What cannons for future MBTs?

(To Tiziano Ciocchetti)

At the end of the 80 years of the last century, the United States, the United Kingdom, France and Germany (but also Israel and Switzerland) had destined huge resources for the development of new smooth-bore guns - in 140 mm caliber - for battle floats.

The USSR was also planning a new piece (some sources speak of an 135 mm cannon / missile launcher) that was supposed to equip the new MBT T-95.

The common purpose of all these projects was to be able to build a cannon that developed at the mouth an energy of at least 18 / 20 MJ (Megajoule), with consequent initial speed of 1.800 / 1.900 m / sec for the kinetic energy APFSDS project.

However, with the end of the Cold War and the occurrence of new strategic scenarios, these programs were abandoned (some Western military analysts theorized, even, the end of the use by the armies of the tank).

As for Germany, the theoretical idea of ​​installing the new 140 mm piece remained to update the LEOPARD 2, but this would have involved a profound (and therefore expensive) modification program, including the development of a new turret.

The alternative - more economical - was identified in an improved version of the 120 mm cannon, the United States and Germany could have installed it on the M-1A2 ABRAMS and on the LEOPARD 2, through little invasive updates.

This type of solution was successful in Germany with the development of a longer cannon (55 calibri) which was installed on the LEOPARD 2A6 and later on the A7 version (photo).

While in the United States the development of the corresponding M-256E1 cannon was characterized by a series of problems that led to the cancellation of the project.

On the part of the European armed forces, given the scarcity of strategic air carriers, great emphasis is placed on the rapid deployment of the so-called medium forces, characterized by the possibility of being airborne through C-130J SUPERHERCULES (maximum capacity 19 t) and by A-400M ( maximum capacity 39 t). This deficiency (which is unlikely to be remedied in the coming years) will require the development of light / medium AIFVs by the European armies, equipped with an armament similar to that of the MBT both for the support of fire to the infantry and for the roles of anti-tank.

Since the 1995, the German Rheinmetall, started the development of a new generation of smooth-core 105 guns suitable for installation on lightweight AIFVs of class 18 t. For these pieces a new series of ammunition was produced which also includes the KE projectile characterized by an initial speed of 1.700 m / sec., Capable of drilling a homogeneous steel plate of the thickness of 560 mm at the distance of 1.000 meters, then in able to pierce the front protection of a T-72 battle wagon.

Furthermore, the German company offers on the market the LLL (Light Low Recoil) from 120 / 47. This gun can be installed on vehicles with a minimum weight of 25 tons (such as BOXER and PUMA) and therefore suitable for transport by an A-400M.

Also the Italian company Oto Melara, in the 2002, presented a light cannon from 120 / 45. Tension tests have shown that the multiple-opening mouth brake and a recoil stroke of 550 mm reduce the recoil energy to 25 tons. Installed on the new CENTAURO II heavy armored car (photo) to be acquired, the 120 / 45 piece can also be used in critical shooting positions, such as with the turret traversed across the beam.

Thanks to its ability to cover a wide range of distances, the MBT gun will still remain the ideal instrument, both in urban combat and in open field conditions. The need to project power in operational theaters far from European bases, recommends producing light vehicles that can be airborne quickly, but with the same firepower as battle tanks.

Photo: Bundeswehr / Iveco – Oto Melara Consortium