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BMP-1A1 Ost and BMP-1 in Reunified German Service

Federal Republic of Germany (1991-1994)
Infantry Fighting Vehicle – 764 BMP-1 Operated, Around 580 Upgraded Into BMP-1A1

During the Cold War, the two German states, the FDR/Federal Republic of Germany (Bundesrepublik Deutschland) in the west and the GDR/German Democratic Republic (Deutsche Demokratische Republik/DDR) in the east, stood as two foot soldiers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact on the forefront of the Iron Curtain. Being certainly located on a major battlefield of a new all-out European war, both German states were considerably remilitarized when they were allowed to have their own armed forces, from the 1950s onward. As such, the East German NVA (Nationale Volksarmee/National People’s Army) received a total of around 1,133 BMP-1s from 1968 (when two training vehicles were received) to 1988, including a number of BVP-1s produced in neighbouring Czechoslovakia. Outside of a mere 24 BMP-2s, the BMP-1 was the sole infantry fighting vehicle in service with the NVA. With the peaceful conclusion of the Cold War though, these BMP-1s would never be consumed in great battles on the German plains. Instead, the East German BMP-1 fleet was inherited by the West German Bundeswehr, which now had to ponder what to do with this large fleet of infantry fighting vehicles, vastly different from its own Marders.

Schützenpanzer BMP-1

When first pushed into service in the late 1960s, the BMP-1 was a major addition to the Soviet Red Army’s Arsenal, and despite the existence of some previous vehicles, such as the West German HS.30, it is often considered to be the first truly modern Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) to be adopted in massive numbers – at least was for the Eastern Bloc. The vehicle could be used to support armored assault in all types of terrains thanks to its amphibious capacities, and was notably able to carry a section of infantry even in heavily contaminated terrain which would typically be expected after the use of NBC (Nuclear, Biological, Chemical) weapons. Support for accompanying tanks as well as dismounted infantry would be provided by a 73 mm Grom infantry support gun and a Malyutka missile launcher, with four missiles stored in the vehicle, for use against armored vehicles.

West German Schützenpanzer HS.30. Source: panzerbauer
NVA Schützenpanzer BMP-1s crossing a river during an exercise. Amphibious capacity was a major aspect of the BMP-1’s design. Source: Pinterest

In East Germany, the BMP-1 was the only infantry fighting vehicle available in large numbers – only 24 examples of its successor, the BMP-2, were ever delivered. The NVA also received nine BRM-1K recon vehicles and two BREM-CH armored recovery vehicles.

In the last days of the NVA, the BMP-1 outfitted six motorized rifle regiments, the 3rd, 7th, 9th, 16th, 23rd, and 27th. Though it appears a total of 1,133 BMP-1s had been delivered to the NVA, a few had been phased out during the 1980s due to wear and tear, and as such, 1,112 were available. This total included both some baseline BMP-1s and a considerable number of vehicles that had gone through the BMP-1P upgrade, which replaced the Malyutka missile with the more modern Konkurs, a new fire-extinction system to counter napalm, and an array of six Tucha 81 mm smoke grenades located on the rear roof of the turret. In East German service, the vehicles were known as Schützenpanzer BMP-1.

The German reunification

After years of crisis and decline, tensions within East Germany exploded in 1989. First, citizens tried to leave or apply for visas, notably using Hungary to try and cross into neutral Austria and from there into the democratic West Germany. With the opening of the border between the two starting in August 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans moved into Austria and later West Germany going through Hungary, seeking reunion with family and/or better opportunities in a more prosperous economy. Things escalated further in November, with massive protests in East German cities, while the opening of the West German-Czechoslovak border created yet another, even more easily accessible entry into West Germany for East Germans. By 9th of November, travel restrictions between the two Germanies were lifted; the once impenetrable Berlin wall started to be taken down.

In March 1990, in the last elections of East Germany, a branch of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) which supported quick reunification was appointed, with the following, last few months of East Germany’s existence being focused on quickly integrating East Germany into the Federal Republic. On 3rd October 1990, the five states of East Germany, as well as East Berlin, were formally integrated into the Federal Republic. The DDR and its armed branch, the NVA, were no more.

Former NVA armored vehicles, including, to the left, a BMP-1A1 Ost, in the Neubrandenburg repair facilities. Source: bmpsvu.ru

The large quantities of equipment left behind by the NVA were taken over by the Materiel Depot Service Gesellschaft (Material Service Depot Company/MDSG) to be warehoused and maintained. In December of 1990, it was decided the BMP-1 was one of the pieces of equipment of the former NVA that would, for a time, be operated by the Bundeswehr. Some 764 vehicles were to be pressed back into service.

The BMP-1 in Bundeswehr units

The BMP-1s were to outfit six units which were created in April of 1991 from re-forming six East German divisions, two armored and four motorized rifles divisions. These became Heimatschutzbrigade (Eng: Homeland Security Brigade) 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, and 42. Heimatschutzbrigade 37 and 41 were the ones formed from former NVA tank divisions, and also included T-72 tanks, while the other four were the ones formed from motorized rifles divisions.

Another piece of formerly East German equipment, a T-72 tank, in service with Heimatschutzbrigade 37, Dresden, 1991. Source: twitter

The issue of Eastern Block standards

When inspecting and evaluating the BMP-1, it was found that the vehicle did not meet many of the standards expected of armored fighting vehicles of the Bundeswehr – more so in ergonomic qualities than in combat elements.

The vehicle’s front and rear lights were not up to the standards of West German vehicles. The lack of wing mirrors was noted. More worryingly, a number of elements which were not up to West German safety or health standards were found in the BMP-1. The fuel tanks embedded in the rear doors were thought to be a hazard. As the vast majority of operators of the type, the Bundeswehr found the interior cramped. Firing the 73 mm Grom’s ammunition was found to release potentially toxic nitroglycerin, while the coaxial 7.62 mm PKT would potentially release mercury. Toxic asbestos was also present in the brake bands, clutch lining, and gaskets.

If the BMP-1 was to remain in Bundeswehr service, these issues had to be fixed. The upgrades were designed by SIVG (System-Instandsetzungsund Verwertungsgesellschaft/System-Repair and Recovery Company) and FUG (Fahrzeug und Umwelttechnik Gesellschaft mbH/Vehicle and Environment Technology Company). SIVG was specialized in the demilitarization of armored fighting vehicles, while FUG was a manufacturer of commercial vehicles. It appears the former was a formerly East German maintenance facility, while the latter was a facility located in the West. The first three vehicles were converted as prototypes at Reparaturwerk Neubrandenburg (Neubrandenburg repair workshop), which was the main maintenance facility for BMP-1s in East Germany. This plant had been set up goind back to 1953 for the maintenance of Soviet and East German vehicles, and had the reputation to be one of the largest of its kind in Europe. It emloyed around 4,700 personnel. These first three conversions happened from January to March 1991. After they proved satisfactory, the upgrade was standardized as the BMP-1A1 ‘Ost’ (East). A further 100 vehicles were converted in Neubrandenburg from May to September of 1991, and another 399 at the same facility from October of 1991 to January of 1993. A further 83 vehicles were modernized by the SIZ 890 repair base located in Doberlug, another town of the Brandenburg province. The vehicles which were selected to be upgraded were the BMP-1 in the best conditions, which usually were BMP-1Ps. The total cost the German Ministry of Defence shared with the Bundestag for these conversions was at this point of 36.6 millions Deutschmarks (DMs). The goal of the upgrade program was to provide a stopgap until the Marder 2 would enter service, which was at this point scheduled for 1996. This never ended up happening, as the Marder 2 was cancelled. There was, however, also a political motivation behind such a refit, as it would showcase the Bundeswehr was actively integrating equipment from East Germany. Converting a vehicle took 250 to 268 working hours, which were usually performed in about 18 days.

Two of the three BMP-1A1 Ost prototypes at Reparaturwerk Neubrandenburg, 15th of May 1991. Source: bmpvsu.ru

Driving upgrades

Many of the additions brought by the Ost upgrade aimed at making the BMP-1 compliant with West German road regulations, and follow the same standard as West German vehicles. This translated in the vehicle’s headlights being replaced by some identical to those on the the Marder 1A3. In front of those headlights, small orange identification lights were placed. The same horn as on the Marder was also installed.

A close-up of the front-side glacis of the BMP-1A1 Ost of the Munster tank museum, showing the new light and headlight. Source: Vitaly V.Kuzmin collection via bmpvsu.ru
A BMP-1A1 Ost with the rearview mirrors retracted against the hull. Source: bmpvsu.ru

Externally visible changes included a pair of wing mirrors, located behind the headlights. These could be retracted, with the glass facing against the hull. At the rear, rear lights were added to ease convoy driving. If, for one reason or another, the lights had to be turned off, a Leitkreuz (guiding cross) was added on the left rear door. This was a green rubber sheet on which a white cross was painted. A small 24V lamp was installed at the center of this cross to illuminate it at night, allowing the next vehicle to follow when driving in convoys at night.

A rear view of the Munster tank museum’s BMP-1A1 Ost, showing the new rear light and Leitkreuz. Source: bmpvsu.ru

The Ost upgrade also included a short metal ladder on the rear of the left fender, in order to ease climbing into or descending from the vehicle. It has often been claimed the vehicle received a set of West German smoke grenades. However, this does not appear to be the case. BMP-1A1 vehicles either do not feature smoke grenades, or feature them in the exact same arrangement as the standard BMP-1P. It appears that, for these vehicles, the original Tucha 81 mm smoke grenades were retained.

The new ladder seen on a Hellenic Army BMP-1 located on the grounds of the ELVO military company, 2015. Source: bmpvsu.ru

Safety improvements

The Ost upgraded vehicles were purged of all asbestos, of which the use is entirely banned in Germany. Much more significantly for the capacities of the vehicle, the 5th gear, the last of the gearbox, was locked on the vehicle, which reduced its maximum speed to 40 km/h, likely in a bid to ease maintenance and reduce wear and tear on the vehicle. The vehicles were also prohibited from driving on public roads, likely due to excessive wear and tear brought by their tracks. On private roads, the vehicles were prohibited fromgoing over 20 km/h. Thankfully, the vehicle were based either on or very close to the training facilities they were being used on. The clutch was optimized to allow for a smooth start of the vehicle, and the braking system was modified so that a handbrake was present for both tracks. The upgrade added a heater to keep the crew comfortable in winter conditions. At last, the fuel tanks present in the rear doors were removed and prevented from being filled. It is sometimes reported the fuel tanks were instead filled with styrofoam.

The inside of the BMP-1A1 Ost present at the Munster Tank Museum. Note the amber-colored protective cover for the periscope mount, designed to prevent the crew from hitting and injuring themselves against the sharp corners of the periscope. Source: bmpvsu.ru

On the inside of the vehicle, efforts were made to make the BMP-1 more comfortable. This was manifested in the addition of a heater as well as elements such as covers protecting the edges of the observation devices used by the dismounts in order to prevent head injuries. An anti-slip coating was also added on a number of points on the exterior of the vehicle’s hull.

A view of the BMP-1A1 Ost’s deck hatches. Anti-slip coating was applied near the center; it was also present on the vehicle’s fenders and hull top. Source: Recomonkey

What could not be fixed

The BMP-1A1 remained a moderate upgrade in scope, intended only to make the BMP-1 conform to German regulations. Many issues of the vehicle could never be fixed, and in several ways, the BMP-1A1 was inferior to even a baseline BMP-1 when looked solely through the lens of combat capacities. It ought to be noted the vehicle was also made lighter by 90 kg.

The most pressing issue likely was the armament not being up to Bundeswehr regulations. This was never fixed, though it appears some thought was given into researching 73 mm ammunition that would not eject nitrocellulose. On April 15 1991, approval was given for the production of safe pratcice rounds. Numbers to be procured rose to 80,000 73 mm and 3 millions 7.62 mm projectiles, which differed in the propellant used. It is unclear whether this batch of safe practice ammunition was ever completed and fielded*; As a consequence, regulations prohibited the use of armament on the BMP-1A1 Ost in peacetime. The autoloading mechanism was also removed from the vehicle. The BMP-1 can easily be reloaded manually, but this brought further overtasking for the sole crewman in the turret. Furthermore, the Ost upgrade also removed the missile launcher and guidance equipment, may it be for the Malyutka or the Konkurs/Fagot. Because of this, German regulations rated the vehicle as able to combat at ranges of 2,000 to 600 m by day, and below 400 m at night. Firing from the firing ports to any useful effect was found not to be possible, and as a whole the Soviet doctrine of “mounted combat” was considered to be inapplicable.

BMP-1A1 Osts at the conclusion of their upgrade in the Neubrandenburg repair facility. None bear an ATGM. This feature was removed from the Ost upgrade outright. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Additionally, while some efforts were made to make the inside more ergonomic, these were only details, and the limited volume of the BMP-1’s infantry compartment was something that was not fixable without a deep transformation of the vehicle the Bundeswehr was not willing to perform.

German service

The BMP-1A1 Ost were delivered to the Heimatschutzbrigades from late 1991 to early 1993.

Former NVA conscripts, now Bundeswehr soldiers receiving their BMP-1A1 Ost at Neubrandenburg. They sport mixed East and West German kit, with MPI-AK-74 and MG3s and uniforms mixing mostly West German elements with some East German ones. Source: bmpsvu.ru
A similar photo of Bundeswehr soldiers receiving their BMPs. Source: bmpsvu.ru

They were operated in a transitional period for the Bundeswehr, which was incorporating the former NVA within its rank. The BMP-1A1 Ost was, as such, largely meant as a training vehicle as well as a way for the Bundeswehr to keep the last generation of NVA conscripts in operation, with vehicles, without having to re-train them for vastly different West German APCs or IFVs. The units which operated the BMP-1A1 often had a very mixed kit: the dismounts of the vehicle were typically observed using the West German MG3 machine-gun, but the East German MPi AK-74 rifle. Indeed, it appears that the standard loadout for squads mounted in the vehicle included a machine-gunner with an MG3, while other dismounts used a AK-74N. The driver and gunner were armed with AKS-74N rifles with folding stocks. There were plans to also arm such squads with the Panzerfaust 3 anti-tank weapon, but it was not yet fielded. Similarly, their base uniform is the West German one, but they retain some pieces of East German kit.

A BMP-1A1 Ost being resupplied by Panzergrenadiers during exercises in Franken. Source: bmpsvu.ru

Interestingly enough, the Neubrandenburg repair plant even went through the hassle of creating a driver’s training BMP-1A1 Ost by mounting the cabin of a FAP-500U, an East German driver’s training vehicle based on the ZSU-57-2, in place of the turret of a BMP.

The unique BMP-1A1 Ost driver’s training vehicle. Source: bmpsvu.ru
The FAP-500U driver’s training vehicle, itself a local East German conversion. Source: makettinfo.hu

A cheap and available off-the-shelf IFV for sale

Considering the BMP-1A1 Ost’s role as a training vehicle as well as a way to maintain East German conscripts in operation for the duration of their service, it is not surprising the vehicle did not remain in service with the Bundeswehr for long. While some may imagine the reunification of Germany would have meant a larger German Army, this was more than offset by the reduction in world tension that followed the end of the Cold War and the following massive reduction in military budget and sizes. The already existing Marder 1 fleet was largely sufficient for German needs, and in the last 1A3 variant, offered a considerably more capable vehicle in comparison to a BMP-1.

53 BMP-1A1 leave German service, replaced by Marder 1A3s, 381th Panzer-Grenadier battalion, 13th of April 1993. Source: www.pzgrenbrig38.de
West German infantryman stands behind a Marder 1A3. The vehicle offered a better solution to the Bundeswehr in comparison to upgraded BMP-1s. Source: Wikimedia commons

The BMP-1A1 Ost were therefore phased out of service in 1993-1994, with the decision to phase the vehicles out of service outright taken as early as January 1993. However, this does not mean they would be scrapped or all placed into museums. While Germany had no interest in a large number of surplus IFVs, some other European countries did. For nations which did not have IFVs, or if so, only in small numbers, a large number of very cheap off-the-shelf vehicles was a very attractive offer. Three European countries ended up purchasing ex East German BMP-1s. For Germany itself, this was found to be an amazing opportunity to recoup the cost undertaken by refitting the vehicles.

Greece bought the bulk of the BMP-1A1 Ost fleet, purchasing one vehicle for trials in 1992 and a batch of 500 ex-Bundeswehr vehicles in 1994, at a low price of just 50,000 Deutschmarks each. Greece also bought the sole BMP-1A1 driver’s training vehicle that had been converted. These would become the only infantry fighting vehicles in Greek service, as the Hellenic Army retired its small fleet of AMX-10Ps at the conclusion of the Cold War. The Greeks further modified their BMP-1 by adding an M2 Browning .50 calibre machine-gun on top of the turret. The vehicle was widely used by Greek mechanized troops, though the fleet has dwindled due to vehicles being sold to Iraq or more recently Egypt, or being used as targets in military exercises. The BMP-3 was considered and even ordered from Russia as a replacement, but the contract was cancelled when the 2008 economic crisis ravaged the Greek economy. From 2014 onward, a portion of the remaining Greek BMP-1A1 fleet was modified, replacing the turret with a ZU-23 dual 23 mm anti-aircraft gun. Around 100 BMP-1A1 Ost, including these conversions, remain in service on the Greek islands of Samos, Chios, Kos, and Lesbos.

A Hellenic Army BMP-1A1 Ost during military exercises in Samos, November 2014. Source: bmpsvu.ru
The Greek ZU-23-armed BMP-1A1 Ost conversion which has been in use since 2014. Source: Twitter

All the remaining BMP-1A1 Ost, save for the few which have remained in Germany, were sold to Sweden as part of a sale of 431 BMP-1s, the other being 290 baseline BMP-1 and 60 BMP-1P. The Swedes ran 350 of their BMP-1s through a series of upgrades performed in the Czech Republic, and with similar goals to the German Ost upgrade. These were designated ‘Pbv 501’. The others were kept as spare parts donors. The Pbv 501s were delivered from 1996 to 2001. It was decided to phase them out in 2000, and most of the vehicles were delivered straight into storage. They were eventually sold back to the Czech company which upgraded them in 2008, which proceeded to sell most of them to Iraq from 2015 onward, something Swedish legislation would not have allowed.

The other Western European BMP-1 upgrade, Sweden’s Pbv 501. Source: armedconflicts

Finland was another buyer of former East-German BMP-1s, but did not purchase a single Ost vehicle. Already a user of the BMP-1 prior to the end of the Cold War, Finland purchased 140 German BMP-1s in 1993-1994 and ran them through their own locally-developed upgrades.

Through both Greece, which transferred 100 BMP-1A1 Ost to the New Iraqi Army in 2005-2006, and the Czech company EXCALIBUR, which delivered a considerable number of Pbv 501, perhaps up to 250, through Bulgaria from 2015 onward, Iraq acquired a considerable number of ex-German BMP-1s. These served alongside surviving vehicles from the Hussein regime as well as BMP-1s delivered from other sources, such as Ukraine. The type has been widely engaged in the conflicts which have ravaged Iraq since. The Pbv 501, notably, being delivered from 2015 onward, were heavily engaged in the counter-offensive against ISIS aiming at taking back Mosul. In the 2014-2017 period, out of 85 destroyed Iraqi BMP-1s, 35 were identified to be Pbv 501s.

Iraqi BMP-1 in October 2017, fighting alongside M1 Abrams during the battle to retake Hawija, by this point the sole remaining ISIS enclave in central Iraq. This photo is unusual in that the vehicle in the foreground is an ex-Greek BMP-1A1 Ost, while the two BMP-1s in the background are ex-Swedish Pbv 501s. Source: bmpsvu.ru

At least one BMP-1A1 Ost has survived in Germany. It is present at the Munster tank Museum, by the side of an unupgraded NVA BMP-1 and the sole NVA BMP-2 to have remained in Germany. A BMP-1A1 Ost has appeared in demonstrations in Germany, though it is unclear if it is the same vehicle.

Conclusion

The BMP-1A1 Ost was an attempt at making a dated piece of Eastern Block equipment compatible with western standards of operation. The upgrade did not attempt to improve the combat capacities of the BMP-1 in any meaningful way, but instead concentrated on ergonomic elements and potential risks encountered when operating the vehicle.

Through the service of the vehicle was very short in Germany, through its export service, it would see four new users in the shape of Sweden, Greece, Egypt and Iraq. The Ost vehicles were significantly modified further for Sweden and by Greece, and through the eventual sale of Pbv 501 and Greek BMP-1A1s to Iraq, it would eventually see significant combat service in the Middle East. One can only wonder if the Iraqi soldiers operating the vehicle appreciated the quality-of-life improvements of the Ost upgrade, particularly when taking into account the removal of the missile armament in comparison.

Illustrations for the BMP-1A1 Ost, created by Pavel “Carpaticus” Alexe based on work by David Bocquelet

BMP-1A1 Ost Specifications

Dimensions ( L x w x h) 6.735 x 2.940 x 1.881 m
Weight 13.5 tonnes
Engine UTD-20 6-cylinders 300 hp diesel engine
Suspension Torsion bars
Forward gears 4 (5th gear locked)
Fuel Capacity 330 L (diesel)
Maximum speed (road) 40 km/h
Maximum speed (water) 7-8 km/h
Crew 3 (commander, driver, gunner)
Dismounts 8
Main gun 73 mm 2A28 ‘Grom’ (use prevented by German regulations)
Secondary armament Coaxial 7.62 mm PKT (use prevented by German regulations)
Smoke grenades 6 x 81 mm 902V Tucha smoke grenades (formerly BMP-1P), none (formerly BMP-1)
Armor Welded steel, 33 to 6 mm

Sources

Der modifizierte Schützenpanzerwagen BMP-1A1 Ost des DIEHI-Unternehmens SIVG Neubrandenburg, Wielfried Kopenhagen
Unterrichtung durch den Bundesrechnungshof Bemerkungen des Bundesrechnungshofes 1993 zur Haushalts- und Wirtschaftsführung (einschließlich der Feststellungen zur Jahresrechnung des Bundes 1991) (Bundestag Documents, 1993)
SIPRI Arms Transfer Database
BMP-1 field disassembly, Tankograd
Bmpvsu.ru:
BMP of the armed forces of the German Democratic Republic
BMP of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany
BMP-1A1-Ost of the Bundeswehr at the German Tank Museum: https://bmpvsu.ru/frg_museum.php
Pbv-501 in the Swedish army
Pbv-501 in the Iraqi army

Categories
Modern German Other Vehicles Modern Swiss Armor

AEV 3 Kodiak

Federal Republic of Germany/Switzerland (2002)
Armored Engineering Vehicle – 43 Built + 44 On Order

The AEV 3, nicknamed ‘Kodiak’, is an armored engineering vehicle currently in service with four armies in modest numbers. The vehicle, being based on the Leopard 2 MBT chassis, offers a high level of protection, combined with good mobility. With the use of different modules, the Kodiak has a variety of uses, including breaching minefields and destroying or erecting obstacles. It was the Swiss Army which initiated the development process and a consortium was set up between the German company Rheinmetall Landsysteme and the Swiss company RUAG Defence. The first prototype, funded by both companies, was well received and ordered by Switzerland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Singapore, and Germany. The vehicle is being marketed with current Leopard 2 users as potential buyers.

The AEV 3 Kodiak prototype during a demonstration using the excavator arm. Source: Rheinmetall Defence Press

The Leopard 2

The Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank was developed by Krauss-Maffei during the 1970s and succeeded the Leopard 1. The tank, armed with a 120 mm gun and powered by a V-12 twin-turbo diesel engine, is currently in service with eighteen countries. Since the first tank entered service in 1979, it has seen many upgrades and improvements. Over time, the Leopard 2 chassis was used to develop other vehicles as well, like an armored recovery vehicle and an armored vehicle launched bridge. An armored engineering vehicle was not initially developed, however, around the turn of the century, several armies started to feel a need for such a vehicle.

The first prototype under construction. Source: Allgemeine schweizerische Militärzeitschrift

Early development

The development of the Kodiak started in April 2002 when Switzerland initiated its Armored Engineer Vehicle 3 (AEV 3) program. The strategic technology partner of the Swiss Army, RUAG Defence, committed to a consortium with Rheinmetall Landsysteme, based in Kiel, Germany. Rheinmetall, with future sales in mind, nicknamed the project ‘Kodiak’ for marketing purposes, referring to the Kodiak bear, one of the two largest bear species. A team of experts from both companies worked closely together developing and manufacturing the new vehicle. The prototype was developed and completed using private industrial funds.

After Armasuisse, the procurement agency of the Swiss Army, handed over a surplus Leopard 2 chassis from Swiss army stock, construction of the prototype could be initiated. It would be completed shortly after, in May 2003. The vehicle was ready for its first trials and handed over to the Swiss Army for a two month trial period. The vehicle passed these tests successfully. In 2004, the AEV was shown at Eurosatory in Paris Nord-Villepinte, France, a biennial Defense and Security Exhibition. The vehicle sparked interest by several Leopard 2 MBT operating armies, including Denmark, the Netherlands, Spain, and Sweden, so the vehicle underwent trials with these countries. An important series of trials was conducted at a Spanish Army base in Zaragoza, where the vehicle proved to be well capable of operating in a warmer environment than northwest Europe.

In early 2005, the AEV3 prototype was sent to Sweden and leased to the Swedish armed forces procurement agency (FMV, Försvarets Materiel Verk) to be tested at Boden in northern Sweden in harsh winter conditions. Beforehand, a Swedish crew was trained by Rheinmetall employees. The tests confirmed that the vehicle met Swedish requirements for an armored high-performance multiple purpose engineering system. After the successful trials, the vehicle was returned to Rheinmetall and the test results were shared with the International AEV Coordination Group which then consisted of Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and Spain. This group was specifically established to harmonize national AEV requirements and programs. Despite the successful trials, Spain backed out of the program and chose to acquire the domestically-built Pizarro CEV instead. Denmark backed out of the program as well, deciding it did not need an AEV yet, but later went to acquire the Wisent 1 AEV/ARV based on the older Leopard 1 chassis.

The base of the excavator arm of a Swiss Kodiak. Source: Priska B.

Design

Powered by the MTU-MB873 V-12 twin-turbo diesel engine, producing 1475 hp, the Kodiak can reach a top speed of 68 km/h (42 mph). Weighing in at 62 tonnes, the vehicle falls in the MLC 70 class (Military Load Class, NATO vehicle classification system based on weight) and has a power to weight ratio of 23.8 hp/t. The weight is spread over seven road wheels on each side and the tracks are guided by four return rollers. The tracks can be tensioned with the idler wheel at the front and are driven by the drive sprocket at the rear.

Although a large part of the chassis remained unchanged compared to the Leopard 2, the front armor plate and turret were removed to make place for a superstructure. This superstructure, with a heavy slope on the front and slight sloping on the sides and rear, extends to roughly the middle of the vehicle. The superstructure is split in two, to accommodate the hinged-arm excavator being placed front center, unlike many other AEVs which have their excavator arm located on the side of the vehicle. A centrally placed excavator, however, offers a major advantage to the crew as they have a better view of what they are doing. Furthermore, it eases operation in confined spaces.

The excavator bucket has a volume of one cubic meter and, when in continuous use, it can move up to 200 cubic meters of earth per hour. The arm has a horizontal operational range of 9 meters and a range of 8.2 meters vertically. The arm can also be used to lift objects up with a weight of up to 3.5 tonnes (2.6 tonnes when the bucket is attached). These objects include things like logs and fascines. The bucket is attached to the arm with a hydraulically actuated quick coupling device, so it can easily be detached and replaced by another kind of tool. These tools include a universal gripper, a hydraulic hammer, an earth drill, a fascine launching system, and a concrete crusher. Two of these tools can be transported on the rear rack of the Kodiak, above the engine deck, while additional ones can be transported separately by a truck. The crew can perform all these actions without having to exit the vehicle.

Furthermore, the vehicle is equipped with two capstan type Rotzler winches which can pull 9 tonnes each at a speed up to 90 meters per minute and with a cable length up to 200 meters. Although the vehicle is primarily designed to be used during military operations on the battlefield, it can also be used during disaster relief or civil-military operations due to its wide array of equipment.

A Dutch Kodiak crushing a car with its excavator arm. Source: Ministerie van Defensie

Crew

The vehicle is manned by a crew of three: a commander, a driver, and an engineer, but the vehicle is also fully operable when only manned by the commander and driver. As the crew compartment consists of two halves, the crew members are separated from each other, with the commander sitting in the right half, the driver in the left front, and the engineer behind him. The chairs, equipped with 4-point belts, are mounted on the roof so, when the vehicle is hit by an explosive charge like a land mine or Improvised Explosive Device (IED), less of the force of the blast is imparted to the crew. Together with a reasonable amount of space and air conditioning, the crew conditions are rather good.
Six cameras provide a panoramic surrounding view which allows the crew to fully operate the vehicle with no problems.

Armament

To defend itself against near threats, the Kodiak is equipped with a weapon station on top of the right side of the superstructure. This station, which can be operated both manually and remotely, is armed with a 12.7 mm machine gun, but can also be equipped with a 40 mm grenade launcher. Furthermore, the vehicle is equipped with a smoke grenade launcher system which is mounted on the front.

The Pearson mine plow, seen from above, mounted on a Dutch Kodiak. Source: Ministerie van Defensie

Mine Plow Capabilities

Besides the conventional dozer which has a width of 3.42 meters or 4.02 meters with side extensions, the Kodiak can be equipped with a mine plow. This mine plow was developed by the British company Pearson Engineering and is marketed under the name Full Width Mine Plough (FWMP) which clears mines and explosives down to thirty centimeters underground. With this mine-breaching method, a path of 150 meters can be cleared within a minute. It also features an integrated electromagnetic system, meaning that explosives with electrical ignitions explode immediately. When equipped, the plow adds 4 meters to the total length of the vehicle.

To mark the breached path, the Kodiak is also equipped with a Pearson Lane Marking System. This system features two devices per side, containing fifty marker poles each. They are pneumatically fired into the ground at either timed or distance based intervals and have enough power to penetrate asphalt as well. The poles are equipped with LEDs so that a breached path can also be recognized during bad weather or nighttime.

Both systems are not unique to the Kodiak, for example, they are also used on the American M1150 ABV and the British Trojan AVRE, among others.

One of the Singaporean Kodiaks with its crew. The Army of Singapore was the latest customer of the Kodiak. Source: Singapore Army
A Swedish Kodiak taking part in Bison Counter 2016. Photo: European Defence Agency

Swiss Order

On 9th January 2007, Rheinmetall announced that the Swiss procurement agency had signed the first contract for the delivery of twelve Kodiak AEV 3, in Swiss army parlance known as Geniepanzer. The deal had a value of CHF 95 million (US$76 million), an earlier CHF 129 million (US$103 million) offer had been rejected in 2005 by the Swiss parliament. The first vehicles were planned to be delivered over the course of 2009. Construction was to take place in Switzerland by RUAG, assisted by Rheinmetall Landsysteme Gmbh in Kiel, a subsidiary of Rheinmetall AG of Düsseldorf. Production took longer than anticipated, and the delivery date was postponed to the end of 2010, however, this was further delayed.

A further setback was encountered in January 2011 when it became apparent that the hydraulic arm became heated up within a short time of use, which meant that it had to cool down before returning into action. Fortunately, the issue could be resolved, but the last AEV was only delivered just before the end of 2011. Although twelve vehicles were ordered, only six Pearson mine-clearing modules were ordered. The twelve Leopard 2 chassis, designated Panzer 87 in Swiss use, came from Swiss army stocks with turrets removed. Since delivery, the vehicles are in use with the Panzersappeurbataillon 11, 11th Battalion Combat Engineers.

One of the Swiss Kodiaks during production at the RUAG works. Source: Moritz Hage

Swedish-Dutch Cooperation

In 1999, Sweden initiated a procurement program for a combat engineering vehicle and after deciding against using the Leopard 1 chassis as a base for this new vehicle, the Leopard 2 chassis, in Sweden known as the Stridsvagn 121, was chosen. To reduce costs, the Swedish procurement agency tried to collaborate with other agencies participating in the coordination group. An initial collaboration with Switzerland was set up but had to be terminated in December 2001 due to lack of funding from the Swedish government. While production of the Kodiak prototype started in Switzerland, Sweden was approached by Denmark, but during the final negotiations, Denmark backed out of the program altogether. After these initial difficulties, Sweden eventually initiated their AEV 3 S program in 2005, with the Dutch Army joining in 2006. In the Netherlands, the need for a new AEV had already emerged during the mid-’90s. On January 16, 2008, the procurement agencies of both Sweden and the Netherlands placed a combined order for sixteen vehicles, six for Sweden and ten for the Netherlands for a total amount of €100 million (US$147 million, roughly €60 million from the Netherlands and €40 million from Sweden or US$88.2 million and US$58.8 million respectively). As a result, costs could be reduced by 20% because it created the possibility to substantially reduce non-recurring costs and brought advantages in production and purchasing. Delivery period was set for 2011-2012.

The first Kodiak that was shipped to Sweden already painted in a Swedish camouflage scheme. Source: Rheinmetall Defence

Delivery to Sweden

Sweden provided six Stridsvagn 121 chassis for conversion. Their turrets were removed by Markverkstaden in Skövde and the chassis were upgraded to Stridsvagn 122 standards. After the preparations were completed, the chassis were shipped to Germany after which they were converted into AEV 3 S (Swedish). In November 2011, the first out of six AEV3 S Kodiaks was handed over to the Swedish armed forces procurement agency (FMV, Försvarets Materiel Verk). The symbolic keys were handed over during an official ceremony in Kiel, the home base of Rheinmetall Landsysteme GmbH. Known in Sweden as Ingenjörbandvagn 120, the vehicles are operated by the two Engineering Battalions which received three vehicles each.

Delivery to the Netherlands

The Netherlands used Leopard 2A4 chassis from their own stocks as well. Ten vehicles were completely overhauled by Instandhoudingsbedrijf Landsystemen (Conservation company Land systems) in Leusden, and the turrets were removed. After these were converted in Germany and returned as Kodiaks, the vehicles were intensively tested. During these tests, several teething problems were resolved, including some major issues with the hydraulics. At the end of 2017, the vehicles were banned from driving on roads because a control cable had snapped in one vehicle. Eventually, on 31st May 2018, the vehicles could finally be transferred into active service, as all problems had been resolved. The ten vehicles replaced fourteen Leopard 1 engineer vehicles, which were heavily worn out. Its projected service life is set to be around thirty years. In 2019, some Dutch Kodiaks were made available to be used by the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) of NATO.

The Swedish and Dutch Kodiaks are roughly 95% percent identical to each other, with differences being the camouflage patterns, markings, the smoke grenade discharge arrangements, some tools, and the Dutch vehicles feature a bomblet protection package.

Operation by Singapore

When the Army of Singapore decided to buy Leopard 2 MBTs, a total of fourteen Kodiaks were ordered and delivered in 2014-2015, replacing the aged US-built M728 CEVs. The Kodiaks, in Singapore Army parlance mainly known as L2-AEV, are operated by the 38th Battalion, Singapore Combat Engineers (38 SCE), together with the Leopard 2 AVLB. This armored engineer battalion is specifically trained to operate together with other armored forces. The vehicles are painted in a green color and feature a white on black registration plate on the front left side.

One of the Singapore Army Kodiaks during a parade pictured from above. Source: unknown

Ordered by the Bundeswehr

Since 1989, the German Army used Leopard 1-based Pionierpanzer 2A1 Dachs armored engineering vehicles. During the 2010s, the need emerged for a new vehicle, based on the Leopard 2. Rheinmetall entered the competition with the Kodiak while Flennsburg-based FFG offered the Wisent 2. According to the original planning, a decision was to be made near the end of 2020, but this deadline was not met.

Eventually, the Kodiak was chosen in early 2021 and on 14th April 2021, the Budget Committee of the German Parliament approved an order for 44 vehicles, worth roughly 295 million euros. After approval, the final contract was signed between Rheinmetall and the Federal Office for Bundeswehr Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support, BAAINBw for short. The new vehicles will be based on surplus Leopard 2A4 chassis from German Army stocks. It is planned that all 44 vehicles will be delivered from 2023 until 2029.

The future of the Kodiak

The Kodiak is still marketed by Rheinmetall and RUAG. Its main competition is the more recently developed Wisent 2, an AEV/ARV developed by the German company FFG, also based on the Leopard 2 chassis and already in use with the Canadian and Norwegian armies and on order by the Army of Qatar. Whether Rheinmetall will manage to secure future sales of the Kodiak remains uncertain, but potential buyers include Austria, Chile, Greece, Indonesia, Poland, Portugal, and Turkey, as these countries all operate Leopard 2 MBTs and are either operating older or no armored engineering vehicles. Countries which are most likely not going to operate Kodiaks, while fielding Leopard 2 tanks, are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Qatar, and Spain, as these countries are already operating, or going to operate, other modern AEVs.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 10.2 (14.02m with plow, 11m with dozer blade) x 3.54 x 2.6 meters
Total weight, battle-ready 62,000 kg, MLC70
Crew 2-3 (Commander, Driver, Engineer)
Propulsion MTU-MB873 diesel engine, 1,100 kW (1475 hp).
Maximum speed 68 km/h (42.3 mph)
Suspensions High-hardness-steel torsion bars with rotary shock absorbers
Armament 12.7 mm machine gun or 40mm grenade launcher
Ballistic Protection STANAG 4569 edition 1 annex A/level 4
Mine Protection STANAG 4569 edition 1 annex B/level 3B and 4A
Production 42 + 1 prototype + 44 on order by Germany

Sources

AEV 3 Kodiak – Technology for Combat Engineers, RUMAG Brochure, PDF.
World’s first Leopard 2-based armoured engineer vehicle, Press release Rheinmetall Defence, May 8, 2003. (LINK)
AEV 3 Kodiak stands up to extreme Arctic conditions in Sweden, Press release Rheinmetall Defence, March 23, 2005. (LINK)
Swiss Army orders new Armoured Engineer Vehicle from Rheinmetall, Press release Rheinmetall Defence, January 9, 2007. (LINK)
Rheinmetall to supply Kodiak armoured engineer vehicles to Sweden and the Netherlands, Press release Rheinmetall Defence, January 17, 2008. (LINK)
Converted Leopard with claws, FMV press release, March 14, 2008. (LINK)
Rheinmetall transfers first Kodiak armoured engineering vehicle to Sweden, Press Release Rheinmetall Defence, PDF, November 21, 2011.
RUAG supplies Leopard Armoured Engineer and Mine-Clearance vehicles for the Swiss Armed Forces, Press release RUAG Defence, December 23, 2011. (LINK)
Trotz Panne fliegen die Funken, Berner Zeitung, January 14, 2011.
Ingenjörbandvagn (Ingbv) 120, Jan Forsberg, Pansar Nummer 1, 2012, PDF.
En tysk försvarsjätte, Slagfjädern Nummer 4, 2012, PDF.
Wehrtechnischer Report, issue 2/2015.doz
Allgemeine schweizerische Militärzeitschrift Band 169 Heft 5, 2003, Andreas Renker, p.16-17, Neuer Geniepanzer auf der «Leo-2»-Plattform.
Defensie Krant, Prototype genie-/doorbraaktank doorstaat testen, January 17, 2008, Dutch Ministry of Defence.
Defensiebeer beschermt bemanning tegen explosieven, Materieel Gezien 04, May 22, 2014.
Nieuwe Kodiaktank van de Landmacht krijgt rijverbod, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 22 November, 2017. (LINK)
Een beer van een tank als grommende gereedschapskist, Reformatorisch Dagblad, 22 November 2017. (LINK)
Landmacht krijgt krachtpatser met Kodiak-geniedoorbraaktank, Dutch Ministry of Defence press release, May 31, 2018. (LINK)
The Kodiak on the official Dutch Defence website.
The Kodiak on the official Swedish Defence website.
The Kodiak on the official Singapore Defence website and Facebook.
Full Width Mine Plough description on Pearson-eng.com.
Numbers of delivery on SIPRI trade Registers.
Gepanzerte Pioniermaschine – Beschaffung des Pionierpanzers 3 Kodiak gebilligt, 14 April 2021, soldat-und-technik.de.
Rheinmetall Kodiak to be the Bundeswehr’s new combat engineer vehicle, Press release Rheinmetall Defense, 12 May 2021, rheinmetall.com.



A Swedish AEV 3 Kodiak in its standard configuration with a dozer blade at the front.


A Dutch AEV 3 Kodiak equipped with a Pearson mine plow and lane marking system.

These illustrations were produced by Ardhya Anargha, funded by our Patreon campaign.

Categories
Modern German Other Vehicles

Minenräumer Minebreaker 2000/2

Federal Republic of Germany (1999)
Mine Clearing Vehicle – At Least 3 Built

In the late 1990s, the Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG, Eng: Flensburg Vehicle Manufacturing Company) unveiled a powerful new demining vehicle. It was designed to be capable of clearing large areas of ground quicker than existing vehicles.

This machine was called the Minenräumer (Eng: Mine Clearer) ‘Minebreaker 2000/2’ and was based on the heavily modified chassis of the old German Main Battle Tank (MBT), the Leopard 1. For the entirety of its existence, the mine clearer has been painted completely in bright red paint, with the exception of its bright blue control cab.

The big red Minebreaker is one of the largest and most powerful mine-clearing vehicles to have ever existed. Civilian demining organizations such as German Welt-Entminungs-Hilfe (Eng: German World Demining Aid) began using the vehicle in the late-1990s, but the machine also caught the eye of the world’s militaries. In September 2000, the South Korean Army became the first military to procure the vehicle, for the purpose of demining the inner-Korean border should the need arise. In 2002, the German Army purchased the machine seeing a need for a demining vehicle capable of clearing a larger area than the in-service Keiler Mine Flail. It had a very short service life with the German Army, being retired in 2014. It did, however, see minor service in Afghanistan around Kabul International Airport.

The Minebreaker 2000/2. Photo: Panzernet

The Big Red Beast

By the late-1990s, the Leopard 1 had long fallen out of service with the German Army. As such, it was the perfect candidate for the butchery that would take place converting it into the monstrous Minebreaker.

The Minebreaker was designed by Jorg Kamper, though unfortunately, not much is known about the man. The main feature of his Minenräumer is the large, combine harvester like plow at the front of the vehicle. The plow takes the form of a large tilling drum covered in long metal teeth. The plow is supported by giant arms that extend back to the center of the hull. In the middle of the arms is the command position, enclosed within a ballistically-protected, bright blue (or sometimes white) cabin. Behind the cab, protruding from the engine deck, are two, truck-like exhaust pipes or ‘smokestacks’. Finally, at the very rear of the hull, hanging over the back of the engine deck is a large box housing the vehicle’s giant air ventilation system.

Hull

The Leopard’s chassis is barely recognizable as the hull of this vehicle. The only recognizable features are the vestigial exhaust vents on the sides on the engine deck, just above the sprocket wheels, and the running gear. The running gear did see a small addition in the form of a protective disc attached to the sprocket wheel. Exactly what purpose this disc has, however, is unknown.

The engine is one of the few unchanged parts of the Leopard 1’s anatomy. It remains the same 10-cylinder, 37.4-litre multi-fuel MTU MB 838 CaM 500 engine. This engine produces 819 horsepower and propelled the 40-tonne Leopard 1 to 65 km/h (40 mph). The Minebreaker is 9 tonnes heavier than the Leopard, weighing in at 49 tonnes. The Minebreaker travels at a fraction of the speed of the Leopard 1, though, with a top speed of just 4 km/h. This is because the plow, and the vehicle itself, is driven hydraulically via a multi-pump transfer drive. In the case of mine clearing operations, this is not a bad thing. It allows every inch of ground to be cleared, forming as safe an area as possible. This hydrostatic drive allows the Minebreaker to travel as slow as 1 meter-per-minute.

Mine Clearing Equipment

The mine plow of the Minebreaker takes the form of a large tilling drum. The drum is covered in around 50, long chisel-like teeth. As the vehicle’s designer once explained: “The tilling drum is fitted with heavy-duty tungsten carbide teeth. If a mine blows up these teeth are the only piece damaged, but [they] are cheap and can be exchanged within minutes…”. Teeth included, the drum is 1.8 meters in diameter and 3.69 meters wide. The drum is covered in a large hood to stop debris and undetonated mines hitting the vehicle.

The gargantuan tilling assembly located at the front of the Minebreaker. Photo: Uwe Hellmann, Tankograd Publishing

The tilling drum is carried by a large frame consisting of two huge arms on the left and right of the drum, and a crossbar that spans the gap between the two. Attached to the bar are two hydraulic rams that raise and lower the tiller as required. The arms are attached to pivot joints roughly halfway along the length of the hull, just above the fourth road wheel. The drum was rotated via chains housed inside the supporting arms. On the inner side of the arm, near the ‘elbow’, was a small motor, powered by the hydraulic drive. This could rotate the drum in both a clockwise and anti-clockwise direction. Anticlockwise is often the preferred direction as it lifts mines out of the ground. Clockwise rotation can result in pushing the mine further into the ground. Unfortunately, the rotational speed of the drum is currently unknown.

The large frame that carriers the tilling drum is raised to allow the vehicle to move around slightly easier. Photo: topwar.ru

Thanks to the hydraulic drive, the vehicle can clear mines at various speeds and various soil types. In light soil, the vehicle clears at 12-20 m/min, 5-12 m/min in medium soil, and 2-5 m/min in heavy soil. This was estimated as being 20 to 40 times faster than a squad of 20 experienced deminers. The vehicle has an approximate clearing rate of 15,000 mᒾ – 20,000 mᒾ (1.5 – 2 Hectares) per day. Clearance depth of the tilling drum is 300 – 500 mm. Due to the size and limited flexibility of the tilling drum, the vehicle can only clear reliably on predominantly flat ground. Ground sloped over 35 degrees cannot be cleared by this vehicle.

The immense tilling drum of the Minebreaker. At the end of each blade, there is a tungsten-carbide tooth. Photo: 270862 of Flickr

Control Cab

The Minebreaker is driven and controlled by a single operator, located in a small bright blue cab placed in the middle of the vehicle. The cab was positioned on a large metal plate that covered the empty, 198 cm diameter turret ring. The cab is ballistically protected by 20 mm steel armor and 70 mm of layered bulletproof glass on the four windows. There is a window on the front of the cab (with a wiper blade), one on each side, and one at the rear built into the armored door used to gain entrance to the cab.

The bright blue one-man control cab of the Minebreaker. Note Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft’s ‘FFG’ logo on the front plate. Photo: Public Domain

The Minebreaker is incredibly easy to control. There are two joysticks attacked to control units on the left and right side of the driver’s seat. One stick is used to drive the vehicle, the other operates the tilling rig. The ease of control means anyone with basic knowledge and qualifications in operating foundry or construction equipment can easily, and quickly, be trained to operate the Minebreaker. The Operator’s seat is mounted above shock-absorbers. These shock-absorbers cushion the Operator from the force of an exploding mine. For example, the G-force produced by the detonation of a 7kg explosive is reduced to just 2 Gs in the cab. This is comparable to a car mounting a curb at walking speed. The seat also rotates to allow the Operator to egress the cab through the armored door.

A view of the Minebreaker from the engine deck. The armored door to the cab is open and the operating seat rotated. Note also, the motor that drives the chain to the milling drum on the inside of the support arm. Photo: GICHD

Other Features

One other large, eye-catching feature of the Minebreaker is the air filter assembly at the rear of the vehicle. The Minebreaker is a large and powerful mine clearing vehicle, and as such, produces a lot of dust and debris when its tilling drum is at full speed cutting into terrain. The powerful MTU (Motoren und Turbinen Union meaning, Eng: Motor and Turbine Union) engine is air-cooled, and of course, requires oxygen for the combustion process. To provide the cleanest possible air in a cloud of dust, the air filters were made truly large. The whole assembly is housed inside a large box overhanging the rear of the vehicle, supported by welded framework. Clean air is pumped into the engine bay directly through the engine deck. A large ‘hump’ of metal plating protects the connection between the front of the filter box and engine deck. The exact model of the filter, or how it operates, is unfortunately unknown at this time.

The huge air-filtration system at the rear of the Minebreaker. Note the extensive supporting framework underneath, and the ladder that allows maintenance access. Photo: 270862 of Flickr

To accommodate the filtration system, the exhaust gasses had to be diverted from the usual grills on the left and right of the hull, at the rear. For this, new exhaust pipes were installed just in front of these grills. The pipes culminated in large, semi-truck-like smokestacks just over a meter high, complete with perforated, heat sinking cowling.

Climbing aboard the Minebreaker is easy. Just in front of the left smokestack is a ladder. When the operator is aboard, it is then folded up and locked in place to stop it getting tangled up with the running gear. There is also a folding ladder attached to the left rear corner of the air filter.

The folding access ladder and left smoke stack of the Minebreaker. Photo: 270862 of Flickr

The Minebreaker is not intended for use in active combat areas and as such, it is mostly unarmored. Also, as a slow moving vehicle, it is an easy target for an aggressor tank or anti-tank weapon. The vehicle’s protective cab is only meant to protect the vehicle from small arms fire and the detonation of mines. Although the Leopard 1 was never a heavily armored vehicle, with a maximum armor thickness of 70 mm, it still grants a good level of protection for the Operator and the internal mechanics.

Another feature of the Minebreaker is that – according to both the designer, Jorg Kamper, and the manufacturer, FFG – the Minebreaker is a modular system. Kamper as been recorded as saying “…it is [currently] mounted on a Leopard 1 chassis, but [it] is a modular system and can fit almost [any other tracked chassis] such as the T-55, T-72, M48, M60…”. There is nothing to say that this is not true, but, for now at least, the only built and used Minebreakers have been Leopard 1 based.

Service

SFOR: Bosnia and Herzegovina

The first uses of the Minebreaker were at the hands of private, non-military demining organizations. As already stated, this included German Welt-Entminungs-Hilfe. In 1999, this organization aided NATO’s ‘Stabilisation Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina (SFOR)’ in the removal of mines from Vidovice, Kopanice and Jenjic. These were small towns on Bosnia and Herzegovina’s northeastern border with Croatia. These towns were in the Posavina Corridor, in the Sava River valley, some of the most hotly contested ground in the Bosnian War of 1992 – 1995. As such, the ground was heavily saturated with minefields.

The Minebreaker in Vidovice, Bosnia. Photo: Capt. Jesus Campuzano

For three years, the Minebreaker was used here in clearing operations. The Minebreaker was operated by personnel from Croatia’s 4th Guards Brigade ‘The Spiders’. The 4th Guards Bde. was under the supervision of the United States 1st Engineer Battalion, which was in the country as part of Task Force ‘Catamount’.

ISAF: Afghanistan

When it entered service with the German Army, the Teutonic Cross was added to the vehicle, on the tiller arms. The first use of the Minebreaker by the German Army came in September 2002, in Afghanistan. The Minebreaker was deployed with the German contingent of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, also known as ‘ISAF’. While part of this force, the ‘ISAF’ logo was applied to the tiller arms. The Minebreaker proved to be somewhat of a logistical headache as no military aircraft was capable of carrying the vehicle to Afghanistan. The Ukrainian based Antonov Airlines were contracted to transport the Minebreaker, using the world’s largest cargo aircraft, the Antonov An-225 Mriya.

The Minebreaker is unloaded from the Antonov 225 at Kabul International Airport in September 2002. Photo: Pioneer News

The Minebreaker was tasked with clearing mines from the area around Kabul International Airport. Similar missions took place in this area, undertaken by various nation’s armies. The US Army, for instance, deployed the remote-controllable M1 Panther II for this task. The Minebreaker was in operation in Afghanistan for two years, after which it was sent back to Germany where it was used as a training vehicle.

Conclusion

The Minebreaker was retired from German military service in 2014. It is unknown whether South Korea’s machine is still operational. The Minebreaker is still listed as being available to purchase from Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG), however.

It is not known whether there are any other Minebreakers currently in service in the world, or whether they have been based on other vehicles. For now, at least, the only known Minebreakers remain Leopard 1 based. It also still one of the most powerful mine clearing vehicles to have ever existed.



The Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft (FFG) Minenräumer ‘Minebreaker 2000/2’. The hull of the Leopard 1 is barely recogniseable under all of the added components and large mineclearing tiller drum assembly. This illustration was produced by Andrei ‘Octo10’ Kirushkin, funded by our Patreon Campaign.

Specifications

Dimensions (L-W-H) 10.94 x 4.51 x 3.31 meters
Total weight, battle ready 49 tonnes
Crew 1 (Operator)
Propulsion MTU MB 838 CaM 500 engine, 819hp
Suspension Independent torsion bars
Speed (road) 1 m/min – 4 km/h (2.4 mph)
Equipment 1.8 x 3.69 meter Mine Clearing Tilling Drum
Armor Max 70 mm on the hull, 70mm bulletproof gl.
Production At least 3

Sources

Ralph Zwilling, Minenräumfahrzeuge: Mine-clearing Vehicles from the Keiler to the German Route Clearance System, Tankograd Publishing
Pionier News, The German Corps of Engineers Magazine, Edition No. 5, December 2002. Page 28-29, an article by Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Sponfeldner. (PDF)
Mechanical Demining Equipment Catalogue 2008 (PDF)
Mechanical Demining Equipment Catalogue 2010 ( PDF)
www.gichd.org
www.nato.int/sfor
www.ffg-flensburg.de
texogatech.com/minebreaker001.cfm