"Beginnings": Initial Development (1971-1979)
In the 1970s, Belka and Osea worked together on the MBT-70 project (dubbed Kampfpanzer 70 in Belka) in hopes to develop a tank to replace Osea's M60 and Belka's Leopard, along with competing with the Yuktobanian T-62 and T-64 MBTs, which threatened to outclass the M60 and Leopard with their new smoothbore guns. However, by 1971, the squablling between the two development teams had pulled the project so far in two directions that eventually they might as well have developed two different tanks. As a result, both versions were canceled, with new, cheaper projects incorporating features from the MBT-70 project being considered instead. The Belkan project, equipped with a 120 mm Rheinmetal L44 smoothbore gun, was overhauled into a new design on a cheaper chassis with the same gun. The new design was dubbed "Leopard 2", with the original Leopard being renamed "Leopard 1".
Meanwhile, a proxy war between Osea and Yuktobania's allies in 1974 showed that there was a new emphasis on protection that needed to be addressed in the joint-production memorandum between Osea and Belka, and as a result, that deal fell through. The requirement for weight was increased to sixty tons, bringing it up into a class that would once have been called a Heavy Tank, and one of the prototypes was given a blockier-looking turret (PT-14) with perforated steel armor (this was later replaced with early Chobham armor). This version was finally given the upgunned L44 that would find use both on the Leopard 2 and on Osea's M1 Abrams.
After this, two new prototype hulls and three new turrets were ordered, each turret with the following variations:
- PT-20: Armed with the Royal Ordinance L7A3 105 mm gun with a Hughs fire control system
- PT-19: Same as PT-20 but with provision to swap out for the Rheinmetal L44 120 mm gun and the same fire control system
- PT-21: Armed with the Rheinmetal L44 120 mm gun and a Hughs--Krupp Elektronik EMES 13 fire control system.
In mid 1976, Prototypes 19 and 20 were assembled and shipped to Osea for further testing along with a special target vehicle to test the armor, and from September to December of that year, they underwent comparative trials with Osea's XM1. Osea reported that the two were comparable in mobility and firepower, but that the XM-1 had superior protection against hollow-charge ammunition, while the Leopard 2 was better-protected against KE rounds. The Leopard also possessed a more reliable turbodiesel engine with better performance, fuel economy and a smaller heat signature but produced more noise, and the design allowed for rapid start-ups and shut-downs that prevented the need for idling while on the battlefield, further saving fuel. In 1977, the prototypes were returned to Belka, but Turret 19 was ket by Osea and fitted to Prototype 7 of the MBT-70 and found to be superior to the L7A3-equipped XM1, influencing the armament chosen for the final design of the M1 Abrams.
In 1978, the first pre-series prototypes were delivered to the Heer, after an order for 1800 tanks was placed in the previous year. By 1979, the first production tanks were in service.
"Panzer Vor!": Early Service (1981-1995)
The problem with Generation 3 tanks, at first, was that most of the world was unwilling to spend the money on tanks they felt they didn't need, and so at first, export sales were nonexistant; the tank's developers knew this was an issue, and were aware that unless the tank was used in combat, nobody would take the design seriously. Fortunately for them, it didn't take long for the Leopard 2 to see combat.
In 1981, Belka invaded its neighbor, Recta, begining the Rectan War; while still brand-new, the Leopard 2 was still on the front lines for the entirety of the conflict, and right away started producing results. Against Rectan T-54/55s, T-64s and even T-72s, the Leopard outmatched the older designs. While the tank performed well enough, the war went on for much longer than it should have due to mismanagement by the Belkan high command, resulting in the war dragging on for three years, although eventually Belka siezed victory with brute force.
Overall, the war was a farce, which was made even worse after Belka's devastating Federal Law Review led to Recta being sold to the Fato Federation in 1987, removing all justification for the conflict in the first place. The future of the Leopard 2 looked bleak, but not all was lost for the design, for in 1995, an even bigger war, the Belkan War, would thrust it into combat.
Unlike before, the early part of the war was a curbstomp and showed the world the might of the Belkan military, not to mention the effectiveness of its weapons. This time, the Leopard 2 swept away the less-advanced tanks of its neighboring countries, and under the likes of the Belkan 7th Panzer Division earned a legendary reputation. Only when Osea fielded the M1A1 Abrams did the Leopard 2 come up against an equal adversary, leading to a more even playing field on the ground until the Allied Forces gained Air Superiority, resulting in many of Belka's Leopard 2s being destroyed, but even so, 70% of all models built prior to and during the war were still serviceable, even at the ceasation of hostilities.
"Global Leopard": Export Service (1995-2016)
The Treaty of Lumen was a disastrous blow to Belka's Armed Forces and Government, and crippled its effectiveness with several humiliating terms, including but not limited to the following:
- The Belkan Federation is to be disbanded and the Monarchy restored
- The whole of Belkan territory south of the irradiated Waldreich regions is to be reorganized as the Osean state of North Osea, and all industries and resources in the region shall belong to Osea.
- The Belkan Air Force is to disband immediately, and cannot be reinstated until 2025 or until the provisions in Article 17 have been met (whichever comes later)
- The Belkan Navy is forbidden from building, purchasing or operating submarines or air units, and must either scrap or sell 90% of its total tonnage and is limited to 100,000 personel
- The Belkan Army is to either scrap or sell 90% of its armored vehicles and is limited to 100,000 personel
- The Belkan Armed Forces are to be reogranized into a strictly defensive force
- Belka is forbidden from developing or deploying ballistic missiles or any other strategic strike platforms of any nature, and is forbidden from developing or deploying whatever the United Nations would determine to constitute a "Weapon of Mass Destruction", and is to dismantle all existing weapons defined as such immediately under strict supervision by United Nations inspectors
- The reogranized Principality of Belka must accept responsibility for starting and waging a war of aggression and must recuperate the cost of the war effort for all involved (THIS is the infamous Article 17)
Now a broken nation, Belka was forced to comply with the treaty, especially after the uprising by A World With No Boundries. Fortunately, the amazing performance of Belkan weaponry during the war meant that as far as exports went, there was no shortage of buyers for their weapons. This included the Leopard 2, which was compared favorably to the M1 Abrams due to its more fuel-effficient and reliable diesel engine, and found buyers in nations from USEA to Leasath, and in some nations, it wouldn't take long to see service (most notably in USEA, where ex-Belkan Leopard 2s were used by both sides; these same tanks were used again during the Usean Continental War and Free Erusia uprising). This would have been profitable for Belka, but because of the requirement to pay off the "War Debt", the profit was marginal at best, while the rest was requisitioned by the Gray Men to build up Belka's Armed Forces again in secret.
During the Annean Continental War, Leopard 2s were deployed by the Belkan Expeditionary Force, a supposed "Good Will" gesture by the Belkan Federation but in reality an instrument to give the Belkan Armed Forces much-needed combat experience. The Belkan 7th Panzer Division made an especially good showing in this conflict, holding on to their reputation as the "Ghost Division" and cementing its status against the most advanced foreign-built tanks available to the Estovakians. This also highlighted flaws that were already apparent at the end of the Belkan War, and gave Belka an impetus to act on these flaws by giving it better defense against air attacks.
"Next Generation": New Development (2017-)
With the conflicts relating to the effects of Ulysses finally winding down by 2016, it seemed that the world would have a brief respite from war, but unfortunately, there would be no such luck. The world recieved a wake-up call when the Reborn Knights of Belka took control of the Principality of Belka and reorganized it into a military state, and with the resources built up in secret by the Gray Men, formed a nation even stronger than Belka was at the start of the Belkan War. Among these new developments was a new MBT dubbed the "Leopard 3".
Essentially a Leopard 2 with a more powerful engine, new armor, a new autoloading gun and a new fire control system, this new tank would form the backbone of the new Wehrmacht Heer along with the late-mark Leopard 2A7+. Technically, the Leopard 3 should be called the Leopard 2A8, but the new name was both for propaganda purposes and to denote that it had many new features that rendered it different from its predecessors and made it superior even to Osea's M1A2 and prototypical M1A3.
When the war everyone expected began in 2017, the Leopard 3 swept aside even the best of Osean armor, ironically in a situation mirroring a reversal of the conditions Belka was placed under in the Belkan War by Osea, and within a few months, these tanks were patroling the suburbs of Oured. However, it proved vulnerable to Osean partisans equipped with Molotov Cocktails, Anti-Materiel Rifles, crack accuracy and sheer guts, highlighting the vulnerability of armored vehicles in assymetrical warfare yet again (it's estimated that more Leopard 3s were lost to sabotage and partisan ambush than to Allied Tanks). Despite being more advanced than the M1A2, Belka's armed forces were ultimately overwhelmed once Osea's full industrial capacity produced enough of the still-complex but less-expensive M1A2 in sufficient numbers to counter the advantage the Belkans had, and by the end of 2018, Belka ceased to exist as a nation.
Even so, the Leopard 3 set a new standard for late Generation 3 MBTs and would contribute partly to the Generation 4 MBTs in development by the mid 2020s. Even so, the Leopard 3 would continue to see use after the war in service with General Resource Limited's Defence Force, as well as in small numbers during the Leasath-Aurelia War on the Aurelian side against the less-advanced Leopard 2A5s of the Leasathan Army.
By the time of the Corporate War, all Leopard variants had been phased out of military service, but are still common in museums, and the GR Ltd Defense Force still uses the Leopard 3 both as a training vehicle and as a second-line MBT.
- 7th Panzer Division (aka "Ghost Division")
Nations equipped with Leopard 2 Variants
- Belkan Federation/Principality of Belka/Third Belkan Waldreich (all variants)
- Osean Federation (initial prototypes and Leopard 3)
- Usean Federation (Leopard 2A1-2A6)
- Federal Republic of Erusia (Leopard 2A1-2A6)
- Democratic Republic of Leasath (Leopard 2A1-2A7)
- Fato Federation (Leopard 2A3-2A5)
- Republic of Ustio (Leopard 2A3)
- Republic of Recta (Leopard 2A1-2A2)
- Republic of Weilvakia (Leopard 2A1-2A2)
- Kingdom of Nordenavic (Leopard 2A3-2A6)
- General Resource Limited^ (Leopard 2A6-2A7+ and Leopard 3)
^: Not a Country, but close enough
- Arguably, this tank was more successful as an export than it was in the service of the nation that created it. Indeed, as far as exports go, the Leopard 2 line is the most successful export vehicle.
- The term "Global Leopard" was a marketing tool used to assist in export sales of the Leopard 2.
- While technically forbidden under the Treaty of Lumen, Belka continued to develop the Leopard 2 and other tanks after the Belkan War under euhpemistic designations ranging from "All-Terrain Ambulance" to "Agricultural Tractor". They would build the hulls in Belka after covertly selling the licesnse to produce the weapons and turrets to other countries (such as Leasath), which would then conduct final assembly on their own soil. This also helped to market the tank (covertly) to countries seeking to purchase new models. By 2016, however, Belka decided not to bother with this anymore and began to openly develop the vehicle again.
- Apparently Belka learned from their mistakes in the Belkan War, and so on the Leopard 3, provision was made for turret-mounted versions of the FIM-92 "Stinger" surface-to-air missile, making it less vulnerable to air attack; indeed, early in the war it was a nasty surprise to Osean attack helicopters and ground-attack aircraft. The SAM launchers are in fact self-loading as well and can have up to four Stingers ready to launch at any time. The missiles are stored in the turret in the space leftover from where the loader used to be before te autoloader was installed, giving the tank capacity for twelve stinger missiles each (not counting the ones in the launchers).