The Leclerc program’s development has been treated elsewhere in depth by Marc Chassillan, Stephane Ferrard and Gerard Turbé, and what follows is a synopsis for the Anglophone reader. The AMX 30 series was France’s first main battle tank program.
From EPC to the AMX Leclerc
The Leclerc program’s development has been treated elsewhere in depth by Marc Chassillan, Stephane Ferrard and Gerard Turbé, and what follows is a synopsis for the Anglophone reader. The AMX 30 series was France’s first main battle tank program. Despite its success, by the time it entered the advanced trials phase in 1964 ideas for its successor were already being sketched on DEFA’s drawing boards. This project received official sanction under the general designation Engin Principal de Combat (EPC) or main combat vehicle. The term ‘vehicle’ was open to discussion in the EPC concept; it could be either a tank or a helicopter or a totally new kind of vehicle yet to be defined. Some thirteen years passed before it received an official cahier des charges in 1977. The EPC emerged as a tank, but one built under a very different concept than that
of the simple AMX 30. Superior technology, complexity and a higher unit cost were factors expected to come part and parcel with a design that would be capable of fighting superior numbers.
In 1978 a Franco-German partnership was briefly undertaken to build a common MBT. The Germans, far ahead in the development of the Leopard 2, offered the French the development of part of the turret, naming the common design Napoléon. The French proposed developing the entire turret, and to leave the hull design alone to the Germans. Unfortunately the two allies never came to an agreement, but each came to similar conclusions regarding the specification of their future tank requirements. France needed a new tank more urgently due to the obsolescence of the 105mm armed AMX 30, but in order to preserve its defense industry the new combat platform had to be built in France. France adopted shorter term measures to get a modernised battle tank into service in the meantime, which delayed the EPC’s procurement.
In 1979, the prototype of the AMX 32 was developed, offering significant improvements over the AMX 30. At the same time French army place a tender for the modernization of the AMX 30 to the standard known today as the AMX 30 B2. The technology developed for the AMX 32 was offered for the AMX 30 B2 program, but the French army declined any modifications requiring major redesigns (judging them too expensive), and preferring to save a large part of the budget for the EPC. Deliveries of the production AMX 30 B2 followed in 1982. Even with the upgrades, the AMX 30 B2 held poor odds on a battlefield in face of masses of new Soviet MBTs armed with 125mm guns, adding urgency to the EPC project as the new decade began.
In 1983, the first AMX 40 prototype was built as a high-end medium tank for the export market. The AMX 40 employed a powerful 1100 HP V12X diesel engine coupled with the German ZF LSG 3000 gearbox and the CN120-25 (also known as CN120G1) 120mm smoothbore gun. At a mere 43 tons, the AMX 40 was amongst the best armed vehicles of its size, carrying a conventional 3-man turret based on proven technology and with composite armour on its frontal arc. It incorporated a stabilised commander’s sight that allowed the gun to be laid on the move by the commander and carried its ammunition supply in a vented rotating magazine in the turret bustle. Despite its technical merits the AMX 40 attracted little interest from abroad (GIAT attempts to market the AMX 40 being focused on the Saudi and Egyptian armies). The EPC specification was settled in 1984 as a 120mm gunned, turreted MBT in the 50 tonne class. The projected cost was estimated at roughly 15 Million Francs per unit. A healthy competition between the two GIAT designs was settled by mid-1986 in favour of the design we know now as the Leclerc.
Five years into the EPC program, chassis and turret test bed construction began in 1982-83. Technological changed quickly in early 1980s, and this brought a number of design options forward for the turret. The choice of an unmanned turret was very seriously entertained before the two man turret with autoloader was selected in 1984. Four different hulls test rigs (known as Banc Roulant) were tested to evaluate the engine, transmission and the suspension options. The TSC (Tourelle Système Complet) turret was perfected at the same time, with a two man crew, gun stabilisation and an automatic loading system.