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Test driving new Leos - CBC News


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I am really happy to hear about this... I'm joining up in August and I hope all the new Leos will have arrived by the time I get to do my actual armour training.

Test-driving an improved, if slightly used, Leopard tank
June 15, 2007
Leopard view from the turret (CBC)

Even as a passenger, I had reservations about going along for a test drive in a Leopard 2. I had to remember it was my idea to do this.

The problem is I'm claustrophobic so the night before my visit to the Royal Netherlands Army Base at Amersfoort, I was sleepless. I imagined the suffocating feeling of having to film inside such a hulking piece of metal.

But I did want to find out what these second-hand, German-made Leopards are like. Canada is buying a fleet of them after all. And I wanted to know about the soldiers who drive them.

You can imagine my delight when I arrived on the base and saw my test drive vehicle. It was a modified Leopard 2, called a bubble tank. Instead of a steel-encased turret it has windowed cab on top.
Bubble tank (CBC)

It was up there that I spent most of my time, watching and listening as Sgt. Andy MacDonald learned the ropes.

MacDonald and I sat in bucket seats on either side of and just behind the Dutch trainer. We wore helmets with voice-activated mikes both to hear each other and to give instructions to the virtually invisible driver below.

The driver — in this case, Sgt. Mark Bell — sits deep down in the front, right corner of the tank. All that could be seen of him as we rolled up and down across the Dutch training area was a bit of his back. It was dizzying to look out the window and, yes, it was fun.
Not a Ford Pinto

Sgt. MacDonald has been in the Canadian Armed Forces for 22 years and he's spent most of that time with tanks. These upgraded Leopards put a smile on his face.

"I'm actually very excited about getting these. Our other tanks were getting really old and we had to do a lot of maintenance on them. It was getting to the point where we were doing as much maintenance as we were doing driving, so the students weren't getting a lot of driving time."
Inside the simulator (CBC)

I asked Sgt. MacDonald how he would compare the Leopard 1 with this newer version, the Canadian Forces were about to acquire. "Think of your old Ford Pinto from the 1970s," he said. "It was all right at the time. But now we've just stepped into a Rolls Royce. "

During a break Sgt. Bell showed me how he gets in and out of the "driver's hole." He winds his hatch back manually and pops in from what you might call the hood of the tank. Once inside he winds it shut and disappears.

From my perch in the bubble, I was able to crawl down to just behind where he sits in his dark, cramped space — a metal cocoon filled with instruments, gauges and a small steering wheel that Bell calls a bow.

His legs are stretched out in front of him with a little bend in his knees. "Well I've been driving tanks so long and it feels comfortable," he says. "It's your safe place. It's just comfortable and you feel secure, you're completely enclosed and protected. It's a good feeling for a tanker. I felt safe in the Leopard 1 but this is just so much better."

Canada is spending $650 million to buy 100 used tanks from Holland, though the full cost, Canadians only recently learned, is closer to $1.3 billion when the service contracts are factored in.

But for the soldiers I met at Amersfoort there was no doubting the money is being well spent.
Pretty cool tank

The Leopard 2 should also solve a big problem soldiers face in Afghanistan: Heat. Temperatures inside the old tanks were reaching 65 C, some drivers reported. The earlier Leopards have a problem with their cooling systems. The newer models can be fitted with air conditioning.

But even without air conditioning, Bell says the operators are better off. "It's an electric drive turret so it doesn't produce heat, so you're probably 20 degrees cooler in the turret without air conditioning at all."

Bell was in Afghanistan last winter. He returns for a six-month tour of duty in February 2008 so he'll have a chance to test the new tank. He's modest about the discomfort of the old tanks, saying "you get used to it and you drink lots of water and that's all you can do."

I can now report that standing near a tank when it's on the move is a terrifying experience, even when you know the driver is friendly. The roar, as a tank approaches, and the incredible vibration of the ground made me want to run, which is the whole idea of tanks, as Sgt. MacDonald explained.

"When you feel a tank coming there's nothing like it. You know it's a tank." I nodded and said "scary." MacDonald agreed. "Hopefully that's how our enemies will feel when we come towards them."
Very good story. Gave me goose bumps... It's been a a while since i've been around one of these monsters.
Considering the ticket price of a new Leo2 A6M, the Dutch Leos are a bargain at 1.3B$
If the cost of the Service contract was known at the time, they shoulda mentioned it & saved everyone a bunch of grief.