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BERLIN — The German military has announced plans to bring 100 mothballed tanks back into service amid the ongoing conflict between Russia and the Ukraine.

Defense Ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said the military will buy back 100 used Leopard 2 tanks from the defense industry, which has kept them in storage, at a cost of €22 million (US $23.6 million).

"These will be repurchased from the industry. These are battle tanks in various states of armament, some of them old. They will be progressively modernized and improved," Flosdorff said. He did not say how much the modernization is expected to cost.

During the Cold War, the former West Germany bought 2,125 new Leopard 2s. As part of post-Cold War defense cuts, most of the tanks were sold back to the original manufacturers. Four years ago, the German Defense Ministry decided to cut its total from 350 to 225.

Now, Flosdorff said a decision has been made to raise that number to 328. Of that total, 320 will be made ready for battle; the other eight will be used for demonstrations.

Otfried Nassauer of the Berlin Information Center for Transatlantic Security described the decision as a "cautious step to increase capability" depending on what action is required of Germany. "However, it is a major development, and one that is still in flux, especially with respect to the standard to which the old tanks will be modernized."

Nassauer added that the decision is also an indication that Germany is being careful of the signals it is sending to Russia. "It is the most flexible option in terms of what the future holds. On a geostrategic level, it cannot be in Germany's interest to have a long-term conflict with Russia," he said.

At the end of February, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen announced plans to re-stock the Army's battle equipment, citing an "altered security environment" following Russia's annexation of Crimea and support for pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine. "We have to give new and honest answers to the questions of what we must be able to do, and what the Army needs or doesn't need," she said.

Von der Leyen also questioned ceilings set by her predecessor, Thomas de Maiziere, on heavy weapons systems, as well as a "flexible management policy" he introduced, under which units have had to share equipment such as helicopters and battle tanks. This led to the few remaining tanks in Germany being driven to locations all over the country for military exercises, resulting in increased wear and maintenance costs.

Von der Leyen indicated that she intended to make the most of the resources already available to her as she seeks to fill the gaps in the German Army's equipment. "As a first step, for example, we want to end the practice of giving away or scrapping good surplus material, for example, Leopard 2," she said.

There was speculation that cooperation with the Netherlands could see the integration of Leopard tanks discarded by the Dutch Army into a German tank battalion based in Bergen, Lower Saxony. That was before this month's announcement of the decision to repurchase 100 used Leopard 2 tanks from industry. The Leopard tanks are made by Munich-based Krauss-Maffei Wegmann.

Email: dcorbett@defensenews.com

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