Combat Vehicles and the "King of the Kill Zone" make a Spectacular Comeback after Almost being Written-Off

The ongoing war in Ukraine has given a massive push to defense spending across Europe since 2022 with combat vehicles being a core focus area as the "King of the Kill Zone" makes a spectacular comeback after almost being written off by the critics and war pundits.

Rajat Narang - The Radioactive Warzone

6/15/20243 min read

Prior to the ongoing war in Ukraine, which began in Feb 2022, war pundits had almost written off the combat vehicles and diluted the role of armor in any potential ground offensives in the future. Their views, however, had been based on the fact that there had been minimal investments made towards upgrade, modernization or replacement of Cold-war era armor, including, IFVs, APCs, MBTs and other land equipment across most key markets as the existential threat, in form of Russia, had disappeared or more or less subjugated. The Cold War-era French Leclerc, British Challenger and German Leopard MBTs, which were designed and produced in the late 1980s, at the peak of Cold War, had remained in service for decades until the tectonic shifts happened, first with the annexation of Crimea by Russia in 2014 followed by a full-scale invasion in 2022.

The defense industrial base across Europe, which had been operating in the hibernation mode for decades, has awakened and has undertaken huge strides since the change in polarity. The Leclercs and the Challengers are currently undergoing major upgrades to remain relevant in the digital and drones era while the Leopard, despite of having somewhat retained its relevance & usefulness, too, is being relooked at for the future.

At the currently ongoing EUROSATORY 2024, the leading global combat vehicle manufacturers and their latest creations are at the center stage of activities and grabbing headlines. European land warfare giant KNDS, as per a company press release, is showcasing the latest variant of its Leopard 2 MBT, the 2A-RC 3.0 variant developed from the existing 2A8 variant, featuring an unmanned turret with a remote-controlled weapon station leading to significant weight reduction & added protection, automatic loader for rounds, additional protection with the integration of an active protection system and a guided missile system capable of engaging and neutralizing targets at beyond line of sight distances while being on the move. Further, all existing variants of Leopard 2 can easily be upgraded to the 2A-RC3.0 variant based on modular uprades. KNDS also plans to showcase the modernized Leclerc Evolution, derived from the current Leclerc XLR, featuring a manned turret and an Ascalon 120mm primary gun.

Across the Atlantic, in the United States, the American M1 Abrams; first designed and produced in the mid-1970s, which has been regularly upgraded & modernized over the decades from original M1A2 configuration to M1A2 SEPv3 configuration; too, had been under review from an evolutionary perspective. The U.S. Army and defense planners, however, have come to the conclusion that the existing M1 platform has reached the fag end of its upgrade capacity with the SEP v3 upgrades as any further upgrades are likely to add further weight to the platform and impact mobility directly.

The planned SEP v4 upgrade on the M1, thus, has been scrapped. The Army, instead, is moving from an upgrades approach towards a comprehensive modernization with a new variant altogether, designated as the M1E3, aimed at the battlefield of the future for the beyond 2040 horizon. The M1E3 will focus on enhanced survivability and will feature autoloader, remote weapon stations, active protection system and alternate powertrain for stealth. The U.S. Army has already contracted GDLS, the maker of Abrams MBT, in May 2024 for the preliminary design review (PDR) of Abrams M1E3 over the next 18 months with the Army looking to field the M1E3 along with the upcoming M30 Mechanized Infantry Fighting Vehicle which is set to replace the existing M2 Bradley IFV for maximum effect.

The same frenzy is sweeping the entire Eastern Europe amid the looming, credible Russian existential threat to the region. Most vulnerable nations in the region, including, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Estonia & Latvia are already on a shopping spree for MBTs, APC/IFVs and SPH/towed artillery guns to deter the Russians with German, South Korean and American industry OEMs in full harvest mode. Check out the following, great Defense News article on the same for more:- "Eyes on Ukraine, demand for tanks is bubbling up in Eastern Europe"

The MBT, thus, has been the king of the battlefield, is going to remain as the centerpiece of armor formations and is not going to go anywhere, anytime soon, even on the battlefields of the future, despite a rapidly evolving threat landscape...

Image: Leopard 2A-RC3.0 MBT

Image credits: KNDS