Note: This article discusses Germany’s next generation KF-51 Panther MBT including its weaponry, armor, mobility & future upgrades.
On 13 June 2022 at Eurosatory 2022 weapons exhibition in Paris this week, Germany’s defense company Rheinmetall unveiled its “game-changer” KF51 Panther MBT. The tank seems to be superior to the Russian T14 Armata in almost every aspect.
“The 59-ton next generation KF-51 tank is a conceptual leap in lethality, protection, reconnaissance, networking and mobility,” the German arms manufacturer says. Rheinmetall describes the tank as
[The KF-51 Panther MBT is the first of its kind, a radically new MBT concept not constrained by yesterday’s technology. Drawing on some of the latest technologies, the Panther was designed from the ground up to deliver the highest lethality on the battlefield, combined with an integrated survivability concept and connected by a fully digitized NGVA data backbone to enable next-generation operational capabilities and automation. This enables a reduction in crew size, which paves the way for unmanned turret options and Human-Machine Teaming.]
Survivability & Force Protection of KF-51 Panther MBT
The KF-51 MBT is equipped with a modern protection system which composes reactive, active, and passive elements. The most impressive protection feature is its active protection against KE rounds.
The KF51 tank’s top Attack Protection System guards and protects the turret section against anti-tank weapons. Additionally, its ROSY smoke/obscurant system helps it to hide from enemies, while its pre-shot detection capability can recognize and neutralize threats immediately.
It also has a touch threat detection system that differentiates between the types of ammunition and activates the corresponding protection. The tank also has mine protection, a traditional composite armor, and a fast smoke curtain installation system. It is designed to operate in a highly electromagnetic environment, and it is fully hardened against cyber threats.
The KF51 Panther tank is designed for 3 persons, which includes the commander, gunner, and the driver in the chassis, also an additional operator station is available for a weapons and subsystems specialist or for command personnel.
All weapon systems are connected to the commander’s and gunner’s optics. The fire control computer is connected via fully digitalized NGVA architecture. This enables both a killer-killer and hunter-killer function and instantaneous target engagement. In the future the tank will also be supported by artificial intelligence (AI).
It is fully designed in accordance with NGVA standards, the KF51 tank’s fully digital architecture enables to integrate sensors and effectors from a networked “system of systems” or from within the platform. Sensors and weapon’s operation can be transferred quickly between crew members.
Situational Awareness & Reconnaissance of KF-51 Panther MBT
At day or night both the commander and gunner can observe and engage targets independently of each other due to the panoramic SEOSS optical sensor and EMES main combat aiming device, also a stabilized daylight and IR optic with integrated laser rangefinder is available for them.
In the fighting compartment, through a display the crew has a 360° situational awareness of the vehicle’s surroundings. Unmanned aerial reconnaissance systems enhance the crew’s situational awareness in built-up areas, so the crew can also conduct reconnaissance under armor protection, and they can share the results with others in a networked manner.
The KF-51 Panther has an operational weight of just 59 tons (compared to 66.5 tons in the Leopard 2A7), it delivers far greater mobility than current systems and has a maximum operating range of around 500 kilometers. Without prior preparation, it fits into the AMovP-4L profile, something no current MBT other than KF-51 can do. The KF51 tank’s strategic and tactical mobility is outclass. The tank has a reported maximum speed of 65km/h.
Armament & Lethality of KF-51 Panther MBT
According to the manufacturer, the new 130-mm gun is 50% more efficient and has a longer firing range than the modern standard 120-mm tank gun (used in Leopard tank). The gun is combined with a machine gun for 20 shots, which allows a significant increase in the rate of fire.
In addition to the main gun, a 12.7-mm machine gun is also paired with it, there is also another 7.62-mm machine gun, which is controlled by the Natter RCWS combat module. This is a modern fully automatic anti-aircraft machine gun that will protect the tank from drones, including kamikaze drones.
Interestingly, the Panther KF51 carries its own kamikaze drones inside. Next to the loading machine, in the tower, are hidden four launch containers for Israeli loitering ammunition HERO 120. The HERO 120 loitering munition weighing 12.5 kg to 18kg (different variants) can remain in the air for 60 minutes and hit targets at a distance greater than 60 km (depending on the variant). The 3.5 kg to 4.5kg warhead is designed to destroy enemy tanks over long distances with high precision. This truly enhances the KF51’s ability to strike targets beyond the direct line of sight.
Future Upgrades & Viability
According to Rheinmetall,
“With the Panther, a completely new MBT concept is being brought to life: one that is not limited by considerations of current MBTs. It is designed from the ground up so that it can be easily updated and equipped with the latest capabilities and features. The NGVA modular open-system architecture enables spiral development that can be regularly updated in line with innovation cycles.
The Panther is the first of a new MBT family. Soon, there will be further innovations that support environmentally friendly peacetime operations and further optimization in terms of automation and effectiveness.”
Since the weapons and turret of tank can also be controlled from the operator stations in the chassis, we can expect variants of the KF-51 Panther with unmanned turrets or completely remote-controlled.
Author: Ali Hassan