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Greek Leopard 1A5GR tanks considered to replace blocked RUAG tanks deal for Ukraine

According to an article published by Flight on August 28, 2023, the German government has put forward a proposal to Greece for a reciprocal arrangement. This arrangement involves exchanging Greek Leopard 1A5/GR tanks for ex-Italian Leopard 1A5 tanks on a one-to-one basis. These ex-Italian tanks, which were acquired by the Swiss group RUAG with the intention of selling them to Ukraine, are currently held up due to an investigation conducted by Swiss authorities.
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The proposal from Germany suggests that the currently impeded ex-Italian Leopard 1A5 tanks owned by RUAG could potentially be exchanged for Greek Leopard 1A5/GR tanks (Picture source: Twitter and Greece MoD)

The consideration of transferring arms to Ukraine follows a recent visit by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to Greece on August 21, 2023. NATO has also issued a call for member states to provide support to Ukraine in light of Russian aggression. Greece's stance on this matter is being closely examined as it seeks to contribute to Ukraine's defense while maintaining its own geopolitical position, especially in relation to Turkey. Greece is exploring the possibility of swapping its existing military equipment for more advanced weaponry from Ukraine, drawing parallels with past successful exchanges like the one involving Marder tanks for BMP-1s.

The historical and territorial conflicts between Greece and Turkey, neighboring countries separated by the Aegean Sea, have resulted in disputes over maritime rights and territorial sovereignty. Recent tensions have been exacerbated by conflicts over Aegean Sea islands and the discovery of natural gas reserves near Cyprus. These tensions have escalated periodically, evident in events such as the 1974 Cyprus crisis and the 1995 Imia-Kardak incident. While the Biden administration intervened in 2020 to encourage diplomatic discussions, renewed hostilities have emerged due to changing geopolitical dynamics and domestic political considerations.

The crux of the conflict revolves around debates about the sovereignty of various Aegean Sea islands and differing interpretations of international agreements that define their status. The exploration of energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean, particularly near Cyprus, has further intensified the conflict. Turkey's claims to a share of these resources have led to clashes with Greece and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus.

Reports suggest the potential transfer of Western military equipment, including Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) launchers and PzH2000 self-propelled howitzers, to Ukraine. Greece possesses a significant amount of such equipment that could be part of an exchange deal. Given the urgency of Ukraine's situation due to Russian aggression, there's a critical need for high-quality tanks in sufficient numbers. A proposal has been put forth to send Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine.

However, the availability of Leopard 1 tanks, including in Greece, is limited in Europe. Some tanks stored in private Belgian warehouses are in poor condition and may not be operational. Italy retired around 100 Leopard 1A5 tanks over the past decade, which were subsequently acquired by the Swiss group RUAG with the intention of restoring them.

An investigation was launched in Switzerland regarding RUAG's attempt to sell Leopard 1 battle tanks to Ukraine through Germany's Rheinmetall. This sale was halted due to concerns about violating Switzerland's neutral status. RUAG acquired 96 Leopard 1 tanks from Italy in 2016 and planned to sell them to Rheinmetall, which would oversee repairs before facilitating their transfer to Ukraine. These tanks are currently in Italy. The investigation covers various aspects of the tank trade, including the circumstances of the original purchase in 2016 and the subsequent contract with Rheinmetall. Switzerland officially declined the re-export of the Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine in June.

In response to these developments, the German government has proposed a reciprocal arrangement to Greece. This proposal entails swapping Greek Leopard 1A5 tanks for ex-Italian Leopard 1A5 tanks on a one-to-one basis. The proposal is presented as a fair exchange. The benefits of this exchange are significant: the ex-Italian tanks would undergo comprehensive refurbishment, including the installation of a new thermal periscope and reinforced armor. The costs related to these upgrades would be covered by the German government.

The majority of Greece's tank fleet comprises Leopard 1A5/GRs, armed with a 105mm L7 gun firing standard NATO ammunition. This version features a laser rangefinder for target illumination at distances of up to 3,000 meters. Additional data is fed to the ballistic computer through sensors to enhance accuracy. This is complemented by the STN Atlas Electronik GmbH EMES-18 fire control system and Carl Zeiss thermal imaging system. These tanks are primarily repurposed Leopard 1 A3 tanks from the German Bundeswehr, equipped with an EMES Fire Control System (FCS). Other tanks, Leopard 1V, originated from the inventory of the Royal Netherlands Army, consisting of A4 models equipped with an EMES 12A3 AFSL-2 FCS. After Germany retired these models, Greece acquired a significant fleet of Leopard 1 tanks, totaling 500 Leopard 1A4/A5 variants.

The exchange process involves a commitment from the German government, similar to the triangular exchange mechanism previously used for BMP-1s. For each ex-Italian Leopard tank sent for repair and modernization, a corresponding Greek Leopard tank would be released. The criteria for tank selection would be determined by the Greek side, with the condition that the chosen tanks should be in a functional state.

These developments underscore the current status of Greek Leopard 1A5 tanks. With no modernization carried out for over three decades, these tanks face potential obsolescence, particularly in critical components like the thermal periscope. Considering the German proposal could potentially spare Greece the expenses of modernizing its Leopard 1A5 fleet, while providing the Greek Army access to upgraded tanks that could enhance capabilities. However, the success of this proposal hinges on the approach taken by the Greek Army, offering a means to strengthen Greece's armored capabilities in a cost-effective manner, with an emphasis on long-term gains.

The Leopard 1A5 represents an evolution of the Leopard 1 main battle tank, originally developed and manufactured by West Germany. This tank model is in use by numerous countries worldwide and has been produced in various upgraded versions. Introduced in the 1980s, the Leopard 1A5 stands as an improved model aimed at augmenting the tank's combat prowess. This version introduces several modifications in comparison to the original Leopard 1 model.

One of the primary enhancements is the new fire control system, the EMES 18, which integrates a laser rangefinder and thermal imaging system. This empowers the Leopard 1A5 to accurately engage targets at extended distances, even under poor visibility conditions.

Despite these upgrades, the Leopard 1A5 retains the same armor level as the original Leopard 1, consisting of rolled homogeneous armor. While this means it doesn't possess the same level of armor as contemporaries like the American M1 Abrams or the Soviet T-72, its lighter weight affords it greater mobility.

Equipped with the proven 105mm L7 gun, the Leopard 1A5 employs the same gun as the original Leopard 1. This gun is a staple among NATO tanks, capable of firing various ammunition types, including APDS (Armour-Piercing Discarding Sabot), HESH (High-Explosive Squash Head), HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank), and smoke rounds.

Under the hood, the Leopard 1A5 relies on a multi-fuel 830 hp engine. This dependable engine enables a top speed of approximately 65 km/h (40 mph) on roads and 45 km/h (28 mph) off-road. Additional improvements are integrated into the Leopard 1A5, including a new gun stabilization system for enhanced accuracy while on the move, and upgraded ammunition storage for improved safety.


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