(Reuters) – Germany said on Thursday it would provide Ukraine with its main battle tank, the Leupard 2. It is also allowing supplies from Poland and others to Ukraine.
The Ukrainian government has been saying for months that it needs more firepower to penetrate Russian defenses. In particular, they insisted on providing the Leopard 2, citing a number of advantages over other tanks such as the British Challenger 2 and the American M1 Abrams.
The strength of the Leopard 2 is that it is one of the best tanks in the West, as well as being one of the most used tanks.
It is currently in operation in around 20 countries, and several countries are able to divert part of their payments to aid Ukraine. Mass production of one model would make it easier for Ukraine to train crews and maintain.
Production of the Leopard 2 began in 1978, and a total of over 3,500 vehicles were produced. Produced jointly by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann and Rheinmetall of Germany, it weighs just over 60 tons, has a 120-mm smoothbore cannon, and has a maximum range of 5 kilometers. It is operated in Canada, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Poland, Spain, Sweden, Turkey, etc.
The Leopard 2 is used extensively, but tanks and heavy weapons are lacking in most Western countries as many countries have significantly reduced their military size since the fall of the Soviet Union.
At the height of the Cold War, Germany had around 4,000 main battle tanks, but now has around 350 Leopard 2s, according to German military expert Karl Schultz.
Also, it is impossible to buy the Leopard 2 in large quantities at once. The German defense industry is prohibited by law from producing to maintain inventories. As a general rule, countries ordering new tanks should be prepared to wait two to three years for delivery.
Experts estimate that even if production is expanded, it will take at least two years before the first shipment.
The United States operates thousands of General Dynamics M1 Abrams, and plans to reverse course and deliver dozens of them to Ukraine, according to a US government official.
However, the M1 Abrams is powered by a gas turbine engine and uses a lot of fuel. Although light oil can drive it, it is considered unsuitable for Ukraine because it is difficult to maintain a fuel supply.
The Leopard 2 is fueled by diesel, which is more readily available than kerosene, and has excellent fuel efficiency.
The British government announced in January that it would provide 14 Challenger 2s. However, unlike the Leopard 2, it has not been widely used, and there is a limit to how many it can deliver to Ukraine.
Also, unlike the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2, which have 120mm smoothbore guns, the Challenger 2 is armed with a different rifle and ammunition, limiting interoperability.
France announced that it was considering providing the Leclerc, a main battle tank with a 120mm smoothbore gun, and indicated that it would consider all options.
However, there is a limit to the number that can be provided in terms of foreign military activities. Leclerc also said that the maintenance burden would be heavy and not ideal for Ukraine.