Berlin Poland has applied to the federal government to be allowed to deliver Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine – and has put Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) under pressure. Poland’s Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak appealed: “It’s about the security of all of Europe.”
The federal government now wants to make a quick decision on the application. Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) said: “I expect that a decision will be made shortly.” SPD parliamentary group leader Rolf Mützenich demanded that the Federal Security Council decide. Ultimately, however, the decision rests with the chancellor.
For days, pressure has been growing on Germany to allow other countries to transfer Leopard tanks to Ukraine and to deliver some themselves. This is now getting worse because, according to media reports, the USA could apparently hand over battle tanks to Ukraine. For Scholz, this was previously a condition for supplying battle tanks itself.
It is unclear how many Leopard tanks will be available in the short term. Poland seems ready to deliver 14 tanks. Defense politicians and military officials emphasized Tuesday at the Handelsblatt conference “Security and Defense” that Germany must also consider the Bundeswehr’s ability to defend the country and the alliance.
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Army inspectors Alfons Mais dampened expectations that the Bundeswehr would hand over battle tanks. This would hurt the troops. At some point there comes a point where we can no longer carry out our orders.”
Mais warned that selling Leopard tanks to Ukraine would also affect the Bundeswehr’s overall operational capability. The Bundeswehr still has around 320 Leopard tanks in stock. If some of these were to be delivered to Ukraine, the country would also have to be provided with spare parts and ammunition, which in turn would then be lacking for the operation of the vehicles remaining with the troops. “The pain of levy is high, the chronic pain then comes down the timeline.”
Alternatively, there is an option to export Leopard 2 from industrial stocks. “We have 29 Leopard 2 almost ready. We could hand them over to Ukraine in March or April,” said Rheinmetall boss Armin Papperger on the sidelines of the Handelsblatt conference. The same applies here: “The decision lies with the Federal Chancellor,” said Papperger. But apparently not only.
How many tanks are available
Because Rheinmetall refurbished the used tanks on behalf of the federal government, they are intended for export to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. The Leopard 2 could be diverted to the Ukraine, and deliveries to the two countries actually planned would then be made up for later. However, the Czech Republic already declared on Tuesday that they did not want to do without the promised Leopards. “It is not possible to send the Leopards any further now, because we need these tanks for our security,” said Czech Prime Minister Petr Fiala.
>> Read here: Why Scholz hesitates on the tank question
It therefore remained unclear how many leopards would be available for the Ukraine at short notice, apart from the 14 Polish ones. Rheinmetall boss Papperger announced that he wanted to work on more battle tanks. He has started talks with user countries to take over possible stocks. That’s not easy: the Bundeswehr alone uses the vehicle in five different variants. The inventory, commissioned by Defense Minister Pistorius, also aims to locate leopards in uniform versions.
Around 1,000 Leopard 2 A4s have been delivered worldwide. From the point of view of experts, this model could become a standard for deliveries to the Ukraine, as it is readily available and a uniform system would therefore be available. This would simplify operation by Ukrainian troops, but also maintenance and the supply of spare parts.
Don’t narrow it down to the tank question
At the conference, Tobias Lindner, Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office, warned against narrowing the debate on an appropriate response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to main battle tanks. It is also about strengthening one’s own defense capacity. “We have to set up the Bundeswehr in such a way that it can defend the alliance,” said the Greens politician.
>> Read here: From air defense to training – these factors will decide the outcome of the Ukraine war
In order to equip the Bundeswehr for this task, the federal government has set up a special fund of 100 billion euros. Chancellor Scholz announced this in his speech at the turn of the century immediately after the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine.
So far, it is certain that the money will be used to order the F-35 combat aircraft and the Chinook heavy transport helicopter in the USA. However, participants in the Handelsblatt conference complained that orders for the promised better equipment for the Bundeswehr were progressing slowly.
Berlin wants to quickly decide on Poland’s Leopard application
Thomas Gottschild, managing director of armaments manufacturer MBDA Germany, recalled that the federal government had been able to build LNG terminals on the coasts in record time. This “Germany pace” must now also be demonstrated in the defense sector. Rheinmetall boss Papperger also complained that things are progressing too slowly: “We really have to start the turning point in 2023.”
Above all, the German armaments industry, which is heavily characterized by medium-sized companies, misses planning security and clear announcements as to what is needed by when, so that the Bundeswehr can fulfill its task of defending the country and the alliance.
Which gaps the Bundeswehr has to close
Actually, she would have expected her employees at the Bundeswehr Procurement Office to break down the door after the turn of the century, said Susanne Wiegand, Managing Director of the Renk Group, which among other things builds gearboxes for the Leopard 2. But that is not the case. Shortly after the start of the Ukraine war, Renk took the risk and invested a large two-digit million amount in a new assembly line. “Anyone who orders a Leopard gearbox from us today will have it delivered to them in a few weeks,” said Wiegand. But it also has to be ordered.
The gaps that the Bundeswehr must close quickly are clear. Command and digitalization are at the top of the list of priorities, said Army Inspector Mais. The armed forces are still waiting for digital radio. “Without the ability to lead, we don’t need to talk about anything.” There are also major deficits in air defense and artillery.
He is concerned that the ammunition issue is not included in the 100 billion euro special fund. For ten years it has been said that the war of the future will be “hybrid, cyber and surgical”. But in Ukraine there are artillery battles like in the First World War.
Inspector General of the German Armed Forces Eberhard Zorn emphasized that when it comes to equipping Germany and NATO appropriately, one shouldn’t make the same mistakes as in the past. Above all, the number of weapon systems deployed in Europe and NATO must be reduced. However, more uniformity also fails due to national interests and the interests of the respective defense technology industries.
Many armaments projects are far too complicated
Inspector General Zorn also pointed out that the military would also have to limit themselves and not always demand the “gold edge solution”, which is prepared for all eventualities: “When I see how many variants we are demanding, then there are too many.”
It became clear at the security conference that the industry is dependent on less rigid export restrictions if it is to develop weapon systems costing billions and in some cases also make financial advance payments. The reliability of being able to export products and thus being able to finance developments is missing, said Renk boss Wiegand.
“What we are doing at the moment is absolutely harmful and not justifiable,” she emphasized, referring to the current practice.
“We know that exports are important in order to continue to fulfill our alliance obligations,” said State Secretary for Economic Affairs Sven Giegold (Greens). The aim is to come to joint export decisions for jointly produced armaments. The federal government is working on the arms control law agreed in the coalition agreement. The traffic light is based on the maxim that armaments should not get into the hands of states that systematically violate human rights. Giegold emphasized that more than 90 percent of last year’s armaments exports with a volume of 8.4 billion euros went to NATO countries, their equivalent countries and the Ukraine.
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