Tag Archives: Abrams Ukraine

Enter the Kampfpanzer Leopard

As covered in recent weeks, NATO has lifted the moratorium on sending main battle tanks to Ukraine and is slated to transfer varying token quantities of M1 Abrams (that need to be rebuilt first), cranky British Challenger 2s (that use a unique ammo type) and several different marks of ex-German Leopard 2s (from assorted first, second, and third-hand users.)

Speaking to the latter, the first Leo 2s headed to Kyiv seem to be seriously high mileage, which should surprise no one.

As noted by the Canadian Army on their first shipment, “The donation of the first of four Leopard 2A4 Main Battle Tanks will help Ukraine defend its sovereignty from Russian aggression. Their delivery by our forces shows that we can project combat power on a global scale to support the rules-based international order.”

The tank is so proudly shown covered in rust and obviously needs new trackpads.

If it looks this bad on the outside… “A Leopard 2A4 tank is loaded onto a Royal Canadian Armed Forces (RCAF) Canadian Cargo-177 Globemaster III in Halifax, Nova Scotia to be sent overseas as part of Canada’s aid to Ukraine on February 3, 2023.
Photo Credit: Corporal Amelie Graveline”

Couldn’t even take a pressure washer to it for a minute, guys? “A Leopard 2A4 tank is loaded onto a Royal Canadian Armed Forces (RCAF) Canadian Cargo-177 Globemaster III in Halifax, Nova Scotia to be sent overseas as part of Canada’s aid to Ukraine on February 3, 2023.
Photo Credit: Corporal Amelie Graveline”

Analysis from Tanks Being Tanks:

The tank looks like it just came out of a training exercise with little time to fully prepare. The rubber track pads are heavily worn or damaged, large mud stains, damaged side skirts, worn/damaged road wheels, and even the headlights are missing (though probably stored for transport). But basically, Canada is sending Ukraine tanks like this.

It’s not entirely sure whether the Leopards will undergo some kind of quick repair, especially replacement of the road wheels and trackpads, but it does bring up the question. Is Canada sending their worst, but still operable Leopards to Ukraine, just to get rid of them? Could this be the same plan for the other countries sending Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine?

Then again, one exception of such a possible case was Spain, when they initially offered their older Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine, but later changed their minds because of the overall operational status of said tanks, which was not good. Then again, they are still planning to send tanks now, but the number currently sits at around 4 to 6 tanks, out of 20 stored tanks in good condition.

But another concern is that a report by National Post has said that out of Canada’s 82 Leopard 2 tanks in service, around 15 tanks are operational (20% of Canada’s tank fleet). So far, no other source says the same, but no source has countered that claim, leaving a high possibility that Canada’s Leopard tanks aren’t doing too well. Yet, they’re still sending “operable” tanks to Ukraine?

The Leo2s offered thus far include 4-8 Norwegian (former Dutch) 2A4s, 14 Polish (former German) 2A4s, 4-6 Spanish (former Dutch) Leopard 2Es, 4 Portuguese (former German) 2A6s, possibly a few 2A7s from Denmark. Besides the varying degree of system fits on this hodgepodge, the data plates and labels inside these bad boys alone have to be dizzying in variety.

A possibly better alternative may be to send old Leopard 1 models, which Germany has hundreds in reserve, and even Belgium has 88.

Sure, they are 1960s-1980s vintage and are roughly equivalent to M60 Pattons or Soviet T-64s (the latter of which the Ukrainians are very familiar with), but their 105mm guns and engine suites are much simpler to master than anything fitted to the Leo2s.

Yes, the armor is thinner, but Leo2s are Kornet/RPG-30 bait anyway as the ones headed to Ukraine don’t have active-armor systems, so what is the difference?

Plus, the going rate for surplus Leo 1s is seen as about $10-15K a pop (although some are looking to pass them on for a cool $500K), with both Rheinmetall and FFG having lots full of them, meaning 2-3 could be transferred to make 1 operable, giving at least some built-in spare parts supply via cannibalization.

Plus, Kyiv is already operating Gepard SPAAGs, Dachs engineering vehicles, Biber scissor bridge layers, and Bergepanzer recovery vehicles– which are all just Leo1 hulls without the turret.

Getting 105mm sabots are probably going to be a problem, however, as the big players in that game right now (Greece, Turkey, Chile, and Brazil) all want to keep what they have in case they suddenly have a need for it. However, you can bet the U.S. Army probably has tons of old HEAT shells stockpiled in the desert somewhere for the 105mm M68 (the main gun fitted to the M60 Patton), which is nothing but the British-designed Royal Ordnance L7, which was the primary weapon fitted to Leo1s– all three use the same NATO STANAG 4458 shell types.

In my mind, don’t be surprised if the Leo1 becomes the new hot item shipped to Ukraine in quantity, with some container loads of quietly bought M426/M428 105mm sabots from Israel.

Ukraine’s Rusty Iron Fist

M1A2 Abrams Tank 1st Marine Division TIGERCOMP Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton Aug 2019. 1st Marine Division photo by Sgt. Tayler P. Schwamb

So, the Western allies are ramping up planned tank main battle tank deliveries to Ukraine. The sums are pretty paltry and diverse to an almost Kafkaesque extreme.

From the U.S. will come 31 M1 Abrams supported by eight M88 recovery vehicles (but no additional HET transporters, essential to move both to the front.) These will join a planned 109 M1 Bradley IFVs, 90 Stryker 8x8s (which may include some gun systems), 300 Vietnam-era M113 APCs, 250 M1117 4×4 armored cars, and 580 largely new MRAPs that never made it to Iraq.

From Germany will come 14 Leopard 2s (with as many as 100 additional third and fourth-hand Leos on the menu from places like Poland and Finland).

From the UK will come 14 exceedingly rare (and exceedingly cranky) Challenger 2 tanks.

The figures are arbitrary, based on the size of a Ukrainian tank company (14 tracks) and battalion (31 tracks). In the end, the Ukrainians want 250 to 300 Western tanks over and above the surplus T-62s and T-72s that have already been transferred. 

While some commo gear between the three incoming tank platforms is compatible, be sure that the tanks themselves are bewilderingly complicated with dozens of subcomponent systems, unique drivetrains, and main gun systems. For instance, Challenger uses a special two-piece shell (known to cause death in its crews if handled without respect) for its Royal Ordnance L30 120mm rifled gun that no one else in the world uses, the Leopard series runs several different models of the Rheinmetall Rh-120 120mm smoothbore that are fairly omnivorous in that caliber, while the Abrams, at least in A1 and A2 models, run a Watervliet-made variant of the German gun with some tweaks to barrel thickness and chamber pressure that is modeled specifically to mate with the M829 family of sabot rounds that have proven deadly effective against T-72s going back to 1991. Are M829s themselves going to be risked in a theatre where tech transfer can occur easily and often?

The logistics (not to mention training) nightmares to support these tanks– which surely (especially in the case of the thrifty Germans) will be older models that have long been in arsenal storage– will be daunting. Like tossing the proverbial keys to a well-used and abused F1 car to a guy that has only ever driven a Lada and expecting him to get in the ongoing race and finish with a win. Meanwhile, the pit crew is still watching PowerPoint slides written in another language on how to keep it running, and, while they have a pallet of spare parts, they go to a different car.

The Leopard 2A7 tank gunner’s position. Not something you could figure out on the fly…

National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby, in yesterday’s White House press briefing, confirmed the Abrams at least will be coming from storage rather than current unit stocks, which means months longer to get them to Europe and ready to hand over to crews that will, likewise, need lots of time to spin up. 
There’s — there’s training that’s needed. There’s sophisticated maintenance requirements. There’s a supply chain. I mean, it uses a gas turbine engine to — basically, a jet engine — 1,500 horsepower. So, there’s a lot that goes into operating these tanks on the field.

This is fine, because apparently the Abrams transferred would have to be built as export models such as those operated by Egypt and the Saudis without any of the current armor that the Army has used for the past couple of decades, which is restricted to U.S. military use only. 

But Ukraine seems to think this cobbled-together force of 3-4 battalions of NATO-supplied MBTs will become a hard armored fist for future planned offensive operations. The tip of the spear in piercing the Russian occupiers’ lines this upcoming Summer. A Cinderella story akin to the Lake Placid Miracle on Ice with armor taking the place of hockey skates.

I’m just not sure trying to beat the Russians at tank-v-tank offensive warfare with the Russians shortening their supply lines while Ky’iv’s stretches back to the Sierra Army Depot outside of Reno is the best play here. Especially when you look at the past Russian relish for the immovable die-in-place scenario (see Port Arthur 1904, Petropavlovsk/Sevastopol 1855, Osowiec 1915, Leningrad 1941-44, Brest Fortress 1941, Smolensk 1502/1514/1609-11/1613-17/1654, et. al.) that has so often popped up in that country’s military history.

To me, it would probably have been a better idea to keep up the artillery game, which can be easily trained at the crew level, while keeping the little groups of anti-tank killer teams in heavy operations and hundreds of cheap Turkish drones and purpose-built American loitering munitions overhead supported by realtime NATO targeting data (which, let’s face it, makes the war a legit NATO conflict). After all, it has worked thus far.

Anyway, the updated U.S. military aid to Ukraine list, just in case you haven’t seen it in recent weeks.