KLIETZ, Germany – With their old diesel engines roaring, Cold War-era tanks rocked across the verdant German countryside as the Ukrainian commander radioed his unit to fire.
The gunners’ task was to aim and fire the 105mm cannon at emerging green targets 1,500 meters away.
“Fifteen out of 17 is a very good result,” said Lt. Col. Marco Maulbecker, who oversees tank training, referring to the number of targets hit by crews on the first try.
“Now we have to work to achieve those goals faster.”
The exercise – a coordinated attack – was the culmination of a six-week course for Ukrainians on how to use one of the latest additions to their country’s war arsenal: the Leopard 1A5, decommissioned German-made tanks that Germany and its allies in the NATO they promised Ukraine this year after weeks of doubts.
At the time, Germany was criticized for its hesitance to send German-made tanks to Ukraine.
The reluctance reflected Germany’s ambivalence about assuming a military leadership role in Europe after the Second World War, but also the burdens borne by a chronically undermanned German army.
After the United States and other allies said they would also send tanks, Germany agreed to send up to 18 modern Leopard 2A6s to Ukraine.
But in the end, the bulk of its commitment – more than 100 additional tanks – was an obsolete model, the Leopard 1A5, whose first 10 tanks arrived in Ukraine last month.
In fact, the Leopard 1A5 is so old that German instructors had to rely on soldiers from the Dutch and Danish armies – where the model was used for the longest – because old german tankers that were formed in the 1980s and 1990s.
The last time the German army trained recruits in this system was in 2000.
Some of the instructors were civilians in their 50s and 60s who took time off from their jobs to help.
“They were very important in getting us going from the beginning,” said Maulbecker, who normally commands a modern tank battalion.
Despite its age, some German experts and officers say the Leopard 1A5 may be a useful replacement.
Its modern descendant, the Leopard 2A6, is much more expensive and even the small number donated to the Ukraine had to be taken directly from the ranks of the German army, where tanks are badly needed.
And just because the Leopard 1A5 is old doesn’t mean it can’t be effective, once the retired tanks are refurbished.
It is comparable and superior to Soviet tanks T-72which is also used by the Ukrainian forces.
According to Brigadier General Andreas Marlow, who supervises the German training program for Ukrainians, it has the cacity to night vision, a weon stabilization system and can drive backwardswhich cannot be said for all the older tanks that see action in Ukraine.
When used in the right context and on the right terrain, the tank can be very effective in combat, said Marlow, who was trained on tanks as a young soldier.
Despite being several generations behind the modern tanks Ukraine had requested, the Leopard 1A5 has other advantages:
It’s easier to master, maintain and repair and, Marlow said, “quantity also plays a role.”
Given its slow planning and limited funding, the German military really had no choice when it came to donating a significant number of tanks, said Christian Mölling, a military expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations.
“Those Leopard 1 tanks They’re not really a bad option.“, he claimed.
Many of the tanks had lain idle in depots across Europe until the German government gave proval this year for them to be donated to Ukraine.
They were purchased by arms manufacturers, who are reconditioning them at the expense of Germany and its allies.
Large spray-painted numbers identify the tanks, whose years of wear and decades of storage are evident by their scratches and dents.
The barrel insulation of one of the tanks shown on a recent visit to the training area was secured with ropes.
The Leopard 1A5 was an update of older Leopard tank models, some of which were built as early as the 1960s, designed by a consortium that included Porsche.
They were converted in the late 1980s and early 1990s, just as the German army was shrinking after the end of the war. Cold War.
The recent training, held at a former East German army base in Klietz, just 30 miles from what was the NATO border during the Cold War, is a key part of the European Union’s military aid to Ukraine.
Germany, which is second largest military aid donor direct to Ukraine, has trained 6,300 of the 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers it plans to train this year.
The courses include infantry, shooting, artillery and handling of the main weons systems that Germany has provided.
The German commitment is part of an EU program that aims to train 30,000 Ukrainian soldiers by the end of next year.
In today’s session, the Ukrainian tank commander only identified himself by his call sign, Bassist, in accordance with Ukrainian military protocols.
He said he wasn’t surprised to see older men among his instructors.
“In the end, if someone is a professional, it doesn’t matter how old they are,” he said.
The refurbished tanks on which he and his colleagues trained – a single cohort consists of about 50 soldiers and their commanders – were brought to Klietz by the Danes, who also co-financed the donation of the Leopard 1A5s.
Another 132 tanks, including specialized Leopard 1A5s used for rescue and training, will be sent to Ukraine next year.
“Ukraine can’t give us more than six weeks of training for understandable reasons, and we try to make the most of it,” Marlow said.
That means Ukrainian tank crews train six days a week, but they hardly seem to care.
“It’s a safe and quiet place,” Bassist said after getting out of the tank.
“Just what you need when you’re learning.”
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