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The Leopard Plan: Era Of Tanks Nearly Over – OpEd

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Following is my response to The Leopard Plan: How European Tanks Can Help Ukraine Take Back Its Territory, which argues Ukraine needs to move to a new phase of the war if it is to reclaim its territory occupied by Russia. A Western plan to supply German Leopard tanks to Ukraine.

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Ukraine-Russia War have proved that the tank heydays are coming to an end and for both the countries the conflict has proved a waterloo for their armoured vehicles! Unmanned systems, drones top-attack weapons, UAVs, man-portable ATGMs  like Javelin and European Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapons (NLAW have taken the Russians by shock and have posed  major challenges to the military tank’s survival.

So do main battle tanks have a future? The ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine is any indication it has exposed Tank’s vulnerabilities. However, leading producers continue to  assemble high quality modern tanks with the belief that weaknesses can be overcome. The US, NATO allies continue with new generation expensive with 70 tons or more ,Germany’s Leopard 2 series, American M1A2 SEP, French Nr.8 Leclerc, and Israeli Merkava Mk.4 are making news in the global arms markets. The Russian tank ‘Armata’ is to gradually replace the aging T-series including T-90 one of the sturdiest tanks in the world which have suffered heavily in Ukraine.

According to an estimate  Russia has lost more than 2,000 tanks in Ukraine so far and details of Ukraine losses are not available. Though the numbers appear to be exaggerated.

Ukrainians have shown mastery of Western-supplied weapon systems. Yet, with dwindling stocks of armoured vehicles, Ukraine’s army has been unable to wage manoeuvre warfare. So far Western governments have refused to supply Ukraine with Western-designed tanks and infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). Ukraine once was self-reliant in the arms industry but now is heavily dependent on support from the West.Western weapons have helped to prevent Ukraine’s defeat and to raise the cost of war to Russia especially with the recent two successful counter offensives by the Ukrainian Forces.

US, NATO, UK War Room a Reality

While the Ukrainian gains have taken the world by surprise, the Western war room planning for the counter-offensive began in summer. According to The New York Times. Backed by intelligence inputs from the US and the UK, it was decided to mount two offensives instead of a single, large counter-attack, The NYT said. The report said that a detailed list of weapons — including the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) and satellite-guided GMLRS rockets was sent to the US in order to ensure the plan’s success. This just shows the deep involvement of the US-NATO and that the Western War Room is Operational to fight their Proxy war.

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President Biden and other allies having seen the Ukrainian Forces  successes are keen to expand the scope of their support to raise the cost of the invasion on Putin and not let him get away with conquering a country with a ‘Special Military Operation’.So now is the time for the US-NATO War Room to be operational to take the next step to convince Germany, to enable Ukraine to regain territories occupied by Russia through the ‘Leopard Plan’.

The Leopard Plan

In March, Zelensky had asked for  88 Leopard  tanks and 100 Marder-type IFVs from German industry. The Leopard 2 tank was first introduced in 1979 and upgraded several times. It is in use in 13 European armies.The 2A4 and 2A5 variants account for more than half of these Leopards. So far, Washington has led the international effort to arm the Ukrainian resistance, and Europe has followed. But if they are serious about taking on equal responsibilities in the  partnership,  the Americans want to make the next move. Instead, they should act together, and in close coordination and act fast with their allies. The US would welcome such decisive action obviously at their behest.Ukraine needs to move to the next phase of the war having got a shot in their arm of success s to reclaim its territories occupied by Russia. This is a Western plan to supply German Leopard tanks to Ukraine to further put Russia on the back-foot of continued withdrawal .

Unmanned Aerial Systems Impact

In the past decade the growing employment of unmanned aerial systems on the battlefield has been on the increase. Be they Predators, Reapers, Switchblades or Turkish TB2s. All existing armored vehicles are vulnerable to top-down attacks. This type of attack can also be delivered by drones. Other uses that have shown great utility include intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; Geo-locating targets; communications relays; and jamming and many more are to come.Armed drones are now armed with Precision Guided Munitions (PGM).The recent destruction of Russians tanks can be attributed to the extensive military employment of drones. 

Success of Anti-Tank Weapons

The shoulder mounted ‘Javelin’  in particular has become a symbol of Ukrainian resistance’. Known as a “fire and forget” weapon, the Javelin uses an infrared guidance system to travel toward a target, allowing the gunner to fire and then immediately take cover. The missile system can destroy tanks and other armored vehicles. The shoulder-fired Stinger missiles target low-flying aircraft.

NLAW can also use a top-attack mode in which it  discharges a shaped charge over the target vehicle enabling targeting of vehicles  concealed behind cover. A ‘cold launch’ system allows the weapon to be used safely from interior spaces without injuring personnel with the rocket’s back blast.A major advantage in fighting in built up areas.

The US has also shipped hundred  ‘Switchblade’ Kamikaze Suicidal drones, which are designed to be sent crashing into enemy targets before exploding.The Pentagon is also giving Ukraine ‘Ghost Drones’  similar in capabilities to the Switchblade.

In the Ukraine war, Drone warfare combined with anti tank missiles and rocket launchers used intelligently  in an aggressive manner proved to be the Waterloo for the Russian mech forces. It is therefore imperative that Armed Forces need to update its war-fighting doctrines to meet this new challenge  and be fully capable to counter  the joint threat of the combination of integrated Unmanned systems of UAVs and Anti Tank weapons posing  threat to the military tank’s survival. Future tank battles may only take place in the deserts!

Will Germany Bite The Leopard Plan

In view of all the foregoing will Germany be keen to supply Leopard  tanks to Ukraine which are likely to meet the same fate as the Russian tanks.However, German industry may financially gain but in the long run Germany is dependent on the Russian oil and with the approaching winters Germany may delay this ‘Leopard plan’ to post winters by then the Russian-Ukraine conflict may hopefully come to an end. US will try to convince Germany to commence The Leopard Plan and supply the Leopard  tanks to Ukraine early to chase the Russian tanks. But Germany will have to weigh its own Energy Economic  Interests intelligently in the long run.

President Putin said to Prime Minister Modi on the sidelines of the SCO meet on 16 September in Samarkand; “I know about your position on the conflict in Ukraine, and  about your concerns. We want all of this to end as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the opposing side  leadership of Ukraine, announced its abandonment of the negotiation process, and declared that it wants to achieve its goals by Military means ‘On the battlefield’.”

Patial RC

Patial RC is a retired Infantry officer of the Indian Army and possesses unique experience of serving in active CI Ops across the country and in Sri Lanka. Patial RC is a regular writer on military and travel matters in military professional journals. The veteran is a keen mountaineer and a trekker.

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