On Friday at the Ramstein airbase, multiple countries pressed Berlin to deliver German-made Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine as part of an arms transfer package that included “hundreds” of armored vehicles of various types.
Berlin sold many of the 3,600 Leopard 2s produced after the Cold War ended, and they are now in use by 21 countries across four continents.
The Leopard 2s, which weigh between 55 and 65 tons, have far superior armor, firepower, and detection capabilities to most Russian tanks, which weigh between 40 and 50 tons. While Poland currently maintains 240 Leopard 2 tanks, President Duda has announced plans to send a company (about 10-15 tanks) to Ukraine. Finland has also offered to contribute some of its Leopard 2s (of which there is 200 total; 100 are now in storage).
Boris Pistorius, Germany’s recently appointed defense minister, remained hesitant following the discussion, saying that Berlin would only approve the plan if “all the allies” were on board with it.
There have been rumors that Germany will only provide permission to ship Leopard 2 tanks if the United States also gives them some M1 Abrams main battle tanks.
A large number of Abrams tanks are similar to the Leopard 2. However, they are less fuel efficient and use jet fuel rather than diesel.
Why is Germany afraid to send the Leopard 2 to Ukraine?
Remembering the days when its “Big Cats,” the heavily armored Tiger and Panther tanks, roamed Europe, Berlin is still on edge over the legacy of Hitler’s horrific invasion of the Soviet Union in World War II. from the Far East, who became so infamously terrifying and exaggerated in his portrayal that he was cast as the supernatural bad guy in the Russian military film White Tiger, filmed seven decades later.
But now Kyiv wants the big German cats back, this time to defend Ukraine, not to help it in the conquest of it. But German Chancellor Scholz has insisted there is a red line in the transfer of Western-built tanks, mesmerized by fears of Russian counter-escalation and the previous history of German tanks as weapons of aggression, disregarding that defending armies they also need tanks to recapture the invaded territory.
Scholz’s dithering may eventually unravel as he comes under increasing pressure from the US, France, Britain, and Poland and as Moscow continues to escalate its war in Ukraine. German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck has already signaled his support for authorizing third-party Leopard transfers to Ukraine.
After all, the UK has already confirmed that it will deliver a company of domestic Challenger 2 main battle tanks. Warsaw has also hinted that it could go ahead with a transfer without Berlin’s agreement.
But a go-ahead from Berlin could open the floodgates to transfers from numerous other Leopard 2 operators, most notably Canada (60 2A4 and 20 2A6M), Greece (183 2A4 and 170 2A6HEL), Norway (52 2A4), Spain ( 108 2A4 stored in poor condition, 219 2A6 modernized) and Sweden (120 Strv-122 based on the 2A6). According to the IISS, Germany itself could have 200 vintage 2A4s in storage.
Taken together, it looks increasingly likely that the Leopard 2s will see combat in Ukraine, finally facing the high-intensity mechanized warfare they were designed for in the final phase of the Cold War. This article looks at the capabilities that the Leopard 2 could bring to Ukraine if it enters service and its combat history.
Cold Warrior Tank
The Leopard 2, which entered West German service in 1979 as a replacement for the fast but lightly armored Leopard 1, represented optimism that advances in composite technology would eventually render heavy armor effective even against lethal anti-tank missiles.
It was expected that in a World War III scenario. Its qualitative superiority could offset the huge quantitative advantage of the Soviet Union.
The Leopard 2 differed in that it used a more fuel-efficient diesel engine instead of the Abrams’ faster-accelerating and noisier gas turbine and initially had a larger main gun.
Over time, the Abrams adopted the Leopard 2 gun and increasingly incorporated ultra-dense DU to improve armor plating, and shell penetration as German engineers searched for alternative engineering solutions.
So not all Leopard 2s are created equal. The Leopard 2A4, the latest model of the Cold War, has a conventional-looking vertical front turret armor plate.
But the post-Cold War Leopard 2A5, 2A6, and 2A7 look very different thanks to the futuristic-looking wedge front turret armor. These models feature improved protection, better sensors, and (with the 2A6 and 2A7 series) longer, more powerful .55 caliber barrels.
The older model 2A4 will most likely make it to Ukraine, although later models cannot be completely ruled out.
The advantage of the 1980s 2A4 is inevitably less than the newer T-90s or the modernized Russian T-72B3, T-80U, and T-80BVM. However, documented material losses reveal that the Russian military and its allies still use many older T-72Bs, T-64s, and T-62Ms.
Many countries also possess functional derivatives of the Leopard 2, such as the Bergepanzer BPz3 Buffalo armored recovery vehicle, the Panzerschnellbrücke 2 bridging vehicle, and the AEV3 Kodiak engineering vehicle.
Ukraine has received 31 vintage equivalents of these useful Leopard 1-based vehicles. Finland’s Marksman anti-aircraft vehicle combines a Leopard 2 with a twin 35mm gun turret.