Under pressure for days, Germany ended up announcing on Wednesday the delivery of Leopard 2 heavy tanks, insistently demanded by Ukraine. Five questions to understand the importance of these tanks and the challenges of this delivery to Ukraine
Ukraine’s insistence paid off. Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Wednesday, January 25 before the German Parliament, the delivery of heavy Leopard tanks to Ukraine, which has been asking for them for months to defend itself against the Russian invasion. Other countries that bought Leopard 2 tanks from Germany for their armed forces were also waiting for authorization from Berlin to re-export them.
Why was Germany hesitant to deliver Leopard 2 tanks?
The fear of a military escalation with Moscow and its reluctance to make Germany assume leadership in the Western camp explain the hesitations of Chancellor Olaf Scholz, according to analysts.
In Berlin on Wednesday morning, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius also “expressly encouraged partner countries that have Leopard tanks ready for deployment to train Ukrainian forces on these tanks”.
So far, Finland and Poland have said they are ready to do so. Warsaw, which wants to create a “coalition of countries supporting Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks”, announces that it wants to send 14 to kyiv.
According to the German press, a handful of other European countries would also be willing to participate in this effort.
Why is this release important?
For Ukraine, the military and financial support of Western allies is crucial. According to observers, the Leopard 2 heavy tanks are likely to have a significant impact on the battlefield for the Ukrainians in the face of the steamroller of Russian troops who are regaining some ground on the eastern front of Ukraine.
Equipped with Leopard 2, “an army can break through enemy lines and put an end to a long trench war,” boasted the head of RheinMetall in the daily “Bild”. “With the Leopard, soldiers can advance tens of kilometers at once.”
How long to get to the front?
Deciding is good, sending tanks quickly is better… but difficult. The question of transporting this equipment to the Ukrainian front was raised by the American authorities after the publication of several articles relating to a probable dispatch of around thirty American Abrams heavy tanks to kyiv.
“It could take years,” US administration officials told the New York Times, who preferred to remain anonymous.
The delivery of any military equipment by the West to the Ukrainian army is an obstacle course surrounded by the greatest secrecy. To avoid being targeted by Russia, stealth convoys are set up, says the New York Times.
“Nobody really knows how we get there,” admitted Heinrich Brauss, a former deputy secretary general of NATO interviewed by the American daily. On the other hand, for the Abrams tanks, we know roughly where they will leave: most of these tanks are in ammunition warehouses in Europe and especially in Germany.
And to transport material as heavy and imposing as tanks, the Germans and the Americans will probably have to take even greater precautions.
How many tanks are we talking about?
Ukraine says it needs 250 modern tanks and other armaments for a new offensive. About 3,500 copies of this tank were produced.
A dozen European countries have adopted this tank with recognized qualities. Greece, with 350 tanks, and Turkey, with 298 second-hand units, are the countries with the most 2A4 models. Sweden has 280 Leopard 2s, including 160 used, Poland 232. For its part, the Finnish army has 200 which are operational.
Switzerland is fielding 230 Leopard 2s, including 134 in service and 96 in reserve. Spain has 219. Denmark has 57 in service, Norway has 54 used, Portugal has 37.
As for France, it does not have Leopard 2, but Leclerc tanks. For the moment, it does not exclude providing it. It has also already supplied 18 Caesar 155mm tanks to Ukraine, taken from French army reserves.
– Agence France-Presse (@afpfr) January 25, 2023
What are the advantages of Leopard tanks?
Designed by the German manufacturer Krauss-Maffei and built in series from the end of the 1970s to replace the American M48 Patton tanks and then the Leopard 1 tank, the Leopard 2 combines firepower, mobility and protection.
This tank has an impressive technical sheet: weighing around sixty tonnes, it can still reach speeds of nearly 70 km/h thanks to an imposing 1,500 horsepower diesel engine. It is popular with Ukrainians because it consumes much less gasoline than the Leclerc tank. It can also cover long distances, with a range approaching 450 km. On the armament side, it has a smooth barrel with a caliber of 120 mm.
On the defensive side, it benefits from an effective “integral passive protection” against mines as well as rocket launchers. With a crew of four, the Leopard 2 is equipped with technological tools – such as night vision equipment – which give it the ability to locate and target the enemy, including at long range.
It is especially appreciated from a logistical point of view because maintenance operations, access to ammunition and spare parts is quite simple. However, we know that the maintenance of such machines, abused in war zones, is important. This tank was able to demonstrate its technical qualities in many theaters of war such as in Kosovo, in support of NATO forces, in Afghanistan or against the Islamic State organization in northern Syria.
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