WASHINGTON — German officials have approved an export license for industry-owned Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, enabling a coalition of donor countries to provide up to 178 of the weapons for Kyiv’s troops.
Berlin’s Feb. 7 announcement clearing the export of the tanks in the A5 configuration coincided with a joint statement by the governments of Germany, the Netherlands and Denmark to pay for the preparation of “at least” 100 Leopard 1 copies.
The tanks, predecessors of the more capable Leopard 2 tanks eyed for Kyiv in smaller numbers by April, are held in storage by German defense companies and are in various readiness conditions. German media reported that roughly 90 tanks each from Rheinmetall and FFG constitute the 180-strong tank inventory now available for Ukraine — if enough donors pay to fix them up.
The exact number of Leopard 1s will depend on the extent of the required refurbishment work, the German government said in a statement. A joint statement by the three donor countries projects Ukraine would receive about 100 of the tanks “within the coming months,” including ammunition, training and spare parts.
Rheinmetall CEO Armin Papperger said Feb. 7 his company plans to send the first 20-25 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine this year, with the rest potentially following in 2024, German press agency DPA reported.
“We reaffirm our continued determination to support Ukraine in their endeavor to withstand Russian aggression,” the joint statement read. “Together, in a joint initiative, we will significantly enhance Ukraine’s military potential for the restoration of their violated territorial integrity.”
The statement indicates some details need to be ironed out. “Our experts are currently working out the next steps together with the industry,” it read, adding that the Leopard 1 initiative is open to other countries, that and Belgium has expressed an interest.
It remains to be seen if the Western tanks will arrive in time for Ukrainians to push back against intensifying Russian attacks in the country’s east. Experts have predicted a spring offensive by Moscow, and early movements to that effect have already begun, the New York Times reported from the town of Nevske in the Luhansk area.
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.