United Kingdom will probably be the first nation to supply Western-produced main battle tanks to Ukraine. British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak pledged 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a telephone conversation. Zelenskyy thanked him afterwards on Twitter: “ Always strong support of the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges. In a conversation with the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak I thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.“ This last sentence is certainly also meant as a hint towards Germany, as Ukraine had repeatedly asked for delivery of German Leopards.
Also last week, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda announced that his country will also deliver Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine. This would fit in well with current restructuring of the Polish armed forces. After all, Poland recently signed contracts for the purchase of South Korean battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, that will be produced in Poland in the future. So this might be a very welcomed opportunity to sell the existing Leopard main battle tanks to Ukraine.
Now, of course, the focus is also on Germany. Will German government follow? A problem is, that German Leopards could only be taken from Bundeswehr, therefore reducing military capacities. German industry would not be able to deliver in time. The head of Rheinmetall, Armin Papperger, said in an interview with Bild: „We still have 22 Leopard 2 vehicles that we could make operational and deliver to Ukraine. We still have about 88 Leopard 1 vehicles. But we can’t repair these tanks without a contract because the costs are several hundred million euros. Rheinmetall cannot pre-finance that.“ And when asked how long it would take to repair the existing Leopard, Papperger replied, „Just under a year. The vehicles are not only repainted, they have to be rebuilt for battle. They are completely taken apart and then rebuilt. This means that even if the decision is made tomorrow that we can send our Leopard tanks to Kiev, delivery will take until the beginning of next year.“ That leaves only Bundeswehr stocks, because war in Ukraine doesn’t wait for German industry.
Dorothee Frank, Head of editorial team