RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — The German government will send Ukraine around 50 Gepard air-defense tanks to help that country repel Russian attacks, German and U.S. officials said at a conference here.

The vehicles, made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, are no longer in the inventory of the German armed forces, but the manufacturer has kept a number in its own stocks. The ease of use of the two-cannon flak setup, mounted on a Leopard tank chassis, has made the Gepard a favorite among military experts, especially as the Bundeswehr looks for no-frills defenses against drones.

“It’s exactly what Ukraine needs to defend its airspace,” German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told reporters here.

The announcement gives German leaders a needed break from a drumbeat of criticism that Berlin isn’t doing enough to help Ukraine, especially when it comes to heavy weapons.

Such arms will be needed by Ukraine in the weeks ahead, as Russian troops train their artillery on eastern Ukraine from various directions, according to U.S. officials. The fight will be increasingly about who can shoot farther and defend artillery positions against long-range attacks, they said.

U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin acknowledged Berlin’s contribution during a press statement at the close of the Ukraine donor conference, which brought together more than 40 nations. “I wanted to especially welcome a major decision by our German hosts,” he said of the Gepard, or Cheetah in English.

“And yesterday, of course, the British government announced that it will provide Ukraine with additional anti-aircraft capabilities,” Austin added. “And today, Canada announced that it will send Ukraine eight armored vehicles.”

According to Lambrecht, Germany will strive to “intensify” its strategy of replenishing the equipment of eastern European partners who have opted to send their Soviet-era gear to help Ukraine. Such decades-old equipment is easier for Ukrainian forces to operate without lengthy training, the thinking goes.

The Cheetahs’ capabilities, which include armor-piercing rounds, are in line with Germany’s strategy of sending only equipment to Ukraine that is defensive in nature. U.S. and NATO leaders have stressed that the Western alliance has no plan to get involved in the conflict directly.

Sebastian Sprenger contributed from Washington.

Vivienne Machi is a reporter based in Stuttgart, Germany, contributing to Defense News' European coverage. She previously reported for National Defense Magazine, Defense Daily, Via Satellite, Foreign Policy and the Dayton Daily News. She was named the Defence Media Awards' best young defense journalist in 2020.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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