Spain planning to send four to six Leopard tanks to Ukraine

Ukrainian crews are to receive an accelerated training course using simulators and real combat vehicles at a military facility in Zaragoza

Soldiers standing on a Leopard tank in Adazi (Latvia) in May 2022.

Spain is planning to send between four and six Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine, according to government sources. The final figure will depend on the condition of the 53 tanks that have been stored for a decade at the Logistics Support Group Number 41 in Zaragoza, and whose urgent reconditioning is being negotiated by the Ministry of Defense and the military industry. Spain’s final contribution will also depend on what other countries offer Kyiv. So far, Germany has announced the delivery of 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks “as a first step,” while Canada has pledged four.

Speed will be the predominant factor, since the informal coalition providing Kyiv with the German tanks has set as a goal for the Ukrainian Army to have two battalions ready for action by the spring.

The estimated time for the overhaul of the Spanish Leopard 2 tanks (which could exceed half a million euros per unit, according to experts) will coincide with the two and a half months of the training course that the Spanish Army has designed for Ukrainian crews. This is an extraordinarily short period, but it is considered sufficient if the crews are already specialized in battle tanks, even if they are different models, and if the most is made of practice time through the intensive use of training simulators and software such as the Steel Beast, a kind of video game adapted for different combat vehicles.

The training was requested by the Ukrainian Defense Minister and will be carried out at the San Gregorio National Training Center (CNAD), on the outskirts of Zaragoza in northern Spain. This facility has dynamic Leopard simulators to recreate the movements of the armored vehicle in full motion, and four turret simulators developed by the Spanish IT and defense systems firm Indra that can provide simultaneous training for a complete tank section crew. In addition, there are several Leopard 2A4s on site just like those that will be supplied to Ukraine, and these will be used in real exercises in the adjacent 30,000-hectare training field.

The plan is to begin training sessions as soon as possible for at least 10 crews (made up of a driver, shooter, loader and tank leader), as well as mechanical and maintenance personnel. So far, Spain’s Defense Ministry has been training Ukrainian military personnel at the Toledo Infantry Academy, where 64 recruits received basic instruction for five weeks before Christmas; more than 200 Ukrainian soldiers have received training in January of this year.

In addition to the tanks, the Defense Ministry may supply Kyiv with spare parts, a fundamental element to maintain the logistics chain. But the delivery of ammunition (120mm projectiles for its main weapon) poses more difficulties, since Spain does not manufacture them and it would be necessary to resort to the Army’s existing stock.

Last Thursday, a first meeting was held (via video link) by the coalition of countries willing to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine. Convened by the new German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius, it was attended by his counterparts from Canada, Portugal, Spain, the Netherlands and Finland. Surprisingly, Poland was not present at the meeting, even though this is the country that had pushed the hardest to supply the Leopards to Kyiv and had even threatened to deliver 14 tanks without permission from Germany, which must authorize any exports.

Experts are already warning that the first Leopards to show up on the battlefield will become a priority target for Russia, not only for military purposes but also for propaganda reasons. That is why they recommend that the German-made battle tanks not disembark alone, but do so in the company of other battle tanks promised by NATO partners: the 14 British Challenger 2s, the 31 American Abrams and the Leclercs that are expected to be delivered by France, even if this country is still showing some reluctance to do so.

The variety of battle tanks is sure to create a headache for the Ukrainian Army, which will have to manage different supply chains for the Challenger, the Abrams, the Leclerc if it finally arrives and the two Leopard models (the A6, which will be delivered by Germany and the A4, which will be supplied by Poland and Spain), in addition to the T-64, T-72 and T-80 Soviet tanks with which it was already equipped.

To prevent the destruction of its new Western tanks, Ukraine will need to ensure that Russia does not achieve air superiority on the battlefield by multiplying its arsenal of low- and medium-level anti-aircraft weapons. The United States has promised to reinforce Ukraine’s defenses by sending a battery of Patriots specialized in anti-missile defense.

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