Analysis: KAPLAN MT Poised to Become Force Multiplier for Indonesia
In the 46th issue of MSI Turkish Defence Review (TDR) we have published an article titled “KAPLAN MT Poised to Become Force Multiplier for Indonesia” by Alper Çalık, Technical Writer at MSI TDR. You can read the article below:
In the design and development project being conducted jointly by FNSS and PT Pindad of Indonesia, for which a contract was signed in 2014, the conceptual design of the Medium–Weight Class Tank KAPLAN MT was completed and the tank was introduced at the Indo Defence 2016 exhibition held in Jakarta between November 2 and 5. The ready-for-testing prototype was on display at IDEF 2017 and was shipped to Indonesia to begin testing in September. The KAPLAM MT took part in a parade held in the city of Cilegon on the occasion of Indonesia’s National Armed Forces Day on October 5.
Before talking about KAPLAN MT, let us briefly talk about tanks in general before going into more detail on the medium-weight class.
Tank Classification and Tanks of Medium Weight Class
Tanks are tracked armoured platforms that carry heavy weaponry with a flat trajectory. In other words, they are a combination of tracks, armour and weaponry; but if we remove any one of those three components, the vehicle is no longer a tank. A non-track armoured vehicle carrying heavy weaponry with a flat trajectory, for instance, is referred to as a mobile gun system (MGS). Similarly, it would be described as an armoured personnel carrier if it has no weapon, or a tank hunter if it had no armour. Furthermore, if the weapon system is converted from a flat trajectory (firing with a sight of the target) to high trajectory (firing without seeing the target) one, the vehicle would be a self-propelled howitzer rather than a tank (Figure 1).
While the differences between heavy- and medium-class tanks are more obvious, there is little to distinguish a light tank from a medium tank. The line between the two is quite blurred, so much so that one of two different vehicles with almost the same configuration may be described as a light tank, while the other may be characterised as a medium tank. Here, the target group of the manufacturer as well as the needs of the buyer affect the process. To make a clear distinction, vehicles weighing from 20 to 25 tons can be called light tanks, while those weighing 30 tons or more can be called medium tanks. Here, we do not consider the ballistic protection levels of vehicles because it has no clear effect on classification. According to NATO’s STANAG 4569 document, which defines the protection levels of armoured vehicles, vehicles which have a tracked platform and relatively high fire power can be called:
– A light tank, if its ballistic and mine protection is in the level 2-3 range,
– A medium tank, if its ballistic and mine protection is equal to or above the level 2-3 range. It is useful to note that this document defines protection levels for light armoured vehicles and logistical vehicles.
There are also differences between these two types of vehicles also in terms of the main weapons used, although it would be wrong to make that distinction based solely on barrel diameter, in that factors such as muzzle velocity and the ratio of barrel length to barrel diameter play a significant role in the description of a warfare platform. A high velocity 105-mm weapon is used on the Argentina-manufactured TAM (Tanque Argentino Mediano) medium tank, and the same weapon has been mounted on an M1 Abrams main battle tank in the past, whereas a low velocity 152 mm weapon is used on the M551 Sheridan light tank manufactured in the United States. The main reason for using lighter weapons on light tanks is that the high recoil forces associated with powerful tank guns need to be supported by a powerful, and hence heavier, chassis. Stingray and M8 AGS may be given as examples of light tanks here, and similarly, the CV90120, with a weight close to 35 tons may be referred to as a medium tank, although it is classified by its manufacturer as a light tank.
Capacity of Medium Class
Despite suggestions that there is no longer a need for medium-class tanks with the launch of the main battle tank (MBT), today’s combat theatres require tanks to carry out a broad range of very different missions, such as:
- Delaying operations,
- Rear area security tasks against light mobile or airborne units,
- Mobile Screening operation,
- Escorting of light armour or soft-skinned vehicle convoys; and
- Counter penetration roles.
The MBT is far from being the most ideal or cost-effective platform for such missions. In addition, improvements in the firepower of MBTs and in the efficiency of antitank missiles, as well as the increase in the utilisation of landmines and improvised explosive devices, have led to a rise in the protection levels of MBTs, and hence their weights. Modern MBTs perform much worse than their ancestors from World War II on soft ground, and face problems particularly in areas with insufficient infrastructure. They may also be too heavy to be supported by some bridges.
It is worth mentioning that today’s medium-weight class tanks are no match for MBTs in face to face combat, but offer advantages over them in other areas. MBTs are designed for battle against equivalent vehicles, and therefore have their main armour on the front, while medium-weight class tanks have an even level of protection across the entire vehicle. The main reason for this design is that light or mechanised infantry, as the more likely enemy, may approach from any direction, in that medium-weight class tanks are mostly used in defensive roles rather than for direct attacks, like MBTs. In addition, they are much better protected against the 25-30 mm calibre main weapons of armoured combat vehicles, which they will single out as their primary targets, than light tanks in the 15-20 ton class.
Another advantage of the medium class to the heavy class is their high mobility. The importance of moving swiftly and changing position in a combat zone has been proven throughout the course of history. The Crescent or Turan manoeuvre, one of the oldest Turkish war tactics, or the German blitzkrieg doctrine from World War II are among the best known examples of such a strategy, both of which are built on units that can move rapidly and change position quickly in the field.,
Naturally, the strategic deployment capability of medium-class tanks is one of their main advantages. While this factor will never lose importance, shrinking defence budgets are forcing the armies of different countries to dominate larger areas with smaller forces. Peace support operations and similar missions that many countries are required to conduct in the international arena with various different political motivations increase the importance of the concept of strategic transportability, and as a result, air and naval transportation gains more importance with every passing day.
KAPLAN MT to Take Over the Flag
Taking into account all of the above, experts believe that the need for medium-class tanks that bridge the gap between light tanks and MBTs is increasing rather than diminishing under today’s conditions. Currently under development by FNSS and Indonesian company PT Pindad, the KAPLAN MT Medium-Weight Tank is being showcased as the most viable response to this need of the modern battlefield, and its technical properties are meeting expectations.
Body: The tank weighs approximately 35 tons, and its power to weight ratio of 20 HP/ton, as the main factor determining a vehicle’s movement capability, is sufficient for a vehicle in its category.
KAPLAN MT’s double pin tracks is now a standard feature in modern tracked vehicles in this weight category. It is stated that the vehicle has a powerful cooling system equipped with a special software, which ensures that part of the heat generated by the engine of the vehicle can be dissipated. The vehicle has a torsion bar style suspension system. Considering the tropical climate of Southeast Asia, this vehicle will be one step ahead of those designed for more general climatic conditions in terms of performance. The reason for this is that diesel or turbine engines in modern armoured vehicles are machines that convert the heat energy to movement , and these engines generate maximum output when operating at a specific temperature range. When the internal temperature of the engine goes over a certain level, its output falls and the engine may suffer damage. Cooling systems ensure that excess heat within the engine is removed, meaning that an effective cooling system will make a significant difference when air temperatures are high and it is more difficult to remove the heat from engine. In the light of this, it would be fair to say that the KAPLAN MT will ensure effective engine performance even in geographical areas with different operational environments, as can be found across Turkey.
This feature has the added advantage of reducing the heat signature of the vehicle, allowing it to hide from infrared surveillance. The reduction of the infrared signature is probably the most important factor for survival in armoured warfare, which is governed by the principle “see first, shoot first”. The importance of spotting the enemy without being noticed was observed during the Gulf War in 1993, when US M1 Abrams tanks equipped with thermal imagers, two generations more advanced than those fitted on Iraqi T-72s, were able to fire at their enemies from much farther distances in Iraq’s dusty climate. The US tanks were able to destroy a large number of enemy tanks in a short period, while suffering almost no loss.
Even while conducting a surveillance mission, tanks need to run their main or auxiliary engines for a certain period to generate electricity. The heat energy generated by the engines remains on the tank for a certain period, and slowly propagates through radiation particularly in the infrared wavelengths, and thermal imagers are able to detect this radiation. Thermal imaging systems are used on modern tanks not only for the detection of targets at night, but also in daylight, depending on conditions. Mostly made of metal, armoured vehicles tend to heat up and cool down at different rates to the surrounding environment, which leaves them vulnerable to detection by thermal monitors, even during daylight. It is, for instance, quite difficult to detect camouflage from a long distance using optical systems when there is a background of forestry, but if a thermal imager is used, the temperature difference between the tank and the background will create a significant contrast in the image.
Medium-weight class tanks, which have a lower armour protection level and so a lower primary defence, need to conceal better than MBTs, and so the importance of an effective cooling system is clearly apparent. The faster the heat generated by the tank engine is removed from the tank, the harder it will be to detect it using thermal imagers.
The bottom of the vehicle’s body has been designed to resist landmines, which is an unavoidable requirement of today’s asymmetrical warfare conditions, and this also offers protection against mines of the Area Denial Artillery Munition (ADAM) type with area effect that are in the inventory of some countries in Southeast Asia and can be shot by howitzers.
The heaviest cargo plane in the inventory of the Indonesian Air Force is currently the C-130, which with an approximate payload capacity of 20 tons is insufficient for the transport of the 35-ton KAPLAN MT, and so it is no surprise that Indonesia plans to purchase the A400M, which are already in the inventory of the Turkish Air Forces, as can be seen in Table 2.
Another unique feature of the KAPLAN MT is that it was designed as a tank in the design phase, in that its modern competitors in other countries were initially designed as armoured combat vehicles (ACV), but were eventually equipped with armour kits and heavier weapon systems later. The CV-90120 T light tank, developed on the CV-90 APC platform, or the Marder light tank manufactured, which is based on the Marder APC, can be cited as examples of such platforms. The main point here is that a vehicle with a design weight ranging between 20 to 25 tons supporting a load between 30 and 35 tons. Undoubtedly designers take the necessary actions to ensure the vehicle meets the necessary requirements, but we can say with some comfort that a vehicle that has been designed as a tank from the very beginning will be much more coherent and balanced.
Turret: The Cockerill 3105 turret built by Belgian CMI Defence, the heaviest member of Cockerill 3000 family, has been selected by the Indonesian Land Forces for mounting on the vehicle, integrated with a 105 mm rifled gun capable of firing standard NATO ammunition as its main weapon system. The gun is also able to fire Falarick 105 missiles designed by CMI Defence. Falarick is a kind of Gun-Launched Anti-Tank Guided Missile (GLATGM), and the manufacturer claims that this laser-guided missile with a tandem warhead is capable of penetrating 550 mm steel armour with additional explosive reactive armour (ERA) from a distance of 5,000 meters. The secondary weapon is a 7.62 mm machine gun for close quarters defence.
As it is fully stabilised, the turret can fire effectively when the vehicle is on the move. The turret is also equipped with day/night imaging systems and a fire control computer as standard. The commander will have his own monitoring periscope, independent of the gunner, and so while the gunner is firing at a target, the commander can be searching for the next target, saving time for the gunner. This makes the vehicle ideal for hunter-killer type missions, and allows the commander and the gunner to monitor different directions at the same time.
Reloading of the main weapon will be performed by an auto-loader located behind the turret, which has brought several advantages. Moving the auto-loader behind the turret has allowed the turret height to be slightly lowered and has resulted in a significant reduction in turret size, in that personnel in the turret can be reduced from three to two. Because auto-loaders don’t need any ergonomic spaces around them. As a result, both the weight of the turret and the tank silhouette has been reduced and lowered. This brings to mind an old saying: “Space under the armour is equal to weight”.
The turret’s exceptional elevation angle is one of the most noteworthy features of the weapon system. The maximum elevation angle in this kind of weapon systems is generally around +20 degrees, whereas the Cockerill 3105 system boasts an elevation angle of +42 degrees. This is an important factor, and if evaluated together with the geographic features of the terrain of Indonesia, it acquires a different meaning (See box entitled “Why KAPLAN MT?). CMI Defence officers say that the system is capable of firing indirectly up to 10 km thanks to this elevation angle, meaning that the vehicle can also be used as a light-artillery system when necessary, although being a medium-weight tank. It is obvious that the artillery units accompanying tanks should be mounted on armoured and tracked chassis like tanks, due to the nature of mechanised warfare. Considering Indonesia possesses fewer self-propelled howitzers than tanks, it can be assumed that they want to assign a dual role to KAPLAN MT. It would, however, not be inaccurate to say that a weapon system manufactured as a tank should assume the functions of an artillery class vehicle only if this becomes unavoidably necessary.
Why KAPLAN MT?
It may be useful to analyse why Indonesia has opted this kind of combat platform.
Infrastructure: Firstly, it is known that the transportation infrastructure in the country has various problems that may obstruct an MBT from functioning to its best ability, which can be explained using a mathematical expression: “the ratio of logistical cost to gross domestic product”. This value goes some way to explaining the logistical costs, and thus the condition, of the infrastructure of a country. When this ratio is high, the transportation infrastructure in the country can be assumed to be costly and problematic. The average value for Asian countries is 15-20 percent, while this figure is 27 percent for Indonesia. Problems related to transportation infrastructure considerably restrict the strategic mobility of MBTs, which weigh over 60 tons. In short, you cannot drive a tank in your country if your bridges are weak. It is on this point that the advantage of medium-weight class tanks, which are lighter, emerges.
Economics/Logistics: These two titles should be analysed at the same together. The country has a large number of light tanks and wheeled armoured vehicles with different configurations. Putting MBTs aside, the barrels of those with the heaviest weapons is 90 mm, while the Leopard 2 A4 tanks that they own have a 120 mm main gun. Thus, the acquisition of a weapon system that uses 105 mm ammunition by an army that is equipped mostly with 90 and 120 mm weapon systems means a very costly initial burden and a significant change in the army’s logistical infrastructure. It, however, remains a fact that 105 mm ammunition is cheaper and more prevalent around the world than 120 mm ammunition. In addition to all these facts, 105 mm ammunition causes less collateral damage than 120 mm, and serves to lessen the number of unwanted casualties during firefights in residential areas.
In addition, Indonesia’s defence budget, which increased recently, should be mentioned. Indonesia’s annual defence budget rose from $4 billion to approximately $8.5 billion from 2009 to 2016. When its advantages and disadvantages are evaluated alongside the country’s economic condition, the selection of the 105 mm main weapon can be understood.
Geographical: Indonesia is a country in the tropical belt, where temperatures are considerably high, and for this reason, the vehicle will be equipped with an advanced cooling system. All internal combustion engines are thermodynamic machines that can function efficiently only within specific temperature ranges. Indonesia is a country of volcanic islands that are very mountainous, and the average inclination is quite high. The significance of the +42 elevation angle of the turret can be understood from this fact.
In addition, Indonesia possesses thousands of islands, numbering somewhere in the region of 18,000, although the exact number differs depending on the source. The KAPLAN MT is not an amphibious platform, although it would be much easier to transport a medium tank weighing around 35 tons than an MBT weighing in at 65 tons or more.
KAPLAN MT Demonstrates Maturity and the Confidence Placed on it in Indonesia
After the unveiling of the prototype at IDEF 2017, the medium-weight tank KAPLAN MT developed by FNSS in collaboration with PT Pindad of Indonesia took part in a parade in the city of Cilegon, held on the occasion of Indonesia National Armed Forces Day on October 5, driven by the personnel of the Indonesian Armed Forces.
Nail Kurt, General Manager and CEO of FNSS, made the following comments about the presence of the KAPLAN MT at the parade: “The fact that the KAPLAN MT was displayed at a parade, while being driven by its operator, is the biggest indication of the maturity of the project and the confidence placed on it by the user. An unfortunate fire incident experienced by another newly-developed vehicle in another country is proof that [creating a new vehicle] is a very serious undertaking. Our product will be a highly effective solution in these times of asymmetric warfare. The KAPLAN MT meets all the requirements for easy and rapid deployment, high manoeuvrability, low visibility, high firepower and cost-effectiveness.”
The KAPLAN MT’s tests in Indonesia are continuing as part of the project.
Protection Levels Defined by NATO for Armoured Vehicles
The level of protection for armoured vehicles is defined in NATO STANAG 4569, and to meet these levels, the vehicle must be able to protect itself against kinetic energy ammunition, artillery ammunition and mine explosions to a certain level. Levels 4 and 5 shown in Table 1 can be outlined briefly under three different headings:
– Protection against kinetic energy ammunition: To meet Level 4 standard, an armoured vehicle must protect the personnel aboard against armour-piercing shells fired by 14.5 mm heavy machine guns from all directions (360 degrees). For Level 5, the vehicle should also provide protection against armour-piercing shells fired from within a frontal 60-degree arc of the vehicle by 25 mm auto-cannons.
– Protection against artillery ammunition: The vehicle must protect its personnel against highly explosive 155 mm ammunition bursting in the air at a distance of 25 meters at Levels 4 and 5.
– Mine Protection: The document defines mine protection up to Level 4. For Level 4, the vehicle must protect its personnel against anti-tank mines weighing 10 kg when they explode underneath the tank.
The Medium-Weight Class Tank KAPLAN MT, manufactured jointly by FNSS and PT Pindad, will be the first vehicle to be exported in the tank class by the Turkish defence and aerospace industry. For FNSS, it will enhance its presence in the Asian market and will underline, once again, its status as a serious competitor. The vehicle is further proof that the Turkish defence and aerospace industry is not only striving to catch up with its competitors, but also to surpass them.
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