Excalibur unveils Morana 155 mm self-propelled gun at Eurosatory. Photo: Army Recognition

This week, France kicked off the Eurosatory 2022 international defense and security exhibition after a four-year hiatus. The international landmark event for the defense industry features 63 exhibiting countries, 98,721 attendees from 153 countries, and 500 new defense products.  Eurosatory is sponsored by the French Ministry of Defense and COGES, a French company dedicated to promoting the French defense industry internationally.

This year’s Eurosatory exhibition is held against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between most European states and Russia, which explains the increase in European arms imports. This makes the region a new hotspot for arms sales, following a trend previously showed by the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

Despite global arms purchases declining by 4.6% in 2017-2021 compared with the previous five years, arms sales in Europe increased by 19%, according to a study by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The largest European arms importers were the UK, Norway, and the Netherlands, with other European states expected to increase their arms purchases over the coming decade. They’ve placed orders for major arms, specifically combat aircraft from the US.

Land warfare systems featured prominently in this year’s Eurosatory exhibit. These include armored fighting vehicles, artillery pieces, and air defense systems.

Among the showstopper exhibits was Rheinmetall’s new KF51 main battle tank, which its manufacturer claims is an all-new concept that builds on the design of the late Cold War Leopard 2 tank series. The tank weighs in at 59 tons, has an operating range of around 500 kms, and requires a three-man crew consisting of the driver, gunner, and commander.

The tank’s main weapon is the Rheinmetall 130-mm future gun system, which leads to a 50% performance increase over current 120-mm tank guns in Western service. According to Rheinmetall, 120-mm depleted uranium (DU) sabot rounds have already reached their performance limit, and neither 120-mm DU nor tungsten rounds has been evaluated against the latest Russian Relikt explosive reactive armor (ERA), which detonates on radar command before being hit by an incoming projectile.

Hence, the new 130-mm gun mounted on the KF51 Panther aims to exceed the performance limitations of 120-mm caliber DU and tungsten sabot rounds, while being powerful enough to defeat the latest advancements in tank armor.

The tank’s other weapons include a .50 caliber coaxial gun, 7.62 mm remote control weapons station (RCWS), and the HERO 120 loitering munition than could be used to strike targets that are not in line of sight. It has a 4.5 kg warhead and a flight time of 60 minutes.

The KF51 Panther also features an autoloader, making it the second current Western tank to have this feature after the French Leclerc. This technology increases the tank’s rate of fire and drops the loader crew member. Western tanks traditionally have four crew members – the commander, gunner, loader, and driver.

While the inclusion of an autoloader speeds up rate of fire and allows for lighter vehicle weight as it drops the armor and support systems needed for the loader, it drops a crew member who potentially could be another helping hand in case of emergency. Also, the autoloader may break due to malfunctions or battle damage, and in that case a smaller crew might struggle with loading the tank’s main gun.

The tank is also equipped with tiered protection featuring pre-emptive, reactive, passive, and active technologies. It has pre-shot detection capability, enabling it to destroy threats first. It has the ROSY smoke obscurance system which creates an instantaneous smoke screen that can block conventional weapons, weapons with optical devices and laser distance measurement.

It also has an active protection system (APS) that can destroy kinetic energy (KE) penetrators before they impact the tank’s main armor. In addition, the tank is fully hardened against cyber-threats, as it is designed to work in a heavily contested electromagnetic environment.

Artillery systems also featured heavily in this year’s Eurosatory exhibition, with Excalibur Army (Czechoslovak Group) and Tatra Trucks debuting their Morana 155-mm wheeled self-propelled gun (SPG) during the event.

The Morana features a 155-mm howitzer with a barrel length of 52 calibers, with a three-man crew consisting of the driver, operator, and commander.  It can start firing within 40 seconds of stopping in the firing position, while being controlled by the crew from inside the cabin, which is armored against small arms fire, grenades, and mines up to 6 kgs.

It is built on a Tatra Force 8×8 truck chassis, with all wheels steerable for maximum maneuverability. Unlike earlier weapons of its type, the Morana features a rear-mounted unmanned weapon superstructure with the powerpack mounted behind the crew cabin.

As it is on a wheeled platform, it features several advantages over towed guns and SPGs, such as greater survivability of the gun crew compared with towed guns, less time to move from a traveling to a shooting position, higher tactical mobility, simplified logistics, and reduced operating costs compared with tracked SPG models. In addition to the howitzer, the vehicle is equipped with a roof-mounted RCWS that has various sensors and a .50 caliber machine gun for self-defense.

The 52-caliber howitzer has a fully automatic loading system and a new automated device for adding propellant charges, greatly increasing rate of fire. The crew also has an automated weapon aiming system, onboard control and diagnostic system, and a combat information system. The Morana was designed with modularity in mind, as the weapon superstructure could be integrated on various wheeled or tracked chassis, thanks to its independent hydraulics and powerplant.

Various artillery rounds were also exhibited, with Nexter showing its LU 220 155-mm shell, which can be loaded with 25% more explosives compared with the older LU 211 while keeping the same weight. The company also featured its FB 375 MK2 multimode artillery fuse, which can be programmed to detonate according to mission requirements.

Another type of round on display was the BONUS 155-mm anti-armor round. It gives long-range artillery anti-tank capability, as after being launched from a 155-mm gun the carrier shell deploys two top-attack submunitions that independently search for targets in a 32,000 sq. meter area.

Nexter also featured its KATANA 155-mm guided artillery round, which relies on Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) and inertial guidance, and can be set to detonate by proximity, impact, or delay.

Air defense systems also figured prominently at Eurosatory 2022, with Israel showing a mobile version of its Iron Dome system and announcing plans to field laser-based air defenses. 

According to a statement from maker Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, “the security situation in Europe has exposed the need for such defense technologies, ones that can cover vast areas and are easily deployed and relocated according to the needs of the assets in the given arena,” and “the current war in Ukraine has reinforced the importance to move toward more mobile and more agile solutions.”

I-Dome is a version of the Iron Dome air defense system mounted on a single truck to provide air defense for maneuvering forces and for military and critical installations. The scaled-down system holds 10 Tamir interceptors, compared to 20 for its static version. It is an all-in-one system, in the sense that the missile launcher, radar, and control system are placed in the cab of one vehicle.

It can perform very-short-range air defense (VSHORAD) against aircraft, including helicopters and drones, and against counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) missions. It has the same capabilities as a static Iron Dome battery.

During the exhibit, Rafael also unveiled its progress on laser-based air defenses. In a company statement, a senior official called the current generation of air defenses insufficient against rapidly proliferating unmanned aerial systems and hypersonic weapons.

Thus, a laser-based air defense system could complement missile-based defenses. While a laser has negligible costs per shot, its effectiveness is significantly reduced in adverse weather conditions and against fast-moving short-range targets.

An air defense system consisting of both missile and laser-based defenses may be the answer to these emerging threats, with the Iron Beam laser air defense system expected to reach initial operating capability (IOC) and integration into Rafael’s existing air defense systems by 2024. Iron Beam will use two or more types of interceptors and feature open architecture, allowing the use of third-party interceptors, and will share the same threat management and calculation software as all other Rafael air defense equipment.