What is so special about the German Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine?

Remark

With the war in Ukraine dragging on for almost a year, Kiev is urging Western allies to provide modern main battle tanks for battle with Russian forces. And there is one particular model that the Ukrainians want: the German-made Leopard 2.

Other countries have offered other tanks, such as Britain, which promised 14 Challenger 2 models earlier this month. But the speed and ease of use of the Leopard 2 – and the fact that there are already a large number of them in Europe – have made them more attractive to Kiev.

In a statement last week, Ukraine’s foreign and defense ministers said that while they welcomed Britain’s “courageous and timely decision” to send a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks, they were “not enough to achieve operational goals”. They then appealed to countries “that employ Leopard 2 tanks” to send them to Ukraine.

For Berlin, the focus on the tanks has become a geopolitical headache – and the government of German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has so far rejected calls to export the Leopard 2. Although this week, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said in an interview with French television that her government “would not stand in the way” of Poland asking for its Leopard 2 tanks to be sent to Ukraine.

Poland’s prime minister said he would ask Germany for permission to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine on January 23, after Berlin said it would not stop them. (Video: Reuters)

Here’s what you need to know about the Leopard 2 and why Ukraine says it needs them.

Why does Ukraine prefer Leopard 2?

The Leopard 2 was first introduced in 1979 and has since been upgraded several times, earning a reputation as one of the best main battle tanks in the world.

It was designed by West German arms manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann to replace the original Leopard tank, which entered service in 1965. The Leopard 2 is more advanced than many of the Soviet-era tanks used by both Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Even older versions of the tank have modern optics, including thermal imaging, which allows it to operate day and night, as well as magnification and a laser rangefinder to track targets. The tanks are built to move fast, with a maximum speed of about 70 kilometers per hour despite their weight of 55 tons, the manufacturer said.

The Leopard 2 also has a variety of features designed to protect the crew. Compartmental ammunition storage avoids the devastating “jack-in-the-box” explosions seen with the Russian T-72 tanks, where ammunition is stored among the crew.

The tank is powered by a diesel engine, which is relatively easy to refuel and gives the vehicle an increased range of approximately 340 kilometers on the road. It also uses standardized 120mm NATO ammunition, which would give Ukraine access to a larger pool of suppliers than its current tanks, which require 125mm.

How many Leopard 2s are there and where are they located?

Researchers estimate that there are more than 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks in Europe. More than half would be the older 2A4 and 2A5 variants, including more than 200 in storage in Germany itself, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for the German arms group Rheinmetall told local media that the company could deliver 139 Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Reuters reported, though some were not expected to arrive until the end of the year or early 2024.

Many of those already exported from Germany have been sent to European countries or NATO member states such as Canada and Turkey. Other countries that have purchased Leopard 2 tanks include Singapore, Chile and Qatar.

Ukraine has focused on the Leopard 2 in part because there are so many of them in Europe, where they can be transported to the battlefield with relative ease. But under agreements with purchasing countries, the German government must approve each transfer.

In a note published in September, the European Council on Foreign Relations called on Western countries to support a plan to send Leopard 2s to Ukraine. away.”

What about the alternatives, including the American M1 Abrams?

When it comes to main battle tanks, the Leopard 2 has one major rival: the US-made M1 Abrams.


Similar battlefield

heavyweights

The Leopard 2 main battle tank in Germany and the M1 Abrams in the United States have similar dimensions and capabilities; indeed, some of the agreements are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can work together on NATO battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists;

Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable heavyweights on the battlefield

The Leopard 2 main battle tank in Germany and the M1 Abrams in the United States have similar dimensions and capabilities; indeed, some of the agreements are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can work together on NATO battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable heavyweights on the battlefield

The Leopard 2 main battle tank in Germany and the M1 Abrams in the United States have similar dimensions and capabilities; indeed, some of the agreements are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can work together on NATO battlefields.

120mm gun

120mm gun

About 70 tons

About 55 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable heavyweights on the battlefield

The Leopard 2 main battle tank in Germany and the M1 Abrams in the United States have similar dimensions and capabilities; indeed, some of the agreements are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can work together on NATO battlefields.

120mm gun

120mm gun

About 55 tons

About 70 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

The M1 Abrams, in service since 1980, has similar specs to the Leopard 2 but has some distinct advantages. Modern versions have layers of depleted uranium armor protection that provide significant benefits to the crew inside.

In a phone call earlier this month, Scholz suggested to President Biden that in order for Germany to unlock a package of Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, Washington should send the M1 Abrams.

However, the Biden administration has argued that the US-made tanks have some drawbacks for the field in Ukraine.

They use jet fuel, which is much more difficult to obtain compared to the diesel used by the Leopard 2. Although the tank once weighed 60 tons, it has grown explosively over the years; new versions can weigh nearly 75 tons, causing logistical problems. That is a lot of weight to drive over a bridge, for example.

They also have complicated maintenance requirements, US officials have told reporters, and require specialized training.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russia claimed on Friday to have taken control of Soledar, a hotly contested salt mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged in recent days, but a Ukrainian military official insisted the battle was not over.

Russian Guess: The Post examined the road to war in Ukraine, and Western attempts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through extensive interviews with more than three dozen senior US, Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

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