Armor: German Tank Force Barely There

Armor: German Tank Force Barely There, by James Dunnigan.

The German effort to rebuild some of its Cold War era Leopard 2 tank force has encountered problems. It has gotten so bad that currently Turkey, Chile, Greece, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland and Poland each have more operational Leopard 2 tanks than Germany (which had over 2,000 in the early 1990s). This odd situation was revealed in November 2017 when it was discovered that 53 Leopard 2s were unavailable while undergoing upgrades and 86 were inoperable because of spare parts shortages. That meant Germany only had 95 Leopard 2 tanks that were combat ready. That’s 39 percent of the 244 Leopard 2s currently available to the army. …

Most Germans believed peace would last after the communist governments Russia had imposed on most East European nations after 1945 suddenly collapsed in 1989 followed by the Soviet Union dissolving in 1991. That marked the end of the Cold War. On top of that Germany was reunited in 1990 and the Russian equipped East German military was largely scrapped. At that point the German Leopard 2 fleet shrank over 85 percent (from 2,000 to 225). Germany also retired over 2,200 older Leopard 1s. …

Leopard 1 tank from Germany in the Australian Army, 2005. Replaced by the US M1A1 in 2007.

Until the 1980s, the German Leopard I was considered one of the best tanks available. Entering service in the late 1960s, it was the first post-World War II German tank design. Although a contemporary of the American M-60A3, the German tank was considered superior. … The German Leopard 2 appeared in 1979 and was an immediate export hit, especially to replace elderly U.S. M-60 tanks (a 1960s design.) …

Although a contemporary of the U.S. M-1, many consider the 62 ton Leopard 2 a superior tank, even though the M-1 has much more combat experience and subsequent upgrades based on the experience in battle.

Leopard 2 tank in the German Army, 2010.

In 2003 both Germany and the United States believed the usefulness of heavy tanks like the M-1 and Leopard 2 were over. Then came Iraq and Afghanistan where it was found that these traditional designs were still very useful, especially with the most modern accessories (like thermal sights, vidcams for all-round visibility from inside the tank and modern air-conditioning systems that can withstand tropical heat).

US Army M1A1 tank in Iraq, 2007