WASHINGTON — Training is set to begin in Germany next week for Ukrainian soldiers on the Panzerhaubitze 2000 howitzer, after officials confirmed Friday that the Dutch and German governments approved sending 12 of the heavy weapons to the fight.
The decision comes after much hand-wringing in Berlin about the extent of Germany’s military support to Ukraine. Previously, the government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz was reluctant to provide heavy weapons, though key ministers from the governing coalition parties were reportedly more forward leaning than Scholz.
The provision of the self-propelled howitzers follows the expected logic of intensified fighting in the stretches of Ukraine’s east, described by Western analysts as a war of attrition by way of long-range fires.
Speaking at a news conference in Sliač, central Slovakia, German Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht called the number of howitzers to be sent “militarily sensible.” Seven will come from Germany’s arsenal, taken from the maintenance pool rather than active Bundeswehr units, she said. The Dutch will provide five of the 155mm weapons.
Heavy weapons have already flowed into Ukraine from other countries, as Russian forces are trying to push deeper into eastern and southern Ukraine. Citing open-source reporting, the Washington-based New Lines Institute for Strategy and Policy wrote May 3 that the Czech Republic and Poland had sent variants of the Soviet-era Grad multiple-launch rocket systems. In addition, howitzers were either promised or already delivered by the United States, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Poland and France, according to the think tank’s accounting.
Heavy weaponry supplied so far is a mix of Warsaw Pact material and newer, Western equipment. The latter, including the Panzerhaubitze 2000, hold the promise of longer ranges and higher rates of fire, potentially giving Ukrainian defenders an advantage in not only repelling Russian advances but gaining back Ukrainian territory.
Lambrecht and her counterparts from the Netherlands and Slovakia, Kajsa Ollongren and Jaroslav Naď, respectively, gathered in Sliač on Friday to discuss a joint effort to station Patriot air defense units there. The goal, they said, is protect NATO’s eastern front while the war rages in neighboring Ukraine.
Aided heavily by the Americans, the Dutch and German armed forces each sent a Patriot unit for an initial duration of six months.
The Patriot system can intercept missiles or aircraft at a range of up to roughly 45 miles, according to a German military website. In its current Slovakian deployment, the system’s powerful radar used for finding and tracking targets will be placed in a somewhat suboptimal position at a relatively low altitude to avoid interference with civilian infrastructure, Naď confirmed.
That is because the country is still in a state of peace, legally speaking, he explained. The sensor can be moved to higher ground if that changes, he said, adding that the current configuration would still offer adequate performance.
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.