The Leopard 2A5 MBT showcased by WZM features a couple of modifications, developed based on the potential of the domestic defence industry. The main battle tank in question was fitted with new thermal imagers for the commander (KLW-1 Asteria PERI-R17A2) and the gunner (EMES-15A2). These sensors make it possible to extend target detection and identification ranges at night, and during the day. They are also far more reliable, as the legacy thermal imaging systems originally installed on the Leopard MBT are gradually becoming obsolete and challenging to maintain. The KLW-1 imagers are also used in the case of the Leopard 2PL MBT - the application on the Leopard platform, in general, entails benefits stemming from unification and commonality.
The modified Leopard MBT also received a new, digital intercom/communications system based on the Fonet solution and Radmor radios (supplied by the WB Group). These systems are modern, and they ensure secure voice/data communications, in tough battlefield conditions. They have already been placed in the inventory of the Polish Armed Forces. The experience gathered during the recent conflicts, including the Ukrainian crisis, shows that it is quite relevant to provide proper communication assets to the armored units. In any other case, the MBTs and other armoured platforms would be exposed to the enemy's reconnaissance elements and electronic warfare assets. The modification of the Leopard’s communications system also makes it possible to integrate the MBT within the future BMS solution.
The MBT showcased in Kielce has also been fitted with the ZM Tarnów UKM-2000 machine guns, replacing the German-made MG3. Spare parts for the latter are no longer available in Germany. Meanwhile, the Bundeswehr is replacing them with new armament. Thus, integrating a new type of machine gun on the Polish MBT may make operational use easier. It is also possible to install a remote control weapons station on top of the turret. A solution as such would enhance the tank's ability to neutralize light-armour and non-armoured targets, such as ATGM squads.
The modified Leopard 2A5 MBT also features a new set of displays and reversing cameras, manufactured by the PCO S.A. company. These systems are already being used by the Polish military as well. The MBT has also been equipped with the Lubawa Group mobile camouflage system, preventing detection in visible light, and IR, as well as radar spectra.
The modification revolved primarily around the replacement of the legacy components with new counterparts, improving reliability and combat potential - especially when it comes to situational awareness and protection levels. Further enhancements are still possible. WZM has prepared a concept that envisages a broader scope of modifications. When it comes to firepower, the company suggests that the main gun may be tailored to fire programmable rounds. It may also be replaced with a new, 120 mm L55 gun - complementing the replacement of the observation systems and secondary weapons.
The survivability may also be enhanced, with protection levels increased, thanks to the installation of extra armour modules. The representatives of the WZM company note that the power pack would be properly adjusted, should the weight of the MBT go up. This refers to the gearbox as well. All of the changes would be aimed at preventing the loss of mobility and performance. Modernization of the fire extinguishing/prevention system is also proposed. This portion of the upgrade would be done through the implementation of an explosion/fire mitigation system in the crew compartment. WZM also offers modification of the electrical system, including the APU/APB auxiliary power sources.
Preparation of the upgrades showcased in Kielce, as well as other possible enhancements, has been possible thanks to the experience that the Poznan-based facility has gathered when maintaining the Leopard 2 MBTs. According to the decisions made at the end of the last decade, the works on the MBTs have been divided at PGZ. WZM was to handle maintenance, overhauls, modifications, and upgrades of the Leopard 2A5 MBTs and the power-packs of all variants of the MBT. Meanwhile, ZM Bumar-Łabędy is the entity responsible for the Leopard 2A4 and Leopard 2PL platforms. Consequently, the WZM's management decided to independently, and mostly autonomously, establish the potential required.
Within the framework of the Power-packs Center (Centrum Zespołów Napędowych) based in Poznan, which has been active since 2014, capability has been established to maintain, overhaul and repair the power-packs - the MTU MB 573 Ka-501 engines that come in a package with the Renk HSWL 354 gearboxes. Both components are being used in all of the Leopard MBTs operated by the Polish Armed Forces. At the same time, jointly with KMW, the potential was being established to carry out F6 level maintenance of the Leopard 2A5 MBT chassis and turrets, as well as overhauls, and servicing - aimed at restoring their original condition. This involved in-depth personnel training, procurement of tools, and expansion of the infrastructure. The management at WZM decided to establish the Leopard Servicing and Logistics Center that would focus the know-how tied to the support chain for the MBT in question. One should also stress the fact that the WZM company was working on all of the above undertakings, using its financing.
In 2017, within the framework of a consortium formed by PGZ, WZM, and ZM Bumar-Łabędy, a framework agreement was signed concerning the inspections up to the F6 level, as well as overhauls of turrets and hulls of the Leopard 2 MBTs. The agreement assumed that WZM would be responsible for working on the Leopard 2A5 variant.
Based on that agreement, the Ordering Party received 59 MBTs that underwent a restoration of their technical condition, including two Leopard 2A5 MBTs overhauled at WZM in 2016. 12 were handed off in 2018, 25 in 2019, and 20 examples were transferred to the user in 2020.
The Armed Forces Support Inspectorate told us that the "tanks have been received by the military units of the Polish Armed Forces that use them after the relevant services were rendered. The services have been implemented timely, in line with the deadlines set within the concluded agreement. Based on the opinion of the user, one should conclude that the quality of services rendered at WZM S.A. in Poznan does not give rise to any concerns."
Another framework agreement, also involving the PGZ-WZM-ZM Bumar-Łabędy consortium, covering the MBT overhauls, has been signed on 30th June 2021. Based on that agreement, further framework memorandums would be concluded, covering the verification of the technical conditions that the MBTs find themselves in, and - depending on the requirements - the process of restoring factory-new condition and F3-F6 overhauls. The agreement would remain valid until the yea 2024.
It was during the implementation of the first framework agreement, when Leopard Maintenance/Logistics Center was opened in Poznan, back in 2019. The Center is based around a new hall, dedicated to tank maintenance and equipped with the state of art, specialist infrastructure. The facility would also include a Powerpacks Centre, Authorized Servicing Centre, Buffer Stock (for spares and larger components) and Specialists Training Facility ensuring continuity of activities within the scope of permanently meeting the demands of the Polish Armed Forces. Thanks to the training conducted, the military units are gradually taking over the responsibility for carrying out a technical inspection at F3/F4 levels. The WZM facility meanwhile, focuses on F6 inspections, repairs, and potential modernization and upgrades, and manufacturing activities.
WZM Poznan also license-manufactures a broad inventory of KMW spares. Some of those components are designed directly and certified afterward. Some are manufactured based on documentation provided by the German partner. The facility has also established a domestic supply chain for the MBTs, raising the level of sovereignty in maintenance. Instrumentation making it easier to maintain and support MBTs is also being designed and manufactured at WZM.
The Poznan-based facility additionally has developed technology for refurbishing the MBT components, such as the suspension elements (wishbones, presented in Kielce), wheels, and injection pumps/injection pump motors, and other components - electrical systems and electronics included. Thanks to the above efforts, the aforesaid components may be maintained in Poland - which enhances the security of use and diminishes the maintenance cost.
The Leopard 2A5 MBT presented in Kielce exhibits a higher combat potential (as opposed to the standard variant), we can also consider the said tank to be Polonized, in some relevant areas. The expertise and know-how established by WZM create an opportunity to maintain and modify and upgrade the Leopards, using solely the domestic supply chain. The Poznan-based company has established a relevant capacity to maintain and upgrade MBTs procured from a foreign supplier, across the whole life-cycle. The capacity available to WZM also covers the integration of components delivered by the domestic defence industry.
Article prepared in collaboration with WZM S.A.