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What the Leopard 2 tank could mean for Ukraine’s fight against Russia | CBC News

After intense pressure from its allies, Germany appears to be slowly moving towards authorizing shipments of high-tech Leopard 2 main battle tanks, which Ukraine and its main Western backers hope will strengthen Kiev’s fight against the Russian invaders.

Over the weekend, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said Berlin would not get in each other’s way if Poland – arguably the most vocal supporter of Ukraine among the European Union’s neighbors – wanted to ship Leopard 2 tanks from its arsenal across the border into Ukraine . And Germany does not exclude the supply of such tanks to Ukraine itself, but warns against carefully weighing the implications of such a step.

Here’s a look at what these tanks could mean for Ukraine’s defense against Russian forces.

What is the Leopard 2?

Krauss-Maffei Wegmann of Germany, the manufacturer of the Leopard 2, touts it as “the world’s premier main battle tank” that has combined aspects of firepower, defense, speed and maneuverability for almost half a century, making it adaptable to many types of tanks is combat situations.

The 50-ton tank requires a crew of four and has a range of around 500 kilometers at a top speed of around 68 kilometers per hour. Its earliest version first entered service in 1979 and there are now four main variants. Its primary weapon is a 120mm smoothbore cannon and it has a fully digital fire control system.

NATO troops with increased forward presence in Leopard 2 tanks fire during a military exercise in Latvia September 29, 2022. Experts say such tanks could allow Ukraine to go on the offensive in the 11-month-old conflict with Russia. (Ints Kalnins/Reuters)

How many could be sent to Ukraine?

A great appeal of German-made tanks is their sheer numbers: more than 2,000 have seen service in over a dozen European countries and Canada. According to Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, more than 3,500 units were delivered to 19 countries.

According to a recent analysis by the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a London-based global think tank, about 350 Leopard 2s – of various versions – have been sent to Greece, and Poland has about 250 different types. Finland has 200 in operation or in storage.

For Ukraine’s war against Russia, “it is believed that about 100 tanks would be required for the Leopard 2 tanks to have a significant impact on the fighting,” analysts at the International Institute for Strategic Studies wrote.

Ukraine’s defense minister wants 300 tanks, and some European Union leaders are backing him.

“We need a fleet of 300 tanks,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said in Brussels on Monday, alluding to the widespread use of Leopards across Europe and the need for “synchronous” weapons that can work seamlessly together.

CLOCK | Why Germany hesitated to send the Leopard 2 tanks:

Land warfare expert speaks out on Ukraine’s need for main battle tanks

Ukraine has been fighting a defensive battle so far and will need tanks from its western allies to retake territory lost during the Russian invasion, says Nicholas Drummond, a British defense analyst specializing in land warfare.

How soon could Ukraine use them?

Getting leopards into Ukrainian hands is not as easy as rolling them over the border from friends further west in Europe. The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that operational crews and support staff would need three to six weeks of training to acquire basic skills.

Ralf Raths, director of the tank museum in Munster, Germany, said experienced Ukrainian tank crews could probably learn to use the Leopard 2 fairly quickly, and the training could be shortened to focus on essential knowledge.

“Do you really have to use 100 percent of the potential or is it enough to use 80 percent in half the time? Ukrainians will certainly vote for option B,” he said.

What difference would the tanks make to the war effort?

Yohann Michel, a defense and military affairs research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said such tanks could allow Ukraine to take the offensive in the 11-month-old conflict, which has stalled for months after two key Ukrainian counter-offensives go recaptured areas in the north-east and south, which had been occupied by Russian forces for months.

“In these types of conflicts, it’s simply not possible to conduct large-scale offensives without the full variety of armored combat equipment and armored vehicles, and tanks are one of them,” he said. In addition to main battle tanks (MBTs) such as the Leopard 2, this also includes infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.

Western deliveries of Leopard 2s could help provide Ukraine with the high-caliber ammunition needed to replace its own dwindling Soviet-era stockpile and open a new route for deliveries of Western firepower to Ukraine, he said.

Raths noted that the Leopard 2 and similar Western tanks were more maneuverable than the T-models used by Russia, which, for example, could not reverse at high speed.

A military tank with 6 soldiers at the top.
Ukrainian soldiers are currently using old Soviet tanks, like this one seen Monday at a military training area near Zaporizhia. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC News)

“Imagine a boxer who can’t move freely in the ring, only in one direction,” he said. “The other boxer who can move in all directions has a huge advantage and that’s the case with the Leopards.”

Still, even Western MBTs are vulnerable to airstrikes or anti-tank infantry while in forests and urban areas, underscoring the importance of anti-aircraft and reconnaissance support, Raths said.

With similar numbers of tanks on both sides, Leopard 2 and similar tanks could give Ukraine the upper hand, especially given the poor tactical performance of Russian troops during the war, he said.

“The Ukrainians shine with creative, dynamic and often very clean warfare,” said Raths. “So it could well be that the Russians would have real problems when Ukraine’s operational offensive started.”

Niklas Masuhr, a researcher at the Center for Security Studies at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic University ETH Zurich, based in Zurich, warned that the addition of leopards on the battlefield alone “would not be a game changer or a war-winning technology.”

“You can’t just throw in a bunch of main battle tanks and assume they’re going to win,” he said. “They are very valuable, but you still need to use them properly and integrate them with all the other military tools at your disposal,” such as infantry, artillery, air defense, combat engineers, and helicopters.

Why is Germany hesitant to send the tanks?

Germany has the final say on whether Leopard 2s can be delivered – even from other countries’ arsenals – and has been reluctant to have anyone ship them to Ukraine.

“Obviously Germany is reluctant to trigger any kind of escalation,” UK defense industry analyst Nicholas Drummond told CBC News.

While Germany has already sent a vast amount of other military equipment to Ukraine, Drummond says tanks are the sticking point — and Germany would rather not lead in that area.

“And really, if you think about its history and its desire not to become a militaristic state again, you can kind of understand that approach,” he said, referring to the country’s general reluctance to close tanks after the events of World War II deliver world war.

Stronger western allies have increased the pressure on Germany, but the US has also refused to send its powerful M1 Abrams tanks.

CLOCK | Peter McKay says Canada could supply Leopard 2 tanks:

CP16614622 (1).jpg?crop=1

Peter MacKay urges Trudeau government to send tanks to Ukraine

Former Defense Secretary Peter MacKay told Power & Politics he believes Canada could deliver 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine within a few weeks: “It all depends on how quickly the government and the Defense Department want to act.”

What have other countries provided?

The US announced an upcoming new military aid package that is expected to include nearly 100 Stryker fighting vehicles and at least 50 Bradley armored vehicles – but not the Abrams tanks, which US officials say have complex maintenance needs and may not are the best solution.

Allies and military analysts say the Leopard 2 is diesel-powered – not powered by the jet fuel that powers the M1 Abrams – and is easier to operate than the big US tanks, and therefore has shorter training times.

Britain announced this month that it would be sending Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, and the Czech Republic and Poland have provided Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukrainian forces. French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday he had asked his defense minister to “work” on the idea of ​​sending some of France’s Leclerc main battle tanks to Ukraine.

Even if modern western main battle tanks are superior to their Russian counterparts, donor countries that supply them must be prepared for casualties, Raths said.

The Leopard 2 “is an offensive weapon that’s thrown into high-intensity battles,” he said. “Vehicles will be destroyed and people will die in these tanks.”

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