The Russian T-14 Armata main battle tank is a legend, although it has never really seen action. Now the armaments group Rheinmetall has presented the "KF51 Panther", which was developed on its own and is intended to hold a candle to the T-14.
At the Eurosatory 2022 armaments trade fair, which is currently taking place in Paris, the German armaments group Rheinmetall caused a stir with the KF51 main battle tank. Not only is it supposed to be the answer to the Russian wonder tank T-14 Armata, it is also nicknamed the "Panther". A naming that is politically not entirely undisputed because of its history. As early as World War II, the German Wehrmacht was to react to the outstanding Russian T-34 with a "Panther".
The problem was that the deployment for the "Panther" came too early. In the Kursk Basin he had more to contend with technical problems than he could even begin to exploit his much better armament. But even after the teething troubles were resolved, the "Panther" could never be produced in such large numbers as the Russian T-34, which was simple but also very robust, due to its technically delicate systems.
The presentation of the "KF51 Panther" by Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger in Paris also made it clear that this is not just the legitimate successor to the "Leopard 2", but also a masterpiece of engineering. Interestingly, the new "Panther" is actually a solo effort by Rheinmetall.
At the time, the company from Düsseldorf was not awarded the contract to develop a successor to the internationally renowned "Leopard 2". The order went to Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) and the French Nexter, which have merged to form KNDS. Although Rheinmetall is also involved in the project, it is not in charge. That lies with KNDS, which may also be a reason for Papperger's deviating from the armaments cooperation. According to the "Handelsblatt", the group feels "left out of the project by its rival".
In this respect, according to Rheinmetall, the "KF51 Panther" is an in-house development that was carried out independently of the Franco-German tank project. "The 'Panther' is thus appearing on the world markets as a potential successor to the 'Leopard' battle tank and similar combat vehicles," the company explained.
Visually, the vehicle is based on the "Lynx" armored personnel carrier, although the "Panther" is larger and, at 59 tons, significantly heavier, but remains significantly lighter than its predecessor, the "Leopard 2". Rheinmetall promises that this will significantly increase mobility off-road. Compared to the "Leopard 2", Rheinmetall has also upgraded its armament.
The "Panther" is equipped with a cannon with a caliber of 130 millimeters, which can fire stronger and longer-range ammunition than the "Leopard" and should therefore achieve a more than 50 percent greater effect, explains CEO Papperger. In addition, the ammunition no longer has to be balanced into the gun barrel by hand. As usual with Russian tanks, this is done by a loading machine.
In addition, the Rheinmetall board promises better protection against enemy fire and digital networking with other weapon systems for the three-man crew. From the point of view of military experts, the latter in particular will become significantly more important in the future. As the newspaper "Welt" says, the "Panther" is also to be equipped with accompanying drones, which are operated by one person on board. Approaching guided missiles, projectiles or so-called kamikaze drones are intended to destroy a so-called distance-active protection system in the "KF51 Panther" immediately before impact.
The biggest advantage of the "Panther" is said to be that it is ready for action much faster than the main battle tank from KNDS/Rheinmetall expected for 2035. First interest from Eastern Europe in "Leopard 2" successor. Even before Rheinmetall presented the "KF51 Panther" at the Eurosatory 2022 in Paris, the first countries from Eastern Europe are said to have expressed an interest in buying it. Nevertheless, the Rheinmetall boss would like to see the Bundeswehr as a reference customer. It is to be extensively upgraded after the Russian attack on Ukraine. This also includes a new main battle tank, which according to previous plans will come from KNDS/Rheinmetall from 2035. Part of the 100 billion euros reserved by the government for the armament is earmarked for this.
Of course, the "KF51 Panther" should also be a message to Russia. After all, the T-14 Armata had made the NATO military quite nervous because of its demonstrated capabilities, because the technology seemed far superior to the "Leopard". Not much is left of the myth of the "best battle tank in the world" - and apparently there are only a few copies instead of the announced four-digit numbers. Nevertheless, Russia's tank developers should not be underestimated, they say. At 125 millimeters, the Armata has a larger caliber than the "Leopard" and, like the "Panther", has an unmanned turret, which means greater safety for the crew.