Meet the Leopard 2: Poland delivered its first batch of Leopard 2 Main Battle Tanks (MBT) to Ukraine around the one-year anniversary of Russia’s invasion in late February. While several Western nations have promised to secure a variety of advanced armored vehicles to aid Ukraine defensive efforts over the last year, the shipment of Leopard 2A4 tanks represented the first foreign tanks actually delivered. Widely considered to be one of the best MBTs in service today, the Leopard 2 tank could be the game changer Ukraine is hoping for at this point in the invasion.
Since the Leopard was initially designed to counter some of the most formidable armored vehicles the Soviet Union produced, the influx of these variants to Ukraine will be paramount to the country’s success.
Introducing the Leopard Main Battle Tank
The third generation Leopard 2 tank was developed by manufacturer Krauss-Maffei in the 1970’s to replace its Leopard 1 predecessor. The German-made armored vehicle incorporated more capabilities and improvements than its predecessor the Leopard 1 tank. In fact, almost as soon as the Leopard 1 entered service in the mid-1960’s, the German government set its eyes on a new-generation tank.
In 1967, the Gilded Leopard study commenced and the race to create a tank featuring key enhancements began. By 1979, the Leopard 2 entered service and was immediately recognized as the best armored vehicle in the Warsaw Pact.
Although the Leopard 1 was a decent MBT, its successor featured some significant facelifts. Overall, the Leopard 2 was more mobile, better armored and equipped with a larger, more powerful gun. The fully-stabilized Rheinmetall RH-M-120 120 mm smoothbore gun is accompanied by 42 rounds in the tank. Additionally, 15 ready-to-use rounds are stored in the turret bustle, while the remaining rounds are positioned by the driver.
As explained by Popular Mechanics, “The Rh-120 is highly accurate while shooting on the move due to a two-axis stabilization system that counteracts the tank’s movement against the position of the Rh-120 gun barrel. Older tanks need to come to a halt to fire accurately at enemy targets, an action that collectively slows an attacking force’s momentum. The Leopard 2’s stabilization system allows the main gun to remain oriented against a target even while the tank is maneuvering over rough terrain. This gives the Leopard 2 a high level of accuracy while shooting on the move, or a spill-free delivery of a stein filled with beer.”
Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine
Last week, the Ukrainian tank crews sent to Spain to undergo a series of trainings to properly use the Leopard 2 armored vehicles returned home. A total of 40 crew members and 15 mechanics spent four weeks learning the ins and outs of the German-tank, according to Reuters.
This training trip followed announcements made by Poland, Sweden and Germany late last month that additional Leopard 2 tanks will be shipped to support Ukraine. The U.S. Defense Department also revealed that 21 M1 Abrams tanks would be delivered to Ukraine by the fall.
Tank warfare has played a significant role in Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine, making the influx of powerful Western tanks a potential tipping point in the conflict.
Maya Carlin is a Senior Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.