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Leclerc Tank
France

Leclerc Main Battle Tank

Leclerc Tank
Unveiled / Entered Service
1990
Leclerc Tank
Status
In Service
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Table of Contents

Steel Aces Play for free
the highly anticipated MMO tactical tank shooter for 2024.

Introduction

The Leclerc Main Battle Tank is in service with the French, Jordanian and United Arab Emirates Armies. The Leclerc is a 3rd Generation MBT and whilst not the most heavily armoured, offers an exceptional balance of mobility and superior firepower compared to some its NATO counterparts.

It has been deployed in a number of conflicts in Europe and Middle East where it has been targeted with sophisticated anti-tank missiles with no losses and is still reportedly attracting potential international operators as of 2022.

The hull has been used to develop a family of support vehicles and proposed variants. As of 2023, France is currently modernising a significant proportion of its Leclerc fleet to the Leclerc XLR.

Background

The French Army had used the AMX-30B medium tank since 1963 and despite some modernisation, its firepower and protection were seriously lacking in comparison to other NATO and Russian Main Battle Tanks by the late 1980’s.

The Leclerc’s early development follows a similar history of that of the AMX-30B. France had been working on a joint tank design called the Europa-Panzer with West Germany, which eventually broke down and each country went on to develop its own tank, in Frances case it was the AMX-30B.

France and West Germany had again attempted to pull all their resources together and develop a new Main Battle Tank in 1980. But the project suffered the same fate and was cancelled in 1982, with France going onto develop its own Main Battle Tank, the Leclerc.

Development of the Leclerc commenced in 1983 with prototypes being delivered for trials from 1989 to 1991. The French Army accepted delivery of the first in service Leclerc Main Battle in 1992.

Like all countries seeking to develop or mass produce a tank or military vehicle, they attempt to gain export orders to help reduce development and production costs for their own vehicles and in 1993, France secured an order of 436 Leclerc tanks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

 

Firepower

The Leclerc is armed with the French CN120-26 smoothbore, which is 120mm bore and calibre Length 52. The gun was claimed to be the biggest in NATO, which is incorrect as the British Challenger 1 and Chieftain used a calibre Length 55.

The barrel is fitted with a thermal sleeve to regulate its temperature to help maintain accuracy if the vehicle has been stationary in the sun for a long period of time or been repeatedly fired. It also features a muzzle reference system.

The Leclerc uses an automatic loader mechanism rather that a 4th crew member, which is located in the turrets bustle. Developed by Creusot-Loire Industrie, the autoloader stores 22 rounds and an additional 18 are stored in the lower part of the hull in front of the Gunner. For safety, it features blow out panels that vents any type of fire or explosion in order to give time for the crew to safely evacuate the vehicle.

The Leclerc features a Commanders Independent Sight, making it a 3rd generation Main Battle Tank. This has been updated as has the tanks thermal camera technology during production (see below).

Protection

Gun Tank Protection

French tank doctrine favours mobility and firepower over armoured protection (like nearly all NATO members with the exception of the UK).

The Leclerc Series 1 to Series 2 featured steel and composite plates over the frontal arc of the the hull and turret (marked in GREEN). Storage and tool cabinets are then fitted around the turret. These boxes are often confused as either modular spaced armour. The hull sides feature different types of armoured plate (marked as bright BLUE).

For the Series 3, some of the composite plates on the side of the turret were replaced with a non-specified reactive armour insert (marked in the dark BLUE).

The turret features a pressurised Nuclear, Biological and Chemical protection system as well as fire detection and suppression system.

Active Protection System

The Leclerc uses the GALIX active protection system. It features laser detection sensors to identify the direction of the enemy is aiming from, so the crew can engage the target, as well as x14 80mm grenade launchers, which can be different grenades to mask against thermal cameras, laser range finders as well as anti-personnel grenades.

French AZUR Urban Armour Kit

AZUR (Action en Zone Urbaine) is an applique armor kit developed by the former French Giat Industries (now NEXTER) to give added protection to the Leclerc tank in urban area’s against RPG attacks.

AZUR was developed following a study program at the CENZUB Urban Operations Training Centre, which high-lighted over 40 issues/threats using the Leclerc in urban areas. The study results showed the need for “Add-on special protection (non-reactive) against the RPG7 threat around 360°.”

AZUR was displayed for the first time at Eurosatory (held in Paris) 2006 (pictured above).

The side of the hull had 15 boxes (marked in PURPLE) added protecting the fighting compartments. All sources describe the AZUR boxes as containing some form of composite armor (non-reactive).

Around the engine compartment is bar armor (marked in WHITE), which is added to the turret rear and an extending protective shield covering the engine deck.

UAE AZUR Urban Armour Kit

The United Arabian Emirates (UAE) Leclerc has some differences, this includes the x3 boxes made up of layers of armored plate being extended the full length of the hull protecting the fighting compartments.

During the International Defence Exhibition (IDEX which is held normally in UAE) 2014 and 2015, a UAE Leclerc was put on display with its normal side armor (marked in BRIGHT BLUE) still attached, but an AZUR package fitted to the outside of it.

This AZUR package is made up of x17 boxes (not the x15 of 2006), which appear to be slightly thicker and have a different frontal pattern.

Only 1 English written sources says this AZUR is ERA. During a walk around video of the UAE Leclerc in this configuration at IDEX by Janes, the presenter describes the AZUR as “passive armor” which by definition is non-ERA.

The AZUR package is not included in the NEXTER product list.

Mobility

Though weighting in at 56.5 tonnes, the Leclerc is lighter than other NATO main battles and has a shorter hull. Its powered by a 1500 hp diesel engine that features a turbo charger giving it a higher power-to-weight ratio for improved acceleration.

The engine is connected to an automatic transmission with 5 forward and reverse gears.

The Leclerc utilises hydropneumatic suspension, which provides a smoother ride compared to standard coil sprung torsion bar suspension as used on most tanks. The smoother ride means the Leclerc can travel faster off-road (less bumpy) and reduces crew fatigue as well as being a more stable platform for firing on the move.

The standard operation range of 550km’s can be increased by mounting to external fuel drums on the hulls rear.

Variants and Marks

The French Leclerc Main Battle Tank been produced in 3 Mark’s referred to in France as “Series” or “S” and built in Batches referred to as “Tranche” or simply “T” with upgrades implemented in both Series and Tranche’s.

Tank Production Series

Series 1

  • T1 – Handful of prototypes.
  • T2 – 17 pre-production vehicles used for trials, training and defence expo’s. Hull frontal side modular armour was changed to 3 sections (marked in GREEN). This was not done on all T2, but was completed on T3.
  • T3 – Rubber mud flaps were attached along the bottom of the side skirts (marked in BLUE)
  • T4 – Modifications to the engine, rear drive sprocket changes. A mud/water guard was added at the front of the hull with new fenders on some vehicles. This upgrade was later added to all T5.
  • T5 – Hull side armour plates were added (marked in RED) which can be identified by the bolt heads and turret rear received a new rack and tool box.

Series 2

  • T6 – Air Conditioning unit added to vehicle, cooling unit mounted on rear of turret (marked in RED).
  • T7 – The Commanders Independent HL-70 Sight is modified to fix issues.
  • T8 – Updating of electronics.
  • T9 – ATHOS thermal imaging camera replaced with a new 2nd generation Sagem.

Series 3 aka XXI

  • T10 – Changes to base turret armour resulting in visible changes to the external tool boxes.
  • T11Installation of the ICONE battlefield management system.

Series 3 was the last in production, with a total of 96 vehicles built, with the final vehicle completed in 2007.

Fleet Modernisation

  • Some Series 1 were converted to other variants.
  • Series 1 tanks bought up to T5 standard.
  • Series 2 tanks bought up to T9 standard.

Leclerc XLR aka Leclerc Scorpion

An upgrade to all Series 2 and Series 3 vehicles as part of Scorpion modernisation program to keep the Leclerc is service until 2040. Scheduled to run from 2023 to 2029.

  • HE H3M 120mm round that is programmable for impact, delay or air-burst
  • New hull and turret modular armour similar to AZUR
  • Open electrical architecture
  • Barage counter IED jammer
  • Contact tactical radio system
  • SCORPION Information and Command System (SICS) including new associated displays
  • Vehicle diagnostic system
  • Coupling of inertial navigation and GPS system
  • Man-machine interfaces for commander and gunner

 

Experimental Prototypes

 

Leclerc T40 Fire Support Vehicle

The Leclerc T40 was a proposed Tank Fire Support vehicle, much like the Russian BMPT Terminator. It was to use Series 1 Leclerc hulls that had been mothballed/put in too storage and retrofitted with a new 2 man turret under development at the time called the T40.

The T40 turret is now complete and packed with the latest technology, including the 40mm CTA Chain Gun and ATGM launchers.

The Leclerc T40 vehicle did not reach the prototype stage, there are diagrams from NEXTER of it included below. The T40 turret has been fitted to a number of other French Fighting Vehicle.

 

 

Leclerc 140mm Main Gun

During the 1990’s, France experimented with a new 140mm main gun on an older series Leclerc turret. The bustle was modified and extended for the larger autoloader. Its understood that the turret was later mounted on a spare Leclerc hull.

 

Leclerc Crotale

A 1990’s proposed variant that married a Leclerc tank hull to a Crotale Surface to Air Missile launcher to provide a self-propelled anti-aircraft vehicle on the battlefield. It did not progress any further than the design table.

 

 

 

 

Engineering and Support Vehicles

DCL Armoured Recovery Vehicle

The Dépanneur de Char Leclerc, is the Armoured Recovery Vehicle variant of the Leclerc family. Designated the DCL in the French Army, the first of 30 vehicles ordered was delivered in 1993. By 2002 the order was modified from 30 to 20. The DCL is crewed by three mechanical engineers, features a winch and front dozer blade (anchor) for recovery, towing equipment and crane for removing and installing powerpacks on the battlefield.

Leclerc MARS

In essence, a dumbed down version of the DCL, it lacks the winches to recover tanks and crane to perform pack lifts, but has the necessary equipment to tow broken down Leclerc’s to a repair station. The vehicle is a converted Series 1, with the turret retained, but main gun and sights etc removed. Deliveries of one vehicle to each Leclerc Regiment started in 2003.

Engin Principal du Génie (Prototype)

The EPG was the proposed Combat Engineer variant of the Leclerc family. Developed on the Leclerc chassis, the EPG had modular equipment mounted on the front or rear deck as per the mission requirements. This included either a front dozer blade for clearing obstacles or mine plough for clearing mine fields, with an excavator arm for digging trenches and a mine dispenser on the hull rear. Only one prototype was built in 2001. It was not accepted into French service, who instead retained the AMX-30EBG, which has been since upgraded.

The Leclerc PTG (proposed AVLB)

The design of the PTG was completed in 1996, but did not progress beyond the drawing board. It would have used a Leclerc hull fitted with either a 26m double spanning bridge or two simple 14m spanning bridges.

Operators

French Army

Due to defence cuts, the number of Leclerc’s ordered for the army varies from 450 to 406 depending on the source you wish to quote. Deliveries started in 1992 and ended in 2007. Several prototypes were proposed but rejected. Under the Scorpion modernisation project for the French Army, 200 Series 2 and 3 tanks are being modernised to the Leclerc XLR with a projected end of service life of 2040.

United Arab Emirates Army (UAE)

436 Leclerc’s were ordered in 1993. These vehicles are Series 2 (hence the AC unit added) and refereed to as the “Tropical” version.

UAE Leclerc’s use a longer hull for additional fuel storage and modified engine bay for their German 1500hp  MT883 diesel engines. A Remote Weapon Station is fitted to the turret roof, a new Auxiliary Power Unit, HL-80 Commanders Independent Sight, Battlefield Management System and external thermal matting. IT also has a different armour package along the sides of the hull.

The UAE has also purchased a number of modified AZUR urban protection kits.

The exact number of Leclerc in service is not clear, but 70 vehicles of the original 436 ordered have been passed onto Jordan in 2020 according to the Arms Transfer Database.

Jordanian Army

Jordan has received a total of 70 Leclerc’s from the UAE in 2020. It is not clear why, but both Jordan and the UAE have been fighting in the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemeni civil war (2014 to present). Jordan operates a fleet of dated M60A3 and Challenger 1 Main Battle Tanks, which despite proposed indigenous upgrades such as the Falcon Turret are still in service, making the Leclerc the most modern MBT in its inventory.

Combat History

French Army

The Leclerc entered service after the 1991 Gulf War. Its first oversea deployment was part of the KFOR Force in Kosovo, followed by deployment to South Lebanon as part of the UNIFIL peacekeeping operation.

France has deployed the Leclerc as part of NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence (eFP) Battlegroup in Estonia and Romania.

United Arab Emirates Army

The UAE has deployed the Leclerc (some with their AZUR added protection kits) as part of the Saudi-led intervention in the Yemeni civil war (2014 to present).

Footage on social media has shown a number of Leclerc tanks damaged by both mines and wire guided Anti-Tank Missiles, with no loss of vehicles.

Specifications

characteristic
Result
Main Gun
120mm calibre Length 52 Smoothbore
Secondary Weapons
Coaxial 50. cal Machine Gun, Commanders 7.62.mm Machine Gun
Ammunition Storage
x40 120mm
Engine
1500hp SACM V8X 8-cylinder diesel
Transmission
SESM Automatic
Top Road Speed
72km/h
Road Range
550 km
Fuel Capacity
1,300 litre
Vertical Obstacle
1.25m
Water Capability
1m
Trench Crossing
3m
Gradient
60%
Side Slope
30%
Length Gun Forward
9.87m
Length Hull
6.88m
Width
3.71m
Height
2.53m
Ground Clearance
0.5m
Weight
56.5 tonnes
NBC Protected
yes
Standard Armor(s) Type
Steel, Laminated, Modular, Non-Reactive Armour (NRA)
Optional Add-on Armor(s) Type
Composite, Bar, Modular, Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA)
Active Protection Systems
soft_kill
Crew
Commander, Gunner, Driver