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Russian “Lekalo” vs American “Abrams”. Who will burn?

Armor-piercing fin-stabilized sabots: how do Russians and US do them?

Even not too significant news on the military-technical topic can lead to a detonation of the information sphere. The publication in Izvestia, which could be considered fresh some decades ago, in the nineties, suddenly provoked an emotional rebuke from the American online edition of Defense Blog.

Izvestia reported that the military-industrial complex should transfer 2,000 armor-piercing fin-stabilized sabots 3BM44 Lekalo until mid-summer to the mid-summer. And that they will become a horror for the Abrams American tanks, because the Lekalo BPS is capable of penetrating 650 mm of homogeneous armor from a distance of 2 kilometers.

I must say that the news here lies solely in the fact of the release of these shells, and not in their novelty. Shells “Lekalo” were adopted in the late 90s. And only now it came to their mass production. The Lekalo replaces the Soviet-era Mango subcaliber shells, which have more modest armor penetration. Both Mango and Lekalo are intended for firing from a 2A46 smooth-bore gun of 125 mm caliber, which are used on all Russian tanks. The exception is the T-90M “Proryv” tank, which has a more powerful weapon and, accordingly, its armor-piercing shells, have greater armor penetration.

Defense Blog immediately responded to this publication, deciding to defend the honor of the uniform of American tank builders. And at the same time debunk Russian competitors. At the same time, the American magazine The National Interest was chosen as an expert source for the blog, one of the publications of which says that the thickness of the frontal projection of the Abrams tank turret is 800 mm. And therefore, Lekalo is not able to hit either an American tank or other NATO tanks – the German Leopard-2, the French Leclerc, the British Challenger-2.

This statement contains two errors – logical and technical.

  1. Izvestia does not claim that Abrams can be hit with a sub-projectile only if it hits the frontal projection of the tower, which is the most protected. The front projection of the housing is much less protected. And even the side projections of the tower, which are protected by a composite sandwich, may well be penetrated even by the previous generation — the “Mango”. The same can be said about the security of the remaining NATO tanks.
  2. There is a physical thickness of the tank armor, it can be measured with a tape measure, not paying attention to the structure of the armor, which can be multilayer using various materials. But there is another characteristic that shows what kind of shells of different action can protection withstand – armor-piercing subcaliber or cumulative. Only in the case when the armor is a continuous and homogeneous plate, then these two characteristics are the same.

Abrams has three-layer armor – armor plates 60 and 100 mm thick and composite material between them. For the forehead of the tower, the thickness of the composite material, i.e. “Fillings” is 700 mm. However, for Lekalo, this is equivalent to a thickness of homogeneous steel of 650 mm, which is true for 80% of all Abrams produced in the USA. For cumulative shells, this is equivalent to 1050 mm thickness. In 20% of the tanks of the last modification, the homogeneous armor protection of the forehead of the tower is 900 mm.

As you can see, “Lekalo” is able to hit “Abrams” in any part of the tank, not excluding the forehead of the tower. Well, in the case of the latest modifications of the tank, all projections of the tank body, as well as the side projections of the tower, are affected.

For other NATO tanks, the situation is about the same with regard to the protection of the tower’s forehead. Leopard 2 – 640 mm. Leclerc – 620-640 mm. “Challenger-2” – 590-620 mm.

But it should be borne in mind that in order to achieve its maximum armor penetration, BPS should hit the surface at a right angle to it. As the angle of attack decreases, the armor penetration of the “crowbar” decreases, as Lekalo is called, since it is a long core accelerated to a hypersonic speed of about 5 M from extra-strong material with a small diameter of about 25 mm. In modern Lekalo, either alloys of tungsten or depleted uranium are used as the core material.

Improving the quality of such shells, on a superficial glance, is quite simple. To increase armor penetration, it is necessary to increase the energy, which is composed of the mass of “crowbar” and its flight speed.

That is, its length must be increased, because an increase in diameter is unacceptable – this will dampen the flight speed. And to increase the initial speed, one must either increase the volume of the propellant mixture of the charge, or increase its energy quality. As a result, the length of the projectile increases. But you can increase it in a very limited range, because it is necessary to fit into the length of the gun’s chamber, and also not to crawl out of the working area of ​​the autoloader. There is another very subtle point – the organization of a centered span of the long core of the projectile in the barrel of large diameter.

The Lekalo uses tungsten. But in the case of using depleted uranium, armor penetration increases by 10-15% due to the fact that uranium has a larger specific gravity. That is, it can reach almost 750 mm. In this connection, we can assume that at the moment the Bakhirev Scientific-Research Engineering Institute, which created the Lekalo, is developing its uranium modification.

However, the situation for NATO tanks is further exacerbated if the armor-piercing shells Lead (tungsten) and Lead-1 (depleted uranium) are used against them. The penetration resistance of these BOPS is 650 mm and 750 mm, respectively. These shells were developed at about the same time as the Lekalo. But their production was also greatly delayed in time.

The most powerful Russian armor-piercing shells for a 125 mm caliber gun are Vacuum-1 (tungsten) and Vacuum-2 (depleted uranium). Their armor penetration is 800 mm and 900 mm. However, due to the fact that their length exceeds the existing Russian samples, they can be used in a gun that has not only a longer barrel, but an elongated chamber. This gun – 2A82 – is installed on two Russian tanks: on the promising T-14 on the “Armaty” platform and on the T-90M “Proryv” (this is the latest and most advanced modification of the T-90 MBT).

However, due to the fact that the readiness of the T-14 was somewhat delayed, and the modernization of existing tanks to the level of T-90M had just begun, the appearance of the Lekalo “in the everyday military use” would not happen soon.

Well, now you can find out how unique the new Russian developments of armor-piercing sub-caliber shells are.

In the USA, three 120 mm caliber shells are used, each of which is based on depleted uranium. The first two – M829A1 and M829A2 – have approximately the same length (740 mm) as Svinets and Lekalo, which suggests that they have approximately the same energy characteristics. Actually, their armor penetration is about the same – 650 mm and 710 mm, respectively.

The length of the M829A3 projectile is 924 mm (for the “Vacuum” – 900 mm). Its armor penetration is 770 mm.

However, another shell is approaching, the mass production of which is planned to be deployed in the near future – M829A4. Its characteristics were not disclosed. There are only statements similar to those made in Izvestia regarding Lekalo – the M829A4 will be able to hit any modern or promising tank.

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