Jakub Palowski: What are the main features of the modernized Leopard 2PL as far as firepower and situational awareness are concerned?
Dr Michael Kara, Member of the Board of Management of Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH: In terms of survivability, the tanks will be fitted with a 3rd generation night vision capability, improved protection with new add-on armour modules and spall liner. In addition, the upgrade includes elimination of all combustible components, e.g. hydraulics in the turret drive and the main gun system, a new fire suppression system and updated monitoring and built-in-test equipment. As far as firepower is concerned, two new types of ammunition will make a decisive difference: the DM11 with airburst programming, and the world-class DM 63 round.
What makes the DM 63 and DM 11 so special? Is Rheinmetall ready to establish an independent tank ammunition manufacturing capacity in Poland?
The DM 11 is a high explosive round with impact, impact delay and time delay capabilities, combat proven in service with international armies. The DM 63 is the world’s first temperature-independent high-performance APFSDS tank ammunition. It features extreme precision and state-of-the-art technology.
Talks are underway with the Polish company Mesko to produce ammunition in Poland under licence to meet the needs of the Leopard 2PL tank and the Polish armed forces. Though discussions are at a very early stage, we are committed to making it happen by supplying components from Germany while procuring others directly, with final manufacturing of the ammunition to be carried out in Poland.
On the other hand, we have also offered to qualify a Polish round for the Leopard 2PL provided all the technical and performance criteria are met and no safety issues arise during the qualification programme.
Would Rheinmetall be prepared to produce other types of ammunition under licence in Poland, including the 35mm AHEAD ammunition for air defence systems?
I don’t have a full picture regarding this topic. I can only say that high-level discussions are underway between Rheinmetall Air Defence and the Polish MoD and PGZ regarding a possible transfer to Poland of technology for the latest generation 35mm KDG revolver cannon as part of a broader cooperation deal. Cooperation in the field of 35mm AHEAD ammunition could be considered as an element of this model, though the details still need to be worked out.
Late last year, Rheinmetall revealed a concept for a heavily modernized Leopard main battle tank with a 130mm gun. Would you consider offering this solution to Poland as part of an industrial cooperation agreement?
Rheinmetall Defence is a strategic partner of the Polish Ministry of Defence and the Polish defence industry. If a solution is available and qualified and Poland requests an upgrade or modernization with this solution we would obviously try to satisfy the customer. This includes other solutions such as the 120mm L/55 gun, a laser warning system and an active defence system – including participation by the Polish defence industry.
The German Ministry of Defence has ordered the start of development of a new main battle tank, sometimes called the “Leopard 3”. Could you imagine the Polish defence industry playing an R&D role for this new MBT?
At the moment we need to separate the modernization of the Leopard 2 MBT and the “Leopard 3” project. The general development of a new generation of main battle tank is at a very early stage. Talks are progressing, but at the moment I can’t reveal any further details. The project for a new generation of main battle tank is the subject of bilateral discussions between the German and French governments. Any participation by the Polish government or the Polish defence industry in this programme will have to be decided at governmental level.
Poland has just purchased more than a hundred Leopard 2A5 main battle tanks. We can’t rule out that a decision will be taken to modernize those tanks in the future. Does Rheinmetall offer a modernization package for the A5 variant of the Leopard 2?
If there is a programme to modernize the Leopard 2A5, we will definitely be able to offer the Polish MoD an effective upgrade package, which would again be conducted in cooperation with the Polish defence industry. In the Leopard 2PL project, we are upgrading the Leopard 2A4 to “2A5+” level, which satisfies Poland’s current requirements. Any potential upgrade of the Leopard 2A5 would probably focus on two aspects: firepower – at the moment based on the 120mm L/55 gun and higher digitalization of the tank, including a new fire control system and battle management/communication systems. Rheinmetall Defence can provide all of this, serving as a one-stop shop for the Polish MoD and the Polish defence industry.
The Bumar Łabędy company is set to become a "centre of competence" for Rheinmetall in the armoured recovery vehicles domain. How great is the potential for cooperation in this area? Do you plan to offer the Bergepanzer 3 "Büffel" to the Polish Army, together with Bumar Łabędy?
A larger number of Leopards in Poland means having to have a larger number of recovery vehicles. Due to the higher weight of the vehicle, Poland’s existing ARVs, such as the Bergepanzer 2, aren’t suitable for towing an upgraded Leopard 2PL tank or lifting a Leopard 2 turret. As part of the modernization programme, Bumar and Rheinmetall formed a strategic alliance for Bergepanzer 3 vehicles in which Bumar will be the production arm of Rheinmetall. In addition, Rheinmetall will support Bumar, serving as technology partner and subcontractor in any Polish tender for new recovery vehicles, including the transfer of manufacturing know-how to Poland.
What other areas exist for potential cooperation between Rheinmetall and Bumar Łabędy? Do you plan to develop solutions aimed at export markets?
In its own right, Poland is an important market for Rheinmetall. The Polish defence industry is mature and very experienced. Rheinmetall therefore wants to expand its partnership with the Polish defence sector and with PGZ in particular over the next few years, and is willing to invest money, resources and time to create products suitable for Poland’s needs as well as those of the international market. We see cooperation with Bumar as a strategic alliance, not limited exclusively to the Leopard 2PL upgrade or Poland.
How do you assess the competences of Polish industry as a partner of Rheinmetall for future projects?
The Polish defence industry has a long tradition of excellence and many years of operational experience. Take Bumar, Poland’s centre of competence for heavy tracked vehicles. Or the Rosomak company, home of the 8x8 Rosomak vehicle, which in future will also manufacture a new 4x4 vehicle as well as serving as a centre of competence for ballistic protection. Other companies like PCO, HSW or WZM Poznan offer a wide array of competencies which would be highly interesting to us for future projects.
The current political situation has caused a significant interest in regional defence matters, not only in central Europe, but also in Germany. What opportunities do you see for Rheinmetall in central and eastern Europe?
Geopolitical changes in eastern Europe and new threats in the Middle East have indeed altered the attitude towards military spending over the past 24 months. We’re seeing bigger budgets and the emergence of new projects/programmes. In particular, the requirement for new, highly mobile, highly protected, readily transportable main battle tanks for conventional warfare has increased dramatically. The need to maintain the balance of power as a basis for stability and national security is more important today than it has been for decades.
Thank you for this conversation.