In an effort to keep the Leclerc main battle tank (MBT) up to date, the French Ministry of Defence has contracted domestic industry organisations to come together to digitise the thirty-year-old platform.

France’s Directorate Gerneral of Armaments (DGA) notified Nexter – a government-owned weapons producer and subsidiary of the holding company KNDS – and Safran – a Paris-based aerospace equipment manufacturer – of the contract.

Namely, the two companies will work together to develop and integrate an ‘observation’ function to the remodeled Leclerc XLR using Safran’s PASEO sight.

Leclerc evolution

The Leclerc is a 57 tonne tracked MBT built by Nexter (previously known as Giat Industries at the time of development). It can fire arrow, explosive and canister ammunition in stationary or mobile modes.

The MBT is currently operational with the French Army and the Armed Forces of the United Arab Emirates.

A 120 millimetre (mm), 52-calibre smoothbore gun is fitted with a thermal sleeve and muzzle reference system. Fumes are exhausted with a compressed air unit.

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The gun fires armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot and high-explosive anti-tank rounds and has a firing rate of 12 rounds per minute.

The latest XLR variant

In April 2021, the DGA awarded a mid-life upgrade contract to address the obsolescence of the platform and upgrade the MBTs under a programme known as ‘XLR’.

France aims to integrate the Leclerc MBT into the Scorpion programme, an initiative that seeks to replace the fighting vehicles of the French Armed Forces with platforms connected to a unified communications and battlefield management system. Ultimately, this will provide a collaborative combat capability on the battlefield.

The Safran-Nexter team’s PASEO sight integration is the latest update in this effort.

In addition, a remotely operated T2B turret equipped with a 7.62mm calibre gun supplied by Nexter’s Belgian partner and firearm company FN Herstal will be installed on the XLR to enhance its armament capabilities.

The modular advanced stabilised PASEO sight during an integration phase. Credit: Safran.

PASEO sight enhancement

These sights are the two main observation and engagement systems of the Leclerc tank, allowing the crew to detect, identify, and target an object several kilometres away before engaging it.

The optronic core of the Leclerc MBT’s weapon system will be digitised to increase the data flow and provide high-quality images in all conditions.

Notably, its legacy analogue video system will also be replaced by a digital video system while the gunner’s sight is due be modernised with latest-generation optronic sensors and new electronics.

Meanwhile, the commander’s sight will be replaced by the latest-generation PASEO sight, it is designed for panoramic observation and engagement in all conditions. OPT-Sys, another KNDS company, provides the digital monocular that serves as the interface between the tank commander and the PASEO sight.

The PASEO family already provides the same functions on the Jaguar armoured vehicle – of which Thales supplied 60 units to the DGA in 2023.