Rheinmetall offers next-gen KF-51 Panther main battle tanks to Ukraine

The German defense contractor Rheinmetall is offering the powerful Panther military tanks to Ukraine, according to its CEO Armin Papperger.

Although it would take 15 to 18 months for delivery if the German government approves the export, arms experts told Newsweek that the announcement will further help galvanize Western allies while allowing the Ukrainian military to plan accordingly based on its present stock.

Previously, German-made Leopard 2 tanks and U.S.-made M1A2 Abrams tanks were announced to be sent to Ukraine over the next few months. Earlier this week, Leopard tanks shipped from Canada arrived in Poland and will make their way to Ukraine.

Papperger called the Panther tanks the most powerful in the world. The KF51 Panther debuted last summer during a military trade show in France. That Panther model is the successor to the Leopard 2 tank.

Popular Mechanics reported following the newest model’s unveiling that the shape of its hull “suggests newer, thicker armor along the front and sides.” Both the Panther and Leopard both have 1,100-kilowatt, 1,500 horsepower engines.

Jordan Cohen, policy analyst at the Cato Institute, touted the technological capabilities of the new model, notably its larger 130-millimeter cannon, ability to launch drones, top-down protection, and 360-degree sensors. The Abrams tank has a 120-millimeter gun and weaker sensors.

It is also lighter than the approximate 70-ton Abrams, coming in at about 59 tons.

The German publication Europäische Sicherheit & Technik reported the new gun’s barrel length is 52 times the diameter of the barrel—or 22.1 feet long.

Other features include a container for unmanned aerial vehicles, day and night vision observation, and enough room for a crew including a commander, gunner, driver and optional systems specialist.

“I am not sure if it could really outperform the most recent Abrams models, but I am also skeptical that the U.S is actually going to sell the v4 variant of the Abrams that has similar capabilities to the KF51 Panther,” Cohen told Newsweek. “Therefore, this is a very clear signal of what Germany is willing to send Ukraine should the conflict last more than 12 to 18 months.”

The Pentagon has stated that the U.S. is sending 31 M1A2 tanks to Ukraine as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.

Cohen referred to them as the “static” models that lack new, advanced meteorological sensors, laser warning and detection receivers, and directional smoke grenade launchers.

Ian Williams, deputy director of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ (CSIS) Missile Defense Project, told Newsweek that the “bells and whistles” separate the Panther and Abrams.

Panther tanks are “bigger and have a little more punch and longer range,” he said, adding that the technological and industrial jump from the Leopard to the Panther tanks is bigger than the one between the Abrams and Panther.

“From the Ukrainian perspective I think it’s a good thing,” Williams said. “It is going to be a while before they start getting them, but it does allow the Ukrainians to be more thoughtful of how they use the current tanks…If you know where you’re going to be getting your next meal from, it helps with other things.”

CSIS senior adviser Mark Cancian told Newsweek that, if produced, the Panther would be more powerful than the M1A2SEPv3 Abrams model.

It may prove more beneficial to expend resources into the current Leopard tanks, he added.

“The conceptual Abrams ‘X’ would be the equivalent, though there is no current plan to produce that Abrams upgrade…Post-war Ukraine will need to standardize its equipment since it now has small numbers of many NATO systems,” Cancian said. “Panther—a new, complex, and expensive system—does not fit well with such a rationalization. Better to standardize around the latest version of the Leopard.”

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