France's Leclerc Tank Is One Piece of Armor Not To Be Toyed With

Robert Beckhusen

Key Point: The UAE has adapted futuristic technology for its Leclercs that other countries -- in the region and back in Europe -- will study.

There is a saying in the Pentagon that the United Arab Emirates is "Little Sparta," a phrase repeated by outgoing defense secretary James Mattis. The reason is that Emirati troops are experienced and battle-tested from the war in Yemen, and the oil-rich country has spent its riches on some of the most advanced military hardware in the world.

At the forefront is the UAE's armored corps of French-made Leclerc tanks, an innovative machine which for the past 26 years have been a more common sight at mock war games, peacekeeping missions and France's Bastille Day parade than on the battlefield. But the UAE first tested the Leclerc's mettle in Yemen -- and is adding upgrades to make its armor harder to crack.

France developed the 60-ton Leclerc to replace the 1960s-vintage -- and lightly-armored -- AMX-30 to keep pace with Soviet tank developments. Broadly similar to other Western main battle tanks of its era and featuring a 120-millimeter GIAT cannon, the Leclerc dispenses with a human ammunition loader for an autoloading system bringing the crew size down to three, a feature common to Russian tanks more than Western ones. This autoloader served as an inspiration for a similar machine on South Korea's K1 main battle tank.

The Leclerc's armor is also a blend of armor types -- reactive, composite and steel -- for better protection versus a wider array of penetrating anti-tank shells and guided missiles. A .50-caliber machine gun embedded in the turret and a top-mounted 7.62-millimeter machine gun round out the armament.

Whether the Leclerc -- without upgrades -- is better protected than America's equivalent M1A1 Abrams is debatable. The Abrams is likely better armored in the front but weaker on the sides. However, the Leclerc is less fuel thirsty -- relative for a tank -- boosting its unrefueled range to an impressive 340 miles over the Abrams' 265 miles, and the Leclerc accelerates faster thanks to its lighter weight and hydropneumatic suspension, like an armored Citroën.

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