They call it the first tank of the 3rdgeneration.
The new French main bat-tle tank, the AMX-Leclerc, designedaround its central computer system, in-corporates many of the latest technolo-gies in armored vehicle design.
For theFrench, the adoption of this new tank isan extraordinary leap from its prede-cessor, the 1960s vintage AMX-30, theequivalent of transitioning directlyfrom an M60 to the M1A2.
Its charac-teristics set it apart in the communityof modern armor as it reflects uniquelyFrench cultural and psychological pref-erences. From its conceptual phase, thedesigners of this tank saw it from anew perspective, likening it to a fighteraircraft more than to a traditional tank.
As the “master work” of the French ar-maments industry and the latest symbolof French national pride, it is a “pro-tected species” in an army that has justannounced 40 percent cuts in strength.Evolving French conventional doctrineis revolving around this new weaponsystem as their army prepares for the21st century.The most striking difference of theLeclerc from other modern Westerntanks is its size. In the perennial debateover mobility vs. protection, the Frenchhave always opted for the former. TheAMX-30 weighed 20 tons less than itsNATO contemporaries. Likewise, theLeclerc weighs only 56 tons in com-parison with the tendency toward 70tons for its cousins. The French haveachieved this feat by replacing the hu-man loader with a chain-driven loadingsystem and by a most judicious place-ment of special armor. Thus, while thetank has roughly the same height asother modern systems, it is consider-ably shorter. Its weight gives it two ad-vantages over its contemporaries: it isstrategically more easily deployed, andit is more agile.Agility, rather than silhouette, was thecritical value for the French designers.The Leclerc power plant consists of an8-cylinder, 1,500-horsepower “Hyper-bar” engine, manufactured by the firmof Wärtsilä, married to an SESM auto-matic transmission.
This remarkablesystem, with its integrated turbine, pro-vides instant pressure into the cylin-ders, up to 7
atmospheres (as com-pared with about 3 atmospheres in con-ventional engines), on demand. From adead stop to 32 kmph requires fewerthan 6 seconds. In all gears, it acceler-ates quickly and smoothly. From thisaspect, the Leclerc matches perfectlythe French armored gospel of mobility.In designing the Leclerc, the Frenchbegan from the inside. The digital ar-chitecture preceded the design of thetank, and ensures a complete harmonyof fire control, navigation, mechanics,and communications. The Conduct of Fire Calculator directs the 15 othercomputers, receiving wind speed, tem-perature, atmospheric pressure, appar-ent target motion, and range data, aswell as ballistic characteristics of theround. The result is routine first-roundhits on targets at ranges in excess of 2,500 meters. The tank has achieved aremarkably soft recoil, a combinationof the 42cm recoil travel and the hy-dro-pneumatic suspension. Wrappedaround this fire control system, astightly as possible, are ergonomic crewpositions and controls. The TC, gunner,and driver can reach virtually all theircontrols with little motion. Indeed, mo-tion is almost impossible in this form-fitted tank. Crew members have no vis-ual contact with each other. The TCand gunner are so well fitted in theirpositions, in fact, that they cannot oper-ate the turret standing up. These char-acteristics are a function of the originalconcept of the tank.While the Leclerc has all the attrib-utes of a modern tank, the French per-ception of it differs, sometimes dra-matically. Because of its design, a crewcan operate it only for a relatively shortperiod of time — 6 hours is generallyseen as the optimum — after which theunit must be replaced in the line, or re-placement crews called up. Currently,15 crews are being trained for each 13-tank company going through transition.Few maintenance responsibilities be-long to the crew. The tank has a num-ber of access plates along the sidesfrom which mechanics can interrogatethe tank, replace filters, etc., without
New French Tank, Like the M1A2, Uses Digital Architecture
by Lieutenant Colonel John Moncure