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Video Above: Army Research Lab | Armored Warfare

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

The newly unveiled Rheinmetall KF51 Panther tank is reported to be built with a 130mm Future Gun System, a weapon larger than the standard 120mm weapon used on the Abrams, something which raises questions about the extent to which the new platform represents a leap-forward technologically.

Clearly the tank appears to weave in new, much more capable technologies, however it is not clear just how much the new tank rivals or surpasses the most current variants of the US Army Abrams.

Rheinmetall KF51 Panther Tank & Abrams Tanks

A recently published Popular Mechanics article says Rheinmetall claims the new gun as a 50-percent longer kill-range, writing “According to Europäische Sicherheit & Technik, the new gun is a 130-millimeter/L52 gun, meaning the barrel length is 52 times the diameter of the barrel. That comes out to 6,760 millimeters, or 22.1 feet long. The barrel is also fitted with a futuristic-looking shroud, but it’s not clear how it contributes to the efficiency or effectiveness of the tank.”

KF51 Panther Tank

KF51 Panther Tank

Abrams developers explain they have developed the technology for “modular’ gun applications, meaning a 130mm cannon could be added on as needed. When it comes to lethality, it seems significant that the article on the Panther makes no mention of ammunition, as that is an area wherein there continues to be impactful innovations. 

The newer Abrams vehicles have an ammunition data link. Not only are there things like delayed fuses for added penetrating effects, proximity fuses for area detonation or “point-detonate” kinds of round, but the Army has for many years now been developing its Advanced Multi-Purpose Round for tanks. 

The round enables crews to decide the energetics or specific “blast effects” for a particular round, as it combines three different kinds of rounds into a single round of ammunition. which can be adjusted or programmed by tank gunners to achieve specific attack effects as needed by the mission. The AMP consolidates High-Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT) rounds, Multi-Purpose Anti-Tank (MPAT) rounds, canister rounds, and Obstacle Reduction rounds into a single munition using new technology and an advanced ammunition data link.

The M830 HEAT round and the M830A1 MPAT round are the first two to be consolidated. The M1028 Canister round, which is used to engage and defeat dismounted infantry, is the third one being replaced. The canister round can be used to destroy human-wave assaults with a scattering of small projectiles to increase anti-personnel lethality. 

The fourth round to be integrated is the M908 Obstacle Reduction round which is designed to destroy large obstacles. Tank crews are able to choose which round effect to use through an ammunition data link, according to documents from Northrop Grumman. The data link enables “direct communication from the tank fire control to the cartridge chambered in the breach,” Northrop Grumman documents say. It uses a mechanical-electrical interface, and “communication is enabled when the round is chambered and the tank is armed.”

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The AMP round clearly seems to be something able to massively expand the tactical attack envelope for tank crews in need of quickly responding to different threat scenarios depending upon the circumstance.

Also, the newly unveiled German-built Rheinmetall Panther KF 51 tank operates with the same amount of on-board power as its previous Leopard 2, according to multiple news reports tracking its release. 

KF-51 Tank

KF-51 Tank

This fact raises interesting questions about the new tank’s ability to accommodate a rapidly changing and much increasing need for on-board power. Having the same amount of power as the Leopard 2 seems somewhat incompatible with the large amount of new electronics and digital computing reported to be built into the Panther, as integrating a new generation of exportable power has been among the most critical innovations for the US Abrams. 

Years ago, developers built an Auxiliary Power Unit to enable more on board power to support its new electronics, computing and command and control technology. Newer applications of on-board power generations are going even further, finding ways to decrease a hardware footprint and streamline large amounts of power to necessary subsystems needed for targeting, computing and networking.

There is yet another area which lends itself to a measure of ambiguity, as it is by no means clear that the new Panther would out-perform new variants of the Abrams, related to the issue of sensing. The Popular Mechanics article mentions that the Panther is engineered with 360-degree view “surround sensors,” something which enables tank crews to see obstacles and potential adversaries from any angle.

F-35

F-35

Again, specifics regarding Abrams innovations regarding security and targeting are often not available for security reasons, however 360-degree sensing technology has existed in the US Army and US Air Force for many years. As far back as 2008, some of the Army’s Manned Ground Vehicles for its Future Combat Systems programs were built with this, and of course platforms such as the F-35 have this as well. If there is 360-degree sensing, and vastly improved, paradigm-changing thermal targeting technology with the Abrams, why would there be a large margin of difference between the Panther and the Abrams.

M1A2 SEP v3

The M1A2 SEP v3 brings a new high-resolution display for gunner and commander stations and new electronic Line Replaceable Units. It also features a driver’s control panel and a turret control unit. The new variant initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare weapons, such as the Counter Remote-Controlled Improvised Explosive Device-Electronic Warfare (CREW). Ethernet cables are also included to better network vehicle sensors together.

One of the signature elements of the v3 pertains to longer-range, higher-resolution thermal sights for finding otherwise unreachable targets. This is a crucial area of innovation for the Army, as many are likely to remember stories from famous Gulf War tank battles. Abrams tanks were able to destroy Iraqi T-72s at standoff ranges, something which greatly contributed to U.S. victories. This is the kind of technological capacity which can continuously be upgraded due to GDLS effort to ensure upgradeability through common standards.

As part of this kind of equation, the newest variants of the Army Abrams are engineered with common IP Protocol and standards to enable new technologies to integrate quickly as they emerge. Part of the advantage with faster processing speeds and fast-developing AI-enabled computing is that an Abrams can operate with a much smaller hardware footprint, yet accomplish a greater amount of on-board tasks more quickly. 

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President - Center for Military Modernization