For Ukraine, what’s so special about Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks?


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As the war in Ukraine nears its one-year mark, Kyiv is pushing Western allies to provide modern battle tanks for its fight with Russian forces. And there’s one particular model the Ukrainians want — the German-made Leopard 2.

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

In a statement last week, the Ukrainian foreign and defense ministers said that while they welcomed Britain’s “bold and timely decision” to send a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks, they were “not sufficient to achieve operational goals.” They went on to appeal to countries “that have Leopard 2 tanks in service” 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 rebuffed 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” if Poland requested to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

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

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

Why does Ukraine prefer the Leopard 2?

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

It was designed by West German arms producer 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 fielded by both Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Even older versions of the tank have modern optics, including thermal imaging, that allow it to operate day and night, as well as magnification and a laser range finder to track targets. The tanks are built to move quickly, with a maximum speed of around 44 miles per hour despite their 55-ton weight, according to the manufacturer.

The Leopard 2 also has a variety of features designed to protect the crew. Compartmentalized ammunition storage avoids the devastating “jack-in-the-box” explosions seen with Russia’s T-72 tanks, where ammunition is stored below the crew.

The tank is powered by a diesel engine, which is relatively easy to refuel and gives the vehicle an extended range of about 210 miles on road. It also uses standardized NATO 120mm ammunition, which would grant 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 there are more than 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks in Europe. More than half are thought to be the older 2A4 and 2A5 variants, including more than 200 held in storage in Germany itself, according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

On Tuesday, a spokesperson for German arms group Rheinmetall told local media that the company could deliver 139 Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if required, Reuters reported, although some wouldn’t arrive until the end of the year or in 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 bought Leopard 2 tanks include Singapore, Chile, and Qatar.

Ukraine has focused on the Leopard 2 in part because there are so many in Europe, where they could be transported to the battlefield with relative ease. But under deals with purchasing countries, the German government must sign off on any transfers.

In a note published in September, the European Council on Foreign Relations called on Western nations to support a plan to send Leopard 2s to Ukraine, saying that the “more that countries donate tanks, the easier it will be to share the burden of giving them away.”

What about the alternatives, including the U.S. M1 Abrams?

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


Comparable battlefield

heavyweights

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities; indeed, some of the similarities are deliberate, to ensure the tanks can cooperate on NATO’s battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists;

Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / THE WASHINGTON POST

Comparable…



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