The German-made Leopard 2 main battle tank is at the top of Ukraine’s shopping list as Kyiv lobbies its Western partners to expand military aid. The tank—of which about 2,000 are used by a number of NATO nations—is considered to be one of the most formidable in the world.
Ukrainian commanders believe some 300 Western main battle tanks (MBTs) will be enough to help their troops eject all Russian forces from their territory in the coming months.
Kyiv hopes that Friday’s Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Ramstein, Germany will end with Berlin signing off on Leopard 2s—either Germany’s own, or those operated by NATO allies—heading eastwards to Ukrainian battlefields.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has thus far refused to approve Leopard 2 transfers to Ukraine. A spokesperson for the chancellor told The Wall Street Journal that Berlin would not send MBTs until the U.S. does the same.
The Pentagon dismissed the suggestion, noting that using American M1 Abrams MBTs would pose significant logistical challenges for Ukraine, primarily because they generally run on jet fuel rather than diesel. Diesel-powered Leopard 2s, the Pentagon says, make more sense.
Newsweek has collated the most important technical specifications of the two MBT platforms that are the focus of so much debate as the pivotal meeting at the U.S. airbase in Ramstein begins.
The German Leopard 2 was first introduced in 1979, one year before the M1 Abrams. Around 3,600 Leopard 2s of various types have been built since, seeing action in the Afghanistan War and the Syrian Civil War. The Leopard 2 has been built under production license in three other countries, and operated in various forms by 21 nations. The most common variant is the Leopard 2A4, with the most recent version the Leopard 2A7+.
Around 10,700 M1 Abrams and variants have been built, and the tank has seen action in the Gulf War, Afghanistan War, Iraq War and the Yemeni Civil War, among others. The M1 Abrams is currently used by nine nations. The most advanced version used by U.S. forces is the M1A2 SEP.
The Leopard 2 was designed by Krauss-Maffei. Its cannon was made by Rheinmetall, and its engine by MTU Friedrichshafen. The M1 Abrams was first built by Chrysler Defense, which was later acquired and became General Dynamics Land Systems.
The Leopard 2A4—the most likely variant to be sent to Ukraine—has a top forward speed of around 42.2 miles per hour, and 19.2 miles per hour in reverse. The 2A4 weighs around 52 tons empty, and 55 tons equipped for battle.
The 2A4’s 1,500-horsepower, 12-cylinder twin-turbocharged diesel engine has a capacity of 1,160 liters, giving the tank an average range of around 173 miles before it needs to refuel (210 miles by road, 136 miles cross country).
The M1A2 SEP Abrams has a top forward speed of 42 miles per hour and a reverse speed of 25 miles per hour. The various SEP variants weigh between 69.5 tons and 73.6 tons.
The M1A2 SEP uses a 1,500-horsepower multi-fuel gas turbine engine, which U.S. forces typically fill with jet fuel. It has a maximum range of roughly 264 miles.
Both tanks have four crew members: a commander, a gunner, a loader and a driver.
The Leopard 2A4 is protected by a mixture of steel, tungsten and modular armor. More modern variants have additional titanium and tungsten armor protection added to the turret area, as well as added belly protection. It can also be fitted with active protection measures.
The M1A2 SEP is fitted with depleted uranium inserts in the hull and turret areas, with improved Chobham armor and increased turret armor. Slat armor, explosive reactive armor and other active protection systems can also be fitted.
Exact armor thickness for tanks is classified, given the value of such information to enemy forces.
Both tanks have shown durability on the battlefield. The Leopard 2 impressed with its ability to survive anti-tank and IED attacks in Afghanistan, though Turkey’s armed forces lost several to anti-tank weapons and roadside bombs during their involvement in Syria.
No U.S.-operated Abrams has ever been lost to enemy fire, though some have been lost to friendly fire or destroyed by friendly forces to prevent capture. Less sophisticated export versions have been destroyed while being operated by the Iraqi and Saudi militaries.
The 2A4 is armed with Rheinmetall’s 120mm smoothbore gun and two 7.62mm machine guns; one fitted by the driver hatch and the other to the left of the main gun. Its gun has an effective range of around three miles, though this can be extended to more than six miles when using modern fire control systems with specialist munitions. It can hold 42 120mm shells and 4,750 7.62mm rounds when fully loaded.
The M1A2 SEP is armed with the 120mm M256A1 smoothbore gun and three machine guns: one 12.7mm heavy machine gun with 900 rounds and two 7.62mm machine guns with 10,400 rounds. A fully-loaded tank can hold 40 120mm shells. The 120mm gun has an effective range of more than 2.5 miles.