Armor: The Leopards Went Over The Mountain

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October 19, 2010: Canadian use of Leopard 2 tanks in Afghanistan convinced the brass that these Cold War era vehicles are valuable weapons for irregular warfare. Immune to most enemy weapons and possessing enormous firepower, the heavy tanks were very useful. In light of this experience with the Leopard 2s in Afghanistan, Canada has bought 100 Leopard 2A6s from the Netherlands and another 20 2A4s from Germany. The last twenty were modified for operations in Afghanistan (better protection against mines and roadside bombs).

It was three years ago that Canada bought the hundred second hand Leopard 2 tanks from the Netherlands, to provide their troops in Afghanistan with some additional combat power. First, they leased 20 German Leopard 2s and sent them to Afghanistan to replace the older Leopard 1s. Initially, crews for the Leopard 2s trained on the elderly Leopard 1s in Canada, before going Afghanistan. There, they have to quickly familiarize themselves with the slightly different Leopard 2s. But now there are sufficient Leopard 2s in Canada for training.

It was four years ago that Canada sent 17 of its Leopard 1 tanks to Afghanistan, to give Canadian troops there some extra firepower against the Taliban. But during the Spring and Summer, the lack of air conditioning became a major problem for the crews. The age of the tanks was a factor as well, so Canada has made arrangements with Germany, the manufacturer of the Leopard, to lease twenty of the most modern version of the tank, the Leopard 2A6M (which had enough room inside to install air conditioning).

Canada is the last nation using the Leopard 1. The A6M has considerably better protection against mines, roadside bombs and RPG rockets. The 62 ton Leopard 2 has a 120mm main gun and two 7.62mm machine-guns. The 43 ton Leopard 1 has a 105mm gun, and is actually a little slower (65 kilometers an hour) than the Leopard 2. Both tanks have a four man crew. Germany has been selling off many of its Leopard 2s, and offered Canada 80 of them at a bargain price (to be negotiated, but brand new, they cost $6 million each). The Netherlands offered a better deal, and got the sale. Canada is paying $5 million per tank, which includes upgrades and spare parts.

Some Canadian legislators have been inclined to do without tanks, but Canadian military experts pointed out that these combat vehicles can be useful in peacekeeping operations. Not only are they impervious to most weapons, but they scare the hell out of the enemy. The Leopard 2, introduced in the 1980s, is somewhat scarier than the 1960s era Leopard 1.

The Leopards are organized into four tank squadrons, with 20 tanks each. Another forty of the Leopard 2s will be used for training, and the remaining 20 will be converted to eight engineer combat vehicles (which can also be used as recovery vehicles), while the remaining 12 will be retained for spare parts.

 

 


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