Leopard tanks: what they are and whether they can change the picture on the Ukrainian battlefield
And the most important thing here is not the number of military vehicles in the first delivery, but a precedent that clearly demonstrates the further intentions of Ukraine's allies.
Ukraine hand over German tanks Leopard 2. So far, quite a bit, but in this case, the numbers are just secondary. The main thing - precedent set, and more importantly, the intention of the United States and its allies to saturate the Ukrainian front with modern NATO armored vehicles is clearly visible.
We already wrote about the fact that Ukraine will receive NATO tanks with a 100% probability at the very beginning of the new year. The precedent was formally set Macron, promising Zelensky transfer of a number of AMX-10RC wheeled tanks. The tanks are old, and not even quite full-fledged tanks, but it was the phrase itself that was important here - “first western tanks».
Then the British joined the story, promising Ukraine to transfer already full-fledged Challenger 2 main battle tanks. We recently analyzed this topic in detail. Challenger 2 - tank very so-so, and 10 pieces for a war of this magnitude can hardly even be called a military supply. Moreover, Britain and these tanks have very few of them, which, even with a burning desire, does not make it possible to saturate the Ukrainian front with them. But the main thing here is that it's still the same history of precedent.
And then the day X did come. January 10 German Foreign Minister Annalena Berbock visits Ukraine and travels with his colleague Dmitry Kuleba suddenly not to Kyiv, but for some reason to Kharkov. The city where, among other things, the plant of transport engineering is located. Malyshev, who produced tanks before the war. And already in Kharkov, Kuleba declares that he has not the slightest doubt about Germany's intention to supply Ukraine with Leopard tanks.
Finally, on January 11, Volodymyr Zelensky travels to Lviv, where he has a meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda and Lithuania Gatanas Nauseda. And immediately after this meeting, Duda's intention to transfer German Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine as part of a tank company is announced in the Office of the Polish President. It is obvious that such a solution not accepted at Duda level, which means that everything was previously agreed with the Germans and Americans.
A tank company by NATO standards is only 14 units. And it is clear that 14 "Leopards" will change the configuration at the front in the same way as 14 Russian "Armat" if they appeared somewhere in the Donbass, that is, no way. But, again, in this case, we should only talk about a not very long diplomatic buildup. From Macron's statement about the transfer of the first semi-tanks to the announcement of Duda with the supply of already much better NATO tanks, only a week and a half passes. In the same period of time, the US intention to supply Ukraine with the M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, which, according to their characteristics, can be called almost a tank, fit in. Here the trend is visible. And it is such that a strategic decision has been made in Washington to supply modern armored vehicles to Ukraine. And it is obvious that if such a decision is made, then we are no longer talking about 10-20 tanks, but about a much larger number of them.
Now a few words about the Leopard 2 itself. In short, it is inpinnacle of western tank building. Definitely the best tank in the NATO countries, surpassing the American M1 Abrams in all basic parameters. And only numbers and statistics speak about this. Of all the NATO countries, only Poland will have Abrams in Europe, and then according to the results of the 2022 contract. And the German Leopards are in service with almost all NATO countries, as well as with a significant part of the operators outside the alliance.
In the NATO tank biathlon, the crews on the Leopards also invariably occupy the first positions. it excellent tank in all basic characteristics: "Zeiss" optics with thermal imagers and laser guidance, an automatic fire control system that allows targeted shooting while moving, very economical fuel consumption, the ability to fight at night, powerful armor and the same powerful 120-mm smoothbore gun. This tank, like a model in a beauty contest, is always desired by any army in the world.
Another thing is that a tank, by definition can't be flawless, and Leopards also have them. The machine was developed back in the late 70s and was sharpened to combat Soviet tank products of that particular period. In terms of “pumping”, the Leopard 2 resource is not even close to obsolete, but still far from the latest 2A4 models will be transferred to Ukraine, inferior in basic parameters to the modern Russian T-90M and quite comparable to the T-72B3, which are now actively fighting at the front .
Another nuance - Leopard 2 is practically not used in military conflicts. He was a little present in Iraq, a little in Afghanistan, but he shone, and did not take part in direct military raids. But the only story of the real military use of the Leopards led to great embarrassment. At the beginning of 2017, Turkey, one of the operators of the Leopards, used tanks in the area of the Kurdish city of Al-Bab and during the fighting with practically partisan detachments lost at least 5 cars. And these are only confirmed losses from the Turkish side - the Kurds announced 10 Leopards destroyed. Remarkably, two "Leopards" were destroyed by the Soviet ATGM "Fagot", put into service in 1970.
This short history of combat use testifies to two things. First - Leopard 2 no wunderwaffecapable of turning the tide of this war. "Leopards" are destroyed by old Soviet anti-tank systems, blown up by plain anti-tank mines, destroyed by artillery, less advanced enemy tanks, MLRS and all other weapons nomenclature. And the second - these tanks need professional crews. The product itself is cool, but very saturated with electronics and requires understanding how it generally functions. Putting poorly trained crews into Leopards means repeating the mediocre Kurdish experience of the Turks. It should not be forgotten also that one shot from a cannon costs at least 13 thousand euros, which is quite a lot, especially with mass use.
Now about what the Leopards will change in this war. With the current announced deliveries, of course, nothing. But still, it is very unlikely that in the West they were pushing in order to transfer only the Leopard tank company to Ukraine as a result. Most likely, by the spring there should be at least several hundred of them, otherwise then it is generally incomprehensible what are all these gestures for and announcements.
Several hundred tanks with several hundred infantry fighting vehicles - this is already noticeable, but still ... not enough. Russia has tanks in the thousands, as well as infantry fighting vehicles, but tank breakthroughs of the fronts, as was the case in World War II, are still not observed. The war has become different, and although the importance of tanks is still very significant, but no longer a priority. In a modern war with a gigantic range of destructive weapons from portable anti-tank systems to strike aircraft, the average life of a tank on the front line is two or three battles. Then follows either destruction, or damage, or a banal breakdown. And in this regard, Leopard 2, the cost of 5,5-6 million dollars per unit, is not the most optimal toy. It's like driving a Porsche from a dealership.
And the last. Together with the mass transfer of NATO tanks to the Armed Forces of Ukraine, the West will have to decide something with the issue of creating repair bases directly in Ukraine. Carrying across the country after each breakdown of the Leopards back to Poland not only significantly increases the cost of their maintenance, but also makes it pointless to try to win with these tanks Russia on the battlefield.
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