Leopard 2 may be one of the best battle tanks in the world. However, its ammunition is underpowered, meaning it has no real chance against Russian tanks.
The article originally appeared at Die Welt. Translated for RI by Kristina Aleshnikova
The Bundeswehr is currently unable to combat Russian battle tanks effectively. In spite of the fact that Germany has one of the best battle tanks in the world in the Leopard 2, they they lack sufficiently powerful ammunition for this weapons system.
The Bundeswehr's ammunition is made of tungsten and does not produce enough kinetic energy to pierce the technologically-challenging armor of the newest Russian combat vehicles: the T90 and the modernized T80.
Specific information regarding the weapons capability of the Leopard 2 against the most modern protection technologies is confidential, Die Welt am Sontag was informed by the defense ministry. However, “in individual cases the possibility cannot be excluded that there is modern armor that can withstand the current ammunition on board the Leopard 2.” There is a constant race between all the major armed nations to improve firepower as well as vehicle protection. Germany is also working nonstop on improving tank protection and the effectiveness of its ammunition.
Russia is also modernizing at great speed
Throughout the course of Bundeswehr reforms, the number of Leopard 2 tanks in the inventory of the armed forces was initially reduced to 225. In the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the resulting increase in the NATO alert level in Eastern Europe, Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) recently decided to buy 100 decommissioned tanks back from the industry for 22 million euro, increasing the military’s inventory to 325.
Without powerful ammunition this measure will be “militarily meaningless” and would resemble “administration of a placebo” writes Hans Rühle, former head of the Planning Staff in the Ministry of Defense, in Die Welt am Sonntag. It is militarily necessary to introduce uranium-core ammunition; however, this is considered politically sensitive.
According to Die Welt am Sonntag, starting in 2017 the Bundeswehr should be receiving a more advanced form of the current tungsten-based ammunition for their battle tanks. Apparently, this type of ammunition can only be fired from the most recent version of the Leopard 2, the class A7. The army only possesses 20 of these. Most of the tanks are classes A6 and A5. The 100 reactivated Leopard 2 tanks are even A4. The battle tank Leopard 2 has been produced since 1979, and has seen numerous improvements since that time.
The A8 model is expected to be the last improved version and should be available to the Bundeswehr in the 2020s. For the period beginning in 2030, an entirely new battle vehicle called the Main Ground Combat System is being considered for development in cooperation with France.
Russia, however, is also modernizing its tanks at top speed. Defense and weapons capabilities of the T90 - introduced in the 1990s - have already been improved multiple times. A new model called Armata is planned for introduction between 2017 and 2020.