The Leclerc main battle tank is in service with the French Army and the UAE Armed Forces. Credit: Rama / WikiCommons.
The French Army’s Leclerc MBT is expected to be replaced by a new battle tank in the late 2030s. Credit: Daniel Steger (Lausanne, Switzerland) / WikiCommons.
The Leclerc MBT is equipped with a coaxial 12.7mm machine gun along with the main gun and a machine gun. Credit: Rama / WikiCommons.

The Leclerc main battle tank (MBT) is a 57t tracked machine built by French state-owned weapons manufacturer Nexter Systems (previously known as Giat Industries). It can fire arrow, explosive and canister ammunition in stationary or mobile modes.

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

The French Army ordered the final tranche of 52 Leclerc tanks in September 2001, concluding a total order of 406 (plus 20 armoured recovery vehicles). Deliveries were completed in October 2007. The French Army has a fleet of 200 Leclerc tanks as of May 2021.

390 tanks and 46 armoured recovery vehicles (ARVs) were ordered by the UAE. Deliveries of the tanks and ARVs were concluded in 2004 and 2008 respectively.

Leclerc main battle tank development

The Leclerc was first operational with the French Army in 1992 and with UAE in 1995. Leclerc mk2 tanks with improved software and engine control system entered production in 1998.

In June 2006, Nexter unveiled the Leclerc optimised for urban operations. It is fitted with the AZUR kit, which consists of additional protection in the form of side skirts of composite material, bar armour on the rear of hull and turret to protect against rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and extra protection for the engine against petrol bombs. A remotely controlled 7.62mm machine gun is also fitted in addition to the 120mm gun.

In early 2011, Nexter signed an agreement with UAE-based defence and security solutions provider International Golden Group to supply Azur up-armour kits for the Leclerc MBTs of the UAE Armed Forces.

In May 2020, the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS) was approved for initial system architecture study. MGCS is a joint effort by the French and German governments to develop a main combat system that will replace Germany’s Leopard 2 MBT and the French Army’s Leclerc in 2035.

The UAE donated some of the Leclerc MBTs to Jordan in the second half of 2020.

In April 2021, the French defence procurement agency Direction Générale de l’Armement (DGA), awarded a mid-life upgrade contract to Nexter for the Leclerc tanks. Nexter will address the obsolescence of the platform and upgrade the MBTs under a programme known as XLR.

The upgrade 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 (BMS) to provide a collaborative combat capability on the battlefield.

Leclerc main battle tank armament

The 120mm 52-calibre smoothbore gun is fitted with a thermal sleeve and muzzle reference system. Fumes are exhausted with a compressed air unit. The gun, which fires APFSD (armour-piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot) and HEAT (high-explosive anti-tank) rounds, has a firing rate of 12 rounds a minute. The aiming system is entirely electrical for improved acceleration.

The tank has an automatic loading system, which allows cross-country fire-on-the-move against mobile targets. 22 rounds of ready-to-use ammunition are carried. The tank is also armed with a 12.7mm machine gun co-axial with the main gun and a roof-mounted 7.62mm anti-aircraft gun.

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

Self-protection system of the main battle tank

The main battle tank is fitted with Galix combat vehicle protection system, developed by Nexter and Lacroix Tous Artifices. Nine launch tubes for the 80mm grenades are fitted on either side of the turret roof. The Galix system can launch smoke or anti-personnel grenades or infrared decoys.

Nexter developed the KBCM defensive aids suite for integration into the Leclerc. KBCM includes laser warner, missile warner, infrared jammer and the Galix system and can be integrated with the FINDERS battle management system. The French Army evaluated the system.

The upgraded Leclerc XLR will feature increased protection through the addition of side plates to protect against RPG-type threats and floor over-armour against improvised explosive devices.

Battle management system

The Leclerc is fitted with the FINDERS (fast information, navigation, decision and reporting system) battlefield management system, developed by Nexter Systems. FINDERS includes a colour map display which shows the positions of the host tank, allied and hostile forces and designated targets and can be used for route and mission planning.

The French Army selected Nexter to equip its Leclerc main battle tanks with a terminal information system (TIS) called Icone (ergonomic communications and navigation interface). The initial phase of the contract covers the equipment of more than 100 Leclerc tanks.

The TIS was developed together with EADS Defense Electronics Systems. It permits the exchange of digitised data including tactical situation and the graphic orders displayed on a background map, between the vehicle and higher-level command.

Digital fire control and observation systems

The digital fire control system allows the gunner or commander to select six different targets to be engaged in just over 30 seconds. The system’s digital computer allows real-time treatment of data from the tank’s sensors and sights.

The commander has eight periscopes and an HL-70 stabilised panoramic sight from Safran (formerly SAGEM).

HL-70 includes laser rangefinder, day channel, and second-generation image intensifier.

Recognition range is 4km and identification range is 2.5km. The commander has a display showing the gunner’s thermal sight. The gunner’s station is equipped with gunner’s main sight, three periscopes and a visual display unit. The gunner’s stabilised sight is SAVAN 20 from Safran, which contains a three-field-of-view thermal imager.

The driver’s station has three periscopes, of which the centre periscope is the OB-60 driver’s sight developed by Thales Optronique (formerly Thomson-CSF), which has day and night channels.

Leclerc MBT propulsion

The Leclerc is equipped with an SACM V8X-1500 Hyperbar diesel engine providing 1,500hp at 2,500rpm. An electronic engine management system is supplied by Safran. The SESM ESM 500 automatic transmission has a hydrostatic transmission unit and five forward and two reverse gears. The engine is fitted with a Suralmo-Hyperbar high pressure gas turbine. The engine provides a road speed over 70km/h and cross-country speed up to 50km/h.

The tank also has a Turbomeca TM-307B gas turbine auxiliary power unit. The hydropneumatic suspension system is from Societe d’Applications des Machines Motrices (SAMM).

UAE tropicalised Leclerc main battle tank

The tropicalised Leclerc is optimised for tropical and desert conditions to meet the requirement of the UAE. A new powerpack and diesel auxiliary power unit has been installed and the hull is extended at the back to accommodate the powerpack and larger fuel tanks. The Euro Powerpack has the MTU 883 V-12 diesel engine providing 1,500hp, coupled with Renk HSWL295 TM automatic transmission.

For this and export versions of the tank, Nexter developed the Leclerc Battle management equipment (LBME), a derivative of FINDERS. The HL-70 commander’s sight has been replaced by the HL-80, also from SFIM.

Leclerc NGRV new-generation recovery vehicle

The Leclerc new-generation recovery vehicle (NGRV) has a longer hull with seven pairs of wheels.

A hydraulically operated blade at the front of the vehicle is used to clear a path through battlefield obstacles. The vehicle is equipped with a hydraulic crane rated to lift 35,000kg loads and a winch with 180m cable rated at 35,000kg. A secondary winch is rated at 1,300kg and has a 230m cable. The crane and winch systems are supplied by Rheinmetall Landsystemes.

The NGRV can accommodate a tank commander, a pilot, and an assistant mechanic.