Leopard: Formidable German tank long sought by Ukraine

Published January 25, 2023, 8:28 PM

by Agence-France-Presse

BERLIN, Germany – Germany’s Leopard 2, the powerful tank that Berlin has finally agreed can be sent to Ukraine, could provide a major boost for Kyiv’s forces as they fight back against Russian troops.

But the Ukrainians would need to be quickly trained up to use the tanks and to maintain them.

While European allies have sent Ukraine hundreds of modernised Soviet tanks since Russia’s invasion, Kyiv has pleaded for the more advanced Western armaments to bolster its counter-offensive against Moscow.

After weeks of hesitation and mounting pressure, Berlin announced Wednesday it was approving the delivery of the tanks to Ukraine.

The German-made Leopard 2 is seen as one of the best-performing models worldwide and is used across Europe, meaning spare parts and ammunition can be easily obtained.

Globally recognised all-rounder

First produced in the late 1970s to replace the American M48 Patton and later the later Leopard 1, the Leopard 2 is renowned for its firepower, mobility and sturdy armour.

As German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put it, the Leopard 2 is “sort of like the (Volkswagen) Golf of the German tank industry: an all-rounder with world recognition”.

About 3,500 of the 60-ton battle tanks, developed by German weapons manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), have been produced.

They are armed with a 120-mm smoothbore cannon, can engage the enemy while on the move and can travel at speeds of up 70 kilometres (44 miles) per hour, with a range of 450 km.

The tanks provide “all-round protection” for troops from threats such as mines, anti-tank fire and IEDs, according to the manufacturer.

They are also equipped with technology that allows their four-member crews to locate and target enemies at long range.

The last four models produced are still in use, from the 2 A4 to the 2 A7.

Germany will provide a company of 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Bundeswehr stocks, the government announced.

The A6 model, produced in the early 2000s, has a more powerful cannon than earlier versions, according to think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Germany has around 320 Leopard 2s, of the A5, 6 and 7 models.

Poland, which has been piling pressure on Berlin to allow it to send the tanks to Ukraine, has said it wants to send 14 Leopard 2 A4s to Ukraine.

The A4, first produced in the mid 1980s, included improvements to the armour and a digital fire-control system, according to the IISS.

Two battalions

In Wednesday’s announcement, government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit said Berlin aimed to quickly form two Leopard 2 tank battalions for Ukraine, describing their initial dispatch of 14 tanks as a “first step”.

Germany did not specify the number of tanks in the two battalions but in the Bundeswehr, a battalion typically comprises 44 tanks.

Spiegel Online has reported that other deliveries down the line may come from industry stocks.

These could be slower to arrive, as manufacturers need time to repair and prepare tanks that have been sitting in storage for some time.

Training to start ‘quickly’

Berlin said training of Ukrainian forces on using the tanks will “begin quickly” in Germany.

Analysts believe it will take several weeks to give troops basic training on the equipment, which is more complex than the Soviet-era tanks they are used to.

That would be while also trying to get up to speed on other new gear set to arrive in Ukraine, including recently pledged French AMX-10 RC light tanks, German Marder infantry vehicles, and Bradley fighting vehicles from the United States.

Experts are nevertheless convinced the Leopards can make a difference.

If Kyiv receives about 100 of them, the effect could be “significant”, according to a recent analysis from IISS.

Equipped with the Leopard 2, “an army can break through enemy lines and put an end to a long period of trench warfare,” Armin Papperger — CEO of Rheinmetall, which supplies the tank’s cannon — told Germany’s Bild newspaper.

“With the Leopard, soldiers can advance dozens of kilometres at a time.”

 
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