The Ukrainian forces find themselves in a tight spot with an appalling shortage of personnel required to train on the German-origin Leopard Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), according to reports.
There is a deficiency of people in the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU), as evidenced by the half-manned German sites where Ukrainian military troops receive training to operate Leopard 2 tanks, Russian news agency TASS cited Journalist Paul Ronzheimer’s announcement on German television network Welt.
The report noted that Ukraine has traditionally struggled to send troops and conscripts to fight at the front. The Ukrainian Minister of Defense has called on Ukrainians who have fled abroad to register for military service and said that the country needs at least 450,000 recruits for the fight against Russia.
The Ukrainian government has been announcing and extending the general mobilization since February 2022, and they are making every effort to prevent men of military age from avoiding duty. They are expressly forbidden from traveling overseas, and summonses are served in public spaces like streets and state institutions.
According to reports, such mobilization will cost Ukraine an additional 500 billion hryvnias (about $13.4 billion at the current exchange rate of the National Bank of Ukraine). The deficit in troops and people willing to fight is reportedly reflected in the shortage of personnel who could train other armies.
“We hear, for example, from Germany that only about half of the seats are currently occupied in the training centers where training on Leopard 2 tanks are currently occupied,” the journalist said. He noted that there are not enough people for training in the Ukrainian Armed Forces.
The shortage of training personnel comes when a fierce battle is being fought in eastern Ukraine, with Russian unrelenting in its advance, especially in the Avdiivka in the Donetsk region. A rare tank-on-tank battle was seen earlier this month between the two sides, underscoring the importance of heavy tanks between them.
On its part, Ukraine has received a host of Western MBTs from its partners in NATO, including several variants of German-origin Leopard tanks. A tank coalition made up of European countries who operate these tanks has been imparting training to Ukrainian tank operators who have previously used Soviet-era tanks of the Ukrainian Army.
In August this year, it was reported that as part of an accelerated training program designed to keep up with the nation’s sluggish counteroffensive against Russia, some Ukrainian soldiers are working 12-hour days, six days a week, for six weeks.
The Ukrainian administration has not acknowledged the dearth in number of tank operators. Russian media has, however, noted general mobilization has been announced and repeatedly extended in Ukraine since 2022, while the country’s authorities are doing everything possible to ensure that men of military age cannot evade service.
The Leopard 1A5, manufactured in Germany, is expected to be the most common tank in Ukrainian service, outnumbering all other Western tanks. That makes for a very demanding job for German trainers. Although the claims in German media have not been independently verified, Ukraine has had a difficult affair with Leopard tanks in recent times.
Ukraine’s Unending Vows with Leopard Tanks
Concerned about facing the Russian army, Ukrainian tank crews involved in the counteroffensive in the Zaporizhzhia region are allegedly fabricating combat vehicle malfunctions, according to previous reports in the German media Spiegel earlier this year.
Spiegel reportedly published this information after speaking with members of the Leopard 2 tank crew who were stationed near the combat zone at the time of the Ukrainian counteroffensive. According to the report, a loader who goes by the call sign Gudzik, 22, said that some soldiers choose not to fight in the war, while others intentionally cause damage to tanks to stay out of harm’s way.
The three Leopard 2 crew members who were questioned by the publication acknowledged the risks involved in fighting, saying that “you [the tank operator] will become a pile of ashes” if a Russian shell strikes a combat vehicle’s turret. As a result, they did not even condemn the soldiers who chose not to fight in the conflict.
According to information provided to the journal, the crew members of the Leopard 2A6, who were tasked with firing at German trenches during the first stages of the counteroffensive, discovered minefields set up by Russian troops in three of their tanks.
In the failed counteroffensive that proved to be a setback to Ukraine, the country also lost a few of its cutting-edge tanks.
Besides the Leopard-2A6 tanks that Germany handed over to Ukraine, the German Defense Ministry said in February that it was teaming up with Denmark and the Netherlands to donate “at least” 100 reconditioned Leopard 1A5 tanks to Ukraine. Germany withdrew the 42-ton diesel-powered tank from service in the 2000s. However, the 1A5 was hailed as a “robust and assertive” contribution to Ukraine’s military.
Ukraine suffered the first loss of a Leopard 1A5, reportedly in the Kharkiv region. Now damaged and abandoned, might be destroyed very fast due to the position and the open hatches.
— German Aid to Ukraine 🇩🇪🤝🇺🇦 (@deaidua) November 28, 2023
Since then, these tanks have been used in German sites for training by Ukrainian soldiers. But ever since the supply began, there has been controversy surrounding the use and delivery of these tanks.
The issue with the Danish-donated tanks surfaced soon after ten Leopard 1A5 tanks were sent from Germany to Ukraine, which was rejected. The tanks needed repairs that the Ukrainian military could not complete.
In addition, it was discovered that obtaining the correct replacement components and sufficiently preparing Ukrainian personnel for repairs presented considerable difficulties in preparing the tanks for combat. Leopard 1s have already started to be fielded by Ukrainian troops, including the recently formed 44th Mechanized Brigade. Therefore, at least some of the tanks are operational.
It may have been discouraging for Kyiv, though, since perhaps a third or half of the antiquated tanks that have been sent to Ukraine up to this point were damaged when they arrived.
Months after the counteroffensive, Ukraine reported the first-ever loss of the German-origin Leopard-1A5 Main Battle Tank (MBT) somewhere along the frontline. With images published online, the tank was geolocated to Andriivka, Luhansk oblast.