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At the Eurosatory 2022 defense and security exhibition in Paris, Rheinmetall has revealed its next-generation main battle tank concept, the KF51 Panther, which combines relative light weight and a smaller size with increased lethality.Based on the Cold-War-era Leopard 2 main battle tank, the KF51 (KF stands for "Kettenfahrzeug" or tracked vehicle) concept features a number of design innovations that Rheinmetall says address the weaknesses of today's tanks.

When NATO and the Warsaw Pact faced off against one another during the Cold War, the conventional war strategy was one of massed armored divisions pitted against one another in central and eastern Europe. The result was armies built around tanks weighing up to 80 tonnes that boasted heavy composite or reactive armor and large turret-mounted guns.This was fine in the 1980s, but the development of smart precision munitions that can home in on a tank's weak spots has sparked a debate in the defense community as to whether the best approach for the future is to upgrade the Cold War tanks or to abandon them in favor of lighter, more maneuverable vehicles.Rheinmetall seems to be taking a different approach by using a fully digitalized NATO Generic Vehicle Architecture (NGVA) to produce a tank that is more lethal and has a greater degree of survivability, combined with a networked command system and remote drone reconnaissance. According to the company, this not only results in an improved tank, but one that can be easily upgraded to include future technologies like artificial intelligence.

A key feature of the KF51 Panther is the 130-mm Rheinmetall Future Gun System (FGS) . This smoothbore gun incorporates an automatic handling system that holds 20 ready rounds that are instantly available. Rheinmetall claims that the FSG is 50 percent more effective over longer ranges than current 120-mm guns and can fire both kinetic energy projectiles and programmable airburst ammunition, plus practice rounds.Backing up the FSG is a 12.7-mm coaxial machine gun with 250 ready rounds, Remotely Controlled Weapon Stations (RCWS) for proximity and drone defenses, and an integrated launcher for the UVision HERO 120 loitering munition that carries a 4.5-kg (10-lb) warhead and has an electric motor that allows it to remain airborne for up to 60 minutes and strike targets out of the KF51 Panther's line of sight.

In addition to its heavy armor, the KF51 Panther is equipped with the 40-mm Rosy smoke protection system that can lay down both large-area and dynamic smoke screens to obscure the vehicle from a wide variety of guided weapons. Along with this is the Top Attack Protection System (TAPS) that protects the vulnerable top of the tank's turret from vertical threats, and a full anti-cyber threat system.Inside the KF51 Panther there are three operator positions, with two in the turret for the Commander and Gunner, and a third in the chassis for the Driver. There is also a fourth chassis seat for a mission specialist, company or battalion commander, or drone operator. Each of the positions has an interface that provides a 360-degree outside view, allows for the crew to take over tasks and roles from other crew members, and allows the Gunner and Commander to independently track and engage separate targets.

Later variants of the KF51 Panther will be able to interface directly with drones and robotic ground vehicles, may have crewless turrets, or even be fully remote controlled or autonomous. In the meantime, the Panther can network with reconnaissance units for enhanced situational awareness and share data directly with other assets.One other advantage of the KF51 Panther is that it weighs only 59 tonnes and boasts a maximum operating range of 500 km (311 miles). It also conforms to NATO's AMovP-4L profile, which means it can navigate roads, bridges, and tunnels that may not be accessible to larger tanks.

Source: Rheinmetall