In military battle, tanks are needed to support infantry by moving into combat zones, with troops protected in near-impenetrable moving vehicles while also able to return enemy fire. Since their inception, tanks are becoming tougher, faster, and more easily able to damage the weapons that penetrate – or attempt to penetrate — them. We thought it would be interesting to compare Britain and Germany’s main battle tanks In this episode of The Infographics Show, the Challenger 2, vs the Leopard 2.
For the most advanced tanks, breaking down superiority isn’t as simple as speed or size. The English Challenger 2, for example, is not the fastest. However, driving through rough terrain, on which its top speed is just 25 mph (40 kph), its suspension ensures the stability that allows it to fire accurately.
Both the Leopard and the Challenger will continue to improve in design, with iterations developed out of teachable moments on the battlefield.
What does each have and when were they first used? Let’s start with Germany’s Leopard 2. It has been in service since the 1980s, and the various iterations of the top-performing standard are central to NATO’s work. In total, there are 11 versions of the Leopard 2. All models of the Leopard have the Rhinemetall 120mm gun as a main gun plus 2 machine guns, sighting equipment, advanced night vision, and the ability to engage moving targets while driving on rough terrain. More recently, the tanks also include a longer smoothbore gun, an auxiliary engine, improved mine protection, and an air-conditioning system.
If you’re a real military and arms policy wonk, you might have heard of the Leopard in the news in 2013, when Germany’s plans to sell Leopards to Qatar became an election issue used to criticize Chancellor Angela Merkel. Two years earlier, public outcry halted plans by Saudi Arabia to buy 200 Leopards.
The Leopard 2 is the German military’s main battle tank, developed as an improvement upon the Leopard 1, which was partly engineered by Porsche. Yes, that Porsche. Fun fact: the luxury carmaker also generates military design and technology.
The tank was engineered to section the hull in three parts: a front driving compartment, a middle section for fighting, and the engine in the rear. Designed for high visibility for the four-member crew, the Leopard 2 features three periscopes and a television monitor to help with reverse driving, a kind of backup assist. It can also operate in 4 feet (1.2 meters) of water without preparation, and up to 13 feet (4 meters) with preparation.
The compartmentalized design moves potential sources of fire or explosions away from the crew. The Leopard 2 is also equipped with protection in the event of a nuclear, chemical, or biological attack, and it has an all-digital fire control system. Sold to NATO-friendly armies, it is now used by Austria, Canada, Chile, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Singapore, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Turkey, in addition to Germany.
Also designed for a four-person crew, the Challenger 2 is the British military’s main battle tank. The British Army notes “Only five percent of Challenger 2 components are interchangeable with its predecessor, which has had more than 150 major modifications including a completely new turret, L30 CHARM 120mm gun, and second generation Chobham armor.”
Chobham armor is a proprietary and classified form of ceramic named for the British tank research center in Chobham Common where it was developed. Chobham armor is resistant against a shaped charge – meaning an explosive whose intensity can be focused in one area – and can actually damage attempted penetrators, effectively weakening the enemy even when on the receiving end of an attack. It is also on the Abrams, featured in our other video, M1A2 Abrams vs T-90S.
Okay, time for the super nitty gritty.
The Leopard 2 goes 44 mph (72 kilometers per hour) on road and 28 mph (45 kilometers per hour) off road. Meanwhile, the Challenger goes 39 mph (59 kilometers per hour) on road and 25 mph (40 kilometers per hour) off. But as we mentioned at the top of the video, the suspension allows stability in rough terrain, which in turn allows precise shooting. The Challenger also makes up for lower speed with higher fuel capacity, with a 421-gallon tank and combat fuel consumption of 6.4 liters per kilometer compared to the Leopard’s 314 gallons and 5 liters per kilometer consumption. The Challenger also edges the Leopard in turret rotation time, making a full 360 degrees in 9 seconds while the Leopard requires 10.
But the Leopard can vertically climb 3.6 ft (1.1-meter) obstacles, and pass a 9.8 ft (3-meter) trench while the Challenger can climb just 3 ft (.9-meter) verticals and pass a 7.6 ft (2.34-meter) trench.
So what’s next? Germany is reportedly working on a Leopard 3 as of 2016, and it will be an answer to Russia’s next-generation T-14 Armata. Also in 2016, Britain issued a request for proposals for improvements upon the Challenger, with Challenger 2 builder BAE Systems and that firm’s two UK rivals General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin preparing to jockey for the contract on such a marquee product. At the time this news surfaced, Leopard manufacturer KMW had expressed interest in bidding, but had not yet formally joined the procurement process to potentially set up a rivalry between two of its products.
So, which of the 2 tanks do you think is better? Let us know in the comments.
- Gelbart, Marsh (1996). Tanks: main battle and light tanks. p. 19
- Foss, Christopher F (2002), Jane’s Tanks and Combat Vehicles Recognition Guide, New York: HarperCollins, p. 35