Belgium Sending Modernized Leopard Tanks To Ukraine

Belgium has no more Leopard 1A5BE tanks in its stock, as the last ones were removed from service in 2014 and subsequently sold for a ridiculous price of 10,000-15,000 EUR each, the Belgian Minister of Defense Ludivine Dedonder said on January 25.

One of the buyers was the Belgian company OIP. ‘’Nothing prevents us from buying them back, but they are not operational. And Belgian companies want to make an unreasonable margin with a proposed resale price of 500,000 EUR each when there has been no repair work’’.  Another solution than classic refurbishment exists to upgrade old Leopard 1 tanks, thanks to John Cockerill Defense.

In 2014, as a cost-saving measure, the Belgian army discarded the last of its Leopard 1A5BE tanks. Hence, it became unable of playing any meaningful role in a major war between NATO and, say, Russia. Unlike the Dutch army— which ditched its Leopard 2A6 tanks in 2011 but quickly realized it had made a mistake and bought back some of its tanks —, the Belgian army has not replaced them but, in an “all-wheel policy”, bought Piranha 3Cs with a 90mm gun, a unique feature in NATO’s arsenal.

Leopard tanks for Ukraine

The question of the delivery of tanks to Ukraine was raised again last Friday at a meeting in Ramstein. “In complete transparency, we had investigated the track of the Gepard”, said the Chief of Defense (CHOD), Admiral Michel Hofman, during a meeting with the Belgian press on Tuesday, January 24. A whole series of these old tanks specialized in anti-aircraft defense are still stored in the hangars of the Belgian firm OIP. “The problem, according to the Admiral, is that these Belgian Gepards are of an even older generation than those that the Germans still had in their stocks, and updating them is impossible, except for large investments by far superior to a ‘’simple’’ refurbishment. We looked at this in-depth and we came to the conclusion, together with the industry, that this was a track to be ruled out.

The Belgian army operated around a hundred Leopard 1A5BE tanks, weighing 40 tons and armed with a 105mm cannon. It retired the last Leopard in late 2014. The service bought around 100 Piranha 3C armored vehicles, including 18 armed with a 90mm gun and 19 with a 30mm automatic cannon. So, less than 5 former Belgian Leopards (not including several Bergepanzers recovery tanks still in service) remain in running condition in Belgium but they are operated by the World Heritage Institute (Royal Museum of the Army) and two are privately owned. Not a serious source for supplying Ukraine, thus.

But another batch of Leopard 1s is still in Belgium: 20 machines rest in the warehouses of Tournai and Antwerp of the firm OIP, the purchaser of the lot, according to the weekly ‘Le Vif’. A major obstacle to buying them back is the very unreasonable price demanded by OIP, as expensive modernization work would also be mandatory to bring them back to an operational status matching some current standards.

However, considering that the excellent chassis of the Leopard 1 would require minor refurbishment, a solution exists to simply replace the whole turret with its gun, fire control system, etc., which would remarkably update the tank in a single operation: at Eurosatory 2022 International Defense Exhibition in Paris, the Belgian company John Cockerill Defense presented an upgrade of the Leopard 1 Main Battle Tank (MBT) with the integration of its Cockerill 3105 turret. The Cockerill 3105 weapon station exists in different configurations. Such integration would provide an efficient and cost-effective solution for the upgrading of older platforms. A combination that combines firepower and lightness, with a reduction of 5 tonnes, compared to the initial version.

Last March 2022, a Leopard 1 chassis fitted with a Cockerill 3105 weapon station conducted firing tests with impressive results. It was entirely realized by the John Cockerill Defense team using their know-how of vehicle upgrades, to meet the need of armies to renew their fleet with a limited budget. The Cockerill 3105 turret offers many advantages to empower modern combat vehicles with the protection, precision, and firepower necessary to fulfill the mission. The turret is armed with a 105mm High Pressure (HP) cannon and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun.

The “standard” form of the Cockerill 3000 Series provides full digital weapon stabilization and digitalized fire control system to deliver a very high target-hit chance. The turret is also fitted with a thermal and day sight to provide 24-hour operation whether the vehicle is moving or static.

So, one may say that, with a Cockerill turret, a technical solution exists for Belgium to supply old Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine but it will probably not be taken into consideration as long as the price demanded by OIP for its tanks makes this solution unaffordable for the time being.

Belgium offers a lot more other military equipment to Ukraine, including the latest-generation assault rifles (FN SCAR) and machine guns (FN Minimi), to Ukraine, among other weapons. By the way, the FN Evolys would find a remarkable test bench there, should Belgium choose to offer some units of this unparalleled ultralight machine gun to Ukraine.

Gepard Anti-air Gun

Besides the Leopard file, according to Admiral Michel Hofman, the Belgian Chief of Defense, the suggestion of delivering old Gepard anti-aircraft tanks – long retired from service – to Ukraine was dropped due to the cost of the update.

The Gepard (Cheetah) was developed as a private venture in 1966, with the first prototypes built in 1968. This was basically a Leopard 1 chassis equipped with a turret mounting twin 35 mm (1.38 in) GDF Oerlikon AA guns, assisted by a radar-guided FCS. After modifications, it entered service in 1976 and 420 were built for the Bundeswehr. Other users included Brazil, Chile, Jordan, Romania, Belgium and the Netherlands. A British-built version was also offered for export, called the Leopard Marksman. The Dutch version features a different radar and fire control system.

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