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A German Leopard 2A6 fires a test shot on the calibration range at Grafenwoehr Training Area in 2018. US Army Photo by Kevin S. Abel
For the longest time, Ukraine wanted main battle tanks (MBT) from Germany, and the Germans would have nothing to do with it. Then, in a sudden reversal of heart last month, Berlin changed its mind and decided to provide the warring nation with Leopard MBTs. Unfortunately, the massive influx of tanks that the Ukrainians have hoped for has yet to materialize.
On the 24th of February, Reuters reported that Poland had delivered four Leopard tanks to Ukraine. That’s four each. The Polish prime minister said they are prepared to deliver “more quickly” but did not quantify how many more or how quickly. I had to dig a little to discover that they have promised to provide an additional ten tanks “in the future.”
Sweden decided to join the fray, and prime minister Ulf Kristersson and defense minister Pal Jonson announced together their nation’s intent to send 10 Leopard 2A5 variants. These are in addition to the 50 CV90 infantry fighting vehicles provided by Stockholm.
US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, in mid-February, announced at a meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contract Group that 11 nations have committed to sending tanks to Ukraine in anticipation of a possible spring offensive. Milley did not mention the donating nations by name, but he did mention the nations pledging to send German Leopard tanks: Canada, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Denmark, and the Netherlands.
The general noted that the Czech Republic and the Netherlands are “in the process” of delivering re-built Soviet Era T-72 tanks, and of course, it made headlines when the US announced we’d be sending Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine…sometime.
Slow to Deliver
It has been a full month since Germany gave the OK to other nations to share their tanks with Ukraine. Instead of arriving in large numbers, the Leopards are coming in dribs and drabs. Certain countries have found that the tanks they had pledged were not fully mission capable and, therefore, not ready to be sent. Entire nations have allowed their inventory of armor to sit dormant and slowly decay, believing them to be relics of days gone by and that large-scale tank battles were a thing of the past. As Ukrainians and Russians fight each other daily from trenches, we are reminded of an even earlier era.
Regarding the several months when Berlin prohibited the sending of Leopard tanks to Ukraine, Germany’s defense minister, Boris Pistorius, stated the following to The New York Times, “Clearly there were some nations — and I will never name names here — but we had some nations that preferred to hide behind Germany. To say: We would love to, if we were allowed. But when we allowed it, they didn’t do anything.”
For example, Finland has roughly 200 Leopard main battle tanks. But they are staying in Finland. Last week they offered the Ukrainians three Leopard mine-clearing vehicles. The probable reason? They have an 830-mile-long border with Russia and are not yet a member of NATO. They need the tanks to protect their own interests.
The Spaniards have 108 Leopard 2A4 tanks in their arsenal and long ago sought permission from Germany to send them to Ukraine. After being given the green light, the Spanish military is saying that many are in disrepair and making them deployable could take months. In a complete reversal of past policy, Germany is putting pressure on Spain to make due on their old promises. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez has committed 10 Leopards to Ukraine in a time as yet to be determined.
The neutral Swiss will not be sending any of their 134 Leopards to Ukraine, but as Gustav Gressel, a security analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations, relayed to The Wall Street Journal, they may be willing to send tanks to EU members who would then send them to Ukraine and replace them with newer models.
There is, however, one problem with that. Even in 2023, tanks are not made quickly. Leopards are made by the German companies Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW). At the height of the cold war, KMW could produce 16 tanks per month. Today, they build only a fraction of that already small number. Manufacturers are holding out for large government contracts before deciding to ramp up production. If a country gives away too many of its older Leopard tanks, they will not likely be replaced with new ones anytime soon.
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