Apr 22, 2023
In a surprise announcement on Thursday, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky revealed that Denmark and The Netherlands have agreed to purchase another 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks for the Ukrainian armed forces.
The pledge increases to 85 the number of Leopard 2s Ukraine is getting from its foreign allies—a mix of short-gun A4, newer short-gun A5 and long-gun A6 models. That’s 15 shy of the 100 German-made Leopard 2s Ukrainian officials initially said they wanted. Enough tanks fully to equip the equivalent of a brigade.
“We keep working with [The Netherlands] to hold the aggressor to account,” Zelensky tweeted.
But there’s a catch. The Danish and Dutch armies don’t actually have any Leopard 2A4s. The plan is for Copenhagen and Amsterdam to pay for, and refurbish, A4s belonging to some other country. Spain, maybe?
The 14 tanks won’t arrive until early 2024, however. Which means they won’t join the 71 other Leopard 2s at the vanguard of Ukraine’s long-planned 2023 counteroffensive. Instead, they could be replacements for any Leopard 2s Ukrainian forces lose in their counteroffensive.
The new Danish-Dutch tank pledge, which follows an earlier Danish-Dutch-German pledge of at least 100 refurbished Leopard 1A5s, hints at Kyiv’s long-term plans for its tank force. Slowly, in tiny increments, the Ukrainian army is transforming into a NATO-style army with mostly European and American heavy equipment.
Many more Leopard 2s could follow in time. Ukraine’s NATO allies still have hundreds of surplus Leopard 2s and older, lighter Leopard 1s in storage. But it’s no secret that most of them are in poor repair. It’s not for no reason that it’s taken months for Europe to deliver the first of those initial 71 Leopard 2s. Most required deep rework: replacing clouded optics, fried computer chips, dried-out rubber seals and worn bearings and updating obsolete radios.
Clearly appreciating the poor condition of Europe’s tank reserves and the fragility of the continent’s tank-maintenance infrastructure, German and Polish officials on Thursday committed to establishing a facility in Poland specifically for repairing Ukrainian Leopard 2s. “Modern Western technology will result in Moscow’s defeat,” Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted. “The sooner it happens, the sooner peace will come.”
It wouldn’t be a stretch for the same depot also to maintain older Leopard 1A5s, which share fire-controls with the Leopard 2A4s. That planned new depot is a sign that the 14 extra Leopard 2s from Denmark and The Netherlands won’t be the last Leopard 2s Ukraine gets from its allies. The infrastructure is coming together for a larger, long-term Ukrainian Leopard fleet.
But the Leopards won’t be the only Western tanks in Ukrainian service. The United States has pledged an initial batch of 31 tungsten-armored M-1A1 tanks with the same 120-millimeter smoothbore gun that arms the Leopard 2s.
U.S. defense secretary Lloyd Austin on Friday announced that the M-1s would arrive in Germany in the next few weeks to meet their Ukrainian crews and commence 10 weeks of training. The timeline indicates the American-made tanks might be ready for combat some time in August.
Again, that’s potentially too late for Ukraine’s planned offensive. The M-1s could join the second consignment of Leopard 2s in replacing losses from the offensive … and accelerating the Ukrainian military’s transformation into a NATO-style force.
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“Most required deep rework: replacing clouded optics, fried computer chips, dried-out rubber seals and worn bearings and updating obsolete radios.”
It’s an incredible shame how much Europe has allowed its military equipment to rot. Trump was so right, in this regard. Let’s hope that everyone has learned an important lesson out of all of this, although I doubt it. Our inglorious leaders had also forgotten all about the futility of appeasement.