In a significant U-turn, the German government this weekend reported he would not try to prevent the Polish government from supplying German-made Leopard 2 tanks to the Ukrainian army.
The green light for a Leopard 2 transfer, given on French television by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, could free up other NATO countries to donate their own surplus Leopard 2s. There are hundreds of powerful tanks in storage across Europe.
But Poland could go it alone and still meet Ukraine’s demand for a whole brigade with at least 100 Leopard 2 tanks. Indeed, Poland is currently one of the world’s main buyers of new tanks.
With more than a thousand of the last American and South Korean tanks due to arrive in Poland over the next decade, the approximately 250 Leopard 2s in the Polish army’s inventory should soon be surplus. Poland could start giving them away right away and suffer, at worst, from a short-lived capacity deficit.
The Ukrainian military had wanted Leopard 2s for almost a year, but Ukraine’s foreign allies prioritized supplying the Ukrainians first with artillery and air defenses, then armored personnel carriers. troops and infantry fighting vehicles.
Germany holds the export license for the Leopard 2, and the country’s reluctance to supply Ukraine with explicitly offensive weapons has been an obstacle to a major NATO effort to re-equip the four tank brigades of the Ukrainian army and dozens of tank battalions.
UK and Poland challenged Germany’s recalcitrance earlier this month, when the two countries offered Ukraine a dozen each of their Challenger 2 and Leopard 2 tanks respectively.
The Challenger 2 is manufactured in the UK, so its export license is not an issue. But there are only about 400 Challenger 2s, and 150 of them belong to the depleted tank regiments of the British army.
If Ukraine were to start rearming its tank corps, realistically it would need Leopard 2s. Finland, Spain, Denmark and the Netherlands have also indicated their willingness to donate their Leopard 2 surplus to Ukraine. Many of the same countries would presumably offer ammunition, spare parts, and technical and training assistance to train and support a Ukrainian Leopard 2 brigade.
Thus, the Polish offer in January represented a turning point. The Leopard 2 with its 120 millimeter gun, thick armor and top speed of 45 miles per hour is one of the best and most balanced tanks in the world. A Ukrainian brigade equipped with Leopard 2s and NATO-style combat vehicles and artillery should be more than a match for even the best Russian tank brigade – and could spearhead a new Ukrainian counter-offensive. in 2023.
And now it is almost certain that in the coming months the Ukrainian army will be able to put together its Leopard 2 brigade. Same if all the other potential Leopard 2 donors outside of Poland end up hesitating.
Poland has already promised a dozen Leopard 2s to Ukraine and could easily promise another hundred or more. And the donations would hardly make a dent in the Polish army’s tank stocks.
Two years ago, the Polish Armored Corps, which provides tanks and crews to four tank brigades and six mechanized brigades, had about 250 Leopard 2s in several variants as well as about 230 locally made PT-91 tanks and some 320 ex-Soviet T-72s. The PT-91 itself is an upgraded T-72.
It’s 800 tanks. As Russia grew more aggressive in the years leading up to its broader invasion of Ukraine from last February, Poland launched one of the most intensive tank acquisition efforts in modern history. .
First he started updating his Leopard 2s. Then he dropped a staggering $4.7 billion on 250 of the latest US M-1A2 SEPv3 tanks, with large-scale deliveries beginning in early 2025.
Finally, at the end of last year, Polish officials went on a shopping spree in South Korea, where local industry is producing a tank called the K-2 which is widely considered the equal of the Leopard 2 and the M-1.
The Poles paid $5.8 billion for a thousand K-2s as well as some of South Korea’s high-end K-9 howitzers and FA-50 light fighter aircraft. The first 180 K-2s will come from South Korean factories; Polish factories will build the other 820 from 2026.
“We just took our suitcases with money and [are] go like hell around the world and try to buy,” General Rajmund Andrzejczak, Chief of Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, Told breaking defense. “We know that the strategic objective is [to] support Ukraine.
The huge tank purchases allowed the Polish Army to start donating their old tanks. The T-72s first went to Ukraine in the spring. PT-91s followed over the summer. The commitment of the Leopard 2 brought to about 275 the number of Polish tanks destined for Ukrainian service.
But with 1,250 of the world’s newest tanks on their way to Poland from the United States and South Korea – that’s 450 more tanks than Poland just two years ago –all of the oldest tanks in Poland are probably on the verge of being redundant. This represents around 240 Leopard 2s and around 280 PT-91s and T-72s.
The first M-1A2 and K-2 are already in Poland, helping Polish crews train on the new tanks. Hundreds more will arrive over the next few years, with a huge increased deliveries once the Polish K-2 assembly line is in place in 2026.
Over the next couple of years, Poland could start donating all of its old tanks – a hundred here, a hundred there – and only see a slight temporary drop in its overall armor inventory. Even without its old Leopard 2s and Soviet-style tanks, by the end of the decade the Polish Army will have one of the largest and best tank forces in Europe.
Suffice to say that Germany has not just authorized Poland to send a dozen Leopard 2s to Ukraine. He may have endorsed a Polish-led NATO effort that could ultimately send hundreds tanks to Ukraine.