Main battle tank
Leopard 1 – to Ukraine for the last stand
Leopard 1 of the Bundeswehr during the Cold War.
April 21, 2022, 9:00 p.m
3 min reading time
Konrad Adenauer was still Chancellor when the first Leopard 1 was built. Nevertheless, Kyiv wants the oldie. Despite significant weaknesses, the tank can still be used successfully – if the right tactics are chosen.
The Leopard 1 was the first German in-house development of a main battle tank after the Second World War. It's long since been thrown away and now Kyiv wants the tank from the 1960s – only the federal government is still hesitant. During development, the mistake of making armor heavier was avoided. The Leopard 1 was designed primarily for mobility, then for firepower and last for armor. The first production models were made in 1963. At that time, Konrad Adenauer was Chancellor of the Federal Republic – the Leopard was used in the Bundeswehr until 2003. Today it is still in service in larger numbers in Turkey and Greece. During its 40 years of service, the tank underwent several revisions. There were six assemblies and four major upgrades. A total of 4700 pieces were built.
Initially, the main gun, the British 105mm L7A3, was the best gun available. Today it is hopelessly outdated. The Leopard 1 cannot penetrate the frontal armor of the T-tanks deployed in Ukraine. Also, these tanks are armed with 125mm guns. For them, the Leopard 1 would not be a match in open combat. In the 1960s the Leopard 1 was very well motorized, today it still almost reaches the level of the T-tank. The gyroscopic weapon stabilization system and the retrofitted fire control system are comparatively modern.
Today it is based on a laser range finder. The computer takes into account weather, movement and type of ammunition. All the gunner needs to do is aim the target – the Leopard 1 can quickly lock on, fire and retreat while on the move. What remains is the insufficient armor, especially on the lower hull. In the event of a mission, reactive armor could be retrofitted, but the basic problem would remain.
Purpose must be agreed
Turn it around: the Leopard 1 is not a modern tank. In the case of a delivery to the Ukraine, it cannot be modernized in such a timely manner. But that doesn't mean Kyiv couldn't use the Leopard 1. The deployment tactics must be adapted to his abilities. The Leopard 1 cannot be used as a dueling tank in a battle against a T-tank. The same applies to the role as a main battle tank in a moving battle. It would be too unprotected and underarmed for battles between two groups of tanks. But the Leopard 1 could still fill many other tasks today. It should not be forgotten here that the infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers deployed in Ukraine are usually far less well protected and armed. The Leopard 1 could accompany infantrymen and support them with its firepower. It can be used in defense and in ambushes. The Leopard tanks could protect less vulnerable areas, freeing up other main battle tanks there.
In Ukraine, it is currently being experienced that even modern tanks cannot effectively defend themselves against modern anti-tank missiles, combat drones and the combination of artillery and observation drones. Here the new tanks are just as defenseless as the old Leopard.
Relying on what is already available
You also have to look at the situation in Ukraine. The rule here is: an old tank is better than no tank at all. Many objections that are otherwise correct do not apply in the emergency situation in Ukraine. In peacetime, it would make no sense to equip your armed forces with a hodgepodge of all sorts of weapons in small numbers. In the long run, this will lead to a logistical nightmare for ammunition and spare parts – only Kyiv has no choice.
Even if the West provides money for purchases, Ukraine cannot order heavy weapons that have to be built from scratch due to time constraints. Even with the Leopard, it would take six to eight weeks before the first specimens were ready for use and the crews trained. The Leopard 1 will not be Kiev's dream tank. But it is there, 150 copies could come from Germany. And that wouldn't be the end. As soon as the Federal Republic gives a go, Kyiv can influence Greece and Turkey to give up their old Leopard 1 and cede it to Kyiv. These tanks could also be made fit in Germany. And that would be great potential. Greece is said to still have about 400 Leopard 1s in service, Turkey 500.