The tanks are coming |  Leopards are the most suitable armored vehicles for Ukraine (but Germany needs to be convinced)          ​​​​​​

The tanks are coming | Leopards are the most suitable armored vehicles for Ukraine (but Germany needs to be convinced) ​​​​​​

There’s a new animal in town. After the Ukrainian requests to deploy the Gepard anti-aircraft system and the Marder (“Ferret”) troop carrier, the Leopard 2 tank has dominated the European strategy debate. The German government is under pressure from its European allies to give the go-ahead for the transfer of this model tank to Ukraine.

Berlin’s consent to the shipment of tanks made in Germany, including from third countries, is necessary due to the very restrictive German policy on arms exports. But the regulation, which is intended to prevent German arms from reaching war zones through intermediaries, is causing a major headache for the progressive governing coalition, from which Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht has just resigned.

The debate about the donation of heavy battle tanks to Kyjiv has crystallized on the well-known role-playing game. While many politicians and commentators are calling for Leopard 2s to be deployed to help defend Ukraine, the social-democratic left fears that returning the tanks to the Ukrainian plains would violate a Kremlin red line and escalate the conflict to NATO.

It is clear that the deployment of the tanks has become the cornerstone of the current debate on aid to Ukraine. The meaning of Leopard 2 was decided a priori by politics, where only what matters is collectively decided to matter.

The military pros and cons have given way to an artificial dispute that has more to do with the basic attitude of those who want to scale back the policy of aid to Ukraine (the Polish government has also admitted that it wants to put pressure on Berlin, especially to send Leopard 2 perceived as a reluctant supporter of Kyiv).

However, since military aid must first be subject to a military logic, albeit in the service of a clear political objective, it is worth examining the actual usefulness of this vehicle on the battlefield.

The near-perfect tank
Manufactured by the German Krauss-Maffei Wegman, the Leopard 2 is one of the best heavy tanks ever developed. It is a so-called “main battle tank”, ie a multi-role tank that is heavier than wheeled armored vehicles, but offers sufficient power to be used in various operational scenarios.

The “Leo”, as it is commonly called by the Bundeswehr, has a number of elements that make it the most suitable armored vehicle for Ukraine. In its A7V version (where “V” stands for modestly improved) it can reach a speed of 68 km/h, a range of 300 km and is armed with a 120 mm cannon.

But the tank, born precisely to beat Soviet-made tanks, has advantages not only from a technical point of view. If the prospect is indeed to make western support for Ukraine sustainable, Leopard 2 ticks all the boxes: it is used by many NATO and EU countries, grouped together in a consortium of operators (Leoben), which in the course years have optimized the distribution of spare parts, maintenance and upgrades.

This allows the armed forces of different states to use the Leopard 2 in large numbers (for example, the German Bundeswehr has 244, Poland has 250) without overwhelming the production capacities of industry. Precisely this coordination would help support the logistical lines needed to build a fleet of western armored vehicles in Ukraine from scratch and standardize the supply lines, spare parts and maintenance required to support the armored forces.

In addition, the wide range of operations of this model would allow a better distribution of the costs of aid packages, so that each country owning Leopard 2 could sacrifice a very small percentage of its tanks.

war of movement
Regardless of the decision NATO allies will make, maintaining adequate tank capacity is imperative if we are to allow Ukrainian forces to wage a maneuver war. After World War I, most regular armies adopted an operational-tactical approach that combined maneuver warfare with so-called combined-arms combat.

Simply put, this means using all available weapon types simultaneously to complement the strengths of each other available weapon system and compensate for the weaknesses in a complementary way (oversimplified, it’s a kind of paper scissors: a weapon system can be effective against a target, but not against another, and again be vulnerable to some but not all threats).

It is no coincidence that the deployment of infantry armored personnel carriers, such as the American Bradley and the German Marder, reignited the debate over the possible supply of main battle tanks. Beyond the psychological threshold of sending plenty of steel with a cannon and tracks for Western audiences, vehicles for infantry and armored troops are designed to operate symbiotically with each other.

Tanks require infantry to locate anti-tank positions and clear urban areas or inaccessible terrain; Infantry need a protected firing platform to protect them and support them when attacking open field positions. Both must be able to quickly exploit openings in the enemy front line and quickly reposition themselves in vulnerable areas.

This is especially important on a frontline thousands of kilometers long. Not surprisingly, Ukrainian mechanized infantry units (and their Russian counterparts) integrate armored and motorized battalions: a “typical” Russian or Ukrainian mechanized infantry brigade consists of one armored battalion (forty tanks), three infantry battalions with armored ones (four hundred to twelve hundred soldiers). ) and several battalions of mobile artillery, anti-aircraft troops and auxiliary units.

Italy must also make its contribution
A tank can do a lot of things moderately or badly, but for some types of missions it remains irreplaceable. On the Ukrainian battlefields, where an unprecedented amount of diversified weapon systems is currently deployed, it is all the more necessary to have a fairly wide range of tactical options given by the variety of weapons and vehicles.

The Leopard 2 therefore does not represent the silver bullet that the Ukrainians can use to overwhelm Russian positions, but rather a very important piece in a broader design that also includes training Ukrainian troops and improving their command and control systems.

Most importantly, the deployment of Leopard 2 should be accompanied by support for ground forces’ “auxiliary functions” that compensate for a tank’s intrinsic vulnerabilities. Here Italy can play an important role; To counter enemy air support, drones, and circling munitions, it would be imperative to send anti-aircraft systems, surveillance and reconnaissance, and eventually the release of Samp/T.