Leopard 2

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Leopard 2A6
Leopard 2A6.jpg
Type Main Battle Tank
Origin West Germany
Entered production 1979
Length 7.7 m
Width 3.7 m
Height 3.0 m
Weight 62.3 tonnes
Crew 4
Armor Composite of steel, tungsten, plastics and ceramics
Primary amament 120 mm Rheinmetall L55 smoothbore gun.
Secondary armament 2 x 7.62mm MG3
Ammunition types 42 rounds
4,750 x 7.62mm rounds
Suspension Torsion bar
Max. road speed 72 km/h
Operational range 550 km
Engine MTU Friedrichshafen MB 873 Ka-501 12-cylinder diesel
Power output 1,500 hp/1,103 kW
Power/weight 24.2 hp/tonne

The Leopard 2 is the main battle tank of the German Bundeswehr. The Leopard 2 is capable of firing a depleted uranium shell.

The Leopard 2 main battle tank had a reputation as one of the finest in the world, competing for that distinction with proven designs such as the American M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2. However, that reputation for near invincibility faced setbacks with the Turkish Army in engagements with the Islamic State on Syrian battlefields in 2016.[1] The Turkish military suffered a terrible defeat although they were equipped with the Leopard 2.

NATO war in Syria

See also: NATO war in Syria

Battle of al-Bab

According to various sources, Turkey had procured 354 Leopard 2A4 tanks from NATO ally Germany in the early 2000s. The acquisition had given Turkey a significant capability over its Patton M-60 tanks that constitute a bulk of the Turkey's armored brigades. Turkish Leopards’ crews were trained according to the highest NATO standards, but the machines were not adjusted to quickly changing battlefield conditions.

In December 2016, the Turkish General Staff decided to transfer to the Syrian front several Turkish Armed Forces battalions equipped with the Leopard 2A4 tanks. Meanwhile, Turkish situation in Operation Euphrates Shield was so bad that when the Turkish Army's armored units got to the transfer point in southern Turkey, they immediately had to join the operation in neighboring Syria.

In the middle of December 2016, the CIA-front Free Syrian Army (FSA) groups, supported by Turkish Armed Forces detachments and the Turkish Air Force, launched yet another offensive on al-Bab, a city heavily fortified by ISIS militants. Ankara was anxious to seize the agglomeration before it was reached by the Syrian Armed Forces or Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) units. The fighting peaked between December 12–17, 2016, and December 16 proved to be particularly ill-fated. On that day, during another attack undertaken by the Turkish forces and the FSA on al-Bab's western suburb, about 30 Leopard 2A4s and 10 to 12 M60Ts Sabra (which is Turkish modification of the tank done by the Israelis) were used. The potential was quite big, but the machines were sent to fight without proper cover of their own infantry, apart from several hundred FSA Syrians, mainly in Turkish armored combat vehicles (ACV-15 and Otokar Cobra), and several dozen TSK Special Forces soldiers. The weather was also not a friend of the Turks, below zero temperatures, cloudy skies, fog, and occasional snowfalls made it difficult for the air force and artillery to operate. On top of that, the attackers constantly had to struggle with mobile ISIS task forces equipped with heavy machine guns, RPGs and ATGM launchers. As a result, Caliphate’s militants not only successfully slowed down the Turkish Army’s attack, but also thwarted its command’s original plan. It was forced to divide the units into many smaller groups and attack the Islamists’ separate resistance points. The Turks led themselves straight into the interrelated and complementary system of traps and ambushes prepared by ISIS.

The consequences of the several-hour chaotic battle conducted in such conditions proved fatal for the Turkish Army's elite armored forces. The Turkish Ministry of Defense, in addition to underestimating the threat, also has forgotten the design history of the indestructible Leopard 2, specifically designed to counter Soviet armored forces in the plains of northern Germany.

For the records, Leopard 2 was not designed for combat in an urban environment. The project is not spoiled but was determined by the awareness and the need for greater maneuverability in the field. To achieve an optimal combination, the designers made the armor on the sides and on the back of the vehicle lighter than other western tanks.

Underestimating the enemy, Ankara sent their own Leopard 2 without an explosive reactive shell and an active protection system such as the Defensive Aids System Shtora-1 of the Russian T-90 present in Syria. The militants of the Islamic State seem to have seized this vulnerability to attack the Leopard, focusing the fire on the hips. The narrow streets of al-Bab effectively eliminated the initial tactical advantage of 60-ton tanks. The inevitable casualties on the ground forced the Turkish army to abandon the siege on the city.

Finally, forgetting one of the fundamental principles underlying the reference doctrine for modern mobile armored forces. The main heavy vehicle must never be conceived as an isolated weapon system, but inserted into a diversified mobile force. The fate of the Turkish tanks, without any protection on the flanks by the infantry, was already marked a few minutes after the start of the main offensive on al-Bab.

The only known fact about this defeat is that ten eliminated Leopards and several other Turkish vehicles remained on the battlefield after the defeat. At least five of those machines were completely burnt and destroyed, with ripped-off turrets or hulls torn apart by anti-tank ammunition.

Two least damaged Leopards were taken off the battlefield by the Islamists as a military trophy.

NATO war in Ukraine

See also: NATO war in Ukraine

The taxpaying public were told for years that Western tanks, particularly the Leopard 2A6 variants, were the most advanced things in the world and would easily destroy Russian tanks in a head-to-head duel due to their superior optics, fire control systems (FCS), barrel accuracies, ammunition range and ballistics, gun stabilization, etc. The Leopards were all knocked, one-by-one, shortly after appearing on the battlefield. One Russian 2-man tank crew took out five Leopards in succession in a little more than 2 minutes.

The New York Times reported a Ukrainian brigade commander saying, “Its sensitive electronics go haywire when exposed to moisture or dirt…The soldiers have to put on special booties or slippers when they go inside to avoid tracking in mud, and each vehicle comes with its own vacuum cleaner…If you fire off two full loads of ammunition, you need to spend a day servicing it."[2]

Billed as the next great thing to help Ukraine win the war, the Leopard 2 proved to be a failure. The Russians destroyed them fairly easily using a variety of weapons ranging from artillery, to rockets launched by helicopters, to drones such as the Lancet.[3]

Militaries that use the Leopard 2

Leopard 2 is in service with:

  • Austria
  • Chile
  • Canada
  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Greece
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Singapore
  • Spain
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Turkey