Ukraine Trains On ‘Museum Tanks’ As European Tank Coalition Delivers First Batch Of Leopard-1 MBTs To Kyiv

Months after it was first pledged, the Danish army announced on September 8 that 10 of the 100 Leopard 1 tanks donated by Denmark, the Netherlands, and Germany had been delivered to Ukraine.

“10 Leopard 1 tanks are already in Ukraine, and more are on the way,” a Danish Armed Forces statement said. It was in April 2023 that the then-acting Danish Defense Minister Troels Lund Poulsen announced that this three-member European tank coalition would deliver the tanks to an embattled Ukraine.

Marking the tank delivery to Ukraine, the Danish Army further noted that the training on these tanks generally takes place in Germany, where German and Danish tank instructors work together to train crews and expedite the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, which is currently on a counteroffensive. However, there is a catch in this.

While it may not be a very tough task to pull out some tanks from cold storage so that they could be refurbished and sent to Ukraine, training the crew to operate these tanks was believed to be a hurdle. These tanks had been in cold storage for almost 19 years.

Although the tanks were pulled out for delivery to Kyiv, the consortium also needed vehicles to train the Ukrainian crew in time so these soldiers could return to their country and resume combat.

The consortium needed vehicles for the trainees to practice on after hiring instructors to train them. The stages of training, including gunnery, require combat-capable tanks, though the Germans have used their turretless training vehicles that formerly trained drivers of technical vehicles.

Denmark has used its military museum holdings to speed up the training of Ukrainian tankers, obtaining six Leopard 1 tanks from three museums that date back to the 1980s.

Again, the Leopard1A5’s advanced age was a challenge. Most of the tanks belonged to the German company Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft and had been stored in a warehouse for 20 years. They required very significant refurbishment. However, it was only so long that they could wait.

“It is clear that we do not have that much time because it is important that they [the tankers] come back to Ukraine and can help their comrades in the defense of Ukraine,” said Maj. Kim Fonseca, chief of staff of the Danish army’s armored battalion.

To bypass that, the Danish Army turned to museums instead of warehouses, Forbes reported. The few Leopard 1A5s on the museum exhibit were in better shape than the almost 100 being stored. Six operational tanks were loaned to the consortium by three museums “so that the training of the Ukrainians could begin immediately,” according to the Danish military.

The training is only six weeks long. The Danish, in contrast, train their tankers throughout a two-month program. It helps since many Ukrainians are seasoned combatants from Russia’s 19-month larger assault on Ukraine; they are familiar with tank combat.

According to Forbes, the duration of training on these tanks would essentially depend on two factors. The first is the duration of the war, and the second is the number of Leopard-1 tanks that Ukraine’s allies could recover from the warehouses of private companies or the only NATO country that still operates them, i.e., Greece.

The delivery of these tanks comes at an opportune time. In its June counteroffensive, Ukraine lost several of the more advanced Leopard-2 tanks it received from NATO countries, including Germany.

Leopard 2 tanks
Leopard 2 tanks

Leopard-1 Tanks For Ukraine

Despite being a 1960s design, the Leopard-1 has undergone significant modifications and is still largely combat-ready. The top-of-the-line Leopard-2 tank from Rheinmettal’s previous Leopard-1 lineage. It is a main battle tank that meets NATO standards and was primarily used between the 1970s and 1990s.

Although it has a smaller cannon and less powerful armor, the Leopard-1 is comparable to the Leopard-2 regarding fire control and gun accuracy. A Ukrainian crew driving an older Leopard should be able to shoot first, hit, and kill almost all new Russian armored vehicles at any range.

The only exception, according to military observers, would be a rare face-to-face encounter with a late-model Russian tank, whose heavy frontal armor the Leopard-1’s main gun might not always be able to penetrate.

The tanks needed maintenance and repairs after being in long-term storage, but they did not need to be upgraded because “Ukraine is screaming for tanks,” according to a previous report.

File:Danish Leopard 1 tank.JPEG - Wikimedia Commons
Danish Leopard 1 tank- Wikimedia Commons

The four-person, 42-ton Leopard-1A5 has a 105-millimeter main cannon that was updated in the 1980s, along with its hull and turret. There is a significant defect. The hull’s sides and back are each less than half an inch thick, and the front of the turret’s steel armor is only 2.75 inches wide.

The Leopard-1’s lack of the tungsten or uranium components that give modern tanks’ armor compositions their incredibly tough nature means that some analysts will not even consider it a “tank” in 2023. They instead call it “a mobile gun.”

The gun on this old tank is its most vital point. The 52-caliber rifled cannon, made in Britain, can accurately fire the complement of current NATO ammunition up to a range of 2.5 miles thanks to the Leopard-1A5’s EMES-18 fire controls.

The Leopard-1A5DK is a system used by Danish Army peacekeeping in Croatia and Bosnia in the 1990s regular forces until the mid-2000s, albeit it may not be on par with other Western tanks headed to Ukraine. Additionally, it is said that the Russian troops have removed their T-54 and T-55 tanks for storage.

The vehicle has now been upgraded with a new diesel engine, improved gun stabilization, updated fire control and sensor systems, bolt-on polycarbonate armor, and enhanced crew protection, all purchased by Copenhagen. As a spring offensive inches closer, the tanks would add to the overstretched arsenal of Ukraine’s forces.