Canada Donates Leopard 2A4 Tank Platoon To Ukraine
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As Germany and the United States decided in concert to begin donating tanks to help Ukraine liberate captured territory from Russian occupation, Ottawa too is joining in on the multi-national donation drive, reversing its initial hesitation to do so.

Canadian Defense Minister Anita Anand announced today (Thursday Jan 26) that Canada was donating four of its 80 Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine—a force equivalent to a platoon.

Reportedly, the Royal Canadian Air Force fleet of five CC-171 Globemaster cargo planes (also known as C-17A ERs) in the Ontario-based 429th Transport Squadron will “probably” deliver the tanks, one per flight. Canadian military personnel will also be assigned to train Ukrainian soldiers somewhere outside of Canadian or Ukrainian soil.

A single tank platoon, equivalent to 5% of Canada’s tank fleet, is but a droplet in the ocean in a conflict on the scale of Ukraine’s, in which nearly a thousand Russian and 200 Ukrainian tanks have been visually confirmed destroyed (and over 500 more captured by Ukraine) in the first eleven months of combat.

But M1s and Leopard 2s—given adequate logistics and using proper tactics—could achieve a combat value equivalent to several of the lighter Soviet-style tanks used by both Russia and Ukraine thanks to their superior armor and sights.

And if all of Ukraine’s allies operating Leopard 2s continue contributing a platoon and company here, or a battalion there, it could add up to a few hundred Western tanks Kyiv could use to more aggressively spearhead offensives to liberate territory occupied by Russia.

The new Canadians tanks reportedly are already “combat ready” and will arrive “over the coming weeks” complete with spare parts and ammunition. Already, it’s suggested Canada might eventually donate additional tanks, much as Washington staggered deliveries of HIMARS and Bradley fighting vehicles on a month-to-month basis.

As detailed in this earlier article, Leopard 2s are heavy but highly capable main battle tanks comparableto the U.S. M1 Abrams, but using a more fuel efficient diesel engine and (in later models) different methods to enhance armor and firepower.

Unleashing Canada’s Leopards

At present, international donors to Ukraine are looking to form a battalion each of Leopard 2A4 and 2A6 tanks, the latter post-Cold War model benefitting from much improved frontal armor and longer-barreled 125-millimeter gun with higher armor penetration.

Thus the four donated tanks could help ‘fill out’ the 2A4 battalion, to which Poland, Finland and other countries will contribute, as you can see in this chart by fellow Forbes contributor H.I. Sutton.

Canada first purchased 80 Leopard 2A4s and 20 Leopard 2A6s from the Netherlands in 2007, concerned with the vulnerability of its old Leopard C2s (an entirely different, earlier design) to insurgent rockets and mines in Afghanistan.

While waiting for its 2A6s to be upgraded with better protection, Canada also temporarily borrowed 20 2A6Ms from Germany to deploy to Afghanistan. It also subsequently acquired twelve 2A4s from Switzerland, converting them into armored engineering and recovery vehicles, as well as 15 more from Germany to be used for spare parts.

Canada actually has two kinds of 2A4s: the basic unmodified model, now mostly used for training, and custom-upgraded Leopard 2A4M CANs, modified to be especially resistant to anti-tank mines and rocket-propelled grenades. This nearly 69-ton variant includes an additional plate of belly armor to protect against mines, modular applique armor on the turret and hull, and slat/cage armor helping harden the vulnerable rear hull and turret armor against portable anti-tank weapons.

Other changes include an electric instead of hydraulically powered turret, improved brakes and suspensions, air conditioning, and digital command-and-control systems.

In theory, if Canada does give away some of the better-protected 2A4Ms, it could then move to refurbish some of the older 2A4s to the 2A4M standard.

Just two battalion-sized units in Canada’s military operate tanks: the Lord Strathcona’s Horse Regiment, with two tank squadrons, and the Royal Canadian Dragoons, with one squadron.

Lord Strathcona’s Horse notably deployed Leopard 2A6Ms to Afghanistan starting 2007; and between 2010-2011 five Leopard 2A4Ms. The first arrivals were a squadron of 14 Leopard 2A6Ms delivered to Kandahar by a huge Ukrainian An-124 transport plane.

The Leopard 2s were regularly used for patrol, base defense of Forward Operating Base Ma’Sum Ghar, and as a quick reaction force to aid units finding themselves in a tight spot. That included escorting several fiercely opposed convoys attempting to relieve heavily besieged forces at Strongpoint Musham, in what was known as Operations Room Service 1 through 3.

The Canadian tankers reportedly made frequent use of shotgun-like cannister shells against Taliban insurgents in cover. Their biggest shortcoming initially proved to a lack of air conditioning, forcing crews to wear special cooling vests during the summer until modified 2A6Ms and 2A4Ms were introduced to service with built-in air conditioning and heat-absorbing mats.

Canadian aid to Ukraine—the bigger picture

Despite the small size of the Canadian Army—-22,500 active duty personnel, 16,200 reservists, and 5,300 Rangers (frontier guard) as of December 2022—Ottawa’s donations of military equipment have been generous, totaling over $1 billion Canadian dollars ($750.5 million USD) since Russia invaded in 2022.

As catalogued in greater detail by the Oryx blog here, Canadian military aid to Ukraine since 2022 notably includes:

  • One NASAMs short-to-medium range air defense battery (purchased for Ukraine, not donated)
  • 50 Wescam MX15D cameras for use on Bayraktar TB2 drones
  • at least four M777 155-millimeter howitzers bundled with expensive high-precision GPS-guided Excalibur shells, spare gun barrels and over 20,000 155-millimeter rounds
  • 39 ASCV (LAV 6) ‘Super-Bison’ eight-wheeled armored vehicles used for logistics, medical evacuation and troop
  • 208 mine-protected Roshel Sentinel vehicles comparable to armored Humvees (208)
  • 4,500 M72A5 and M72A7 light anti-tank weapons (LAWs)
  • $7 million worth of satellite reconnaissance services
  • Large quantities of rations, winter protective gear, body armor, and small arms

The donations of NASAMS, MX15D cameras and M777 howitzers piggy-back on equipment supplied by other foreign assistance to Ukraine, making them more efficient. The same will be true for Canada’s Leopard 2s, as they will join a growing pool of Leopard 2 tanks likely to see much action starting in Spring 2023. ‘

Depending on how willing Canada’s military is to relinquish more of its small active tank fleet—or Ottawa to fund purchase or refurbishing of replacement tanks—more Canadian Leopards may follow.

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