Powerful Leopard: German tank long sought by Ukraine

Kyiv has pleaded for the more advanced Western armaments, like the German-made Leopard 2 tank (above), to boost its fightback against Moscow. PHOTO: REUTERS

BERLIN - The Leopard, the powerful battle tank sought by Kyiv to push forward against Moscow, could have a “significant” impact.

But Ukrainian troops would need to be quickly trained up to use the sometimes complex equipment, and it would also need to be maintained.

While European allies have sent Ukraine hundreds of modernised Soviet tanks since Russia’s invasion, Kyiv has pleaded for the more advanced Western armaments to boost its fightback against Moscow.

The German-made Leopard 2 is seen as one of the best-performing models worldwide and is widely used across Europe, meaning spare parts and ammunition could be easily sourced.

Globally recognised all-rounder

First produced in the late 1970s to replace the American M48 Patton and the later Leopard 1, the Leopard 2 is renowned for its firepower, mobility and sturdy armour.

As German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung put it, the Leopard 2 is “sort of like the (Volkswagen) Golf of the German tank industry: an all-rounder with world recognition”.

About 3,500 of the 60-ton battle tanks, developed by German weapons manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW), have been produced.

They are armed with a 120mm smoothbore cannon, can engage the enemy while on the move and can travel at speeds of up 70kmh, with a range of 450km.

The tanks provide “all-round protection” for troops from threats such as mines, anti-tank fire and IEDs, according to the manufacturer.

They are equipped with technology that allows their four-member crews to locate and target enemies at long range.

The last four models produced are still in use, from the 2A4 to the 2A7.

How quickly could they arrive?

Reluctance to send heavy tanks to Ukraine started lifting this month, with Poland saying it was willing to send Kyiv 14 Leopard 2 tanks as part of an international coalition. Finland has said it is not opposed to shipments.

German media have reported that several countries are willing to join an international effort to transfer the equipment to Ukraine.

According to experts, the best approach would be for all countries willing to contribute to send 2A4 tanks.

“The same model is very important for training and logistical reasons,” General Bruno Kasdorf, a former German army inspector, told media group RND.

It is not clear how quickly they would arrive, however.

German weapons manufacturer Rheinmetall, which supplies the Leopard 2‘s cannon and electronics and has dozens of older models, has warned it would not able to deliver its tanks to Ukraine until 2024 due to the need to refurbish and repair them.

‘Significant’ impact

Officials also warn that once the tanks arrive, Ukrainian troops would need to be rapidly trained on how to use the equipment, which is much more complex than the Soviet-era tanks they are used to.

That would be while also trying to get up to speed on other new gear set to arrive in Ukraine, including recently pledged French AMX-10 RC light tanks, German Marder infantry vehicles, and Bradley fighting vehicles.

Experts are nevertheless convinced the Leopards can make a difference.

If Kyiv receives about 100 of them, the effect would be “significant”, according to British think-tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

Equipped with the Leopard 2, “an army can break through enemy lines and put an end to a long period of trench warfare,” Rheinmetall chief executive officer Armin Papperger told leading German tabloid Bild.

“With the Leopard, soldiers can advance dozens of kilometres at a time.” AFP

Remote video URL

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.