The German government has approved an export licence for the delivery of Leopard 1 main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine.

First reported by the daily national newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which said Berlin had approved the sale of 88 Leopard 1s to Ukraine by German company Rheinmetall, the news was confirmed by government spokesperson Steffen Hebestreit on 3 February without giving any further details.

The German government has given its approval for the export of Leopard 1 main battle tanks to Ukraine. The picture shows the most modern version Leopard 1 A5 (Photo: KMW)

The German government’s list of military support offered to Ukraine does not yet list Leopard 1 MBTs.

The main battle tank of the German Army from 1965 to 2003, the Leopard 1 has a combat weight of 42.4 tonnes and features a 105 mm rifled main gun, a 610 kW diesel engine and protection levels typical of the 1990s. Upon retirement from service in the Bundeswehr Germany’s Leopard 1s were either sold or scrapped, with current user countries including Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Greece and Turkey.

Some of Leopard 1s – including from abroad – have been bought up by industry and stored or resold after being converted. German firms Rheinmetall and Flensburger Fahrzeugbau Gesellschaft, as well as Belgium’s OIP, have access to the larger stocks of Leopard 1s, some of which are in their own possession. These tanks are not operational and would have to be thoroughly overhauled before being handed over to Ukraine. The time required for this is estimated at several months.

The application for an export licence is presumably based on solid purchase plans on the part of the Ukrainian armed forces. The next steps are the financing commitment by the German government and the conclusion of a contract with Ukraine.