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1 of 4 Photo: Heikki Saukkomaa/Lehtikuva/AP/TT
Ukraine’s backers in the West are gathering in Germany to agree on what the next military aid package should look like. Modern tanks are on the wish list.
With such, the Ukrainian forces can begin a new phase in the defense effort.
Ukraine wants what are called main battle tanks. They are modern models of tanks with serious firepower, durable armor protection and relative speed and agility. With such as frame mechanized units, the Ukrainian forces could launch counter-offensives against occupied territory that Russia has firmly fortified.
– The tank is a breakthrough weapon. It is so in war that it is not a single system that decides, but systems of systems. This should be deployed in combination with other weapons: with artillery, infantry, air support, and so on, says Magnus Christiansson, a military scientist who teaches at the Norwegian Defense Academy.
– Qualified artillery is in place now, so what is needed is precisely this type of breakthrough weapon.
The main request – and what is at the top of the agenda when the country’s allies gather for discussions in Germany – are tanks of the German Leopard 2 model.
Old Soviet models
Until now, Ukraine has used Soviet and obsolete main battle tanks, mainly of the T-72 model. It is the most used tank in the world, as it was produced in around 25,000 copies in the former Eastern Bloc.
During the war, Poland donated 270 T72s to Ukraine. Last autumn, the Netherlands, the USA and the Czech Republic agreed to send 90 Czech such examples.
– It’s an incredible amount of tanks, but of a slightly lower quality and a slightly older model, says Magnus Christiansson, who holds Leopard 2 clearly higher:
– It is a slightly more qualified tank that would be a big advantage for the Ukrainians. It is simply more modern.
A few days ago, Great Britain became the first country to donate Western-made main battle tanks, when they donated Challenger 2 tanks to a company.
Many and scattered
Challenger 2 and Leopard 2 are comparable in many ways – the former is better armored while the latter is more mobile. But the Leopard 2 has been produced in many more copies and is used by about ten European armies, while the British model has barely been exported.
More countries could therefore contribute with vehicles as well as maintenance and training if Ukraine starts using Leopard 2.
However, it is up to Germany whether the German-made vehicles can be sent there and there has been some reluctance there. It has also been said that many Leopard 2s need to be modified and upgraded, which takes time.
According to information, the German government is demanding that the United States simultaneously send main battle tanks of the American model Abrams. The US has thousands of these available, but unlike most other models they are powered by a gas turbine.
– Abrams is a very complicated tool… It is not the easiest system to maintain, said Colin Kahl, Deputy Secretary of Defense in the United States, at a press conference this week.
Other types too
Main tanks would reinforce Ukraine in a new way, but many other vehicle types have already been sent and more will be sent.
France certainly has French-made main battle tanks of the Leclerc model, but also does not have many available and they have not been mentioned. Instead, the French donate a number of light combat vehicles of the model AMX-10 RC, which are primarily used for reconnaissance on the battlefield.
The US has previously sent the M113 troop transport vehicles to Ukraine, as well as other transport vehicles. A new support package is now being completed, which is said to contain 50 Bradleys and 100 Strykers. Both are armored personnel carriers that can both participate in combat and be used to transport soldiers. The Bradley is known as a “tank killer” with a lot of firepower, but with fewer seats than the Stryker.
Germany contributes anti-tank vehicles in the form of a few dozen Marder vehicles. Sweden contributes the Stridsfordon 90, which in its basic design is also an armored personnel carrier.
Alongside all the vehicles, new support efforts will include anti-aircraft robots and quantities of ammunition.
The Leopard 2 tank model began to be manufactured in the 1970s, then on behalf of the West German army.
The vehicles weigh over 60 tons and can travel at up to 70 kilometers per hour. It can hit targets at a distance of up to four and a half kilometers. When the cannon is pointed forward, the tank is almost eleven meters long.
Around 20 states have had, have or will get Leopard 2. In Europe, it is Denmark, Finland, Greece, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Czech Republic, Turkey, Germany, Hungary and Austria. Outside of Europe, it is Chile, Indonesia, Canada, Singapore and Qatar.
According to the manufacturers, a total of more than 3,500 have been produced.
Sweden bought the Leopard 2 system in 1994, which was then the largest procurement that the Defense Materiel Administration had made from a foreign supplier. Here the vehicles received the designations Stridsvagn 121 and 122. Stridsvagn 121 was an older Leopard model that has been phased out.
Leopard tanks have been used in three wars. German forces deployed to the Kosovo war had them, Canadian forces used them in the Afghanistan war, and Turkey has used them in Syria.
Sources: The Swedish Defense Materiel Administration, the Swedish Armed Forces, KMW