Is the Leopard 2 the best tank in the world? How German battle tanks compare to the M1 Abrams and Challenger 2

Germany has agreed to send a batch of its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, in a significant development in the ongoing war with Russia.

Ukraine and Russia are both believed to be planning spring offensives to break the deadlock in what has become a war of attrition in eastern and southern Ukraine, as the first anniversary of the Russian invasion nears.

Ukraine has been appealing for tanks from its Nato allies, but Germany had so far resisted due to concerns it might escalate the war.

The German government’s decision is vital, as the German-made Leopard 2 is one of the most widely used tanks across Europe. Germany must approve any decision to re-export the tanks to Ukraine from other countries. Poland is now free to send tanks after submitting a request to Berlin.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz approved the supply of the vehicles to Kyiv after weeks of diplomatic deadlock between Nato members.

Germany joins the UK and US in agreeing to send tanks. The UK is sending 14 Challenger 2 battle tanks, while the US will deploy its M1 Abrams tanks.

Here’s how the tanks compare, and what they could mean for the war in Ukraine.

German Leopard 2 tanks

The Leopard 2 is a German-made main battle tank that first came into service in 1979. It was originally developed by Krauss-Maffei for the former West German army.

For this reason, the tanks are widely used not only by the German military, but by Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey, as well as countries including Canada and Singapore.

The tanks were specifically designed during the Cold War as a counter to the Soviet-era tanks used by Russia.

They are manned by four people – a commander, a gunner, a loader and a driver – and are armed with a 120mm/L44 smoothbore gun that carries 42 rounds, as well as two 7.62mm machine guns and 16 smoke grenade dischargers. They weigh 55 tonnes and can reach a top speed of 45mph.

The Leopards have long been coveted by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky due to their manoeuvrability on the battlefield and easiness to operate and maintain.

British Challenger 2 tanks

The Challenger 2 is a main battle tank, designed to destroy other tanks. It has been used by the British Army on operations in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq, and has never experienced a loss at the hands of the enemy, the British Army states.

Each tank weighs 62.5 tonnes and is armed with a 120mm rifled gun and a 7.62mm chain gun.

The tank was initially built in the UK by Vickers Defence Systems, now BAE Systems and Land Armaments. It was designed as a replacement to the Challenger 1 tank in 1986, and has been in service with the British Army since July 1994.

The Challenger 2 is used by four armoured regiments, based in the South West of England at Tidworth, Wiltshire, and Bovington, Dorset. The regiments are called The Queen’s Royal Hussars, The King’s Royal Hussars, The Royal Tank Regiment, and The Royal Wessex Yeomanry – the reserve regiment. Each regiment operates 56 Challenger 2 tanks and a similar number of supporting vehicles in tasks such as reconnaissance and ammunition supply.

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American M1 Abram tanks

The M1 Abrams entered service in 1980 and currently serves as the main battle tank of the United States Army. They were designed by Chrysler Defence, now known as General Dynamics Land Systems.

The tanks were first used in the Gulf War and have also seen combat in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Exported versions are used by the armies of Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Iraq.

They have a top speed of 42mph, and each boasts a 120mm XM256 smoothbore cannon, 7.62 M240 coaxial machine gun and .50 calibre M2 machine gun.

The US Army Acquisition Support Centre says: “The Abrams main battle tank destroys the enemy using mobility, firepower, and shock effect. The Abrams is a full-tracked, low-profile, land combat assault weapon enabling expeditionary warfighters to dominate their adversaries through lethal firepower, unparalleled survivability, and audacious manoeuvre.

Russian T-90 tanks

Russia is using a number of different tanks in Ukraine, but its best is the T-90. This third-generation battle tank was developed from the T-72, and first entered service in 1992.

Its main gun is a 125mm 2A46 smoothbore, and it is also armed with a 12.7mm Kord heavy machine gun. The tanks each weigh 46 tonnes, have a top speed of 37mph, and are manned by a crew of three.

Russia is believed to have at least 600 of these tanks – though Dutch warfare research group Oryx says it has lost at least two dozen of these in Ukraine. They have also been exported to countries including India, Algeria, Azerbaijan and Venezuela.

Ukrainian tank commander, Lieutenant Oleksander Romanchuk, told The Times that is takes three of Ukraine’s older Soviet-era T-72s to take out one T-90 – or “very good luck”.

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