The project of the promising 130-mm smooth-bore tank gun Rheinmetall NG 130 has entered a new stage. The experimental gun was transferred from the stationary stand to the tank and the tests began. As a result of the first events of this kind, a promotional video was released. However, the future of the new weapon is still uncertain.
On July 31, Rheinmetall Defense published a demo video showing an experimental tank with a prototype of the new gun. An upgraded British-made Challenger 2 MBT is used as a platform for testing the gun. He received new additional armor, modern fire control devices and, most importantly, a 130 mm NG 130 or L51 gun.
The video showed spectacular footage of the passage of the track on rough terrain, as well as preparation for firing (the moment the ammunition was sent) and several shots. In addition, a flying sabot projectile and a target, incl. at the time of his hit. The video emphasized entertainment, but it also shows all the interesting moments.
The note accompanying the video said that the L51 cannon for MBT is a response to the growth in the protection of modern armored vehicles and is capable of providing a significant increase in combat qualities. In addition, it was called the latest achievement of "Rheinmetall" in the field of "tank science of the future."
From exhibition to tank
For the first time, a new 130-mm tank gun was presented at Eurosatory 2016. A technical demonstrator of a product called Next Generation 130 (NG 130) was shown along with a promising armor-piercing round. At the same time, the main technical features of the weapon became known from unofficial sources.
At the end of last year, Rheinmetall spoke about the work done in recent months. By that time, the design stage was completed, after which a full-fledged experimental gun was made. By November 2019, approx. 80 shots. It was reported that the first prototype NG 130 has a 15 liter chamber and operates at barrel pressures up to 880 MPa. The total mass of the tool with recoil devices is 3 tons.
New unitary rounds with a partially combustible sleeve were developed especially for the NG 130. They are equipped with an armor-piercing feathered sub-caliber projectile of increased power and a high-explosive fragmentation projectile with a programmable fuse. It was argued that an extended-length BOPS with a tungsten core would give a noticeable increase in penetration, but its exact values were not named. High-explosive fragmentation ammunition will also show advantages due to the greater mass of the charge.
Talking about the results of the first tests, Rheinmetall noted that at the next stage of development, the characteristics of the NG 130 gun will change. In addition, the commenced production of the second prototype was mentioned with some changes. Plans for testing the gun on tanks were not disclosed.
Finally, a few days ago, they showed footage from the tests of the tank, which became the carrier of the experimental 130-mm cannon. Together with the cannon, an automatic loader was installed on the Challenger 2, which had not been previously mentioned in official communications. Any technical details of the tests were not disclosed.
Over the years, the main features of the NG 130 / L51 product have become known. It is a 130 mm smoothbore gun with a barrel length of 51 clb (6,63 m). The production uses a kind of "new high-strength steel"; the channel is chrome-plated.
The barrel is equipped with an ejector in the central part, a heat shield and a bend control system. The breech is distinguished by a large volume of the charging chamber. The shutter is a vertical wedge with an electric mechanism for firing a shot.
Judging by the previously announced data, it can be assumed that the main design features will not change as the project develops. However, one should expect the processing of individual elements and changes in the associated characteristics. In particular, an increase in the pressure and initial velocity of the projectile should be expected - with an increase in the firing range and armor penetration.
On the Challenger 2 tank, the L51 cannon is supplemented with an automatic loader of an unknown type. The commercial showed only the work of a mechanical rammer. The mechanized stowage for shots is probably located in the developed aft niche of the tower. The rate of fire of such a system is not disclosed.
Media and prospects
Since the first demonstration, the developers have constantly mentioned the increase in the characteristics of the 130-mm cannon in comparison with the existing smaller caliber gun, but the exact data has not yet been disclosed. The increase in caliber and the creation of new ammunition really allows you to count on a noticeable increase in the main characteristics.
At the same time, new challenges and problems arise. 130mm rounds are significantly larger and heavier than the available 120mm rounds, which requires an automatic loader. In addition, the growth in size reduces the possible transportable ammunition.
In 2016, the NG 130 gun was positioned as a means for the future deep modernization of the German MBT Leopard 2. It was also considered in the context of the promising MGCS project. The "European tank" of the future should show serious advantages in firepower - and the NG 130 could give it such capabilities.
However, the British MBT Challenger 51, previously not mentioned in the context of this project, became the first real carrier of the L2 gun. The new prototype has already confirmed the fundamental possibility of mounting NG 130 and related equipment on such a chassis, as well as the ability to shoot and hit the target.
It should be recalled that now several companies are developing a project for the modernization of Challenger-2 on a competitive basis. It is possible that Rheinmetall will soon offer the British army an updated version of its project with an increased caliber cannon. However, the weapon is still in need of fine-tuning and is unlikely to meet the deadlines set by Great Britain. If the customer does not decide to revise the terms of the program after seeing the benefits of the new weapons.
The German tank Leopard 2 is still only a potential carrier of the L51. Perhaps in the very near future such a prototype will appear. Such a project is of particular interest, since we are talking about one of the most popular and commercially successful MBTs of our time. Rheinmetall Defense will be able to count on lucrative contracts for the modernization of existing tanks with a more powerful gun.
Tank science of the future
The development company looks to the future with optimism and promises new successes. Earlier it was stated that the development of the L51 gun would be completed in the middle of the decade, and after that it would be ready for the series. Accordingly, the appearance of such guns in the troops should be expected only in the second half of the decade. Even later, NG 130 will find application on experimental and serial MGCS tanks, which will go to the troops only by the early forties.
At the current stage, the project of the NG 130 / L51 tank gun has a certain optimism, but it is too early to talk about practical results. The design has been confirmed to work and improved performance has been obtained; started testing a gun with an automatic loader on a real tank. However, the work continues and will take several more years, and their success is not yet guaranteed.
Thus, by the end of the twenties, the first modernized MBTs with the latest 130-mm cannon and the corresponding fighting qualities may appear in the armies of foreign countries. It will take some time to fully update and re-equip the fleet of armored vehicles. Then, fundamentally new tanks are expected to appear, probably with the NG 130 cannon or its future modification. Time will tell how other tank-building powers will respond.