Following weeks of mounting political pressure from in and outside the country, Germany has agreed to send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, a possible turning point for the embattled country in its gruelling, protracted fight against Russia.
Germany will provide Kyiv with 14 Leopard 2 tanks and related ammunition from its national stocks, as well as the necessary training to operate them on the battlefield. It will also allow the export of these German-made tanks by other Western countries that wish to join the international coalition.
“This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability,” said German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a statement.
But what exactly makes the Leopard 2 tanks so important?
The Leopards are developed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), a Munich-based defence company, and are used by several European countries, including Poland, Spain, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Switzerland, as well as others like Canada and Turkey.
According to KMW, there are four models of Leopard 2: A4, A5, A6 and the latest addition, the A7+, which the company describes as the “world’s most advanced main battle tank.”
Germany’s decision will involve the A6 version, which has a maximum speed of 70 km/h, a range of 450 kilometres, a 120 mm smooth-bore cannon and 7.62 mm machine gun.
The Leopard is “quite powerful with regard to firepower. So, it can fire quite a long range with different types of ammunition that you can basically shape towards your target, so what you want to hit, you can choose different types of ammunition for that,” Dr. Christian Mölling, head of the Centre for Security and Defence at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), told Euronews.
“It has a very advanced armour, which is also important for the tank crews. If you don’t have to fear that any shot that hits you means that you basically go up in flames, it’s quite something that helps you psychologically.”
“And third point is manoeuvre,” Mölling added. “It’s quite a speedy vehicle. So this also gives you a certain tactical advantage in moving in and out quite fast, but also crossing distances in a quite short range.”
Logistically speaking, the Leopards present a key advantage over America’s M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2: larger stocks.
“It’s spare parts, it’s repair, maintenance, and overhaul that needs to be done. And there the pool of Leopard is much bigger,” Mölling said.
“Even simply by cannibalising all the tanks, you can gain spare parts. So, the volume of options that you have to operate them is much easier. It’s much, much higher.”
Ukraine estimates it needs 300 Western tanks to launch a counteroffensive that can push Russia back to the pre-war lines.
KMW says it has so far delivered 3,500 Leopard units around the world, but Western countries want to ensure their own military capabilities are not weakened by continued deliveries to Kyiv.
The oldest models of Leopards are the likeliest to be sent to Kyiv, while European governments work to upgrade the remaining tanks or buy the latest available version, Mölling said.
“You will have to make a very quick decision on the refill. At the same time, you have to decide which type of tanks you think make an important military difference in the future, which is also more complicated by the Ukraine war,” he added.
“Logistical sustainability in a major war is a headache and can be a nightmare, even to the fighting forces, because they are left without that equipment if the logistics don’t work.”