Friday, 7 January 2022

Ride The Turkish Tiger: Indonesia’s Kaplan MT Tanks

By Stijn Mitzer

Indonesia continues to field large numbers of light tanks. The oldest of these, the AMX-13/75 and the PT-76, operated by the Army and Marine Corps respectively, were originally required in the 1960s. Despite having been upgraded throughout their career to help them retain at least some form of combat efficiency, both types now lag far behind in firepower, armour protection and fire-control systems and are scheduled for replacement. While the Indonesian Marine Corps intends to replace all of its PT-76s with BMP-3 IFVs, the Indonesian Army selected the Turkish Kaplan MT medium tank to replace its aging AMX-13s. In Indonesia, the Kaplan is known as the Harimau (meaning Tiger).

Coming in at some 35 tonnes, the Kaplan MT is significantly more heavy than the 15 tonnes AMX-13/75s it is destined to replace. However, the Kaplan MT weighs considerable less than the Leopard 2A4 and Leopard 2RI Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) also in Indonesian Army service, which weigh 55 tonnes and a whopping 62,5 tonnes respectively. Indonesia acquired some 100 Leopard 2s from Germany in 2013 after a deal with the Netherlands for a similar number of Leopard 2A6s fell through because of fears by the Dutch opposition that Indonesia could use its Leopards against the civilian population of Western New Guinea. [1]

Apart from the questionable idea of using MBTs to target civilians in the densely covered rainforests of Papua, it was actually the Dutch themselves who deployed tanks against the Indonesian population. Seeking to recolonize the country after Japan's defeat in 1945, the Dutch Army committed a series of crimes against humanity which's cruelty is only surpassed by the decade-long political denial of the crimes that were committed. In December 1947, Dutch forces massacred the entire 431-strong male population of Balongsari village after locals refused to disclose the hideout of an Indonesian independence fighter. [2] A year later, in January 1949, Dutch commandos subjected inhabitants of Rengat to a daylong frenzy of rape and summary executions before disposing their bodies in the nearby river. [3] Other Dutch Army operations in Indonesia saw intensive use of tanks with little to no regard to collateral civilian damage. [4]

In stark contrast, it was the Ottoman Empire who rallied behind the Aceh Sultanate in its fight against the Portuguese Empire in Malacca in 1565, providing the Sultanate with knowledge on the construction of cannons, which were then pressed into use against Portugese and Dutch colonizing forces. [5] In 2015 the descendants of each nation, now Turkey and Indonesia respectively, again came together to collaborate on a defence project for the Indonesian Army: The Modern Medium Weight Tank (MMWT), better known as the Kaplan MT (Tiger in Turkish) or Harimau as the design is known as in Indonesia. Similar to the cannons in the 16th century, Turkey's FNSS was responsible for much of the MMWT's design, while Indonesia's PT PINDAD is to launch serial production of the medium tank in Indonesia.
The prototype of the MMWT project was first showcased during the IDEF 2017 exhibition of arms and military equipment in Istanbul. [6] At this design stage, the Kaplan MT was still fitted with a Belgian-made 105mm CMI Cockerill XC-8 turret. The XC-8 was later swapped for a Cockerill 3105 turret developed by the same company. The Cockerill 3105 comes equipped with an autoloader for the 105mm CT-CV 105HP rifled gun and an advanced fire control system, consisting of an automatic target cueing system, a hunter-killer mode for target selection and an identification, friend or foe (IFF) system that can detect and transmits signals that can only be picked up by special infrared devices. [7] The autoloader holds up to sixteen rounds, with more rounds stored in the turret. [8]

The first prototype of the Kaplan MT was fitted with a 105mm Cockerill XC-8 turret.

The first production contract calls for the assembly of eighteen Kaplan MTs for the Indonesian Army. [9] The first ten tanks will be produced by FNSS in Turkey, while the remaining eight tanks are to be produced by PT PINDAD in Indonesia. [9] On 5 September 2018, FNSS stated that it expects between 200 and 400 Kaplan MTs to be produced in total. [10] Two countries have so far considered the MMWT project: Bangladesh and the Philipinnes. In both countries the Kaplan MT ultimately lost out to foreign designs, comprising the Chinese-made VT-5 in the Bangladeshi tender and to the Israeli Sabrah ASCOD 2 in the Philippines. [11] [12] Other nations interested in the Kaplan MT are reported to include Brunei, which is looking to replace is fleet of FV101 Scorpions, and Ghana. [13] [14] The Turkish Army is currently not believed to have a requirement for the Kaplan MT.

During the IDEF 2021 exhibition in Istanbul, exactly four years after the revealing of the original prototype, the production model of the Kaplan MT was finally revealed to the public. Based on the feedback of the Indonesian Army, which put the Kaplan MT through extensive trials in Indonesia, several improvements were made to the original design. This includes greatly increased visibility for the driver and improved driver ergonomics. Other areas of improvement include the suspension, transmission and cooling system. [15] Deliveries of the Kaplan MT to the Indonesian Army commenced in late 2021 and will continue into 2022. [15]

One of the prototypes of the Kaplan MT in Indonesia.

The production model of the Kaplan MT. Note the changes to the upper glacis centered around the driver's position.

Before settling on the MMWT project, the Indonesian Army first attempted to develop a modernisation package for its AMX-13/75 light tanks that could potentially increase their lifespan by at least an another decade. [16] Popularly known as the Yonkav 2 (named after the cavalry unit it entered service with: Batalyon Kavaleri 2), the plan was to upgun the fleet of AMX-13s armed with a 75mm cannon with a 105mm cannon by Nexter. The turret was also upgraded with additional armour, a laser-range finder (LRF) and a thermal sight. The mobility of the Yonkav 2 was addressed through the installment of a 400hp Detroit Diesel engine and a new transmission. Although the resulting design could almost be described as a new tank, only small numbers eventually entered service with the Batalyon Kavaleri 2. [17]

The 'Yonkav 2'. The additional turret armour does not appear to have been fitted on any of the production vehicles.

The designers of the Kaplan MT also sought to drastically improve on the armour protection of the AMX-13 it is set to replace. The MMWT features STANAG 4569 level 4 base protection against 14.5mm AP rounds, which can be augmented to to level 5 protection (25mm APDS-T) through the installment of modular armour panels. [18] The tank's V-shaped hull protects it against a 10kg AT mine detonating under the center hull and tracks. The MMWT's survivability can be further strengthened through the installment of the PULAT active protection system (APS) jointly developed by Aselsan and TÜBİTAK SAGE. The PULAT APS modules consist of a detection radar for sensing threats and a countermeasure projectile. The modules are placed around the vehicle to ensure all-round protection.

A prototype of the Kaplan MT seen fitted with Pulat APS modules.

The Kaplan MT is one of the few successful medium tank projects built in recent decades. Owing to its impressive characteristics, modularity and low price, the Kaplan MT positions itself as an attractive option for countries looking to replace their current inventory of light tanks. This does not only include current operators of the AMX-13 such as Indonesia and Ecuador, but also countries that still operate the FV101 Scorpion like Togo, Brunei and Nigeria. Other nations that are eying an armoured capability but lack the neccesary funds to purchase expensive MBTs could similarly be attracted to the Kaplan MT. Perhaps, the Harimau's roar will soon be heard in more countries.

[2] Dutch Foreign Minister apologizes for 1947 Indonesian massacre
[4] Extreem Nederlands militair geweld tijdens de Indonesische onafhankelijkheidsoorlog 1945-1949
[7] John Cockerill Defense to Supply AGUERIS Tank Training Simulators to Indonesian Army
[14] Ghanaian military interested in equipment from Indonesia’s PT Pindad