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Sizing up M1 Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks

The MBT-70 project was a predecessor of the Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks and came into existence under a 1963 deal signed between the US and West Germany to develop a main battle tank

MOSCOW, January 26. /TASS/. US President Joe Biden announced on January 25 that Washington would hand over 31 M1 Abrams tanks to the Kiev regime. On its part, the German government said that it would send 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its stockpiles to Ukraine and authorize their re-export by other countries.

The TASS Factbox editorial board has put together material on these armored vehicles.

History of creation

The MBT-70 project was a predecessor of the Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks and came into existence under a 1963 deal signed between the United States and West Germany to develop a main battle tank. However, the American-West German project was halted in late 1969 over its high cost. The project was split into two independent national programs: the US XM803 and the West German Leopard 2 efforts.

The American XM803 project was a simplified version of the MBT-70 tank. The main efforts in its creation were focused on cutting the vehicle’s cost. Despite all the reconfigurations, the tank’s cost decreased insignificantly and in 1971 the US Congress stopped funding the project.

Meanwhile, the R&D and experimental design work on a new-generation tank was not curtailed and a decision was made to continue the effort through competitive bidding. In 1974, a contract was signed with Chrysler Defense (currently General Dynamics Land Systems) and General Motors on developing and manufacturing new main battle tank prototypes codenamed XM-1.

On November 12, 1976, Chrysler Defense won a tender and inked a contract for further full-scale design work. Numerous changes were made to the tank’s design in the process of its tests. The company made 11 prototypes tested in 1978-1979. Even before the tests were over, the Pentagon gave its approval for manufacturing a pilot batch of 110 armored vehicles. The tank’s mass production kicked off on February 28, 1980. The vehicle was officially named M1 General Abrams in honor of Chief of Staff of the United States Army General Creighton Abrams (1914-1974) who commanded American troop operations in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, West Germany focused on the Vergoldeter Leopard (Gilded Leopard) national program aimed at improving the design of first-generation Leopard armored vehicles (in service from 1965). The program embraced the Keiler (Eber) experimental work that yielded the creation of two prototypes for testing in 1969. The Munich-based Krauss-Maffei was the project’s chief contractor. In 1973, the promising tank was named Leopard 2.

In 1976, the Leopard 2 model was sent to the United States where it underwent comparative tests along with the advanced US XM-1 tank to compete for the right to be a NATO standard tank. Later, the US and German governments reached an agreement on standardizing only several components instead of whole tanks. Following the results of all the tests and structural improvements, a decision was made in 1977 to produce 1,800 Leopard 2 tanks in five series for the Bundeswehr. In 1979, the Leopard 2 tank entered service with the West German army.

Leopard 2 performance characteristics

- Crew: four crew members;

- Combat mass: 55-64.5 tons (depending on the modification and the equipment set);

- Powerplant: MB 873 Ka-501 1,500 hp diesel engine;

- Armament: 120mm Rheinmetall Rh-120 smoothbore cannon.

M1 Abrams performance characteristics:

- Crew: four crew members;

- Combat mass: 54-66.8 tons (depending on the modification and the equipment set);

- Powerplant: Honeywell AGT1500 1,500 hp gas turbine engine;

- Armament: 105mm M68A1 rifled gun, 120mm M256 smoothbore cannon (Rheinmetall Rh-120).

Current state

The M1 Abrams is the US Army’s main battle tank. In 1980-1996, these armored vehicles were produced at the Chrysler Defense enterprise in Detroit, Michigan. The M1A1 modification has been serial-produced at the enterprise in Lima, Ohio, since 1986. The tank has also been manufactured under a license at the armor enterprise in Cairo, Egypt since 1988.

Various Abrams modifications are operational in the armies of the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Australia. In 2022, Poland and Taiwan received the first Abrams tanks.

The Leopard 2 is the German main battle tank. Apart from Germany, these tanks were produced during various periods in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden and Greece. As of 2022, various tank modifications are in service with the armies of 19 countries, including Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, Turkey, Singapore, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain, Denmark, Greece and Finland.

Combat employment

According to open source information, the US employed M1 Abrams tanks during the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the 2003-2011 Iraq war and the 2001-2021 Afghan campaign. Saudi Arabia has used tanks of this type in the war in Yemen since 2014. Leopard 2 tanks were used in the armed conflicts in Afghanistan and Syria.