With their unique ability to provide a combination of mobility, firepower and protection, MBTs are crucial for defending European territory. Considering a currently tense security environment, especially along the Eastern European borders, it is of utmost strategic importance that Europeans have the required tank capacities to react swiftly and with the needed operational strength.

The number of MBTs in EU Member States has regularly decreased, from 15.000 in the year 2000 to just 5.000 today. Modernisation plans for existing main battle tank assets are limited,  with no substantial increase of European MBT capabilities  to be expected in the short or  medium term. Traditionally, most EU countries use European or Soviet legacy equipment. Since the dependency on Soviet legacy technology raises a number of  concerns it can be anticipated that next-generation  MBTs should  be more procured from sources that can guarantee security of supply in the longer term.

Against this backdrop,  the EDA launched in spring 2017 the ‘Optimisation of the Main Battle Tank Capability in Europe with initial focus on Leopard 2 (OMBT-Leo2)’ project. The initiative is an important pilot to test a new innovative Pooling & Sharing concept potentially applicable to  other areas. The system works as follows: surplus ‘Leopard’ platforms available in certain Member States (the ‘providers’) are leased/rented them for a defined period of time to one or several other interested Member States (the ‘receivers’). At the end of the transfer period, the MBTs can either be returned to the providers (for further use or subsequent sale to third parties) or be sold to the receivers. The Pooling & Sharing of training, exercises and maintenance between providers and receivers, using already existing facilities complete the concept. This approach requires European industrial partners to be involved in support of its implementation.

Technical upgrade

As a first step, an upgrade of all participating Leopard 2A4 platforms to the latest Leopard configuration (2A7) is foreseen as part of a comprehensive package  including training and logistics support. Receiving countries will nevertheless retain some degree of flexibility :  the upgraded Leopard 2A7 they receive will be in line with the technical configuration developed by the Original Equipment Manufacturer and used by all Leopard Benutzerstaaten (LeoBEN) but not automatically equipped with all available features. This leaves the receivers with the choice of equipping their MBTs only with features  they deem necessary (e.g. cooling, auxiliary power units, specific mission equipment, additional protection, etc.). The EDA project not only includes the pooling and sharing of the tanks themselves, but also of  related services  to make it a ‘full capability’ i.e. training and logistics support, including related special Leopard vehicles such as recovery vehicles, combat engineering vehicles or bridge layers. 

The idea behind this coordinated and comprehensive upgrade to one single type of platform (Leopard 2A7) throughout all participating Member States is to overcome the complexity caused by the high number of different types of fighting vehicles currently in operation, in anticipation of a future European generation of MBT. 

Simon: the source in the small graph on MBTs in European Union… needs to read CODABA and not CODOBA

Win-win situation

The benefits for all parties involved in this project are clear. For the ‘providers’, the lease/rent and/or sale of excess MBTs not only generates revenue but also helps to substantially cut down maintenance costs for spare assets and equipment. The ‘receivers’, on the other hand, get easy and rapid access to additional and modern tank capabilities, including the support and expertise (maintenance, training, industrial contacts, etc.). Finally, the ’upgraders’ benefit from considerable economies of scale resulting, compared to the costs of individual, national MBT upgrade programmes. Furthermore, MBT capability can be obtained faster through this scheme than through normal acquisition processes.

Way ahead

In March 2017, the EDA’s Steering Board in Capabilities Directors formation tasked the Agency with optimising Europe’s Main Battle Tank capability and asked it to define the technical, logistics and training requirements as well as the contractual, financial, industrial and management schemes. A Request for Information (RFI) to European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB) companies was launched at the end of September. The outcome of this RFI, expected by the end of 2017, will be analysed and processed by the EDA and its Member States in early 2018 with a view to determine the next steps of  this programme.

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