German tanks for war?: How Germany could help Ukraine

Under Russian fire, Ukrainians are demanding more heavy weapons for defense.

German tanks for war?: How Germany could help Ukraine

Under Russian fire, Ukrainians are demanding more heavy weapons for defense. The Europeans, especially Germany, hesitate. France is pushing forward with the delivery of a wheeled tank, the USA are considering infantry fighting vehicles. What could Germany contribute?

The political line has actually been clarified for a long time: According to the decision of the Bundestag in April 2022, Germany wants to work for "comprehensive support for Ukraine" in the Russian war of aggression. This expressly includes the so-called "heavy weapons", such as artillery pieces and tanks.

But the federal government has been remarkably reluctant to use weapon systems that could enable Ukraine to mount effective counterattacks: "No German solo efforts," Chancellor Olaf Scholz explained the refusal to release powerful offensive equipment. Transport, armored personnel carriers and real battle tanks are not yet available from Berlin. Against this background, the most recent announcement from Paris seems like breaking a taboo: France is providing the Ukraine with light wheeled battle tanks of the "AMX-10" type. US President Joe Biden also indicated the release of modern "Bradley" armored personnel carriers for Ukraine.

There are comparable weapon systems in the stocks of the German armaments industry: The Marder infantry fighting vehicle, for example, which can travel up to 65 kilometers per hour, has been in use with the German army since 1971 and should actually be replaced by its successor "Puma" from 2020. "Marder" infantry fighting vehicles are stockpiled by the manufacturer Rheinmetall. So far, the only thing missing for export is the necessary approval from the Federal Chancellery.

Depending on the version and equipment, the "Marder" tracked vehicle weighs between 35 and 45 tons. The crew of three usually consists of a driver, commander and gunner. Up to six fully equipped armored infantrymen can be accommodated in the rear of the 600 hp infantry fighting vehicle.

The armored personnel carriers are designed for mobile combat by day and night. In an emergency, "Marder" can follow advancing main battle tanks, deploy their own troops and provide fire support - or enable fighting units to retreat quickly and safely. With a full tank, a "Marder" can travel up to 520 kilometers, off-road the maximum range is 260 kilometers.

Manufacturer Rheinmetall speaks of a "field-tested" and "specially designed for easy handling and maximum reliability" infantry fighting vehicle. According to earlier reports, 100 decommissioned "martens" are parked in the factory halls. After some repair work, part of it could be handed over to Ukraine within a few weeks. So far, only the necessary export license from the federal government is missing.

Mainly battle tanks are on the list of needs of the Ukrainians. Here, too, Germany could quickly provide more help. The situation with the "Leopard 1" model, for example, is similar to that of the "Marder" infantry fighting vehicle: the industry has discarded remainders for which no export customers have yet been found. The tanks would be available immediately.

Manufacturer Rheinmetall offered the federal government exports in larger quantities just a few weeks after the start of the Russian attack. The approximately 40-ton "Leopard 1" is the former main battle tank of the Bundeswehr. It may be technologically outdated, but thanks to its massive construction it could still prove useful in combat against Russian-made tanks, some of which are of a similar age.

Like the "Marder", the core of the Leo 1 dates back to the 1960s. It was the first main battle tank built in the young Federal Republic after the Second World War. The predecessor of the modern "Leopard 2" is equipped with a 105 millimeter caliber gun and can thus fight armored targets at a distance of almost two kilometers.

However, one problem could lie in the procurement of ammunition. The Bundeswehr gave up its last old Leos around 20 years ago. A total of 4700 examples of this tank were built. Some of these tanks are still in active service in the 13 customer countries around the world. Projectiles, trainers and spare parts could still be found through international contacts.

A much stronger signal, however, would be the handover of Leopard 2 battle tanks to the Ukraine: the 1,500-hp, almost 65-tonne machines and speeds of up to 70 kilometers per hour are among the most modern and powerful tanks in the world. With the fully stabilized 120 millimeter caliber on-board cannon, Leopard 2 can shoot and destroy enemy tanks at full speed if necessary.

"The Leopard 2 combines firepower, armor protection and mobility," says the Bundeswehr. The combination of high-performance optics, laser rangefinder, thermal imaging device and fire control computer enables the three-person Leo crew to attack from a safe distance: the effective combat distance is up to five kilometers, depending on the type of projectile used. So far more than 3500 copies have been built. Leos are not only used by the Bundeswehr, but also by European partners, including in Poland.

So far, German military aid to Ukraine has been limited primarily to air defense systems and various special vehicles. From the category of heavy weapons, only the anti-aircraft vehicle "Gepard" and the Panzerhaubitze 2000 as well as armored recovery vehicles of the "Buffel" type, individual armored bridge-laying vehicles "Biber", rocket launchers "Mars 2" and the anti-aircraft system "IRIS-T" have come from German stocks.

Counter-offensives would not be possible for the Ukrainians with this equipment alone. The defenders are therefore asking their western allies for battle tanks and armored personnel carriers to repel the attacks on Bachmut or to make new breakthroughs in the frozen front lines. From the point of view of the Ukrainian military, all vehicles that increase the combat effectiveness of the Ukrainian armed forces would be helpful. Germany has a lot of material to offer here: The federal government could also release the "Fuchs" armored transport vehicle, the "Wiesel" compact weapon carrier or the "Fennek" type reconnaissance vehicle.