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The Leopard series of Main Battle Tanks

And an in-box review of the Tamiya Leopard 2A5

By Olaf Kievit


The main body of this article concerns the history and development of the Leopard 1 and 2 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs). I will focus solely on the MBTs, and leave a discussion of variants based on these to someone else. The last section of the article then discusses the new Tamiya kit, based on the references listed, and my pictures of the Dutch version, the Leopard 2A5(NL).

Leopard 1

As Western Germany was not allowed to develop or build MBTs after WWII, by the time the Bundeswehr was formed in 1955, they had the choice between American and British MBTs. In 1957 the Bundeswehr received a large number of M47s, followed by M48A1, M48A2, and M48A2C MBTs. As these vehicles, however, were based on the American philosophy of what an MBT should be capable of, development of an indigenous MBT started in 1956. Various developmental stages led to the Prototype A1 and A2 vehicles in 1960. Although the initial development was done in collaboration with the French, differences in requirements resulted in the French developing the AMX-30, and the Germans continuing on the Leopard. In 1963 production of the Leopard MBT started, after more developmental work in the previous three years. The first Leopard then came into service in 1965.

Initial upgrades included the Leopard A1 (thermal shroud for the main gun, skirts), A2 (new, better armored turret, plus A1 modifications), and A3 (welded turret plus A1 modifications). The A4 was similar to the A3, but with a new commander’s periscope, and removal of the gunner’s episcope. Upgrades of these initial production versions started in 1975 with the addition of appliqué armor to the Leopard A1, to give the Leopard A1A1. The various next upgrades to these basic vehicles are listed in the table below.

Original designation


New designation


Thermal shroud, skirts

Leopard A1

Leopard A1

Appliqué turret armor

Leopard A1A1

Leopard A1A1

Image intensifier

Leopard A1A2

Leopard A1A1

SEM 80/90 radios

Leopard A1A3

Leopard A1A2

SEM 80/90 radios

Leopard A1A4

Leopard A2

Image intensifier

Leopard A2A1

Leopard A2A1

SEM 80/90 radios

Leopard A2A2

Leopard A2A1

SEM 80/90 radios, image intensifier

Leopard A2A3

Leopard A3

Image intensifier

Leopard A3A1

Leopard A3A1

SEM 80/90 radios

Leopard A3A2

Leopard A3A1

SEM 80/90 radios, image intensifier

Leopard A3A3

Leopard 1A5

SEM 80/90 radios

Leopard 1A5A1

In 1986 came the biggest upgrade to date. Included were, amongst others, reinforced torsion bars, NBC pack, new fire control system (EMES 18 periscope for the commander, variant of the Leopard 2 EMES 15 with thermal imager for the gunner). The so upgraded Leopard A1A1 MBTs got the designation Leopard 1A5 (after the start of the development of the Leopard 2 the original Leopard became the Leopard 1).

In total the Bundeswehr has had 2,437 Leopard 1 MBTs in service, with about 75% of these being the original version. The Dutch army has had 468 Leopard 1V (V = verbeterd, improved) in service. These were similar to the Leopard 1A1A1. Other countries, which had the Leopard 1 in service, are listed in the table below. Recent sales of Leopard 1 MBTs due to the CFE treaty are changing these figures; I have tried to include the changes as far as known to me. All 468 Leopard 1V MBTs from The Netherlands are out of service; most, if not all, have been sold. Germany still had 730 Leopard 1A5 and 1A5A1 MBTs in service as late as 1995.


Number in service and origin








120, plus 110 from Germany


106, plus 75 from Germany and 170 from The Netherlands


200, plus 720 license-built




78, plus 92 from Germany


77, plus 230 from Germany


Already in 1963, an agreement was made with the USA to co develop a new, standardized MBT for both countries, referred to as Kampfpanzer 70/MBT-70. Tests on hulls started in 1966, on complete vehicles (without fire control system) in 1967, and lastly on complete prototypes in 1968. In 1969 the second-generation vehicles were constructed. However, due to rising costs the collaboration was ended in 1969.

Leopard 2 – 2A4

In 1965 it was decided to further develop the Leopard. Initially, development was held back by the MBT-70 project, but when this ran into trouble, it became important to both develop upgrades for the Leopard, and a follow-up to this MBT. The first prototype that resulted from this was the Mittlerer Kampfpanzer (medium battle tank) KPz 70 Keiler, which was basically a product-improved Leopard. After the cancellation of the MBT-70 collaboration, parts of the Keiler project were incorporated into the German MBT-70 prototype, which resulted in the Eber. In 1970 the decision was then made to further develop the experimental vehicles, which was to result in the Leopard 2. A total of 17 prototypes were built, with differing suspension, turret, and armament.

In light of the strained relationship with the Americans, in 1974 two modified Leopard 2 AV (Austere Version) tanks were built for comparative trials in 1978 with the XM-1. For the trials the Leopard 2 AV retained the 105 mm main gun from the Leopard 1, but directly afterwards, still in the USA, the Rheinmetall 120 mm gun was installed, showing that the turret had been designed from the start for this upgrade. The overall goal of these comparative trials was not to decide on a common MBT, but rather to compare subsystems, and decide on the use of these only. Although the only part to ultimately end up on both MBTs was the Rheinmetall 120 mm main gun, the trials did speed up the further development of the Leopard 2.

In 1977 the German Department of Defense decided to acquire 1800 Leopard 2 MBTs. At this point, tests still had to decide between Hughes and AEG-Telefunken/Leitz thermal imaging systems (Hughes got the contract). Tests were also still done to compare the diesel engine of the Leopard 2 to the gas turbine of the XM-1, built into one of the Leopard 2 prototypes. The first Leopard 2 MBTs were delivered to the Bundeswehr in 1979. The first batch was delivered from 1979-1982. Of these 380 vehicles, the first 200 were initially equipped with the PZB 200 image intensifier from the Leopard 1, as the thermal imager was not yet available. The first batch was the only batch to have a wind sensor on the turret. The second batch, the Leopard 2A1, consisted of 450 vehicles, with the major external difference being the deletion of the wind sensor and the commander’s MG ring mount. The commander’s periscope was placed 50 mm higher for better 360o view. The third batch (300) was delivered from 1983-1984, and only had minor internal changes. The designation remained Leopard 2A1. The Leopard 2 tanks from the first batch were upgraded to Leopard 2A1 level, but designated Leopard 2A2. From 1984-1985 the Leopard 2A3 was delivered (300, fourth batch), with the main change being new SEM 80/90 radios, obvious from the new, shorter antennas. These were also the first vehicles to appear in the new three-tone camouflage, which has subsequently been adopted by Belgium, Canada, The Netherlands, Switzerland, and the USA. The fifth batch was the first batch of the Leopard 2A4, a total of 370 were delivered from 1985-1987. These included a new, digital fire control system computer, to deal with new ammunition for the main gun, and relocated 2nd and 3rd return rollers for part of the batch, necessary due to possible damage to the suspension and tracks. A new fire suppression system was also installed. The sixth batch (150; 1988-1989) included amongst others improved armor and new heavy armored skirts. The 7th batch was the same as the sixth (100, 1989-1990). The 8th, and final, batch, consisted of only 75 vehicles, delivered from 1991-1992, and included further improved armored skirts, and a muzzle reference system. On later batches a fire suppression system for the fighting compartment was also installed. The ammunition resupply hatch was initially reinforced, then welded shut, and deleted on later batches. In 1992 the Bundeswehr had a total of 2125 Leopard 2 MBTs in service.

The only other initial foreign customers for the Leopard 2 were the Dutch and Swiss armies. The Dutch bought 445, delivered from 1981-1986. The biggest differences with German Leopard 2 MBTs are the radios and antennas, smoke dischargers (2 x 6 rather than 2 x 8), and substitution of MAGs for the MG-3s. 35 Panzer 87 tanks were delivered to Switzerland from 1987-1993. In addition, 345 were license-built in Switzerland. Other than Swiss machineguns (with barrel holders on the turret sides), and extra grousers, the most distinguishing feature of these is the mufflers mounted at the rear.

As far as I’ve been able to determine, all Leopard 2 MBTs in service have been upgraded to 2A4 status. Due to the CFE treaty, various countries have been selling Leopard 2 MBTs. Austria bought 114 Dutch ones, Spain leased 108 German ones and will license build 200 Leopard 2A5s, Denmark bought 52 German ones, and Sweden bought 160 German ones, as well as having ordered 120 Strv. 122s, with an option for 90 more.

Leopard 2A5

In 1989 a Komponentenversuchsträger, or component trials vehicle, was built, using one of the last Leopard 2A4 vehicles as basis. Tested were glacis, turret front, and turret roof armor, an independent thermal imager for the commander, a spall-liner for the turret interior, an electric-only turret drive (instead of the combination hydraulic/electric drive in the 2A4), new hatches, and armored skirts. This vehicle was subsequently (1988-1992) also used as Instrumentenversuchsträger, or instrument trials vehicle, to test an integrated command and information system, IFIS. To improve the armament, tests were done with an L/55 120 mm gun (1.30 m longer) with new ammunition, a 140 mm gun with separate loading ammunition, and anti-helicopter ammunition.

From 1991-1992 troop trials were held with Truppenversuchsmuster (TVM), or troop trials vehicles. According to Spielberger, these were split into TVM (max), with improved turret roof, turret front, and glacis armor, as well as new armored skirts, and TVM (min), with only improved turret front armor and new armored skirts. According to the Waffen-Arsenal Special further differences included an electric turret drive and commander’s thermal imager for the TVM (max), and an improved hydraulic drive and commander’s periscope for the TVM (min). In addition, there were two versions of TVM (max) and TVM (min), differing only in the origin of the components used. This results in four basic vehicles: TVM 1 (max), TVM 1 (min), TVM 2 (max), and TVM 2 (min).

Shrinking defense budgets influenced the decision not to move forward on the TVM (max) as much as mobility issues. A three-stage program was initiated: Kampfwertsteigerung (KWS), or combat value improvement I, II, and III, which involved respectively the installation of an L/55 120 mm main gun with improved ammunition, increased turret armor protection and improved command and control, and the installation of a 140 mm main gun. The KWS III stage has been cancelled in the mean time, due to the "Neue Gepanzerte Platformen (NGP)", or new armored platforms, projects, which are meant to replace the Leopard 2.

In 1991 a memorandum of understanding (MoU) was signed by the Swiss, Dutch, and German governments for KWS II. In 1992 a TVM 2 (mod) vehicle was the basis for an agreement on the Mannheimer Konfiguration, or Mannheim configuration, of the future Leopard 2A5. This vehicle was tested from 1993-1994.

Changes included a new driver’s hatch, a rearview camera, new turret front/side armor, a new gun mantlet, additional stowage boxes on the turret rear, a turret spall liner, an electric turret drive, a commander’s thermal imager, late batch 2A4 armored skirts, helicopter defense, and GPS.

I believe the L/55 main gun (KWS I) will be installed on the Dutch and German vehicles around 2002-2003.

Stridsvagn 122

Sweden tested the Leclerc, M1A2, and Leopard 2 TVM (max) from 1984-1987. A contract was signed in 1994 for the delivery of 120 Leopard 2-S or Stridsvagn 122 MBTs, with an option for 90 more. These are partially assembled in Sweden, with the first one delivered in 1996, and the last one expected in 2001.

In addition to the changes made to the Leopard 2A5, these vehicles have additional armor on the hull front and glacis, a spall liner in the driver’s compartment, a cooled engine compartment (to minimize the IR signature), an uparmored turret roof with electric sliding turret hatches, a protective flap over the commander’s periscope/thermal imager, a fire control system that can handle 12 types of ammunition, a tank command and control system, and a GIAT Galix vehicle protection system (it can fire smoke, decoy, flare, or fragmentation mortar rounds).

Tamiya Leopard 2A5

There have been several in-box reviews of this kit, starting right after it came out in Asia. I will add my own to this list, based mainly on material in the Waffen-Arsenal Special, and pictures of the Leopard 2A5(NL) from contacts in The Netherlands. The Leopard 2A5(NL) has different smoke dischargers, antennas, and machineguns (MAGs). It also retains the old style light armored skirts.

The general quality of the kit, as has been mentioned before both on- and offline, is superb; fine detail, intelligent parts split-up, and clean molding. I’ll work my way up from the lower hull and suspension, and try not to repeat too many superlatives that have already been used.

The tracks are probably the best one-piece tracks I’ve seen so far. The road wheels and return rollers, their mounts, as well as the shock dampers, are very cleanly and crisply molded, with nice bolt detail, as are the idlers and sprockets. No detail on the rear of the wheels, but that’s not a place I normally look at – no problem here. The lower hull is a very nice molding, all the way from the escape hatch under the driver’s seat to the hatches for the tool bins and NBC installation (the handles on the bins could be replaced with metal wire). The second and third return roller mounts are correctly positioned (Italeri used the old lower hull, with the earlier locations for these). The upper hull is another neat molding, with nicely molded hinges, and an appropriately wobbly fuel transfer hose on the engine deck (the handles on the hatches here could also be replaced with metal wire). The separate cooling air intake grills, as mentioned by others, must be seen to be believed. Tools and tow hooks are finely detailed, as is just about every other part to be added.

OK, enough inevitable superlatives for now. A few things to point out here. The video camera (C2 + C3) is missing the "orientation marker" (my description) for the commander. This device looks like an antenna, but the white metal ball on the top is actually meant as a reference point for the commander, when he is using his periscope, so he can find the hull rear independent of the turret orientation. The center drawing in the New Vanguard shows this device mounted (on the right rear corner) on a late batch Leopard 2A4. On the left side of part C24 is a small trapezoidal shape. This is the housing for the central warning light for the driver, as described on page 19 in the New Vanguard. The front indicators miss their brush guards (see box art), but these apparently aren’t always mounted. The rear mud flaps would, on vehicles in the field, be folded up; the small notches in the lower halves should be holes, which would be slipped over the hooks on the upper halves, depicted as small rectangles in the kit.

On to the turret. This is where I thought they’d made a big mistake with the turret roof texture. Upon checking my references, however, I realized that it is not wrong; it’s one big anti-slip patch. Actually a very good idea, as the turret roof of my Leopard 2A4 got real slippery when it rained – and it’s a long way down, as my commander found out once… There is one other thing to point out. On either side of the turret, just in front of the welded-shut ammo resupply hatch on the left, and just in front of the flag mounts on the right, are two clamps to keep the side panels of the add-on armor in place. The left ones are fine, but the lower one on the right is mounted too high – it should be roughly in between the two front hinges. Speaking of the add-on armor, on the inside of the left panel should be a bag for cleaning parts for the main gun and smoke dischargers, and on the inside of the right one a bag with parts for the deepwading shaft, which itself is mounted on the turret side, hidden behind that armor panel. There also should be a big inverted u-shaped weld line on the turret side in that position. Not a problem if you keep the panels closed, but if you want to open up the engine deck, you’ll have to add the details on one side. The cable reel, parts B27 + B28, is shown mounted on the bottom of the turret bin it’s in; according to my pictures it should be mounted against the rear of the left front bin, as on the Leopard 2A4. The smoke dischargers, once again, look very well done – no sink marks or anything. If you want to show the coax hole open, the stopper (the front most part of the tube on C36) goes onto/into the ring on the left front of C32. It should have a small chain attached to it and C32, but I’m not exactly sure where on C32. Last thing, the bins for the camouflage netting. The bins themselves look fine to me, but the nylon mesh should be replaced with perforated metal sheet in most cases. Of course you can also leave them off, judging by the Concord pictures. I’m not sure how they’d fare in a collision with a tree anyway. That’s about it. I could say more about the detail parts, but nothing significant. Altogether a great looking kit, and not as complex as I’d kind of hoped for.

One last thing: people have been daydreaming on the various news groups about Tamiya releasing a Leopard 2A4 now. I don’t think that’s very likely, as they’d have to redo the lower hull (those return rollers), upper hull, and lower and upper turret. Anyway, we have the Italeri one. Not exactly great (I’m working on one as I’m writing this), but workable. I’d much rather see a Strv. 122! For my own model, which will of course be Dutch, I’ll make the modifications mentioned before. Eduard will, of course, release photo etch for it at some point; I just hope the perforated steel for those camouflage bins will be included, and the rear mud flaps.


  1. Christopher F. Foss, Ed., "Jane’s Armour and Artillery 1996-97", Jane’s Information Group Limited, 1996.
  2. Walter J. Spielberger, "Waffensysteme Leopard 1 und Leopard 2", Motorbuch Verlag Stuttgart, 1995.
  3. Michael Scheibert, "Leopard 2 A5 Euro-Leopard 2", Waffen Arsenal Special Band 17, Podzun-Pallas-Verlag, 1996.
  4. Walter Böhm, "Leopard 2/2A5", Concord 7501, 1998.
  5. Thomas Laber, "Leopard 1 and 2 The spearheads of the West German armored forces", Concord 1007, 1990.
  6. Michael Jerchel and Peter Sarson, "Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank 1965-1995", New Vanguard 16, Osprey Military, 1995.
  7. Uwe Schnellbacher, Michael Jerchel, and Michael Badrocke, "Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank 1979-1998" New Vanguard 24, Osprey Military, 1998.
  8. Peter Gudgin, "German Tanks 1945 to the present", Tanks Illustrated No. 7, Arms and Armour Press, 1984.
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