Ukraine Is Getting A Lot Of German-Made Leopard 1 Tanks. That Means A Lot Of Training For Ukrainian Tankers.

Aug 18, 2023

Ukrainian troops train on a special Leopard 1 training tank.

The German-made Leopard 1A5 is on track to be, by far, the most numerous Western-made tank in Ukrainian service. For German trainers, that means a lot of hard work.

Berlin has authorized the export of up to 178 of the 40-ton, four-person tanks. Around 135 are coming from German and Danish stocks. The balance is former Belgian army Leopard 1A5BEswith unique fire-controls.

To put into context how important the 1980s-vintage tank will be to the Ukrainian war effort, Kyiv’s foreign allies between them have pledged just 85 heavier German-made Leopard 2s, 31 ex-American M-1A1s and 14 Challenger 2s from the United Kingdom.

In other words, the 178 Leopard 1A5s will outnumber, by a 48-tank margin, all other Western tank types in Ukrainian service, combined.

To be fair, Ukraine has gotten from its allies around 400 Soviet-designed T-72s. But some Ukrainians who have trained on the Leopard 1 expressed a preference for the German vehicle. “The Leopard 1A5 is much more maneuverable than our T-72,” one Ukrainian trainee told a German army reporter.

The trainee might change his mind in the heat of battle. Where a Leopard 1A5 has a maximum of just 70 millimeters of armor, a T-72’s armor maxes out at nearly 500 millimeters. The Ukrainian custom of wrapping tanks in layers of explosive reactive armor can mitigate, but not eliminate, the Leopard 1A5’s greatest flaw: its light protection.

In the Leopard 1’s favor, it has an accurate 105-millimeter main gun, the same EMES fire-controls as the heavier Leopard 2 and excellent day-night optics. As the Danish army discovered when it deployed Leopard 1s to the former Yugoslavia in 1994, the tank is like a sniper—and shoots accurately even at night.

The first Leopard 1A5s already have arrived in Ukraine, possibly equipping the new 44th Mechanized Brigade. The 44th might be just the start of a comprehensive reequipment effort: 178 tanks is enough to equip five brigades with a battalion each of tanks.

The brigades will have to figure out ways of using their Leopard 1s that leverage the vehicles’ strengths and mitigates their weaknesses. That doctrine could blend NATO training with Ukrainian experience.

The tankers’ two-week training course takes place at a German army base in Saxony-Anhalt. The German army retired its last Leopard 1s in 2003, but it still operates engineering vehicles that share the Leopard 1’s chassis and subsystems. German instructors were able to spin up a training program for Ukrainian tankers that borrows heavily from the training for German army engineers.

So far, 6,000 Ukrainians have rotated through the German army’s tank course and other military training programs. Another 4,000 are scheduled to pass through in the next four months. The ramp-up in training speaks to the size of Kyiv’s future Leopard 1 fleet.

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  1. “As the Danish army discovered when it deployed Leopard 1s to the former Yugoslavia in 1994, the tank is like a sniper—and shoots accurately even at night.”

    This means that the AFU will have to develop a plan on how best to use these tanks. Certainly, a Leopard I cannot be used to bust through heavy defenses. That’s a job for heavier armored tanks.

    “…a T-72’s armor maxes out at nearly 500 millimeters.”

    Certainly, he meant estimated armor thickness. There is no tank on this planet with such thick armor. It would weigh around 120 tons.

    • “…a T-72’s armor maxes out at nearly 500 millimeters.”

      From Wikipedia:

      The glacis of the new laminated armour is 205 mm (8.1 in) thick, comprising 80 mm (3.1 in) HHS, 105 mm (4.1 in) double layer of laminate and 20 mm (0.79 in) RHA steel, which when inclined gives about 500–600 mm (20–24 in) thickness along the line of sight.

    • It needs ATACMS and planes, too. But, it’s easier to badmouth the Ukrainians for their slow-going. Cockless cowards!

  2. “Where a Leopard 1A5 has a maximum of just 70 millimeters of armor, a T-72’s armor maxes out at nearly 500 millimeters.”
    I don’t think that’s literally true. The T-72’s 200 mm of sandwiched armor is only equivalent to 400 to 500 mm of steel (models A and M1), depending on the ammunition and the angle of impact. In horizontal direction, the sloped armor of the Leopard 1 is 140 mm thick. Inadequate for a static tank battle, indeed, but that tank has to fight on the move, putting the stabilized gun to good use, and this reduces the chance of being hit considerably. With a well trained crew, knowing when to attack and when to retreat, these comparatively light tanks can still inflict a lot of damage.

    • These Leopards are good tanks when used the right way, as stated above. As you say, they are best when on the move. They could also be good night hunters or pick off the enemy from well-concealed positions to help the heavier tanks move forward.

    • Only ten Leo 1s delivered so far, none have been in combat yet. The problem is that EU defence industry had scaled down capacities since the end of cold war. At least Rheinmetall is hiring now and expanding output, but they can’t do miracles. Also, sad to say, in 2022, getman government wasn’t doing enough to support this with long term contracts. Under new minister Pistorius, that’s improving now, gladly.

      • It seems that the collective West is one huge sloth, which is reluctant to move forward fast. I guess that as long as Ukraine is holding back the evil cockroach horde, we have plenty of time to get our asses in gear, so it seems.

    • The huge minefields have rendered every tank almost useless, Sir Cap. That’s why a few weeks ago, the AFU troops started going forward by foot. Once the minefields are penetrated, we’ll see the true capabilities of these and other tanks and AFVs.

      • I understand Sir OFP. My comment was not the use of the tanks in Ukraine, but that so little of what’s promised by the west (Germany) is delivered.

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