Rheinmetall ready to provide Ukraine with more than 100 main battle tanks

According to Annett Meiritz, Martin Murphy, Frank Specht and Gregor Waschinski in the German newspaper Handelsblatt, Western-allied states and industry increase the pressure on Berlin to supply main battle tanks to Ukraine which badly and urgently needs them to counter the expected forthcoming new vast attack from Russian forces. In addition to Leopard 1 and 2 MBTs, the British Challenger 1 is also up for debate (the United Kingdom already announced to offer 14 Challenger 2s).
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Leopard 1A5 Main Battle Tanks formerly operated by the German army could be refurbished by Rheinmetall (Picture source: Wikipedia/Rainer Lippert)

Neither the new German Federal Defense Minister Boris Pistorius nor U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin are both reluctant about supplying Leopard 2 and/or Abrams MBTs to Ukraine. Some people (unfortunately not always competent but self-proclaimed ‘’experts’’) say these tanks could bring about a decisive turnaround in the Ukraine war. Anyway, Germany might be ready to let Ukraine have Leopard tanks if the US in turn supplies Abrams.

But Washington immediately objected. The M1 Abrams is a "very complicated" device, for example, because it has a turbine drive instead of a diesel engine, said US Secretary of Defense Colin Kahl. Maintenance is not easy either. It is not about delivering "symbolically valuable" weapons, but material "that really helps Ukraine on the battlefield".

The Leopard is strangely declared operationally and logistically easier for the Ukrainians to handle than the Abrams but this might be taken into consideration only for the Leopard 2A4 version. The A5, A6 and A7 versions are significantly more sophisticated, Army Recognition states. Several countries expressed their readiness of supplying their early variants of the Leopard 2. Poland is one of them, Finland and Spain also signaled readiness. However, the German federal government would have to agree, since the tanks come from German production.

German chancellor Olav Scholz insists that he only accepts to act in step with his NATO allies, above all the USA. The Chancellor confirmed this on Wednesday, January 19, at the World Economic Forum in Davos. Like other countries, Paris would welcome the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine. As reminded by the Handelsblatt, President Emmanuel Macron took the German government by surprise when he promised the Ukrainian armed forces AMX-10RC reconnaissance vehicles in early January. As a result, Berlin was under pressure and agreed to deliver armored personnel carriers to Kyiv, as did the USA.

As underlined by Handelsblatt, the Challenger 1 proposed by Rheinmetall was unexpected but would buy and upgrade a high double-digit number of British tanks from Oman. The vehicles could be handed over to Ukraine later this year. These tanks are older than the successor model Challenger 2 currently in service ith the British army (14 units of which will be delivered to Ukraine). However, both models have the same main gun, which would make ammunition supply and logistics easier.

In addition to the Challenger 1, Rheinmetall is also offering to supply Leopard 1s and Leopard 2s. 20 Leopard 1s could be refurbished and sold in 2023, and another 80 within 20 months.

The Flensburg armaments company FFG also has Leopard 1 tanks in stock and could retrofit them for Ukraine. It is unclear to what extent Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) – the main manufacturer of the Leopard – could participate in a possible delivery. The company has so far remained silent on the matter, Handelsblatt comments.

Another 100 Leopard 2 tanks could be added if the German federal government gives its approval. Several countries, including Finland, Spain and Poland, want to hand over battle tanks from their own stocks to Ukraine.

However, the possibilities for the Bundeswehr to hand over some of its Leopard 2s are limited if the ability to defend the country and the alliance is not to be jeopardized. It currently has over 300 tanks. However, Germany had offered the Czech Republic and Slovakia Leopard tanks as part of a so-called ring exchange (Ringtauch). Both countries hand over Soviet-made tanks to Ukraine and receive Leopards in return. The federal government could now try to convince the governments in Prague and Bratislava that the tanks actually intended for them should go to the Ukraine and then be supplied to them later. Germany could then provide Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2s relatively quickly.