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.
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.