The Tanks Are Coming – But How Soon and How Old? It was just months ago that the idea of sending any German-made main battle tanks (MBT) to aid Ukraine was a line that Berlin was simply not willing to cross.
Now there are reports that German officials are increasingly concerned that European allies won’t be able to provide enough Leopard 2 MBTs to create the promised two battalions – around 62 tanks – that Ukraine needs to help drive back the Russian invader.
Here Come the Tanks for Ukraine
Berlin is now calling up NATO partners with Leopard 2s in their arsenals to step up with concrete and detailed commitments by the end of this week, Bloomberg first reported.
Several current NATO members, including Denmark, Norway, and the Netherlands, as well as Finland – which is seeking NATO membership – have suggested they’d be able to send a number of tanks but haven’t yet finalized their respective commitments.
To date, Poland has said it will contribute fourteen older versions of the Leopard 2 but announced it would need spare parts from Germany. At issue is the fact that many of those parts are no longer being produced.
Portugal announced on Wednesday that it would repair three of its Leopard 2s and make those vehicles ready to be sent to Ukraine.
However, as with Poland’s MBTs, spare parts are required.
“Right now we are implementing the recovery and maintenance plan for the Leopard 2 tanks and, according to the plan, we are in a position to be able to send three of them in March,” Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa told members of Parliament.
It was also on Wednesday that German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said during a trip to Warsaw that the Western partners could deliver the first battalion of the Leopard 2 MBTs by the end of March or early April.
“We could deliver at least one battalion in the first four months of this year – three months maybe – and then we need to proceed as fast as possible of course,” Pistorius said, adding that a battalion would consist of about 31 tanks, Reuters reported.
Leopard 1s Coming Soon
While the efforts to determine how many Leopard 2 MBTs could be sent to aid Kyiv, the Ukrainian military can also expect a significant number of older but refurbished Leopard 1 tanks. German officials this week approved the export license for industry-owned Leopard 1 tanks to be sent.
The Netherlands and Denmark will help pay to prepare “at least” 100 Leopard 1 tanks, while the total number that eventually reaches Ukraine could be around 178 if a coalition of European states steps up to help fund the refurbishment costs.
“We reaffirm our continued determination to support Ukraine in their endeavor to withstand Russian aggression,” read the joint statement from the defense ministers of Denmark, Germany, and the Netherlands. “Together, in a joint initiative, we will significantly enhance Ukraine’s military potential for the restoration of their violated territorial integrity.”
Belgium is now considering supporting the effort as well.
Old But Capable Tanks
The Cold War MBTs have been held in storage by German defense companies and are reported to be in various readiness conditions. The German-based Rheinmetall and FFG – which each have approximately 90 of the tanks in storage – will make them available to be sent to Ukraine. Some 20 to 25 could be sent this year, while the remainder will likely require significant updates and therefore won’t be available until early next year.
The Leopard 1, which was manufactured from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, was the first MBT produced for the West German Bundeswehr, and it remained in service in Germany until 2003. Germany operated some 2,400 of the Leopard 1 MBTs, but with the introduction of the Leopard 2, many were placed in long-term storage for resale.
Though decades old, the tanks are seen to be as capable as the Russian T-72 MBTs, and certainly more advanced than the T-62s that Moscow has increasingly used to bolster its numbers.
It was just last month that Berlin finally pledged to send 14 newer Leopard 2 A6 tanks from its current military stocks. Ukrainian soldiers are now reportedly training on the Leopard 2 in Poland.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.