The war in Ukraine has shown the world that armored combat often leaves tanks in smoking ruins due to tank-on-tank fire, anti-tank guided missiles, artillery shells, mines, and drone attacks.
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The French army is preparing for a future war in which its Leclerc main battle tank is more effective and survivable, should NATO ever need to respond to a Russian attack against one of the pact’s alliance members.
France has a new defense plan called “Operational Superiority” which will “harden” the army in the coming years.
Part of this strategy is to ensure that the Leclerc remains a dominant piece of hardware for outclassing the enemy.
Combat Is Evolving to Protecting the Homeland
After 9/11, the French have not shied away from combat. The army served in Afghanistan and maintained its peacekeeping, counter-insurgency, and anti-terrorism prowess in the Central African Republic and Mali to include surrounding countries in the Sahel. France showed off its quick reaction and special operations forces, which are a strong point. But now the French army must be ready for a major engagement. It is time to beef up conventional armored units and mechanized infantry for maneuver warfare in Europe and execute the Titan project for better high-intensity weaponry in combined arms engagements. The Leclerc main battle tank will be a key feature that will help France achieve operational superiority.
Leclerc Will Play a Critical Role in a Large Engagement on the Continent
In an interview with Defense News, Chief of the French Army General Pierre Schill shared his insight on the Leclerc. “Current events demonstrate that tank capacity remains indispensable to our toughest engagements. They determine the ability for meeting engagements and getting the initiative back. In the eternal dialectics between sword and shield, the Leclerc main battle tank will be equipped with new aggression and protection capacities to be engaged on tomorrow’s battlefield.”
Light and Feisty
The Leclerc was built in numbers in 1991 and introduced to the French army in 1992. The first noteworthy aspect of the Leclerc tank is its relatively light weight – only 55 tons. This makes it more agile and maneuverable. It also has enviable acceleration, that allows it to shoot and scoot effectively. The Leclerc’s eight-cylinder Hyperbar diesel engine is powerful and pushes out 1,500 horsepower with a maximum road speed of 50 miles per hour and 32 miles per hour off-road.
Cannon Can Take on Multiple Targets with Good Range
The Leclerc features a Nexter CN120-26 120mm smoothbore cannon. This is comprised of an autoloading system that can fire 12 rounds per minute with six different types of ammunition such as a high-penetrating sabot round along with a regular high-explosive anti-tank shell. The fire control system can take on six targets. The Leclerc is able to fire on the move while traveling at top speed. The range of the gun is 2.5 miles.
Can the Armor Protect Against Anti-Tank Missiles?
The tank’s protective system has a combination of “steel, ceramics and Kevlar.” This can easily be adjusted depending on the mission. To help counteract deadly anti-tank missiles that explode on top of the tank, the turret’s armor is reinforced. It has wide side skirts like the M1 Abrams.
New XLR Model Unveiled During Time of War in Ukraine
In June of last year, Nexter rolled out an upgraded Leclerc called the XLR at a defense show in Paris. This is the most significant update of the tank in the last ten years. It now has a digitized information and communication system. There is a remotely-operated FN 12.7 mm machine gun. Sensors have been improved as well. Armor can better protect against mines, anti-tank weapons, and IEDs.
In a potential battle, the Leclerc will have to count on its high speed and maneuverability along with its improved armor system. The French will depend on this main battle tank in its revamped military strategy. The real test is whether it can survive against anti-tank missiles such as the Russian Kornet laser-guided munition. The Kornet has an ultra-long range and 152mm round that is powerful against enemy tanks.
Despite these survivability issues, the French are betting on the new upgrade that will ensure its military can make the transition from light infantry and special operations forces fighting in the dusty Sahel to engaging in combat in rural and urban areas of Europe. Its maneuverability and speed should make it a worthy foe.
- Leclerc Tank Artist Rendering.
- Leclerc Main Battle Tank. Image Credit: Creative Commons.
Expert Biography: Serving as 1945’s Defense and National Security Editor, Dr. Brent M. Eastwood is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science and Foreign Policy/ International Relations.