Geneva: Following intense pressure from its allies, Germany appears to be inching toward approving deliveries of high-tech Leopard 2 main battle tanks that Ukraine and its biggest Western backers hope will boost Kyiv’s fight against Russian invaders.
Over the weekend, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not get in the way if Poland — arguably Ukraine’s most vocal supporter among European Union neighbours — wants to ship Leopard 2 tanks from its arsenal across the border into Ukraine.
Germany is not ruling out supplying such tanks to Ukraine itself, cautioning that the implications of such a step need to be carefully weighed.
Here’s a look at what those tanks might mean for Ukraine’s defence against Russian forces and hopes for driving them out.
WHAT IS THE LEOPARD 2?
Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, the manufacturer of the Leopard 2, touts it as “the world’s leading battle tank” that for nearly a half-century has combined aspects of firepower, protection, speed, and manoeuvrability, making it adaptable to many types of combat situations.
The 55-tonne tank has a crew of four and a range of about 500 kilometres (310 miles), and top speeds of about 68 kilometres per hour (about 42 mph). Now with four main variants, its earliest version first came into service in 1979. Its main weapon is a 120mm smoothbore gun, and it has a fully-digital fire-control system.
HOW MANY COULD BE SENT TO UKRAINE?
One big appeal of the German-made tanks is their sheer number: More than 2,000 have been deployed in over a dozen European countries and Canada. Overall, Krauss-Maffei Wegmann says over 3,500 units have been supplied to 19 countries.
According to a recent analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based global think tank, some 350 Leopard 2s in different versions have been sent to Greece, and Poland has about 250 of varying types. Finland has 200 in operation or in storage.
For Ukraine’s war against Russia, “it is believed that for the Leopard 2 tanks to have any significant effect on the fighting, around 100 tanks would be required,” the International Institute for Strategic Studies analysts wrote.
Ukraine’s defence minister wants 300 tanks, and some European Union leaders support him on that.
However, getting Leopards into Ukrainian hands isn’t as easy as rolling them across the border from friends farther West in Europe. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that three to six weeks of training would be needed for operating crews and support staff to reach basic proficiency.
Ralf Raths, director of the Panzer Museum in Munster, Germany, said experienced Ukrainian tank crews would likely be able to learn to use the Leopard 2 fairly quickly, and training could be shortened to focus on essential knowledge.
WHAT DIFFERENCE WOULD IT MAKE TO THE WAR?
Yohann Michel, a research analyst for defence and military affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said such tanks could allow Ukraine to go onto the offensive in the 11-month-old conflict that has been stalemated for months following two key Ukrainian counteroffensives that recaptured areas occupied by Russian forces for months in the northeast and south.
“In this type of conflict, it’s just not possible to carry out large-scale offensives without the full variety of armoured combat equipment and armoured vehicles, and tanks are a part of that,” he said. In addition to Main Battle Tanks, or MBTs, like the Leopard 2, others include infantry fighting vehicles and armoured personnel carriers.
Raths noted that the Leopard 2 and similar Western tanks are more agile than T-models used by Russia, which can’t be reversed at speed, for example.
“Imagine a boxer who cannot move freely in the ring, but only in one direction,” he said. “The other boxer, who can move in all directions, has a big advantage, and that is the case with the Leopards.”
Still, even Western MBTs are vulnerable to aerial attacks, or anti-tank infantry while in forests and urban areas, highlighting the importance of anti-aircraft and reconnaissance support said Raths.
PNN & Agencies