For Ukraine, what is so special about the German Leopard 2 tanks?

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As the war in Ukraine nears its first year, Kyiv is pushing Western allies to provide modern battle tanks for its fight against Russian forces. And there is one particular model that 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 speed and ease of use of the Leopard 2 – as well as the fact that there are already a large number of them in Europe – made them more attractive to Kyiv.

In a statement last week, Ukraine’s 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 “not sufficient to achieve operational objectives”. They then appealed to countries “that have Leopard 2 tanks in service” to send them to Ukraine.

For Berlin, the focus on tanks has become a geopolitical headache – and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s government has so far pushed back on calls to export the Leopard 2. Although this week the German minister of Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock said in an interview on French television that her government “would not stand in the way” of Poland asking 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 January 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 it.

Why does Ukraine prefer the Leopard 2?

The Leopard 2 was first introduced in 1979 and has since been upgraded several times, earning 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 most Soviet-era tanks deployed by Russian and Ukrainian forces.

Even older versions of the tank have modern optics, including thermal imaging, which allows it to operate day and night, as well as magnification and a laser rangefinder for tracking targets. The tanks are built to move quickly, with a top speed of around 70 km/h despite their weight of 55 tons, according to the manufacturer.

The Leopard 2 also has a variety of features designed to protect the crew. Compartmented ammunition storage avoids the devastating “jack-in-the-box” explosions seen with Russian 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 around 210 miles on the road. It also uses standardized NATO 120mm ammunition, which would give Ukraine access to more suppliers than its current tanks, which require 125mm.

How many Leopard 2s are there and where are they located?

Researchers estimate that there are over 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks in Europe. More than half would be the old 2A4 and 2A5 variants, of which more than 200 are stored 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 main battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Reuters reported, although some would only arrive at the end. of the year or at the beginning of 2024.

Many of those already exported from Germany were sent to European countries or NATO member states such as Canada and Turkey. Other countries that have purchased Leopard 2 tanks include Singapore, Chile and Qatar.

Ukraine focused on the Leopard 2 in part because there are so many of them in Europe, where they could be transported to the battlefield with relative ease. But under agreements with buyer countries, the German government must approve any transfer.

In a note released in September, the European Council on Foreign Relations called on Western nations to support a plan to send Leopard 2s to Ukraine, saying “the more tanks donated by countries, the easier it will be to share the burden of give them”. a way.”

What about alternatives, including the US M1 Abrams?

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


Comparable battlefield

heavyweight

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

Sources: Federation of American Scientists;

Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / WASHINGTON POST

Comparable heavyweights on the battlefield

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

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / WASHINGTON POST

Comparable heavyweights on the battlefield

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

120mm gun

120mm gun

About 70 tons

About 55 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / WASHINGTON POST

Comparable heavyweights on the battlefield

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

120mm gun

120mm gun

About 55 tons

About 70 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; Military-Today.com

WILLIAM NEFF / WASHINGTON POST

In service since 1980, the M1 Abrams has similar characteristics to the Leopard 2, but some obvious advantages. Modern versions have layers of depleted uranium armor protection which provide significant benefits to the crew inside.

In a phone call earlier this month, Scholz suggested to President Biden that in order for Germany to release a package of Leopard 2 tanks for Ukraine, Washington should send the M1 Abrams.

However, the Biden administration has argued that US-made tanks have a number of disadvantages for the terrain in Ukraine.

They use jet fuel, which is much harder to obtain than the diesel used by the Leopard 2. Although the tank once weighed 60 tons, its weight has ballooned over the years; newer versions can weigh nearly 75 tons, which adds logistical difficulties. That’s a lot of weight to drive over a bridge, for example.

They also have complicated maintenance requirements, US officials told reporters, and require specialized training.

War in Ukraine: what you need to know

The last: Russia claimed on Friday it had taken control of Soledar, a hotly contested mining town in eastern Ukraine where fighting has raged in recent days, but a Ukrainian military official argued the battle was not yet over. finished.

Russia’s bet: The Post examined the path to war in Ukraine and Western efforts to unite to thwart the Kremlin’s plans, through in-depth interviews with more than three dozen senior US, Ukrainian, European and NATO officials.

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How you can help: Here’s how those in the United States can support the people of Ukraine as well as what people around the world have donated.

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