THE NEW YORK TIMES With old diesel engines roaring, Cold Warera tanks rolled through the green rural landscape of Germany when a Ukrainian commander gave his unit the order to fire via radio. The gunners’ job was to aim and fire 105 mm caliber projectiles at green popup targets at a distance of up to 1,300 meters.
“Fifteen out of 17 points is a very good result,” said Bundeswehr Lt. Col. Marco Maulbecker, who leads the training of Ukrainian tank leaders, pointing to the number of targets the teams hit on their first attempt. “Now we have to work to achieve these goals more quickly.”
The exercise a coordinated attack was the conclusion of a sixweek course for the Ukrainian military on the use of one of the newest additions to their country’s war arsenal, thes Leopard 1A5 tanks, decommissioned main battle tanks that Germany and its NATO allies promised Kiev earlier this year after weeks of hesitation.
Ukrainian soldiers with a Leopard 1A5 tank at the German military base in Klietz, Germany Photo: Fabrizio Bensch/Portal
In the season, Germany has been criticized for its reluctance to send Germanmade tanks to Ukraine. The fluctuations reflected not only Germany’s ambivalence about assuming military leadership in Europe after World War II, but also the difficulties of the chronically underfunded German armed forces.
After the US and other allies pledged to also send tanks, Germany agreed to deliver up to 18 modern Leopard 2A6s to the Ukrainian battlefields.. But in the end, the bulk of their help more than 100 additional tanks came in the form of an outdated model, the Leopard 1A5, the first ten of which arrived in Ukraine last month.
And in fact, the Leopard 1A5s are so old that the Bundeswehr trainers had to call up soldiers from the Leopard 1A5s Netherlands and from Denmark the model was used there for the longest time and former German tank pilots were trained in the 1980s and 1990s. The last time the Bundeswehr trained recruits in this system was in 2000.
Some of the trainers recruited were civilians in their 50s and 60s who took time off from their jobs to help out. “They were very important in starting the process,” said Colonel Maulbecker, who normally commands a battalion of modern tanks.
Despite their age, experts and German authorities believe the Leopard 1A5s could be temporarily useful. Its modern descendant, the Leopard 2A6, is much more expensive, and even the small number donated to Ukraine had to come directly from the German army’s arsenals, where armor is essential.
And just because the Leopard 1A5 is old doesn’t mean it can no longer be effective after decommissioned stocks are restored. The model is comparable to, but superior to, the Soviet T72 tanks that the Ukrainian armed forces also use.
The Leopard 1A5s have night vision, a weapon stabilization system and a reverse gear, components not present on older main battle tanks currently in service in Ukraine, according to German Brigadier General Andreas Marlow, who leads the training Germany is giving the Ukrainians .
Ukrainian soldiers train in a Leopard 1A5 main battle tank in Klietz, Germany, this month. The spraypainted numbers on the tanks help with identification. Photo: Annegret Hilse/Portal
“A tank can be very effective in combat when used in the right context and on the right terrain,” said General Marlow, who trained in the Leopard 1A5 as a young man.
Although the Leopard 1A5s belonged to generations much older than the modern tanks required by Kiev, they had advantages: They were easy to fly, maintain and repair, General Marlow said. “Quantity also plays a role.”
Given the slow planning and underfunding, the Bundeswehr had no other option to donate a significant number of tanks, noted Christian Mölling, a military expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations. “These Leopard 1 tanks are actually a good option,” he said.
Many of the tanks sat in warehouses across Europe until the German government approved their donation to Ukraine earlier this year. The armored vehicles were purchased from weapons manufacturers who refurbished the vehicles at the expense of Germany and its allies.
Ukrainian soldiers have been trained to have the necessary expertise to maintain the Leopard 1A5 main battle tank. Photo: Clemens Bilan/EPA
Large numbers painted with spray paint identify the tanks, whose years of use and decades of storage are evident in the scratched and damaged armor. The insulation of the gun of one of the tanks, which the reporter showed during a recent visit to the training range, was secured with acrylic ties.
The Leopard 1A5 model was an update of older Leopard tanks, some built in the 1960s, whose design was created by a consortium that included Porsche. They were replaced in the late 1980s and early 1990s as the German army shrank following the end of the Cold War.
The most recent training was carried out at a former GDR army base in Klietz, just 48 kilometers from the border NATO It was a crucial part of United States military aid during the Cold War European Union to Ukraine.
Germany, the secondlargest direct donor of military aid to Ukraine, has trained 6,300 of the 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers it plans to train this year. The courses include infantry, precision shooting, artillery and the operation of various German weapon systems. The German commitment is part of an EU program that aims to train 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers by the end of next year.
A Ukrainian commander who took part in the current tank operations training cycle identifying himself only by his combat name Bassist and adhering to Kyiv’s military protocols said he was not surprised to encounter older instructors. “When someone is a professional, their age ultimately doesn’t matter,” he said.
The refurbished tanks in which he and his colleagues trained each class consists of about 50 soldiers and their commanders were brought to Klietz by the Danes, who also cofinanced the donation of the Leopard 1A5. Another 132 tanks, including special purpose Leopard 1A5 tanks used for rescue and training purposes, will be sent to Ukraine next year.
“Ukraine, for understandable reasons, cannot provide us with soldiers for training for more than six weeks, and we are doing our best with the time we have,” said General Marlow.
That means Ukraine’s tank squads train six days a week, but they don’t seem to care. “Here we are safe and everything is quiet,” said bassist as he climbed out of the tank, “that’s what people need when they learn.” / TRANSLATION BY GUILHERME RUSSO