Last week at Eurosatory 2016, an international defense exhibition, Germany’s Rheinmetall unveiled a new and enlarged cannon to be fitted to a new generation of tanks, and perhaps to take part in the next generation of tank warfare.
Currently, the standard for main battle-tank turrets across NATO nations is the 120 mm smoothbore, also developed by Rheinmetall.
The standard caliber makes coordination on munitions and procurement easy between allied nations, but it also allows adversary nations to plan against a common offense.
Such is the case with Russia’s T-14 Armata tank, which seems to have been designed with NATO’s antitank capabilities in mind. The Armata features active defenses and explosive reactive armor that the 120 mm smoothbore rounds from a US M1 Abrams or a German Leopard 2 may struggle to pierce.
But defensive features like reactive armor and active defense are modular, and can be added to existing tanks. What can’t readily attach to an existing tank is a bigger turret, which the Armata has.
The Armata features a 125 mm main cannon, and Rheinmetall’s new turret is just a hair bigger at 130 mm, but these small adjustments make a big impact. According to the company, though it’s increasing the caliber by only 8%, it’s providing a 50% increase in kinetic energy to projectiles over the 120 mm turrets NATO uses today.
Along with the new turret, it’s designed a new armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot round, which is a fancy way of describing a round that is not explosive but rather meant to channel the force of the tank blast into a long tungsten penetrator rod that melts through enemy armor and defenses.
The new turret and rounds still have a long way to go before being fitted into any tanks new or old. The entire turret, including the recoil system, weighs 3.5 tons and fires rounds that weigh more than 60 pounds and measure over a yard in length, IHS Jane’s notes.
- US Army photo by Pfc. Javon Spence
The hulking turret assembly and rounds may require a new tank with an autoloader, and one that’s able to withstand the increased recoil, Defense News notes.
But that’s exactly what the joint German and French venture to develop a new tank, called the “main ground combat system,” seeks to develop: a tank capable of meeting next-generation threats, possibly bearing the standard cannon of the future, the 130 mm smoothbore.