An Italian leopard for export
For years, Italy relied on American tanks to face the Soviet threat and participate in NATO. M47, M48 and M60 tanks formed the bulk of the Italian Army at least until 1990, but soon enough, in 1960, Italy was one of the three central European countries, also supplied by American tanks to sought after a proper European model. The common project, sometimes called “Europa-panzer” eventually turned short as each country goes on with its own design. Italy tested the Leopard and soon was interested in a purchase of 200 Leopard 1s to replace now obsolete M47s and M48A1s. Soon OTO Melara was presented the idea of purchasing the license by Krauss-Maffei for the production of the next batches in Italy. No less than 400 Leopards were then produced in Italy, in 1974-1980, and will produce another batch of 120 until 1983. Estimates for a cheaper export version led to devise the OF-40.
Well experienced in 1978 OTO Melara embarked in a proper design, called the OF-40 Main Battle Tank, prepared for mass production in 1980. It was perapred to be tropicalized and adapted for intended use in hot and sunny climates, for export in the Near and Middle East. The design featured quite a great number of Leopard-1 original parts parts and shared the general hull and turret with standard production Leopard-1s produced by the company. Both the hull and the turret are welded with cold steel RHA. The frontal glacis was well-sloped, the hull’s sites and and chassis are protected by 15 mm of add-on appliqué armor. The driver was located to the front right, operating three forward periscopes, with the central one shifted if needed with an infrared night vision sight. Some of the ammunition storage was located to his left.
The main 105 mm gun manufactured under licence from Rheinmetall was mounted into a three-seat turret, affecting a general triangular shape at the front, for a reduced width of the mantlet. The gun was unstabilized and 57 rounds of standard NATO armor-piercing, cumulative and high-explosion fragmentation. 15 read-rounds were placed inside the turret. In addition there was a coaxial 7.62-mm LMG and another optional mounted over the commander’s hatch. The fire control system consisted of a modern laser rangefinder mounted in the gunner optical sight, and an electronic ballistic computer. The tank commander’s cupola was given height vision blocks and a single periscope with 8x magnification and a panoramic sight with a passive night observation channel. Two banks of four smoke grenade launchers were mounted on both sides of the turret.
The OF-40 powerplant was the 838 Ca M500 V10 diesel engine, four-stroke, turbocharged for 610 kW at 2,200 RPM, developed by MTU in Germany. It was assisted by a ZF hydro-mechanic transmission mounted in the same one block. Suspension are made of individual torsion bars, mounted on seven rubber-rimmed double dished roadwheels and three return rollers per side. The Drive sprockets were rear-mounted, idlers at the front. The track had rubber-metallic hinges and rubbered run shoe, with additional and removable rubber pads. Like the Leopard, the OF-40 features the same excellent cross-country performance and manoeuvrability.
OF-40 Mark 2
In 1980, the OF-40 was demonstrated to Thailand, Egypt and even offered for a local production in Spain and Greece, which both though to acquire the Leopard. In 1981 the OF-40 was improved in order to meet more demanding potential customer’s needs. Most importantly, a two planes gun’s stabilization system was mounted. An improved OG 14 LR fire control system by “Oficine Galileo” was also mounted. In addition the FCS’s ballistic computer was improved, incorporating wind speed, air temperature, barrel temperature and projectile types as parameters and the associated sensors. There was an improved sight with variable 7x and 14x magnification for the gunner, and improved day/night periscope for the commander. A thermal vision LLLTV camera was installed for night & low visibility fighting. Also, appliqué armor was welded on the turret front face. This model 1981 was also called OF-40 Mk.2. In 1985, the United Arab Emirates eventually purchased 18 Mk.2s and the former batch of 18 was upgraded to the Mk.2 standard by OTO Melara. The only trouble with this tank is the absence of NBC protection, but a simple air filter instead.
Variants & derivatives
The OF-40 Main Battle Tank chassis was first developed into an ARV (armored recovery vehicle). It had a crew of 4, a 18-ton crane, 35-ton winch, a dozer blade and a welding kit. Three vehicles of this type were sold (in the same contract) to the UAE. There was also an experimental SPAAG version relatively similar to the German Gepard, (with the AA tandem auto-cannon used on the SIDAM-25), and the Otomatic SPAAG.
The hull also served to develop a 155mm self-propelled gun, the Palmaria, which was exported to Libya (210) and Nigera (25) in the 1980s while a further 20(25?) turrets were purchased by Argentina and mated with locally-modified hulls of the TAM tank, producing the TAM VCA.
|Dimensions (L-W-H)||9.22m (6.89m without gun) x 3.51m x 2.76m
(30’2″ (22’6″) x 11’5″ x 9′ ft.in)
|Total weight, battle ready||45.5 tons|
|Crew||4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)|
|Propulsion||MTU 838 Ca M500 V-type 10-cyl. diesel|
|Suspension||Torsion arms + shock dampers|
|Top Speed road/off-road||60 km/h (45 mph).|
|Operational maximum range||400 km at medium speed ()|
|Armament||105 mm rifled main gun, 2 x 7.62 mm MG53.|
|Armor||Classified composite and sloped design|
|Production||36 in 1980|
Links about the OF-40
OTO Melara licence-built Leopard 1A1 for the Italian Army.
OF-40 Mk.2 Main Battle Tank in UAE service, 1980s.