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. ↩