Anand confirms tank donation to Ukraine
Defence Minister Anita Anand has announced that four of the Canadian Army’s main battle tanks will be sent to Ukraine to help push back an expected Russian spring offensive. The challenge now is delivering them.
Weeks, even months, of speculation ended today when Defence Minister Anita Anand confirmed that four of the Canadian Army’s 82 “combat ready” main battle tanks will be sent to Ukraine “in the coming weeks” to support an expected spring counter-offensive against a renewed push in Russia’s brutal invasion. The support will also include spare parts for the Leopard 2A4s, and ammunition. Training by Canadian Army personnel will take place in an unspecified “third country.”
Ottawa hasn’t been alone in its hesitancy because, like other NATO allies who purchased the Leopards several decades ago, it has been bound by the legal need for German re-export permits, a normal requirement in government-to-government arms sales. That hurdle was effectively eliminated January 25 when the German government, under growing pressure from its allies and after a debate in parliament, agreed to send an initial 14 of its own tanks.
Canada purchased 100 Leopard 2s from The Netherlands in 2007 and subsequently upgraded the armour, weapons and other elements of nearly half of those. The Army was in the process of transitioning from Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) to lighter armoured vehicles before the war in Afghanistan forced a reboot. The Leopards proved their worth against the Taliban and has remained a key element of Army doctrine.
The Army actually has 112 Leopard 2s, including the 82 earmarked for combat. Twelve others have been reconfigured for recovering disabled heavy vehicles, about a dozen are used for training purposes and some are routinely removed from service for repair and maintenance. The bottom line is that about half the fleet is operational at any given time.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has been pleading for western armour since April 2022, only a couple of months into Russian President Vladimir Putin’s euphemistically-labelled “special military operation.” Ukraine’s pleas topped the agenda of a NATO summit in Germany last week, where Anand told her Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksii Reznikov, that Canada would “continue to provide Ukraine with the military aid that it needs to fight and win.”
In her January 26 follow-up, Minister Anand said the Leopard 2s are “proof of our enduring commitment” to Ukraine’s freedom and democracy. That commitment over the past year has totalled more than $5 billion in direct financial, military, humanitarian, and other assistance. The military assistance includes more than $1 billion in an array of military assistance such as armoured personnel transport, a surface-to-Air missile system, anti-tank weapons, small arms, M777 Howitzers and associated ammunition and surveillance drones as well as training in Europe.
Shipping tanks from Germany and the dozen other European and Scandinavian countries which have bought Leopards is a comparatively straightforward logistical challenge. Not so much when it involves transatlantic delivery by Canada and the U.S., which announced January 25 that it would send 31 M1 Abrams MBTs, a proposal complicated further by the fact that, unlike diesel-powered tanks, is turbine-powered, requiring more intensive training and familiarization which could add months to the U.S. schedule. The U.S. has admitted it will take months to deliver these tanks.
While sending tanks by ship is an option, a Department of National Defence spokesperson has confirmed to FrontLine that the Royal Canadian Air Force is the “likely” option even though its largest transports, the five Boeing CC-177 Globemaster III in its fleet, can handle only one Leopard 2 at a time.
A Leopard 2 tips the scales at some 62.5 tonnes, is three metres to the top of its turret, 3.75m wide, and has a hull length of 7.72m. A Globemaster’s cargo bay is 26.83m long, 5.48m wide and 3.76m high so two could fit volumetrically. But the aircraft’s maximum payload capacity is 77.5 tonnes – a number that clearly speaks for itself.