Status: 20.11.2023, 13:25 PM
By: Marius Gogolla
The Leopard 1 tanks in Ukraine are rolling towards the front. But they have a weak point: without additional protective elements, the tanks are vulnerable to attacks.
Kyiv – It's rainy, somewhere on a muddy road in Ukraine. From a car, the driver films a passing Leopard 1A5 tank. But there is something that stands out about the tank – it rolls towards the front without any additional protective elements.
Leopard 1A5 main battle tank. © imago stock&people
The video was published on the blogging service X on Sunday – and raises questions. This is because the armor of the Leopard 1 consists of steel that is just 70 millimeters thick at its thickest point. Without additional protective elements such as an armor cage or reactive armor, the tank can be easily destroyed with appropriate weapons.
Ukraine receives nearly 200 Leopard 1A5 tanks for war against Russia
By last week, Monday, Germany had delivered 30 Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, with 80 to follow. Denmark and the Netherlands want to extradite 85 more, so Ukraine will receive a total of 195 Leopard 1 tanks. However, according to the US business magazine Forbes, many of the tanks are said to be in poor condition.
In order to make them operational, the Leopard tanks, which are more than 40 years old, are being refurbished. The German arms companies Rheinmetall and Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) are in the process of retrofitting and modernizing Leopard 1 tanks. However, compared to the other tanks used in the Ukraine war, the protection of the Leopard 1 is low, which is why they must be equipped with additional protective elements.
Leopard 1 tanks are faster than other tanks in the Ukraine war
One advantage of the Leopard 1 tanks is their relatively low weight of 42.5 tons, which, according to the Bundeswehr, allows the Leopard 1 to drive off-road up to 65 km/h. This makes it faster than the other tanks used in the Ukraine war, which can reach a maximum speed of 45 km/h. The lower weight opens up the possibility of controlling the tank even through boggy terrain that is difficult to navigate with other tanks.
However, the advantages of the Leopard 1 have a decisive disadvantage: the low weight and high speed are achieved by the low wall thickness of the steel tank body. This makes the Leopard-1 vulnerable to attacks with anti-tank shells, drones and grenades. A single hit can lead to an inability to manoeuvre.
Ukraine has upgraded Leopard 2 tanks with additional protection
According to Forbes, the Leopard 1 therefore needs additional protective elements. The Ukrainian army has already equipped part of its contingent of Leopard 2 tanks with reactive armor. For this purpose, tiles filled with explosives are mounted on the tank, which explode when a projectile hits. This prevents the bullet from entering the tank.
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For use in the Ukraine war, the lightly armoured Leopard 1s must therefore be retrofitted – but this will take time. To install the additional equipment, technicians must first install brackets for the explosive tiles. Time that Ukraine often does not have in war.
According to Forbes, the Ukrainians have already lost 14 British Challenger tanks and 13 of the 71 Leopard 2 tanks delivered in the war. If the Leopard 1 tanks roll onto the battlefield without additional protection, the losses could be significantly higher. However, whether Ukraine has the capacity to install enough tanks with reactive tiles is questionable.
Mexas could be an alternative for armament of Leopard 1 tanks in Ukraine
If equipping the Leopard 1 tanks with reactive armor does not work fast enough or is not possible due to a lack of expertise, there is an alternative: The German company IBD Deisenroth Engineering, which has since been taken over by Rheinmetall, produces the Mexas additional defense set for tanks and military vehicles, reports Forbes. The additional protection provided by Mexas would at least double the armor of the Leopard 1, they say. (mag)