For Ukraine, what’s so special about Germany’s Leopard 2 tanks?

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As the war in Ukraine nears its first year, Kyiv is urging Western allies to provide advanced battle tanks to fight alongside Russian forces. And there is one particular model that Ukrainians want – the German-made Leopard 2.

Other countries have offered different tanks, such as the UK, which pledged 14 Challenger 2 models earlier this month. But the Leopard 2’s speed and ease of use — as well as the fact that there are already a large number of them in Europe — make them even 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 enough to achieve operational goals.” ” He appealed to countries “that have 2 Leopard tanks” to send them to Ukraine.

For Berlin, the focus on the tanks has become a geopolitical headache — and German Chancellor Olaf Schulz’s government has so far rejected calls to export the Cheetah 2. This week, however, German Foreign Minister Annalina Bierbock said in an interview with French television that her government “would not stand in the way” if Poland requested 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)

What to know about Cheetah 2 and why Ukraine says it needs them.

Why does Ukraine prefer Cheetah 2?

The Leopard 2 was first introduced in 1979 and has since been upgraded several times, earning it a reputation as one of the best 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 many Soviet-era tanks fielded by both the Russian and Ukrainian forces.

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Even older versions of the tank have advanced optics, including thermal imaging, which allows it to operate day and night, as well as magnification and a laser rangefinder to track targets. According to the manufacturer, these tanks are designed to move quickly, with a top speed of about 44 miles per hour, despite weighing 55 tons.

Cheetah 2 also has various features designed to protect the crew. Partial ammunition storage avoids the disastrous “jack-in-the-box” explosions seen with Russia’s T-72 tanks, where the ammunition is stowed under the crew.

The tank is powered by a diesel engine, which is relatively easy to refuel and gives the vehicle about 210 miles of on-road range. It also uses standard NATO 120mm ammunition, which will give Ukraine access to a larger pool of suppliers than its current tanks, which require 125mm.

How many leopards are there 2, and where are they located?

Researchers estimate that there are more than 2,000 leopard tanks in Europe. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, more than half are believed to be older 2A4 and 2A5 variants, with more than 200 in storage in Germany itself.

On Tuesday, a spokesman for German arms group Rheinmetall told local media that the company could deliver 139 Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine if needed, Reuters reported, although not until later in the year or as early as 2024. will reach

Many exports from Germany have already been 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 has focused on the Cheetah 2 in part because there are many in Europe, where they can be delivered to the battlefield with relative ease. But under deals with buyer countries, the German government must sign off on any transfer.

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In a note published in September, the European Council on Foreign Relations called on Western countries to support a plan to send Leopard 2s to Ukraine, saying “the more countries that donate tanks, the more burden-sharing they are.” It would be easy. away.”

What about alternatives, including the US M1 Abrams?

When it comes to main battle tanks, the Cheetah 2 has one major competitor: the American-made M1 Abrams.


Battleground of competition

Heavy weight

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities. In fact, some of the similarities are intentional, to ensure that the tanks can cooperate on NATO battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists;

MilitaryToday.com

William Neff/The Washington Post

Battleground heavyweights of competition

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities. In fact, some of the similarities are intentional, to ensure that the tanks can cooperate on NATO battlefields.

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; MilitaryToday.com

William Neff/The Washington Post

Battleground heavyweights of competition

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities. In fact, some of the similarities are intentional, to ensure that the tanks can cooperate on NATO battlefields.

120 mm cannon

120 mm cannon

About 70 tons

About 55 tons

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; MilitaryToday.com

William Neff/The Washington Post

Battleground heavyweights of competition

Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tank and the United States’ M1 Abrams boast similar measurements and capabilities. In fact, some of the similarities are intentional, to ensure that the tanks can cooperate on NATO battlefields.

120 mm cannon

120 mm cannon

Sources: Federation of American Scientists; MilitaryToday.com

William Neff/The Washington Post

In service since 1980, the M1 Abrams has similar features to the Leopard 2, but has some distinct advantages. Modern versions have depleted uranium armor protection layers that provide significant advantages to the crew on the inside.

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

However, the Biden administration has argued that US-made tanks have many disadvantages for the field in Ukraine.

They use jet fuel, which is much more difficult to obtain than the diesel used by the Leopard 2. Although the tank once weighed 60 tons, its weight has increased over the years. The new version can weigh around 75 tons, adding to the logistical difficulties. That’s too much weight to drive over a bridge, for example.

They also have complex maintenance requirements and require special training, US officials told reporters.

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