(Augustdorf) Germany presented on Wednesday the Leopard tanks it will soon send to Kyiv, a “bitter loss” for the under-equipped Bundeswehr, according to the Minister of Defense, but an essential gift for “the Ukrainians to win the war “.
A week after agreeing to deliver these long-awaited armored vehicles by the Ukrainians, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius visited the Bundeswehr battalion which donated its 14 Leopards, stationed in Augustdorf, in the northwest from the country.
For the approximately 550 soldiers of Battalion 203, it is “a bitter loss”, admitted Mr. Pistorius.
“Their heart is of course bleeding at the idea that these tanks must now be returned, but they understand it because that’s how it is, Ukraine needs all our support,” he said.
Dressed in a military jumpsuit, the minister let himself be emotional: “Two hearts are beating in my chest”, he said, ensuring that he was thinking both of the needs of the German army and those of Ukraine.
The goal is for “Ukraine to win this war” against Russia, he insisted.
Time is running out: Berlin wants to deliver its Leopards “at the end of March, beginning of April” as part of an alliance of allied countries ready to provide “between 120 and 140” tanks, according to Kyiv, to repel the Russian army which has recently stepped up his offense.
The logistical challenge of getting the tanks to Ukraine is a closely guarded secret.
“Like an iPhone”
But the Ukrainians must first learn how to operate these machines manufactured by German industry, which are among the most modern in the world.
Training will be provided to them in Germany in the next few days, confirmed the minister. In the form of a crash course.
“They won’t have full-fledged training as we know it from our soldiers – but it can’t be otherwise,” Mr Pistorius said.
He himself embarked inside one of these sixty-tonne steel monsters which chained the back and forth in the mud and the cannon fire, under the eye of the cameras.
The preparation of the Ukrainian soldiers will take place in Munster (north), the only training center for the driving of armored vehicles of the Bundeswehr, where the Germans are already teaching Ukrainians how to use the “Marder”, lighter armored vehicles intended for transport of troops.
According to a source close to the German army, the Ukrainians should have a training of about six weeks.
It’s much less than normal. For the four soldiers in the crew of the Leopard, “it is usually planned six weeks for the pilot, three months for the one who fires the shells and the one who loads them and three years for the commander”, explained to AFP the Captain Martin Waltemathe, one of the spokesmen for the Augustdorf Armor Brigade.
“Driving is quite simple”, assures the officer about this tank which would be, according to another source, “intuitive like an iPhone”.
As for the repair and maintenance of vehicles, it is more “problematic”, recognizes Mr. Waltemathe: it usually takes six years of training to master it.
The Minister of Defense promised the soldiers that he would try to quickly replace the tanks promised to Ukraine. The Bundeswehr has a total of 320 Leopard 2s, the modern version of this tank, in service since the late 1970s.
Getting new gear “takes time,” Pistorius acknowledged. The goal is to “order new tanks, not in a year, but quickly, so that production can begin”.
Upgrading the equipment of the Bundeswehr is at the top of the priorities of the new minister who took office at the end of January.
Breaking with German strategic doctrine after the Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Olaf Scholz claims to want Germany to have “the best equipped armed force in Europe”. But several decades of underinvestment in defense have made this task daunting.