Each Leopard is worth its weight in gold for a Ukrainian offensive

Leopard 2 tank

The counteroffensive of the Ukrainian Armed Forces continues, as noted by Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov, who believes that the Ukrainian army has a good chance of making a breakthrough at the front this summer.

Military equipment and weapons provided by partner countries play a vital role in the success of the counteroffensive. 

After months of negotiations, the German government announced in late January that it would provide Kyiv with state-of-the-art combat vehicles. Berlin had promised 14 vehicles, but Ukraine has increased this to 18 to supplement the number of battalions. At the same time, Portugal has provided three tanks and Sweden ten. Poland is supplying Ukraine with a battalion of the older Leopard 2 A4 type.

As of March 27, it is known that Ukraine has received all 18 Leopard 2 tanks from Berlin.

Suppose we count the Leopard 2 tanks that various countries have already agreed to supply Ukraine with. In that case, we can confidently count two tank battalions according to the Armed Forces of Ukraine standard and are even approaching a brigade. So, let’s try to count all the Leopard 2s that various countries have already agreed to supply Ukraine with:

  • 21 Leopard 2A6s (18 from Germany and 3 from Portugal);
  • 10 Leopard 2A5 tanks (more precisely, Stridsvagn 122 tanks from Sweden);
  • 40 Leopard 2A4 tanks (14 from Poland, 10 from Spain, 8 from Canada, and 8 from Norway).

Thus, in total, Ukraine already have 71 Leopard 2 tanks or more than two full-fledged tank battalions of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. In addition, it is worth mentioning that Poland, in addition to the 14 tanks that have already arrived in Ukraine, has agreed to supply 16 more such vehicles in the long term, bringing the number of Leopard 2 tanks in Ukraine to 87 units – the Ukrainian Armed Forces tank brigade is short of six vehicles.

As for the Leopard 1 tanks (six to seven battalions, as Reznikov said, or 186 to 217 vehicles), we currently have the following information: the German government has previously approved the supply of 187 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, which is enough for six battalions or two tank brigades.

The Leopard 2, considered one of the world’s best main battle tanks, is larger than the T-72 and features superior optical capabilities (including at night). It can hit targets from a distance of 8,000 meters, while the T-72 only has a range of 3,000 to 5,000 metres.

At the beginning of 2023, Ukrainian soldiers were trained to use the complex weapons system of the tank’s A6 variant at a Bundeswehr site in Munster, Lower Saxony. According to the Guardian “The Ukrainian soldiers did not only prove themselves to be incredibly motivated, but also able to handle the technology and deployment principles”, a Bundeswehr commander, Björn Schulz, told Der Spiegel.

Here is how Ukrainian artist Andriy Ermolenko depicts the usage of Leopards by Ukrainian Armed Forces in the battlefield.

Leopard tank capabilities

The Leopard 2 is a German-manufactured main battle tank with a range of about 500km (311 miles). It first came into service in 1979 and had a top speed of 68km/h (42mph). The Leopard 2 is equipped with a Rheinmetall Rh-120 120 mm smoothbore main gun. It is equipped with the world’s most advanced fire control system, including a ballistic computer, laser range finder, and thermal night vision, comparable to the American M1 Abrams. 

This allows the tank to engage targets day or night with high first-strike accuracy and even hit enemy targets moving through enemy smoke screens. According to Rheinmetall, the bullet fired by the Rh-120 is supersonic after leaving the barrel, travelling at 5,692 feet per second (a 30-06 rifle bullet travels only 3,000 feet per second).

The Rh-120 maintains high accuracy when firing even on the move, thanks to a two-axis stabilisation system that compensates for the tank’s movement and the Rh-120’s barrel position. Older tanks had to stop to fire accurately at enemy targets, and this action slowed the momentum of the attacking force altogether. 

However, the Leopard 2’s stabilisation system allows the main gun to engage targets without changing direction, even when moving over rough terrain. This means that the Leopard 2 is highly accurate when firing on the move and can carry a glass of beer without spilling it. 

Upgrades to the Leopard from Type A5 onwards added armour bolted to the turret surface to protect the tank against frontal attacks. The thickness and composition of this armour are unknown. Still, it is believed to have been necessary to protect the tank from modern anti-tank shells used by the leading Russian tanks.

In addition to its use by the German Army, the Leopard 2 is widely deployed in Europe, with more than a dozen countries using this tank. It has been deployed in Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Syria (Turkey), where several vehicles were lost to anti-tank missiles.

Leopard vs t90

Aleksandr Kovalenko, a military and political observer of the Information Resistance group, noted on the air of FREEDOM TV channel that the Western concept of weapon production is that the enemy must be destroyed before he even notices you.

Deputy Minister of Defense of Ukraine Lieutenant General Alexander Pavlyuk explained the difference between the German Leopard 2 and the Soviet tanks. In particular, the Russian samples are unlikely to withstand a direct hit.

The Leopard 2A6 is a German main battle tank (MBT) that has been continuously upgraded since its introduction in the late 1970s. The Russian T-90M, also known as the Proryv (breakthrough), is a modernised version of the T-90, the first Russian MBT to enter service in the 1990s. Several factors can be considered when comparing the capabilities of the Leopard 2A6 and the T-90M.

The Leopard 2A6 is armed with a 120 mm L/55 smoothbore gun, which offers improved accuracy and penetration compared to its predecessor, the Leopard 2A5; the T-90M is armed with an improved 125 mm 2A82-1M smoothbore gun, which can also fire anti-tank guided missiles. The T-90M is armed with an enhanced 125 mm 2A82-1M smoothbore gun, which can also fire anti-tank-guided missiles. Both tanks are equipped with an advanced fire control system that is highly effective against enemy armour.

The Leopard 2A6 is powered by a 1,500 hp MTU diesel engine with a top speed of about 68 km/h and a range of about 500 km. In comparison, the T-90M is powered by a 1,130 hp V-92S2F diesel engine with a top speed of 60 km/h and a range of about 550 km. The Leopard 2A6 has a slightly higher top speed, but the T-90M has a slightly longer operational range.

The Leopard 2A6 has a maximum reversing speed of 31 km/h, which is relatively fast for a main battle tank. This speed allows the Leopard 2A6 to move quickly away from dangerous situations or to position itself for a better angle of fire.

Compared to the T-90 M’s reverse speed of approximately 21 km/h, the Leopard 2A6 has an advantage in mobility during combat scenarios. The higher reverse speed can provide a tactical advantage by enabling the Leopard 2A6 to evade enemy fire faster than the T-90M, change positions, and retreat from unfavourable situations.

The Leopard 2A6 is equipped with advanced composite armour, further enhanced by the addition of modular armour to the turret. At the same time, the T-90M is fitted with Relikt explosive reactive armour, which provides increased protection against the latest anti-tank projectiles. 

Both tanks can be equipped with active protection systems (APS) to intercept incoming anti-tank missiles, such as the Rafael Trophy system on the Leopard 2A6 and the Afghanit system on the T-90M.

Both the Leopard 2A6 and T-90M are equipped with state-of-the-art digital communication and data-sharing systems that can be integrated with other units on the battlefield to improve situational awareness and coordination.

As a result, the Leopard 2A6 and T-90M have advanced firepower, mobility, protection, and networking capabilities. While the Leopard 2A6 is superior in terms of firepower and mobility, the T-90M will be a formidable opponent thanks to its improved armour and protection systems. The outcome of a clash between these two tanks will depend on several factors, including crew training, tactics, and the specific combat situation.

The Leopard 2A6 has a faster turret movement speed than the T-90M, allowing it to intercept and engage targets more quickly. This can be an essential factor in fast-paced combat situations.

The Leopard 2A6 is generally considered to have better crew comfort and ergonomics than the T-90M. Better crew comfort can contribute to greater efficiency and endurance in prolonged combat operations.

It is important to note that these weaknesses do not mean that the T-90M is an inferior tank to the Leopard 2A6. The outcome of a conflict between the two tanks will depend on several factors, including crew training, tactics, and specific combat scenarios. In addition, the T-90M has unique advantages, such as superior protection and a low hull profile, which can be decisive in certain situations.

Leopard tank vs Russian T72

Military expert Oleg Zhdanov on his YouTube channel compared Leopards and t72s, which is consistent with his claims: the projectile of the Leopard 2 is much more powerful than the t72, even though the Leopard has a smaller caliber. Western manufacturers use higher-quality explosives. The steel of the shell walls is of higher quality. 

A Western-made shell has thinner walls and more explosives, while a Soviet or post-Soviet-made shell has thicker walls. According to Zhdanov, T-72 tanks use carbon steel, which is brittle enough to break into more fragments, but at the same time, there is less explosive, the gunpowder used when firing a tank. Leopard has better gunpowder – it is less natural and more synthetic, but it is better. 

Accordingly, the range of the Leopard 2 is longer. And this is the primary indicator for a tank,” the expert explained. In addition, Oleh Zhdanov reminded us that German tanks have much better barrel stabilisation than Soviet T-72s.

The Leopard 2 is considered better than the T-72 in several key areas. The Leopard 2 is equipped with a 120mm smoothbore gun, known for its accuracy, range, and effectiveness against armoured targets. 

It can fire a wide range of ammunition, including advanced APFSDS (Armor-Piercing Fin-Stabilised Discarding Sabot) rounds and HEAT (High-Explosive Anti-Tank) shells. This gives the Leopard 2 a significant advantage in terms of firepower over the T-72, which typically features a 125mm smoothbore gun. 

The Leopard 2 is renowned for its exceptional armour protection. It incorporates advanced composite and modular armour, which provides a high level of resistance against kinetic and chemical energy projectiles. The Leopard 2 can also be equipped with reactive armour and an anti-missile system, further enhancing its survivability on the battlefield. While the T-72 has decent armour, it generally falls short of the Leopard 2’s level of protection.

The Leopard 2 offers superior mobility compared to the T-72. It is powered by a powerful engine, allowing it to achieve high speeds and exhibit excellent manoeuvrability. The Leopard 2’s suspension system is designed for off-road performance, enabling it to navigate challenging terrains easily. While the T-72 is also known for its mobility, it may not match the Leopard 2’s overall capabilities in this regard.

The Leopard 2 benefits from being a more modern and technologically advanced tank. It incorporates advanced systems and features, such as advanced fire control systems, advanced sensors, and improved communications capabilities. Additionally, the Leopard 2 has undergone continuous upgrades and improvements over the years, keeping it at the forefront of tank technology. The T-72, on the other hand, may have variations and export versions that need these advancements.

The Leopard 2 has a proven operational record, having been used by several NATO countries in various conflicts and military exercises. Its performance in combat has been highly regarded, showcasing its effectiveness and reliability. This operational experience reinforces the reputation of the Leopard 2 as a top-performing main battle tank.

It’s important to note that individual variations and configurations of the Leopard 2 and T-72 can impact their relative performance. Additionally, the effectiveness of a tank relies on various factors, including crew training, tactics, and support systems. Nonetheless, the Leopard 2’s superior firepower, enhanced protection, mobility, technology, and operational track record make it a generally more capable tank than the T-72.

Leopard vs Abrams

“The Leopard and the American Abrams are twins,” says Sydney Friedberg, co-editor of the digital magazine Breaking Defence, in his interview with Al Jazeera. And this is not surprising, as both were different branches of the same MBT-70 project when the United States and Germany tried to create a single tank.

The main difference between the Abrams and the Leopard is the engine. While the Leopard 2 is powered by the MTU MB 873 diesel-engined MTU MB 873, which is much easier to maintain and is widely used in Europe, the Abrams uses a more robust and complex turbine engine.

According to Freedberg, Abrams tanks are much less commonly used in Europe, and Ukraine may need help to cope with the logistics infrastructure, including access to spare parts, storage, and general maintenance. In addition, the four-seater tanks require additional training on complex machinery.

The firepower of the vehicles is identical, and the fire control system, due to the newer Abrams upgrade packages, can be considered better. Still, it is not a fact that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will receive the latest versions of the M1A1. The armour level of the American vehicle may be better than the Leopard 2A4. In theory, this can be levelled by installing protection elements from the Leopard 2A5.

Engines of the same power provide mobility. Still, the Abrams gas turbine engine has a higher fuel consumption and is more challenging to maintain and repair. At the same time, fuel consumption is not catastrophically higher; if we take conditional paper figures, Leopard 2 consumes 3.4 litres per kilometre on the road and 5.3 litres off-road—Abrams – 4.3 litres per kilometre on the road and 8 litres per kilometre off-road.

But despite all the characteristics and availability of transfer vehicles, the main factor in choosing a tank for the Armed Forces may be the maintenance issue. In Europe, there is only one Abrams operator, apart from the US Army itself – Poland, which only recently received its first vehicles for training and has contracted 116 M1A1 Abrams FEPs and 250 M1A2 SEP v3s and 250 M1A2 SEP v3s with a total price tag of a staggering $8.5 billion.

Did Russians destroy Leopards in Ukraine?

 Russian media have spread propaganda about the destruction of Western weapons and equipment. Accordingly, refutations were distributed. One of the most striking examples is the dissemination by the Russian media of an edited photo, which they took from the Lebanese army’s Twitter account, of a soldier allegedly destroying a leopard with a hand grenade launcher. Also, back in February, when the Ukrainian authorities claimed that there were no leopards, Russian troops were destroying them.

It’s also worth mentioning the June 8 publication about the destroyed Ukrainian convoy, which has been covered by many news agencies, but needs to be simplified. The footage appears to have been recorded by a Russian drone positioned overhead during the bombardment. The crew of this drone seems to oversee directing the attack and assessing the resulting damage.

The released footage shows a convoy of Leopard 2 and other Ukrainian armoured vehicles driving along dirt roads on the outskirts of occupied Novopokrovka and neighbouring Mara Tokmatika, falling victim to devastating Russian artillery fire.

The Oryx, a Dutch Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) defence analysis site, also confirms the destruction of the German Leopard 2 tank by Russian forces.

Ukrainians thanks for Leopards

Ukrainians are incredibly grateful for the assistance provided by partner countries, as it is thanks to them that the Ukrainian military can effectively repel the enemy. A striking example is the flash mob that took place on June 13 during a Germany-Ukraine football match. 

Fans hung a banner in the stands with a picture of a leopard carrying a small child. The Ukrainians thanked Germany for providing the Leopard tanks and asked for more help.

The campaign was run under the slogan ‘Tanke Schön’, emphasising the T instead of the D in the German words’ thank you’ and ‘danke’. Ukrainian fans wore T-shirts with the event logo and gave the Germans wristbands and badges with Ukrainian symbols.

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