Polish Leopard 2 Modernization Meets Dead End

At the 27th annual MSPO Expo in Poland, Bumar-Labedy Company had shown its modernization of the Polish Leopard 2A4 MBT named the Leopard 2PL. The Polish variant of the tank is planned to be equipped with additional armor, a new electric turret motor in place of the old hydraulics, KLW-1 Asteria 3rd generation thermal optics, a new CCTV set for tank commander, KDN-1 Nyks backup camera and a new APU.

The smooth-bore Rh-120 L44 gun will be also modernized in order to operate with new types and generations of ammunition. As a result, the mass of the tank rose by 4 tons. However, Leopard 2PL is equipped with the same engine unit as Leopard 2A4, the MTU MB 873 Ka 501 with 1,500HP. It means that the same engine unit will have to manage much more weight than previously.

The agreement on modernizing the tanks was singed in December 2015, between Polish PGZ with Bumar-Labedy and German Rheinmetall Defense. The cost of the modernization was around $650m USD. 128 Leopards 2A4 were initially to be improved, while in July 2018, an additional agreement was signed allowing 16 more tanks to be included in the program later on.

Polish Leopard 2A4 during exercises in 2006.
Picture by courtesy of the Ministry of Defense (MON)

However, issues with the program began with the announcement of the tender for modernization program. The administration of the Polish Army announced that problems of a legal nature occurred. If the Ministry of Defense wanted to improve the tanks it could not do so on its own due to the intellectual property rights reserved by the original German producers.

The result of the tender led to changes in cooperation between Polish and German companies. By 2014, Bumar-Labedy gained the support of the Rheinmetall, which previously had ties with WZM Poznan. KMW then joined WZM Poznan, as the Polish producer did not want to lose its chances for the contract with the Ministry of Defense and KMW wanted to capitalize on the program.

Due to this change in cooperation between both German and Polish companies, WZM Poznan with KMW was to deliver the logistic background for Leopard 2A5 modernization, and the Bumar-Labedy with Rheinmetall was to support the maintenance of Leopard 2A4. But the Polish government did not consider the proposition made by the KMW. This was due to two factors. In October 2015, the government in Poland changed. Due to the fact that the new government is heavily focused on the development of the Polish industry, the KMW was doomed to failure as it was not Polonized. There were too few Polish companies that could participate and benefit from the maintenance process.

New Leopards were shown to public at the end of 2018. The new turret enhances the image of progressing modernization in the Polish Armed Forces. However, the entire project is already five years in the making.
Picture by courtesy of the Rheinmetall

The initial budget for modernization was 1.1 bn Polish zlotys (PLN), but after the changes in PGZ’s structure and termination of some contracts made by KMW, the price rose to 2.1 bn PLN for 128 tanks. With the renovation of existing tanks, the first issues occurred. Some of the modernized Leopards were exploited much more than it was supposed. The producer claimed that the agreement did not contain a clause of extensive repairs. Rheinmetall was also responsible for the delivery of parts, but the Polish company, Bumar, demanded the transfer of technology and its application for tanks service and support.

Currently, the agreement between German and Polish companies seems to be very doubtful and full of loopholes. The competences and obligations of the German partner were not fully determined by the Polish MoD. For now, the delivery of modernized tanks is not possible due to delays at Bumar, which are the result of negligence in contracts between the parties responsible for the Leopard 2PL project. There is little that can be done without rising the final price and for now the tanks are nowhere to be seen by their crews.