The Sabrah Project as a Possible Future Tank for the ACR

 09. 02. 2021      category: Military vehicles

The Czech Republic has been debating for a long time about the replacement of the obsolete T-72M4 CZ tanks. The main candidates for that are tanks of the Main Battle Tank category – German Leopard 2 and South Korean K2 Black Panther. Does the Czech Republic have a choice from more options for maintaining the firepower of tanks, while adopting unconventional solutions?

Picture: The main candidates for replacing the obsolete T-72M4 CZ tanks are tanks of the Main Battle Tank category – German Leopard 2 (pictured) and South Korean K2 Black Panther.  | archive of Krauss-Maffei Wegmann / CC BY-SA 3.0

In the United States, the evaluation of individual prototypes for the Mobile Protected Firepower (MPF) project began at the end of last year. This project was launched to equip US military units with a light tank with sufficient mobility and firepower. Most of the supplied prototypes have a 105mm cannon and can be transported by air using C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III aircraft. It would be good to mention that in addition to the installation on tracked platforms, there already are various variants of the heavier cannon on wheeled platforms in the armament of some armies. Examples are the M1128 Mobile Gun System on the Stryker platform, the French AMX-10 RC or the Italian B1 Centauro.

However, light tanks are not produced only west of the Czech Republic. An interesting and so far completely unknown case is the Israeli light tank project Sabrah. It is basically a turret installed on a tracked and wheeled platform. The manufacturer gives two typical examples: the ASCOD and Pandur II platforms, however, according to the available materials, the turret can be installed on a wide range of platforms. Sabrah is equipped, like the MPF projects, with a 105mm cannon. There is a coaxial machine gun, calibre 7.62mm. Two anti-tank guided missiles can be placed in the turret. The Sabrah can be equipped with a modern Torch-X command and control system, the Iron Vision system for 360° situation awareness and the Iron Fist active protection system. Sabrah is comparable in weight to the T-72M4 CZ tank (44 tons compared to 48 tons for the T-72), while it is significantly lighter than both mentioned tanks Leopard and K2 Black Panther (62 tons and 55 tons).

Picture: The manufacturer gives two typical examples: the ASCOD and Pandur II platforms, however, according to the available materials, the turret can be installed on a wide range of platforms. | archive of Elbit Systems / CC BY NC-ND

Sabrah offers interesting opportunities not only for the Czech Armed Forces, but also for the Czech defence industry. Recently, there has been word that Elbit Systems (the turret manufacturer) will supply Sabrah to the Philippine Armed Forces. The Pandur II wheeled platform will be manufactured partly in the Czech Republic. Czech companies were able to participate in the global supply chain of a certain platform, which could bring an advantage in the future resulting from this experience. Other Czech companies can participate in this project as well, for example in the field of electro-optical components of the vehicle. Within the framework of very good Czech-Israeli relations, the question arises as to what percentage of the project would be manufactured in the Czech Republic. The introduction of Sabrah into the ACR on a tracked and wheeled platform can be a proof of further successful Czech-Israeli cooperation in the field of defence and security and can contribute to building the Czech reputation in this area.

There are three possible basic scenarios for the ACR involving the Sabrah project:

The first is a complete replacement of T-72M4 CZ tanks with the Sabrah platform and to some extent reduce tank capabilities (using a smaller caliber cannon), which on the other hand would be compensated by higher mobility and transportability by aircraft (categories C-130, C-17 Globemaster III or Alliance An-124). Another advantage in terms of unification of armaments would be the possibility of installing the Sabrah turret on a platform that will be selected by the ACR as a new tracked infantry fighting vehicle. In this case, the operating and servicing costs of these vehicles could be reduced.

The second scenario could be, in accordance with the ACR Construction Concept 2025 and 2030, the reorganization of the 44th Light Motorized Battalion into a mechanized battalion. If the Pandur II platform were introduced into this unit, there would be an increase in combat capability and firepower. The Pandur II platform provides high mobility and the possibility of relatively easy transport either by its own means or by air. If necessary, the ACR would be able to quickly send the necessary firepower to the destination. In addition, Pandur II is already introduced in the ACR, which would be advantageous from the point of view of training, transfer of experience and also from the point of view of service. 

The third and probably the most financially and logistically demanding scenario is the creation of a unit composed of Sabrah light tanks within the 7th Mechanized Brigade. In this scenario, it is possible to count on maintaining the MBT category in the ACR, with the units of the 7th Mechanized Brigade being supplemented by a light tank/fire support vehicle on the same platform as the tracked infantry fighting vehicles. In the case of the construction of a “heavy brigade” according to NATO requirements, the firepower of the 7th Mechanized Brigade would increase. Light tanks may be deployed on the battlefield first before the deployment of heavier MBT tanks. 

Experts from the Ministry of Defence and the Czech Armed Forces face a difficult task of choosing a replacement for T-72M4 CZ tanks. Both main candidates have something to offer both in terms of technical and technological features, as well as in terms of the possibilities of involving the Czech defence industry. The main factor that will most likely decide will be the amount of funds allocated for the modernization of the tank army.

Given the fact that the Czech Republic has committed itself to building a “heavy brigade”, it can be assumed that experts will not underestimate this area. The Sabrah platform could be at least a temporary solution in case of economic problems of the Ministry of Defence, which will offer the possibility of unification of ACR armament (in case of the “heavy brigade”), expansion and addition of firepower, and finally the opportunity for the Czech defence and security industry to participate in the introduction of modern systems in the ACR and thus gain experience for the possible own development of modern systems. 

 Author: Jan Feryna