The Russian invasion of Ukraine made clear that tanks are very much still relevant on the modern battlefield.
After months of backroom diplomacy, the first Leopard 2 tanks from the West have arrived in Ukraine and the country is set to receive many more. The Leopard 2 is probably the most talked about main battle tank that the Ukrainian military will be receiving. Here is why.
The Leopard 2 main battle tank
First introduced in the late 1970s, the Leopard 2 followed on the trusted footsteps of a large family of German tanks dating back to World War II. Indeed, despite losing the war, the German military fielded by far the most capable main battle tanks, notably the Panther, Tiger I, and Tiger II.
Manufactured by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH & Co. (KMW), the Leopard 2 has a crew of four and weighs more than 60 tonnes. Depending on the version, it packs a 120mm L/44 or 120mm L/55 main gun with around 40 rounds with the latter offering more range and penetration. It also sports two 7.62mm machine guns for anti-infantry protection. The tank can also take a .50 caliber heavy machine gun or 40mm grenade launcher on the turret. A fully digital fire control system, which packs a rangefinder and thermal and night scopes, ensures that the Leopard 2 can hit targets at more than 4,000 yards reliably in all weather conditions. Specialized munitions can extend that range.
The Leopard 2 is a highly efficient tank with an operational range of more than 200 miles on road and around 140 miles cross country. The main battle tank can reach speeds of up to 43 miles per hour on the road and around 35 miles per hour off road.
In terms of defense, the Leopard 2 sports third-generation composite armor with a mix of high-hardness and tungsten steel that withstand the major threats on the battlefield and also protect from Improvise Explosive Devices (IEDs). It can also come with a modular anti-mine armor package that adds more protection under the tank.
The most widely used versions of the tank are the 2A4, 2A5, and 2A6, while the latest version of the weapon system is the Leopard 2A7+.
Related: A Ukrainian soldier took out 5 Russian tanks in a single day using US-supplied Javelin missiles, Ukraine says
Hold my beer
The German military found a creative and culturally pertinent way to test the stability and capabilities of the Leopard 2. Some years ago, German tankers placed a beer on the tip of the barrel of a Leopard 2 gun and drove the tank around in aggressive combat maneuvers. Impressively, the Leopard 2’s main gun is so stable that not even a drop of beer was lost in the process!
Ever since the “beer test” has been used by manufacturers and militaries alike to test a main battle tank’s stability.
A very popular weapon system
The Leopard 2 is the most popular main battle tank in Europe and the most widely used in NATO in terms of operators, with six NATO countries operating more than 100 Leopard 2 tanks; Sweden’s ascension to the transatlantic alliance will add another military with over 100 Leopard 2s in its arsenal. (In terms of sheer number of tanks, the different versions of the M1 Abrams are the most widely used in NATO, with the U.S. military alone using more than 2,500 M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams.)
Related: Putin has a problem: Russia can barely build any tanks to fight in Ukraine
Besides the United Kingdom and France, which use the Challenger 2 and Leclerc main battle tanks respectively, all major European militaries use the Leopard 2. A weapon system in wide use makes it easier to support it in combat operations and also promotes logistical efficiency, something that could make a difference on the ground as the war in Ukraine has shown. A military with more and better weapon systems is likely to be at a disadvantage against an adversary with better logistical lines. At the end of the day, a 5th generation stealth fighter jet won’t go very far if it hasn’t the necessary fuel.
In the context of the war in Ukraine, the prevalence of so many Leopard 2 tanks in the European continent makes it easier for the Ukrainian military to receive excess or refurbished tanks of that type. As of March 2023, Kyiv has received or is set to receive more than 90 Leopard 2 main battle tanks of all types.
However, to make a difference on a vast battlefield and protracted war such as the one in Ukraine, Kyiv will need many more Leopard 2s.
Feature Image: A Leopard 2 main battle tank. (Creative Commons)
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on March 24, 2023. It has been edited for republication.
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