The Leclerc is in service with the French Army and the army of the United Arab Emirates. In production since 1991, the Leclerc entered French service in 1992, replacing the venerable AMX-30 as the country's main armoured platform. With production now complete, the French Army has a total of 406 Leclercs and the United Arab Emirates Army has 388.
The Leclerc is equipped with a GIAT (Nexter) CN120-26 120mm smoothbore cannon. This cannon is theoretically capable of firing the same NATO standard 120mm rounds as the German Leopard 2 and US M1 Abrams, but in practice only custom French-produced ammunition is issued. The gun is insulated with a thermal sleeve and has an automatic compressed air fume extraction system instead of the usual bore evacuator. The Leclerc has a unique autoloading system which was specifically designed for it, and reduces the crew to three by eliminating the human loader. The turret of the Leclerc was designed around the auto-loading system in order to avoid the problems common to other tanks with an autoloader. The Leclerc autoloader allows a rate of fire of 12 shots per minute and holds 22 rounds of ready ammunition; it can accommodate up to five different types of ammunition at once, although like most autoloader systems it cannot change ammunition types once a round has been loaded. The most common types are the armour piercing fin-stabilised discarding sabot (APFSDS) with a tungsten core and the high explosive anti-tank (HEAT) round. There are 18 other rounds available for reload. A Leclerc tank can fire while traveling at a speed of 50 km/h on a target 4,000 meters away. The gun is 52 calibres long instead of the 44 calibres common on most tanks of the Leclerc's generation, giving the rounds a higher muzzle velocity; on the other hand, the latest German and British tanks have 55 calibre guns which are even more powerful.
The Leclerc is also equipped with a 12.7 mm coaxial machine gun and a remote-controlled 7.62mm antiaircraft machine gun, whereas most other NATO tanks use 7.62mm weapons for both their coaxial and top machine gun mounts; the major exception is the American M1 Abrams, which has a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun and two top-mounted machine guns, one 7.62mm and one 12.7mm.
The Leclerc has the Galix combat vehicle protection system from GIAT, which fires a variety of smoke grenades and infra red screening rounds, as well as anti-personnel grenades.
The hull and the turret are made of welded steel fitted with modular armour, which can be replaced easily for repair or upgrades over the years. The French army in the late seventies rejected Chobham armour as being overly specialised in its optimisation to defeat hollow charge-weapons; it therefore opted to develop a steel perforated armour system, comparable to that on the early Leopard 2. When the Leclerc was introduced in the early nineties this was still considered adequate, due to the larger thickness of its modules compared to the armour of other modern western tanks, made possible — for a given weight limit — by the compact design of the tank as a whole. However during the nineties standards for tank armour protection increased, as exemplified by the Leopard 2A5, its main rival on the export market, being fitted with an additional spaced armour system. Thus it was decided to follow the Germans (Leopard 2A4) and British (Challenger 2) in their application of a titanium-tungsten system, which was introduced to the Leclerc in 2001, in Batch 10. The inner spaces are filled with NERA.
Fire control and observation
The Leclerc has a FINDERS battle management system and an ICONE TIS digital communication system which integrates data from other tanks and upper levels of command.
The Leclerc' digital fire control system can be operated independently by the gunner or the commander, and it offers real time integrated imaging from all of the tank's sensors and sights, including the gunner's SAVAN 20 stabilised sight, developed by SAGEM and the driver's night/day OB-60 vision system from Thales Optrosys. The system can track six targets concurrently and is very much like a similar system made by the same company for the Challenger 2 tank of the United Kingdom.
The Leclerc has an eight-cylinder, Wärtsilä (ex SACM) V8X-1500 1,500 hp Hyperbar diesel engine and a SESM ESM500 automatic transmission, with five forward and two reverse gears. The official maximum speed by road is 72 km/h and 55 km/h cross country (speeds in excess of 80 km/h were reported on road). The maximum range is given as 550 km, and can be extended to 650 km with removable external tanks. The "hyperbar" system integrates a Turbomeca TM 307B gas turbine in the engine, acting both as a turbocharger and an APU giving auxiliary power to all systems when the main engine is shut down.
At a combat weight of just 56 tons, the Leclerc is one of the lightest main battle tanks in the world; this gives it one of the best power-to-weight ratios among the Western tanks (27 hp per tonne) and makes it one of the fastest MBTs of its generation (0 to 32 km/h in 5 seconds).
The engine exhaust, exiting at the rear left, is cooled to reduce the thermal signature of the tank. Transmission is a hydromechanical type with five forward and two reverse gears. Fuel tanks carry 1,300 litres and act as extra protection; two 200-litre external tanks can be fitted on the rear of the turret, but have to be jettisoned before entering combat since they limit turret rotation.
The gear box is equipped with a hydrokinetic retarder which can slow the Leclerc down at a deceleration rate of 7 m/s² (0.7 g) which can be very useful at the last moment before it could be hit. The crew must be strapped in safely by their harnesses to use this.