Categories
Cold War Italian Prototypes

OTOMATIC

Italy (1984)
Self-propelled anti-aircraft gun – 2 prototype

The OTOMATIC was a self-propelled anti-aircraft system developed privately by the Italian OTO-Melara company, in collaboration with OTO-Breda. The name OTOMATIC is actually that of the anti-aircraft turret armed with a powerful 76 mm cannon. The turret could be mounted on a modified OF-40 tank or standard Leopard 1A2 MBT (Main Battle Tank) hull, the first produced by the OTO-Melara and the second produced under license and used by the Italian Army. It was developed as a heavy self-propelled anti-aircraft gun for use in Armored Divisions. The name is the acronym of OTO Main Anti-aircraft Tank for Intercept and Combat.

The OTOMATIC self-propelled anti-aircraft system
The OTOMATIC self-propelled anti-aircraft system on the Palmaria SPG hull being exposed at the Paris Air Show 1987. Source: flickriver.com

Development

The OTOMATIC project was developed by many factories. OTO-Melara was responsible for the design and construction of the prototypes. The main partners of the project were IVECO Defense Vehicles (part of IVECO-FIAT), Officine Galileo, OTO-Breda and Marittimo Aero SPA.

OTO-Melara, being a private company, designed the vehicle for the international market, but also offered it to the Esercito Italiano (EI, Eng: Italian Army).

The decision to mount the turret on the Palmaria Self-Propelled Gun (SPG) chassis, a modified version of the OF-40, was not a coincidence. This SPG, produced by OTO-Melara in collaboration with FIAT-IVECO, did not have great international success and therefore, it was hoped that creating an entire family of armored vehicles with a common hull would increase the interest of foreign armies.

In 1981, the program was presented for the first time at the Paris Air Show. Between 1981 and 1985, the first prototype was produced and tested and was presented at the Paris Air Show in 1987. In the same year, the second prototype was produced, which was tested until 1989.

In 1979, in order to outperform the German Flakpanzer Gepard and the British Marksman, the latter produced by Marconi, another Italian private company, the OTO technicians decided to mount the HEFAS 76 turret on the hull of the OTO-Fiat Palmaria Self Propelled Gun. This turret was made of welded steel 25 mm thick on all sides and 15 mm on the roof. It weighed 15 tons and was armed with a prototype version of the Cannone 76/62 OTO-Breda Super Rapido (Super Fast) naval gun which, at the time, was only a project. The cannon went into production in 1988.

The problems with modern mobile armored anti-aircraft systems are their armament, which usually consists of multiple guns of a caliber between 20 and 35 mm. The biggest downside of these weapons is long-range accuracy and the massive consumption of ammunition needed to take down an aerial target.

The OTOMATIC was designed primarily to shoot down enemy helicopters and planes before they had a chance to launch their Air-to-Ground Missiles (AGM) or Anti-Tank Guided Missiles (ATGM) from a distance of more than 3 or 4 km. While the Gepard, armed with two 35 mm guns, had a 3.5 km effective range, the OTOMATIC could fire its 5 to 6 kg heavy shells (depending on the type) to ranges of 6 or 7 km. In addition to being quite precise even at that distance, a single shot could be lethal to any target even if it did not directly hit it thanks to the VTPA FB76 proximity fuze produced in France.

The OTOMATIC could also be used in other roles in addition to its anti-aircraft main purpose. Its cannon, being designed for naval use, could be used for coastal defense against lighter targets. The wide range of ammunition that could be fired from the cannon also allowed it to be used for infantry support and even to engage enemy AFVs (Armored Fighting Vehicle). In fact, the availability of armor-piercing rounds made it possible to destroy armored vehicles and Armored Personnel Carriers (APC), and even deal with IFVs and MBTs in certain situations. However, as it had the same hull armor of the OF-40 Mk.2 and Leopard 1, which were very light and vulnerable in comparison to the other MBTs of the time, with a frontal thickness of the hull of only 70 mm, while the turret reached only 25 mm, the OTOMATIC was itself vulnerable to anything larger than a Heavy Machine Gun and generally would have had to stay out of range of enemy AFVs. At the time it was designed, produced and tested, between 1979 and 1991, it had the most powerful armament of any SPAAGs available in the world.

Its light armor allowed the OTOMATIC to retain good mobility and speed, as it could reach a speed of 65 km/h when mounted on the Palmaria chassis and 60 km/h on the Leopard 1 chassis.

Unfortunately, in 1991, with the collapse of the Soviet Union, such an expensive self-propelled vehicle was no longer of topmost priority for the armies of the world. Even the Italian Army, which had shown great interest in this powerful vehicle, could no longer finance the project due to cuts in the military budget after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The OTOMATIC remained on the international market until 1997 when OTO scrapped the prototype on the Palmaria hull and put the second one in a warehouse to rust.
In 2019, when it was thought that the second vehicle had also been scrapped, the prototype using the Leopard hull re-appeared completely restored and in working order. OTO will exhibit it in its new museum in La Spezia, near the company’s headquarters.

Between 2005 and 2013, OTO-Melara (now Leonardo-Finmeccanica) designed a new anti-aircraft turret armed with a 76 mm cannon, giving birth to DRACO, the OTOMATIC’s successor.

Radars

The OTOMATIC had 2 radars designed and produced for this vehicle by Galileo Avionica S.P.A. (now Selex ES), which had two separate tasks. The first radar, used for target acquisition, was the SMA VPS-A05, which could not track targets alone. During transport, the radars could be lowered to reduce the height of the vehicle.

The VPS-A05 had a minimum range of 500 m and a maximum of 20 km against any type of aircraft traveling at a minimum speed of 36 km/h and a maximum of 3,600 km/h, a 360° radio (scannable in 1 second) and could track 24 targets at a time.

In the early 1980s, the Israelis developed an anti-radar missile system mounted on armored vehicles with the task of hitting the radar of SAM (Surface-to-Air-Missile) batteries. In order to counter this, the OTOMATIC’s radars were designed to operate at low power, reducing the risk that it will be engaged by anti-radiation missiles and the pulse-Doppler system.
The second radar, used for target tracking, was the SMA VPG-A06 in the Ka band, which could not acquire targets alone, but could trace them and position them on the radar displays of the gunner and vehicle commander. Its tracking range was 180°, its minimum tracking radius was 75 m while the maximum range against planes and helicopters was 20 km. The minimum engagement speed was 54 km/h, while the maximum was 3,600 km/h. The radar was very precise, being able to identify the position of a 2 m size target at a distance of 10 km and trace it without any problem within an elevation of -5° to + 80°.

Right side of the OTO Main Anti-aircraft Tank for Intercept and Combat on the Palmaria hull.
Right side of the OTO Main Anti-aircraft Tank for Intercept and Combat on the Palmaria hull. The two onboard radars are clearly visible. The SMA VPS-A05 is the one on the back of the turret, higher, while the SMA VPG-A06 is the one in the center and is at its lowest elevation because, when the photo was taken, the vehicle was conducting mobility tests. Source: pinterest.com

Crew

The OTOMATIC crew consisted of four soldiers. The driver, placed on the right side of the hull, had a hatch identical to that on the OF-40 and three VO/IL 186 episcopes. The other crew members were placed in the giant turret. On the left, next to a side door and below a hatch equipped with two periscopes, was the gun loader. In the center, behind the gun breech and the loading system, was the gunner, with his fixed periscopic detector. Finally, the tank commander, on the right, with a side door identical to the one by the loader and equipped with a two-axis stabilized periscope (unknown type, but probably an early version of the SFIM SP-T-694) that could be operated from the inside with a joystick and with a 360° field of view to monitor the battlefield without having to leave the vehicle.

The gunner was equipped with a sighting screen using the electro-optical sight mounted next to the gun and equipped with two joysticks, one to rotate the turret and the other to maneuver the VPG-A06 radar. The tank commander was equipped with a color screen with radar mapping and images of the panoramic telescope as well as two joysticks, one to maneuver the periscope and the second to move the turret, the cannon and open fire in the remote case the gunner is no longer able to do his tasks.

The OTOMATIC on Leopard 1A2 hull with a dummy barrel
The OTOMATIC on Leopard 1A2 hull with a dummy barrel transferred to the OTO-Melara Museum in La Spezia, December 2019. Source: ANSA.it

Armament

The cannon of the OTO Main Anti-aircraft Tank for Intercept and Combat was the Cannone da 76/62 ‘Super Rapido’ OTO-Breda (sometimes mistakenly called Otobreda) with a firing rate of 120 rounds per minute. At the request of the buyer, this could have been replaced with the version of the cannon called Cannone da 76/62 ‘Compatto’ (Eng: Compact), with the firing rate reduced to 85 rounds per minute. The cannon had a traverse of -5° up to + 60° and was stabilized on two axes to allow the fire even on the move. To avoid damaging the frame, the cannon barrel had a very high recoil. A large smoke extractor was placed in the middle of the barrel to prevent the gases generated from firing from entering the combat chamber and intoxicating the crew.

Cannone OTO-Breda da 76/62 ‘Super Rapido’
The naval tower armed with the Cannone OTO-Breda da 76/62 ‘Super Rapido’ on the deck of an Italian frigate. Source: pinterest.com

Its maximum range was 20 km against land or naval targets and 9 km, theoretically, against air targets. The practical antiaircraft range was 6 or 7 km since the vehicle needed time to identify and aim at the target before opening fire. From the moment the airborne target entered the radar range, the OTOMATIC could shoot it down within a maximum of 6 seconds.

The vehicle was also equipped with 8 Wegmann-Krauss Maffei 76 mm smoke launchers, four on each side of the turret and with a machine gun pedestal, probably for a Beretta MG42/59 7.62 x 51 mm NATO mounted on the hatch of the commander.

Ammunition

The muzzle velocity of the projectiles was 910 m/s for anti-aircraft ammunition and 1,580 m/s for anti-tank ammunition.

In order to fulfill the many potential uses of this cannon, the 76 mm OTO-Breda gun can fire many types of ammunition, from Semi-Armor-Piercing High-Explosive Incendiary (SAPHEI) and High-Explosive Variable Time (HE VT) for the anti-aircraft role, to APFSDS (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilized Discarding-Sabot) and MPAT (Multi-Purpose Anti-Tank) for the anti-tank role. This is in addition to (entered into service only in the last years of the 2000s) DART, DAVIDE, C-RAM (Counter-Rockets Artillery and Mortars) and the sub calibrated Strales (42 mm) ammunition that can destroy missiles traveling at any speed thanks to a beam of laser coordinates that, with DART ammunition, can adjust the trajectory of the projectile even in flight thanks to the stabilized canard fins.

It was also possible to fire all NATO standard ammunition, such as the DM 231 Armor-Piercing, DM 241 High-Explosive and DM 248 target practice shells.

target practice Armor Piercing round also used by the OTOMATIC
The hull of the DRACO self-propelled anti-aircraft system with (from left to right) the target practice High-Explosive round, the C-RAM round and the target practice Armor Piercing round also used by the OTOMATIC. The two practice rounds are produced by Diehl together with other ammunition of the DRACO, while C-RAM, DAVIDE and DART are produced in Italy by Leonardo-Finmeccanica. Source: ArmyRecognition.com

The amount of ammunition onboard is 100 rounds (some sources mistakenly claim 90). 25 rounds are in the ready-to-use automatic loader and in the turret basket, another 45 in the turret rear and 30 in the hull. The automatic loader is equipped with two revolver type rotating cylinders, both with 12 rounds that allow the cannon to fire all the rounds of a cylinder in just 6 seconds in the Super Rapid version and about 8.6 seconds in the Compact version. However, when the cylinder is empty, the loader has to reload it manually, taking a long time.

However, it was common practice to fire 5 or 6 rounds bursts during tests to avoid excessive ammunition consumption and not to overheat the barrel.

Fire Control System

The Fire Control System (FCS) was a modified and improved version of the LINCE, an FCS produced by OTO-Breda used on ships of the Marina Militare Italiana (Eng: Italian Navy) and by ships of other navies that use the 76 mm OTO-Breda system. Tests have shown that it is able to open fire in any weather conditions and even when the vehicle is moving at low speeds on rough terrain or when the enemy uses heavy electronic countermeasures.

The IFF (Identification Friend or Foe) system, used on military aircraft, was also integrated into the FCS, which informs the crew if the aircraft locked by the radar was friendly or belonged to the enemy. This was produced by the Italian company ITALTEL.

Officine Galileo, as on all Italian armored vehicles, had designed the coaxial electro-optical vision optics and the telemetric laser that was used by the gunner if he had to engage ground targets, without the use of radars, like a normal tank. The on-board computer was probably an early version of the TURMS OG-I4 L3 (Tank Universal Reconfigurable Modular System Officine Galileo) mounted on the Italian MBT C1 ARIETE and on the B1 Centauro wheeled tank destroyer a few years later. This had been enhanced in some of its electronic components to follow, calculate and engage 20 targets simultaneously and independently.

The FCS was also gyro-stabilized, allowing it to have the same orientation as the cannon even when the vehicle drove through rough terrain.

A Palmaria OTOMATIC opens fire in a demonstration for possible foreign buyers
A Palmaria OTOMATIC opens fire in a demonstration for possible foreign buyers. The cartridges were ejected out of an opening located under the barrel. Source: Military-today.com

Hulls

The HEFAS 76 turret was mounted, in the first prototype, on the hull of the Palmaria Self Propelled Gun built by IVECO-FIAT and OTO-Melara-OTO-Breda (CIO) Consortium. This hull was derived from the OF-40 (the ‘O’ stands for OTO and ‘F’ for FIAT, the main partners of the project and ’40’ the weight when empty). The tank was the first designed by Italy after 1945 without foreign help, of which only 39 examples were produced between 1980 and 1985. It was purchased only by the United Arab Emirates Army and is still used after 34 years of service. 235 of the SPG version weres built from 1982 onwards, along with 25 single turrets. 210 were ordered by Libya, 25 by Nigeria and the 25 turrets were sold to Argentina, which mounted them on the Tanque Argentino Mediano (TAM), creating the Vehículo de Combate de Artillería (VCA).

The OF-40 Mk.2 MBT
The OF-40 Mk.2 MBT Source: military-today.com

The first SPG Palmaria produced
The first SPG Palmaria produced. Source: svppbellum.blogspot.com

The OF was very similar to the Leopard 1 because OTO bought the blueprint of the German MBT and produced its own licensed version of the Leopard 1A2 for the Italian Army, also called Leopard in Italy, but nicknamed ‘Leopardino’.

The OF-40 was a vehicle developed using the Leopard 1 as a base but designed for export, especially Middle Eastern armies, with an armored vehicle of similar capabilities, but cheaper than the Leopard.

The hull was made of welded steel with a front thickness of 70 mm and side thickness of 25 mm. The wheels, suspension and tracks were identical to those of the Leopard but produced by Italian companies with 15 mm thick protective skirts.

The engine of the OTOMATIC was a licensed copy of the MTU MB 838 CA M500, 10-cylinder with a maximum power of 830 hp. 1,000 liters of diesel were stored in two 500-liter tanks in the engine compartment sides. It was capable of giving the OTOMATIC 500 km of range on roads and a speed of 65 km/h.

The Palmaria hull was ‘squarer’ than the chassis of the OF-40 and remotorized with a 750 hp engine of German origin and two 400 liters tanks. The hull of the OF-40 was taken into consideration but, for unknown reasons, it was preferred to use the re-engined Palmaria hull.


The OTOMATIC on Palmaria hull after the tests. On top of the turret is visible in addition to the radars, the commander periscope. Source: militaryimages.net

The Leopard 1A2, on the other hand, was produced by the German company Krauss-Maffei between 1965 and 1984. 4,700 of the MBT version were purchased by armies around the world due to its reliability and firepower which made it one of the best NATO tanks of the time. Its hull was produced with welded steel with the same armor thicknesses as those on the OF-40.

The engine and fuel tanks were the same. However, the maximum speed with the HEFAS 76-L1 turret (the version of the OTOMATIC turret used for the Leopard 1 hull) was reduced from 80 to 60 km/h. The gearbox was the model 4 HP-250 gearbox with four forward and two reverse gear ratios produced by the German factory Zahnradfabrik Friedrichshafen. The gear selection mechanism was electro-hydraulic. The Leopard 1 was fitted with a trailing arm torsion bar type suspension system. The first three and last two road wheels on each side of the vehicle were provided with dual action hydraulic shock dampers. Seven double road wheels with rubber tires were mounted on each side of the German MBT. The Leopard 1-based version of the OTOMATIC was proposed to the German Army, but it was not interested in replacing its Flakpanzer Gepard. In the early 90s, a version of the OTOMATIC based on the chassis of the American M60 Patton main battle tank was designed, but it was quickly abandoned.

The Leopard 1A2 produced by OTO-Melara in Italian Service
The Leopard 1A2 produced by OTO-Melara in Italian Service. Source: pinterest.com

It should be noted that the version of the OTOMATIC based on the Leopard chassis differs from the OF-40 one by the lack of side skirts, which were never mounted on the Leopard-based prototype.

The rounds for the cannon that were positioned in the hull were stored in the frontal part, immediately before the gearbox, to the left of the driver.

The OTOMATIC on the Leopard hull opens fire against static ground targets
The OTOMATIC on the Leopard hull opens fire against static ground targets during a firing test. The difference between the OF-40 and the Leopard hull are visible. Source: warthunder.com

New OTO-Breda projects

The compact design of the 76 mm cannon automatic loader on the HEFAS turret served as the basis for the design of a new naval turret for the OTO cannon. This version held 80 rounds in the autoloader cylinder instead of 50. In addition, the cannon was used to design the new DRACO ground turret, more compact and lighter than the OTOMATIC system. This turret, also armed with a 7.62 mm or 12.7 mm coaxial Beretta MG42/59 or Browning M2HB machine gun, can be used for four different roles, anti-air (aircraft, helicopter or UAV), anti-missile, against ground targets or against naval targets (up to 20 km). Thanks to the new DART, DAVIDE and Strales ammunition, which incorporate the new NA-25X radar and the updated DARDO-F shooting computers, the cannon can also lock on and eliminate Air-to-Ground-Missiles (AGM).

Thanks to its lightness, the new DRACO turret can be mounted on armored car hulls, 8×8 trucks or tanks and also as a fixed turret on a static emplacement. In 2013, a DRACO was mounted on the hull of the Italian B1 Centauro 8×8 tank destroyer. 36 rounds of ammunition can be stowed on board in the automatic loader, plus another 24 rounds in rear-turret racks. On larger vehicles or in bunkers, the amount of ammunition could be increased to 36 or 50 rounds in the automatic revolver-type loader. In recent years, OTO-Breda (now Leonardo-Finmeccanica), has been planning a fully automatic loader for naval use. This has the purpose of removing the need for some crew members to be in the proximity of the cannon and ammunition. It is probable that, as soon as this is developed in a new system, OTO will make it suitable for use on armored vehicles.

The DRACO self-propelled anti-aircraft system mounted on a B1 Centauro hull
The DRACO self-propelled anti-aircraft system mounted on a B1 Centauro hull during a parade in Rome on 2 June 2013. Source: military-today.com

A product of a bygone era and errors of the Italian Army

Today, the OTOMATIC is an obsolete project. The heavy turret needs an expensive and heavy MBT hull to transport it. The range of the cannon, greater than any other cannon mounted on a mobile anti-aircraft system when it was first released, and its precision at long distances is now equaled, and in some cases surpassed by short-range anti-aircraft missiles now available, such as the Air Defense Anti-Tank System (ADATS).

The OTOMATIC has heavy armor for a self-propelled anti-aircraft gun, which protects it from light infantry weapons, but it is not comparable to that of the battle tanks to which it must offer protection even on the front line. Its turret is very tall and its radars cannot be lowered or hidden inside. Helicopter and airplane carried anti-tank missiles, such as the Russian 9K114 Šturm, are capable of exceeding the 76 mm cannon in range. Its performance against flying targets at ranges of up to 6 km can today also be reached by missile systems transportable on 10-ton vehicles. The OTOMATIC, which is heavy (46 or 47 tons) and expensive ($US7.307 million in 1997) is no longer appealing to modern militaries compared to the competition.

The failure of the vehicle can also be considered from another perspective. The Soviets had also thought of putting into service a similar SPAAG, a vehicle based on a tank hull armed with the AK-176 76.2 mm naval gun and an adjustable firing rate of 30, 60 or 120 rounds per minute. The Soviets developed this gun for the navy before OTO-Breda in 1979. However, they preferred a mixed system with two 30 mm light cannons and eight 9M331 missiles, the 2K22 Tunguska. This entered in service with the Soviet Army in 1988 and is still in service as of 2020.

In 1983, the prototype using the Palmaria hull was presented to the Italian Army which showed interest, requesting and perhaps financing another prototype on the Leopard 1 hull. This MBT was, at the time, the predominant tank of the Italian Armored Divisions but, due to the high costs of designing, building and converting the new SPAAGs, an expected order for 80 OTOMATIC was canceled. About $US472 million were invested to buy 275 vehicles of the SIDAM-25, also designed by OTO-Melara based on an M113 armed with four 25 mm cannons.

Immediately after the cancelation, OTO tried to modify the vehicle by designing an OTOMATIC armed with twin Oerlikon 35 or 40 mm cannons without modifying the turret or hull, but the Italian Army refused the offer.

In the late nineties, an anti-aircraft self-propelled gun was even created based on the hull of the Leopard 1 tank and armed with a 40/70 Bofors cannon, but it was realized that it was not a good solution. Even if the project was as innovative as it promised, with only two crewmen placed in the hull and a state-of-the-art automatic loading system, the project was already closed in 1997 in favor of missile systems and the SIDAM-25.

The OTOMATIC turret mounted on the Palmaria SPG chassis, with the sideskirts being an easy indication that this is not the Leopard hull. Illustration by Ardhya ‘Vesp’ Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

OTOMATIC on OF-40 hull specifications

Dimensions Hull 7.26 (9.63 with cannon) x 3.35 x 3.07 m
Total weight, battle ready 47 tonnes
Crew 4 (driver, commander, gunner, loader)
Propulsion MTU MB 837 Ka-500 diesel engine 750 hp
Top Road Speed 60 km/h
Operational max. range 500 km
Armament OTO-Breda 76/62 Super Rapido or Compatto with 100 rounds Beretta MG42/59 7.62 mm
Armor Rolled homogeneous armor steel, 70 mm in the front, 25 mm sides and rear of the hull, 25 mm all the sides of the turret, 15 mm roof and lateral skirt
Production 2 prototypes: one on the OF-40 hull and one on a Leopard 1 hull.

Sources

Forecastinternational.com
Leonardo Finmeccanica archives of La Spezia
Italian Army White Book (1992)

Categories
Cold War Italian Prototypes Cold War US HMMWV Prototypes

Lamborghini Cheetah (HMMWV Prototype)

U.S.A./Italy (1976-77) Armored Personal Carrier – 1 Built

The origins of the Lamborghini Cheetah lay in California in the 1970s from the same ‘stable’ at Mobility Technology International (MTI) by designer Rodney Pharis, as the XR-311. The Italian firm of Lamborghini was also interested at the time in lucrative contracts supplying a mobile off-road vehicle to the American and Italian Armies and possibly for export too. The two firms entered a partnership in the mid-1970s, with MTI responsible for development in the USA and Lamborghini responsible for a lot of the design elements.

Lamborghini Cheetah. Source: lambocars.com
Lamborghini continued with development and presented the Cheetah to the public at the Geneva Motor Show on the 17th of March 1977. It drew a lot of attention and received orders for undisclosed amounts to some unnamed Middle Eastern countries. When the vehicle returned to the USA later that year, it ended up in Nevada (some sources say California) for trials where a commercial was filmed (see video at the foot of this article). Reportedly two vehicles were in existence by this point presumably a second one having been made by MTI which the first one was being shown at trade shows. It is also reported that during those trials one vehicle was destroyed in an accident.

Prototype Lamborghini Cheetah during construction. Note the Lamborghini badge on the bonnet. Source: lambocars.com
The Cheetah was marketed as being suitable for military use for several roles and could be fitted with a variety of weapons and armor kits as well as advanced communications equipment. These included:

  • TOW Missile carrier
  • Recoilless rifle carrier
  • Reconnaissance vehicle
  • Command and Control Vehicle
  • Prime Mover for light artillery
  • Combat support vehicle
  • Small caliber rocket launcher platform
  • Convoy escort
  • Security patrol


Lamborghini Cheetah during trials. Source: Bill Munroe
As it was, the US military never got to test the Cheetah. MTI, who were a subsidiary of Chrysler at the time, sold their rights to the design to Teledyne Continental and began work on three Cheetah vehicles for them instead. Lamborghini left the entire project and continued with their vehicle. However unlikely it may have been that Lamborghini would win the US contract, the only restriction on the sales of the vehicle from the US Government were to be that as part of the contract was to be no civilian sales in the USA.

Lamborghini Cheetah as seen at the 1977 Geneva motor show. It features the Lamborghini badge on the bonnet. Source: ruoteclassiche.quattrouote.it

Design

The design itself featured a steel tubular frame which acted as a roll cage too and a steel belly plate which permitted it to slide over obstacles. The engine, a 190 hp 5.9 litre V8 petrol made by Chrysler, was an attempt at ensuring a contract with the US military who would not have accepted a vehicle with a foreign motor. It was mounted in the rear and seating was provided for 4 crewmembers. The vehicle had 4 wheel drive and used large tyres to improve traction and floatation on soft surfaces, such as sand or boggy ground.

Lamborghini Cheetah during trials. Source: Wheels and Tracks # 4
The body work on the original was fiberglass to keep weight down but the vehicle shown at the 1977 Geneva show had a steel body. Despite the potential of the vehicle, it received no military contracts and the design was eventually dropped although, in an odd twist, in May 1981, John DeLorean (DeLorean Motor Company) wrote to MTI expressing interest in a business plan to develop the Cheetah and a more fuel efficient version of it – nothing is known to have come from that expression of interest and this may be because Lamborghini went bankrupt in February 1980 and was sold off the following year to two Swiss entrepreneurs.

Schematic of the Cheetah


Illustration of the Lamborghini Cheetah, produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded through our Patreon Campaign


A Difficult Rebirth

The concept was reborn at the hands of Lamborghini engineer Giulio Alfieri in 1981 as a new vehicle called the LM001 (Lamborghini Militaria 001). It was a two door vehicle featuring a rear mounted 180 hp 5.9 litre AMC V8 and was shown at the 1981 Geneva Motor Show. the design had problems though, the weight balance was poor as the large engine was placed high in the back badly affected handling at high speed and off-road. It was a failure and was not adopted by any armed forces.

LM002 as prepared for the Italian Army, fitted with GPS, a mount for single 7.62mm machine gun and a pedestal mount on the back for a heavy weapon platform.
The outcome was a third attempt, the LMA002 (Lamborghini Militaria Antiore 002) with a new tubular chassis and suspension, fiberglass and aluminum body. The LM002 was prepared with a mount for a 7.62 mm machine gun fitted to the front right-hand side above the driver’s seat and a pedestal mount in the rear for a heavy weapons position. It was presented to the Italian Army on the 3rd of June 1982 but the Army did not adopt it as at the time they had no requirement for a desert vehicle.
It was shown off at the Brussels Motor Show in 1986. The engine in that vehicle was the 5.167 liter 450 hp V12 LP500S from the Countach sports car and did receive orders going into production as the LM002. Forty such vehicles were subsequently ordered by the Royal Guard of Saudi Arabia with a large roof hatch and 330 (including all LM001 and LM002) in total were sold, most of them to wealthy civilians. A single version was also sold to Libya for evaluation. A final version, the LM003 was prototyped as a diesel engine version specifically for the military but it received no orders.
The LM002 was also later known as the LMA with the ‘A’ for ‘American’ when it was shown at the 1992 Detroit Motor Show.

Lamborghini LM001. Source: jalopnik.com

Lamborghini LM002

Lamborghini LM002. Source: Lamborghini

The US Army Gets its Lamborghini – Finally

The LM002 had managed what the Cheetah did not – orders. Less from the military but mainly from Middle Eastern oil sheiks (no surprise considering the sales brochures were also published in Arabic at the motor shows) and were seen fitted with blast-proof flooring and ballistic protection fitted. This is how the US got their Lamborghini – not a Cheetah but an LM002, one which had belonged to the son of Saddam Hussein. Uday Hussein’s LM002 was found by US forces in July 2004 near Baqubah in Iraq.
Presumably unaware of the scarcity and value of the vehicle these US troops filled the vehicle with explosives and completely destroyed it.

US troops in Iraq 2004 with Uday Hussein’s Lamborghini LM002 preparing it for demolition. Source: carscoops.com

Fully restored Lamborghini LM002 now at the Lamborghini museum. Source: Lamborghini.com

Specifications (Cheetah, LM001, 002 & 003)

Dimensions (L-W-H) LM002: 4.9 x 2 x 1.8 meters
Crew 1 (+10 troops)
Propulsion Cheetah: Chrysler 5.9 liter V8 petrol engine,
LM001: Lamborghini V12 petrol engine producing 183hp,
LM002: 5.167 litre LP503 V12 petrol producing 332 hp @ 6800 rpm
LM003: diesel engine
Maximum speed Cheetah: 105 mph (170 km/h),
LM001: 100mph (161 km/h),
LM002: 124mph (200km/h but possibly limited to 188km/h)

Sources

HUMVEE, Bill Munroe
Wheels and Tracks # 4
Italian Armoured Cars, Nicola PignatoItrolls.wordpress.com
Ruoteclassiche.quattrouote.it
Lambocars.com
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Cold War Italian Prototypes

OF 40 Mk. 2 Main Battle Tank

Italy (1982)
Main Battle Tank – 18 built+18 converted

The Italian firms of OTO-Melara and Fiat had worked together and developed the OF 40 (OTO-Fiat 40 tonne) main battle tank. However, they classed it unusually as a ‘medium battle tank’, one of “nearly unlimited cross-country mobility” to quote the sales literature. The OF-40 was first unveiled in 1980 and quickly received orders from the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Mk.2 upgraded version was released shortly thereafter being trialed in August 1982 with features optimised for fighting in the desert and to rectify the deficiencies of the earlier vehicle which had been highlighted by the customer. The most critical deficiency being that the Mk.1 tank was unable to fire on the move due to a lack of fully stabilized sights.

The OF 40 Mk. 2. Photo: Military Today

Armament

Another complaint from the UAE was the main armament. The UAE wanted a 120mm main gun but, like the Mk.1, the Mk.2’s main armament was the OTO-Melara 105mm L/52 rifled main gun. The main gun was mounted in the turret with a semiautomatic falling-wedge type breech, spring recuperator, and concentric buffer. This gun is not the same as the Royal Ordnance 105mm gun L/52 gun but is very similar and the ammunition was compatible. Alongside this was a 7.62mm FN MAG coaxial machine gun and a second 7.62mm FN MAG machine gun for anti-aircraft protection. It is important to note that the machine guns would not be supplied with the tank and would have to be purchased and fitted separately. A battery of 4 smoke projectors was mounted on each side of the turret.
The 105mm gun could fire HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank), HESH (High-Explosive Squash-Head), and APDS (Armor-Piercing Discarding-Sabot) ammunition all of which were fired electrically. The gun, being electro-hydraulically operated, returned to ‘battery’ for reloading automatically after being fired. Other NATO compliant 105mm ammunition could also be used, such as smoke and canister rounds. The gun was fully stabilized permitting fire on the move and the commander was able to override the control, sight and fire the gun himself, a very useful combat feature. Additionally, should the electrical systems fail, all of the weapon systems could be moved and fired manually.

Upgraded OF 40 Mk.1 as fitted with a new optical camera. Note the older style rear stowage. In this arrangement, this Mk.1 was advertised as a Mk.2. Source: Janes
The optical equipment and fire control on the Mk1 were too austere therefore the Mk.2 version added a package of electrical and optical devices. The Mk.2 featured the same SFIM (Societe de Fabrication d’Instruments de Mesure) VS580-B panoramic sight day/night sight for the commander as on the Mk.1 except that it was self-stabilized during panoramic search and also matched to the gun for firing. Also, the same coaxial C215 telescope made by Alenia and an Officine Galileo built OG14LR or OG14LR2A/B digital fire control system and gunner’s primary sight was used. The OG14LR2A featured a stabilization system with meteorological sensors and the ‘B’ system added a stabilized line of sight to this. Laser range finding was by means of the Selenia VAQ33 neodymium yttrium-aluminum-garnet laser rangefinder made by Alenia and had a range of up to 10km (6 miles). Additionally, there was an optional model PZB 200 LLLTV (Low Light Level Television) camera made by AEG Telefunken with monitor and additional firing computer.
Despite these improvements to the 105mm main gun, the customer still desired a 120mm gun armed tank and, although the 120mm L/44 smoothbore gun developed for the C1 Ariete could also be fitted into the OF 40, this development came too late and is not known to have been put into practice. Such a change would have created significant issues with having to completely reorganize all of the internal ammunition stowage, fire control, and many other internal components.

Cross section of 105mm gun armed OF 40 Mk.2 turret with false colouration of gun, seating, optics, and armour. Photo modified by author
The muzzle velocity for the APDS shell is 1,470m/s, 1,170m/s for the HEAT and 730m/s for the HESH, and the gun can be fired at a maximum rate of 9 rounds per minute. Elevation and depression for the main gun is from -9 degrees to +20 degrees. Maximum range the gun is sighted for is 6000 meters. Although both Mk.1 and Mk.2 had the same gun and could both fire all 105mm NATO complaint ammunition only the Mk.2 was specifically advertised as being able to use canister and smoke type ammunition.
The coaxial machine gun can, if needed, could be used to assist in ranging as it is matched ballistically to the main gun. Only 15 rounds for the main gun were carried in a redesigned internal stowage in the turret along with 2500 rounds for the machine guns. A further 42 rounds for the main gun were carried in an ammunition rack in the front left of the hull. An additional 3000 rounds of ammunition for the machine guns are carried in the hull. The rearrangement of ammunition inside the Mk.2 meant this tank could only carry 57 rounds for the main gun.

Turret

Made from plates of welded rolled homogeneous steel armor plate and using spaced armor in critical areas, the turret is carried around the ring on steel ball bearings and is capable of being traversed 360 degrees at a speed between 0.5 degrees per second up to 21.2 degrees per second. This is slightly slower than the Mk.1 by taking one additional second to rotate 360 degrees (17 seconds for full traverse instead of 16). The elimination of shot traps was considered important and the ring for the turret is protected by a ballistic deflector.

Hull

The hull is made from welded rolled homogeneous armor steel with spaced armor in critical areas and with the crew compartment divided off from the engine area. The driver is seated in the front right with the ammunition stowed in the hull to his left, and by his seat is a floor escape hatch.

Suspension

The seven wheel stations each have double wheels and are connected via swing arms to torsion bars. Drive is delivered to the steel tracks by a rear drive sprocket and the rubber block track is carried on its return by 5 support rollers.
Five hydraulic shock absorbers are fitted on each side and conical springs prevent the wheels from deflecting too far causing damage to the bar or arm.

OF 40 Mk. 2 Main Battle Tank, specifications

Dimensions Length gun forward – 9.65m
Length gun rear – 8.33m
Width with track guards on – 3.51m, with armoured track guards off – 3.35m
Height to top of turret – 2.45m
Total weight 43 tonnes maximum when fully laden for combat, 40t when laden for transport
Crew 4, commander, gunner, and loader, in the turret, and a driver in the hull positioned on the front right
Propulsion 830-850hp Fiat Diesel engine with automatic transmission delivering 19.3 hp/t
Suspension Torsion bar suspension with hydraulic adjustment
Top speed 65 km/h
Operational maximum range 600km (road)
Armament 105mm L/52 rifled gun with 57 rounds, coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and 7.62mm anti-aircraft machine gun with 5500 rounds.
Armor Rolled homogeneous armor steel + spaced armor
Production 18 Mk.1’s upgraded to Mk.2 status, 18 more built as Mk.2

Sources

OF 40 Mk.1 Manual – Oto Melara April 1981
OF 40 Mk.2 Manual – Oto Melara November 1982
OF 40 Mk.2a Manual – Oto Melara December 1983
War Machine Magazine Vol.1 Issue. 1 1983
Defense Leaders Magazine, 2014, UAE
Forecast international
Modern Armor. (1978). Pierangelo Caiti, Squadron Signal Publications.
Janes Armour and Artillery 1985
Italian Defence Industries, Nov. 1986
Additional material from Mr. Kittichart Boonyapakdi


OF 40 Mk.2 during trials. Note the redesigned extended turret stowage basket too. Source: Military Today

Sights

The gunner is equipped with a laser range finder and an x8 optical telescope and the commander’s position is fitted with a panoramic periscope with an optional French SFIM stabilized day night sight for target surveillance and acquisition. Episcopes are also provided for the crew with 8 for the commander, 1 for the gunner, 2 for the loader, and 3 for the driver. An additional night driving sight is available for the driver.

Engine

The OF 40 is equipped with the same V-10 ten cylinder license built Fiat Diesel engine and is supercharged (2 superchargers), rated at 830hp at 2200rpm and delivering 286kgm of torque at 1500rpm. The previous Mk.1 advertised an engine output maximum at 850hp and 295kgm of torque. The engine is connected to a fully automatic gearbox with a hydraulic torque converter and the gears are electrically selected with options for 4 forward and 2 reverse gears permitted a faster maximum forward and reverse speed than the Mk.1. As with the Mk.1, in the event of an electrical failure, a manual override can be used for second gear. Additionally, this Mk.2 featured two liquid coolers with thermostatically controlled fans specifically designed for desert conditions. There were additional tropicalisation features added controlling the fuel supply to prevent overheating in desert conditions and a cyclone filter to ensure the air intake remains dust free. This combination delivers a power to weight ratio for the OF-40 Mk.1 of 19.3 hp/t.
The two fuel tanks inside, located on each side of the engine compartment, hold a total of approximately 1000 liters of diesel which is estimated to provide a range of up to 600km on road. The entire power pack consisting of engine, transmission and cooling system could be replaced by a team of 4 men with a crane in just 45 minutes. The United Arab Emirates had been unhappy with the relatively poor mobility of the OF 40 despite the claims of the manufacturers and as a result, Fiat offered two options. One was the refitting of their own Fiat MTCA V-12 supercharged diesel engine producing 1,000 hp or further enhanced to 1,200 hp. A final simpler option was to simply enhance the existing 830hp engine as already fitted to deliver 950hp. None of these three options is thought to have taken place.

Variants

As of 1998, several variants of the OF 40 were known to exist built using modified versions of the chassis:
OF 40 ARV (Armoured Recovery Vehicle)
This variant was developed and produced by OTO-Melara and Fiat specifically for the needs of the United Arab Emirates and featured a bulldozer blade, for clearing obstacles but which also acted as a stabiliser when using the crane. The recovery crane mounted on the hull was capable of lifting 18 tonnes with the blade in the support position and less with it raised. The winch on the jib can be used in the lowered position for basic towing, with a tractive effort of 35tonnes. These additions increased the weight of the OF 40 to 45 tonnes when fully laden. The driver’s position remained the same in the front right but the other three crew were positioned in a fixed casemate structure mounted over the turret ring.

OF 40 ARV with the blade in the support position. Note: this vehicle is carrying a complete spare powerpack for an OF 40 on the rear deck. Photo: Army Guide
OTO Melara 76/62 SPAAG ‘OTOMATIC’ (Self Propelled Anti Aircraft Gun)
The OTO-Melara built 76mm automatic anti-aircraft gun and turret was available for sale with this chassis. Other than a single prototype, no serial manufacturing is known to have taken place.

The OTOMATIC SPAAG. Photo: Military Today
Ariete Testbed
Components for the C1 Ariete MBT were tested, including the turret, on an OF 40.
Palmaria SPG (Self-Propelled Gun)
The OTO-Melara made 155mm gunned Palmaria turret. For the Palmaria SPG this was mounted onto a variant of the OF 40 hull – production complete with approximately 160 examples produced for Libya and a further 25 for Nigeria.
OTO-Melara 35mm SPAAG
Twin 35mm anti-aircraft defence system turret by OTO-Melara and mounted on an OF 40 hull. This variant did not progress past the prototype stage
Sabiex HIFV
Experimental heavy infantry fighting vehicle/armored personnel carrier
Developed between 2005 and 2010, as a joint venture between the UAE and Belgian firm of Sabiex. The project involved the reversing of the vehicle with the engine at the front and the former driver’s space and area under the turret repurposed for troops. Vehicle fitted with a BMP-3 turret. One vehicle made.

Conclusion

The OF 40 was a capable tank, better than the Leopard 1 Italy had in service. Free from any export problems it was an ideal tank for Italy to promote and sell. Despite garnering interest from various countries and being rapidly upgraded to a Mk.2 configuration, the OF 40 only entered service with the United Arab Emirates.

OF 40 Mk.2 on display in Thailand in 1985. Photo: Battlefield Magazine
Despite the improvements made for the UAE then, they were still unhappy. The mobility was too low, the gun too small, and there were complaints that the commander’s sight was not fully stabilized. The vehicle was replaced in UAE service with the French Leclerc instead. Originally 18 Mk.1 examples were built, which were subsequently all upgraded to Mk.2 status. 18 additional vehicles built as Mk.2’s were manufactured as well. It is reported that 39 (including test-bed hulls) OF 40 vehicles were manufactured. No OF 40’s are known to be in service today with the final vehicles officially withdrawn from front-line service with the UAE. As of 2014 the UAE still officially listed some 36 OF 40’s as part of their military forces, presumably in reserve or storage.


Rendition of the OF-40 Mk. 2 by Jarosław Janas, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Categories
Cold War Italian Prototypes UAE Armor

OF 40 Mk. 1 Main Battle Tank

Italy/United Arab Emirates (1980-82)
Main Battle Tank – 18 built

Throughout the 1950’s until the 1970’s, the Italian Army had been using a variety of American surplus tanks, such as the M26, M47, and M60 and had even manufactured a large number of M60’s domestically under license. Despite various upgrade work on the M47 by OTO Melara, the tank was still outdated and the German Leopard was much better suited to Italian needs and wants. Several hundred Leopards ended up being used by Italy with some supplied directly by Krauss-Maffei and others built domestically under license.
At the same time, work was being carried out on a replacement, or cheaper export version with the ‘Lion’ project which ended at the prototype stage in the late 1970’s. By 1980, with the end of production of the Leopard in Italy, OTO-Melara still wanted to be able to offer a tank for export mainly to Middle-East nations – something expressly not permitted within the terms of the license from the Germans for the Leopard. With the Leopard and Lion manufacturing experience, it is no surprise therefore that the OF 40 possesses more than a passing resemblance to the Leopard 1A4 and does use some components from that tank, although it is not a copy. The German firm even sent engineers to examine the OF 40 in case it was violating their license but were satisfied that it was different enough.
The ‘Carro da Combattimento Medio OF 40’ was the product of the Italian consortiums of OTO Melara SpA (Societa Ligure Piemontese Automobili) of La Spezia, responsible for the bulk of the manufacturing, and Fiat (now Iveco-Fiat), responsible for the automotive components. This is the source of the name. ‘O’ stands for OTO Melara and ‘F’ for Fiat, while the ‘40’ relates to the weight; 40 tonnes. Although commonly referred to as a ‘Main Battle Tank’ (MBT), the sales literature from OTO-Melara categorizes the tank as a ‘Medium Battle Tank.’ The first prototype of the tank was completed by 1980 and very quickly passed trials and was purchased by the nation of Dubai. Deliveries to Dubai began in 1981.
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OF 40 Mk.1 as advertised circa 1980. Source: OTO Melara
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OF 40 Mk.1 Source: OTO Melara

Armament

The main armament is the OTO-Melara 105mm L/52 rifled main gun mounted in the turret with a semiautomatic falling-wedge type breech, spring recuperator and concentric buffer. This gun is not the same as the Royal Ordnance 105mm gun L/52 gun but it is very similar and the ammunition is compatible. Alongside this is a 7.62mm FN MAG coaxial machine gun, and a second 7.62mm FN MAG machine gun mounted on the turret roof for anti-aircraft protection (the location of which changed at least once during development) and a battery of 4 smoke projectors on each side of the turret. The 105mm gun can fire High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), High Explosive Squash Head (HESH), and Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS) ammunition all fired electrically. The gun, being electro-hydraulically operated, returns to battery for reloading automatically after being fired. Other NATO compliant 105mm ammunition can also be used such as Smoke and Canister although both the commander’s sight and gunner’s sight only carry ranging scales for APDS, HEAT, and HESH.
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Turret roof of OF-40 Mk.1 showing the commander’s panoramic sight and alternate position of the AA machine gun. Source: Orbis publications
The muzzle velocity for the APDS shell was 1,470m/s, 1,170m/s for the HEAT and 730m/s for the HESH, and the gun could be fired at a maximum rate of 9 rounds per minute. Elevation and depression for the main gun was from -9 degrees to +20 degrees. Maximum range the gun was sighted for is 6000 meters.
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OF 40 Mk.1 during trials firing the 105mm main gun. Source: OTO Melara
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Upgraded OF 40 Mk.1 as fitted with upgraded optical camera. Note the older (Mk.1) style rear stowage. In this arrangement, this Mk.1 was advertised as a Mk.2. Source: Janes
The coaxial machine gun could, if needs be, be used to assist in ranging as it would be matched ballistically to the main gun. Nineteen (19) shells for the main gun were carried in the turret along with 2500 rounds for the machine guns. A further 42 rounds for the main gun were carried in an ammunition rack in the front left of the hull. An additional 3000 rounds of ammunition for the machine guns were carried in the hull. An additional useful feature of the vehicle was that the commander could take over control of the gun with his own equipment. He could target, aim, and fire the gun independently of the gunner.
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OF 40 Mk.1 in the desert Source: Squadron/Signal publishing

Turret

The turret was made from plates of welded rolled homogeneous steel armor plate using spaced armor in critical areas. The turret rotated on its ring on steel ball bearings and was capable of being traversed 360 degrees at a speed between 0.5 degrees per second up to 22.5 degrees per second.
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OF 40 Mk.1 on display showing the angular hull form and rubber side skirts to good effect. Source: OTO Melara

Hull

The hull was made from welded rolled homogeneous armor steel with spaced armor in critical areas and with the crew compartment divided off from the engine area. The driver was seated in the front right with the ammunition stowed in the hull to his left.

Suspension

The seven wheel stations each have double wheels and are connected via swing arms to torsion bars. Drive is delivered to the steel tracks by a rear drive sprocket and the rubber block track is carried on its return by 5 support rollers.
The first-three and last-two swing arms are fitted with telescopic dual action hydraulic shock absorbers and conical springs, preventing the wheels from deflecting too far and causing damage to the bar or arm. The OF 40 also features three separate braking systems, service, braking, and emergency, respectively.

Sights

The gunner is equipped with a laser range finder and a x8 optical telescope and the commander’s position is fitted with a panoramic periscope with an optional French SFIM VS 580-D stabilized sight for target surveillance and acquisition. Episcopes are also provided for the crew with 8 for the commander, 1 for the gunner, 2 for the loader, and 3 for the driver. An additional night driving sight is available for the driver.

Engine

The OF 40 is equipped with a licence built Fiat V-10 Diesel engine delivering 850 hp connected to a fully automatic gearbox with hydraulic torque converter. At maximum output, it delivers 295 kg-m of torque. The gears are electrically selected with options for 4 forward and 2 reverse gears. In the event of an electrical failure, a manual override can be used for second gear. This combination delivers a power to weight ratio for the OF 40 Mk.1 of 19.3 hp/t. The 1000 litres of diesel held onboard were sufficient for up to 600 km of driving on a road with a top speed of 60 km/h.
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Rear view of OF 40 Mk.1 showing the arrangement of exhausts. Source: Janes

Other Features

The hull was fitted with an automatic fire extinguishing system and an escape hatch in the floor. Nuclear Biological and Chemical agent filters and an overpressure system were fitted along with a fume extractor system for the crew. Bilge pumps were also fitted to ensure the tank could clear out any water coming into the hull.
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OF 40 Mk.1 during trials on the climbing ramp. Source: OTO Melara
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Coming down the ramp affords an excellent view of the hull of the OF 40 Mk.1. Source: OTO Melara
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OF 40 Mk.1 during desert trials. Source: OTO Melara

Conclusion

The OF 40 was a capable tank, better than the basic Leopard 1, and free from any export problems. It was an ideal tank for Italy to try and sell. The OF 40 was offered for sale including some local production to Spain and Greece, and was demonstrated in Egypt too. Despite all these efforts and the interest it generated, only the Gulf nation of Dubai purchased any. No Mk.1 examples are known to be in service today as all Mk.1’s delivered were upgraded to Mk.2 status. Only 18 Mk.1’s were built and the Mk.1 is no longer offered for sale.

OF 40 Mk. 1 Main Battle Tank, specifications

Dimensions Length gun forward – 9.22m
Length gun rear – 8.11m
Width with track guards on – 3.51m, with armoured track guards off – 3.35m
Height to top of turret – 2.45m
Total weight 43 tonnes maximum when fully laden for combat, 40t when laden for transport
Crew 4, commander, gunner, and loader, in the turret, and a driver in the hull positioned on the front right
Propulsion 850hp Fiat Diesel engine with automatic transmission delivering 19.3 hp/t
Suspension Torsion bar suspension with hydraulic adjustment
Top speed 60 km/h
Operational maximum range 600km (road)
Armament 105mm L/52 rifled gun with 61 rounds, coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and 7.62mm anti-aircraft machine gun with 5500 rounds.
Armor Rolled homogeneous armor steel + spaced armor
Production 18 built

Links, Resources & Further Reading

OF 40 Mk.1 Manual – Oto Melara April 1981
War Machine Magazine Vol.1 Issue. 1 1983
Forecast international
Modern Armor, Pietrangelo Caiti
Janes Armour and Artillery 1985


Illustration of the OF 40 Mk. 1 by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet

Categories
Cold War Italian Prototypes Cold War West German Prototypes

Leone Main Battle Tank

Italy/West Germany (1975-77)
Main Battle Tank Prototype – 1 built

The Carro da Combattimento Lion was developed at a time when the serial production of the Leopard main battle tank was still underway in Italy and West Germany. The need for such a vehicle was born from the strong desire from both Italian and West Germany industry to be able to offer a tank for foreign export, specifically for the Middle-East and third-world markets.
OTO Melara had already been heavily involved in the serial production of the American designed M60A1 main battle tank (MBT) and had also worked on various upgrades to the M47 Patton. Those M47 were to remain in service in Italy until production of Leopard was completed and fully in service with the Italian army. The first information about this new project came out in 1976. The project started in 1975 as a consortium was formed from Krauss-Maffei, Blohm and Voss, Diehl, Jung-Porsche, MaK, Luther-Werke, OTO Melara, Fiat, and Lancia with the single purpose to construct a cost-effective tank for export. Namely, a cost-effective version of the Leopard.

Artwork advertising the Lion Main Battle Tank (It is a retouched image of a Leopard 1). Photo: Caiti

A Consortium is Formed

In Italy, this project was initially known as the ‘Leopardino’ (“little leopard”) and then as the ‘Leone’ (Lion). The split for manufacturing would be 50-50, with the hull, engine, transmission, and running gear made in Germany and the turret, armament, and electrical equipment by the Italians. Assembly of all of these components was to take place at the OTO-Melara plant at La Spezia with the goal of having a functional prototype by March 1977 and the goal of serial production pending orders for 1978 and beyond. It is unusual that the turret, bearing a striking similarity to the new Leopard 1A3 turret from Germany would be made in Italy just a few years after the development of it had started, in around 1973.

Protection

The hull was essentially that of the Leopard 1 but it was tropicalized, optimised for use in hot, dry, dusty conditions with improved ventilation and filtration systems. With improved cooling, the tank could operate in temperatures of up to 50 degrees Celsius. Like the Leopard 1, the hull was made from welded rolled homogenous steel armor plate. The distinctive angular rippled side skirts from the Leopard 1 were retained for the Lion.
The turret, like that of the Leopard 1A3, was also made from welded rolled homogenous steel armor and featured spaced armor across the front arc for additional protection. The only major difference in the turret was the traverse system. The Leopard was using the Cadillac-Gage electro-hydraulic system but the Lion was instead to use a new, cheaper, and less complicated Swiss system

Fiat Lion still in the factory, circa 1975-77. Photo: Pignato

Armament

The Lion was fitted with a 105mm rifled main gun made by OTO-Melara which would have been capable of firing NATO standardized 105mm ammunition. Based on the fact the sights of the OF 40 MK.1 were only graduated for Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot (APDS), High Explosive Anti-Tank (HEAT), and High Explosive Squash Head (HESH) and that the OF 40 was heavily based on the Lion it is likely that only APDS, HEAT, and HESH were to be the primary ammunition types. The number of main gun rounds carried is not known but if compared to the OF 40 Mk.1 which followed this design closely it is likely to be 19 rounds in the turret and 42 rounds in the front left of the hull next to the driver. A coaxial machine gun was fitted, likely 7.62mm caliber and a mounting point on the roof for an additional machine gun for anti-aircraft defense.

Crew

A crew of four consisting of a commander on the right-hand side of the turret and in front of him the gunner. The loader was the third member of the turret crew and was positioned on the left of the gun. The fourth crew member was the driver and sat in the front right-hand side of the hull.

Automotive

The engine and transmission were to be German although Fiat had a contract for the license construction of the German engine for the Leopard. This would be a version of the Motoren und Turbinen Union MB 838 CA M500 multifuel engine which was supercharged to produce 830hp at 2200 rpm producing 19.3 horsepower per tonne.

Fiat Lion during trials. Photo: Pignato

Conclusion

The Lion was a perfectly good MBT at the time and was effectively a license-built Leopard 1A3 made in Italy for the sole purpose of obtaining export orders for both German and Italian industries. Why the sales did not materialize is hard to gauge as the Lion does not appear to have been offered widely for sale. The only interest from an export point of view had come from a delegation from Pakistan who was looking at modernizing their own tank fleet at the time. Machinations over export controls and the price of the tank are most likely either together or combined to have killed it off. No serial production ever took place and only the single prototype was ever completed. The whereabouts of the vehicle are unknown.
The project though reappeared by 1980 as the OF 40 project, a collaboration between OTO-Melara and Fiat. The lack of major German involvement in the OF 40 (the engine for the OF 40 was still a German engine but built under license in Italy) suggests that the reason the Lion project failed was that the Germans pulled their support. With no German support, the Italians would not be able to export the Lion on their own as their Leopard manufacturing license specifically prevented them from doing so. The outcome was a delay of a couple of years for the project to be reworked with a newly designed hull with very similar features but different enough to work around the license restrictions. The OF 40 would still look very similar to both the Lion and the Leopard but this time was an Italian project.

OF 40 Mk.1 Photo: OTO Melara

Leone Main Battle Tank

Total weight 43 tons
Crew 4 (driver, gunner, commander, loaders)
Propulsion Motoren und Turbinen Union MB 838 CA M500, 830hp, multifuel
Speed (road) 37 mph (60 km/h)
Armament 105mm rifled main gun
coaxial 7.62mm machine gun
turret roof mounted 7.62mm machine gun

Links, Resources & Further Reading

OF 40 Mk.1 Manual – Oto Melara April 1981
Gli autoveicoli da combattimento dell’Esercito Italiano, Nicola Pignato & Filippo Cappellano
Modern Armor, Pierangelo Caiti

Leone MBT
Illustration of the Leone (Lion) Main Battle Tank by Tank Encyclopedia’s own David Bocquelet