Leopard 2 tanks are the best possible choice for Slovakia
In the context of the ongoing war in Ukraine, NATO countries are looking for ways to further support Ukraine. One of the preferred options is the supply of equipment from former Soviet bloc countries that Ukrainian soldiers can operate and do not need further training. This type of equipment includes T-72 tanks, which Slovakia also has in its arsenal. It has not yet provided its 30 T-72M1 tanks to Ukraine, despite the fact that Germany, as in the case of the Czech Republic, has offered Slovakia Leopard 2 tanks as a replacement.
The war in Ukraine has dragged on for more than five months now, and the countries of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation are looking for ways to continue to provide military assistance to Ukraine. Slovakia has been active in this regard, having already sent to Ukraine, for example, S-300 PMU air defence systems, 5 Mi-17 and Mi-2 helicopters, and most recently MiG-29 aircraft. There has been speculation for some time that Slovakia might also donate its T-72M1 tanks to Ukraine, but this has not yet happened, despite an offer from Germany. Germany has offered Slovakia 15 Leopard 2A4 tanks to replace 30 obsolete T-72 tanks. According to the Slovak Ministry of Defence, this is an insufficient number and Slovakia would have to buy more tanks, as Slovakia needs 30 tanks for its tank battalion.
From a quantitative point of view, the position of the Slovak Ministry of Defence can be understood. Having only 15 tanks instead of 30 is, of course, a big difference and it is clear that the army will lose some of its capabilities. On the other hand, one tank battalion within NATO is 44 tanks, and even if Slovakia received 30 Leopard 2 tanks, there would still be a need to reach the target number of 44 tanks. Germany has offered the same number of 15 tanks to the Czech Republic, which plans to continue negotiations with Germany to buy up to 50 Leopard 2 A7+ tanks. Leopard 2 tanks are generally considered world-leading and there are many reasons why Slovakia should continue negotiations with Germany to rearm its tank battalion with German Leopard 2s.
Leopard 2 tanks clearly have a lot to offer Slovakia. They are the only tanks on the European continent that are still in production and are in the charge of the Munich-based company Krauss-Maffei Wegmann. The geographic proximity of the manufacturer is one of the key advantages of the Leopard 2 platform. In terms of geography, it is also important to mention the fact that after the Czech Republic receives the Leopard 2A4 tanks, all the neighbouring countries of Slovakia, except Ukraine, will have different versions of the German Leopard 2 tanks. In total, there are up to 13 users of Leopard 2 tanks in Europe, but they can also be found in North and South America or in Asia. All users are also associated in the informal LeoBen association. This association is a platform for Leopard 2 tank users to share their experiences and knowledge of Leopard 2 tanks with each other, and it also allows its members to communicate directly with the Leopard 2 tank manufacturer. Direct communication with the manufacturer through this association also offers the possibility of jointly purchasing spare parts, which is more economically advantageous.
Although the Ministry of Defence has argued that the number of 15 Leopard 2A4 tanks is not sufficient, it is necessary to bear in mind what kind of tanks they are. While 30 T-72 tanks are beyond their useful life and it makes no sense to upgrade them further, Leopard 2A4 tanks can be upgraded to the more modern 2A5, 2A6, and even A7 versions. This means that Slovakia, which wants to chop the question around its tank army by 2026, would get tanks that still meet the requirements of the modern battlefield. In addition, there is also the possibility of buying Leopard tanks in the latest 2A7+ version in coordination with the Czech Republic. Incidentally, the Ministry of Defence of the Czech Republic has recently stated in connection with the purchase of new tracked armoured personnel carriers that it will coordinate with Slovakia, as both countries want to buy CV90 vehicles. Thus, nothing prevents similar cooperation and coordination in the case of the purchase of tanks. At the same time, the two countries could use the capacities of their defence industries to work together on the maintenance and modernisation of tanks, thus boosting their economies and employment.
In any case, the Leopard 2 tanks have a lot to offer Slovakia, and therefore the Slovak Ministry of Defence should make the most of the negotiations with Germany. The Leopard 2 platform is proven in the world, offers development potential for at least the next 20 years, and at the same time meets all the requirements for deployment on the modern battlefield. The conflict in Ukraine also proves that tanks are far from the last word in modern warfare, and therefore Slovakia should not take the retention of this capability lightly.