Meet France’s Leclerc: Along with drones, main battle tanks have largely monopolized headlines surrounding Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine.
Though believed by some analysts to be obsolete, tank warfare has proven to play a critical role in this modern conflict.
In fact, procuring modern and sophisticated tanks has become a top priority for the Ukrainian Forces.
The U.S., Poland, and the United Kingdom pledged to provide Ukraine with small batches of Leopard 2, M-1A2, and Challenger tanks last month in a diplomatic chain reaction following a request made by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
While the eventual shipments of these advanced MBTs will undoubtedly serve Ukraine’s defensive efforts well, one notable Western-designed tank is missing.
The French Leclerc tank could also make its way to Ukraine in the future, according to the country’s Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, as noted months back.
A Brief Overview of the Leclerc’s Origin Story
The Leclerc family of tanks has been in service with the French armored corps for more than three decades. Named to honor the French general who helped lead the liberation of Paris in World War II – Marshal Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque – the heavy tank has remained a mainstay of France’s armored division. Back in the 1960s, the French Army began considering a replacement for its aging and relatively weak AMX-30 tank.
Over the next few years, France opted to co-design a modern MBT with West Germany. The Memorandum of Understanding, signed by both nations, detailed the creation of the joint armored vehicle, called Napoleon I in France and Kampfpanzer III in Germany. Although design disagreements eventually led to the dissolution of the collaborative project, France’s Leclerc tank was born from the program.
French manufacturer Nexter Systems (formerly known as GIAT industries founded in the early 1970s), produced the Leclerc tank. Nexter constructed a total of 862 Leclerc tanks up until 2007. At the time of its creation, the heavy tank was the most expensive MBT globally, costing over $9 million per vehicle in the early 2000s. Although the tanks are no longer actively produced, Nexter still has the capacity to resume operations if necessary down the line.
The Leclerc is Small But Mighty
An advanced modular armor system protects the Leclerc, which can be tailored to any threat. Since the modular system can be easily replaced when damaged, incorporating newer and more advanced systems as upgrades emerge is easily implemented.
The French tank is powered by a homegrown VD V8X-1500 turbocharged diesel engine, a smaller system than other contemporary tank engines that reduces the overall size of the Leclerc.
While the French heavy tank may be smaller in size than its counterparts, it certainly is not lightweight in the armament arena. The GIAT CN-120-26, 52 caliber smoothbore gun is the Leclerc’s primary armament. Considering most near-peer battle tanks are typically equipped with 44-caliber guns, the Leclerc’s projectiles have a higher velocity.
Has the Leclerc Performed Well in Battle?
Although the Leclerc has not experienced the competitive battles that the U.S. Abrams or UK Challenger have in Desert Storm, the United Arab Emirates’ “Zayed” Leclerc variant tank has performed well in its role fighting the Houthi insurgency in Yemen. The potential addition of this formidable tank to Ukraine’s arsenal of MBTs will surely aid the country’s defensive efforts against Russia.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.