there are lots of tungsten-derived APFSDS makers these days, and that seems preferable to depending on the US for shells.
The US Army’s frequent investigation into longer gunbarrels for the Abrams suggests there’s some merit to the idea, even if DU APFSDS (and clever design) seems to be doing well for now.
Also, w.r.t. Abrams offers, I can’t tell if the DU shells would be available to NATO members if they asked/didn’t have the political objections, given the limited pool of tenders. So if you can’t get M829A4, that’s no good at all.