The worst moment that the Leopard battle tanks that the Army has hibernated and that Ukraine has been requesting have experienced was not their withdrawal to their asylum in Calatayud (Zaragoza), but the flood of mud that submerged them in November 1997.
For three days, on the 4th, 5th and 6th of that month, an explosive cyclogenesis swept through the city of Badajoz and the province; also the banks of the Zapatones River in Bótoa, where the General Menacho Base stands, headquarters of the Extremadura XI Mechanized Brigade. The silt overcame the still young tanks, affecting with serious breakdowns about twenty of them.
It is one of the vicissitudes that the chariot game has gone through from which the most important donation of military material from Spain in the war in Ukraine. If it materializes -the Spanish government has not yet started procedures with Germany, which has to give a nihil obstat-, it would be one of the most notable Spanish arms shipments to a foreign war in the last 100 years.
The feeling of driving a Leopard is “brutal, unforgettable -says a veteran of the Cavalry weapon who has piloted it-. There are 1,500 horsepower on your right foot -a high-end car is around 300-, you can knock down trees as if they were leaves, accelerate without anything being able to stop you… and it’s easy to drive, only a few days are needed and take the measurements”.
But he is not talking about the modern Leopard 2E manufactured in Asturias and Seville and now operating in Spanish armored units, but about grandparents manufactured in Germany in the 80s and 90s. Volodimir Zelensky knows that they are retired cars. Last Friday, on the 100th day of the war, its ambassador in Madrid, Serhi Pohoreltsev, when he asked for more commitment from Spain, he alluded to “material that is in stock” and that this country does not need.
Advisor to the Ukrainian President Igor Zovkva He had been informed days before –according to Spanish military sources- of the available stock. The same sources say that They also told him what state he is in. And not only the cars: also the Aspide missiles that could be part of a major escalation of military aid Spanish.
to the ICU
When the flood of mud flooded the base in Extremadura, two years of the rental contract that Spain had signed with Germany, the country that manufactured the tanks, had not yet expired. A sizeable batch of Leopard 2A4s had to go to “step IV”. This is what military jargon calls the ICU of tanks. Step I is the one for breakdowns that is solved by the crew itself; II involves the mechanics of the base; the III is already solved in a Logistics Support Group. The most serious cases require extensive repairs in the Armored Systems Maintenance Park, on the outskirts of Madrid.
The Leopard candidates to travel to Ukraine were part of a batch of 108 leased by Spain to Germany in 1995. The wall had fallen and, in the absence of a cold war, Germany was getting rid of its park of 2,000 leopards.
In 2005, Defense took ownership of the rented tanks for a bargain price, just over 15 million euros. Today 53 rest in the Calatayud warehouse after having followed a dismantling “route map” of more than 140 control files.
Actually 54 were sent to Aragón, but one was taken from there to put it in the museum that the XII Guadarrama Brigade has in El Goloso (Madrid). However, the Leopard 2A4s continue to be a powerful weapon: the non-retired ones are still in service, in fact, in Ceuta and Melilla.
The army planned to convert old stored Leopards into Engineer vehicles, but did not complete the project due to lack of funds.
An attempt to sell them to Peru in 2012 did not go through either. The Spanish offer was reduced so much that “he bordered on giving them for a little more than what it would cost to start them up again”, recalls a veteran of the armored weapon, a good connoisseur of these tanks. The meetings with firms such as Expal and Quadripole Engineering did not bear fruit. The hour of reassembly labor, in some cases, was going to amount to 80 euros, according to the technical specifications that governed his retirement. Peru stood out despite the cheapness of the last offer: 11 million.
Bringing the cars stored in the Calatayud Logistics Support Group back to life (lubricating them again, returning their batteries…) would take a month. It is a period similar to what it would cost assemble the set of machines that makes the Aspide missiles operationalalmost totally retired by the Army.
The rocket does not work alone. In Spain, the 73rd Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, which protects the port of Cartagena, used them in a basic combination that Defense named Toledo: Twelve Aspide launchers, a 35mm Oerlikon GDF07 anti-aircraft gun to protect each launcher, a radar and a Skydoor shooting direction. The missiles, of Italian origin, were decommissioned in 2020 as they were considered obsolete. At no time has it transpired by any defense source that Spain was going to send the complete system to Ukraine.
They won’t go alone
The invaded Ukraine has no occasion to show squeamishness with the retired material. “As a British officer in the Falklands War put it: ‘If it can be shot, it’s a threat'”explains one of the military sources consulted. kyiv urgently needs to oppose material to the Russian advance.
It is unlikely that the tanks sent by Spain would go into combat alone: they would do so integrated into large formations. Already stationed in the Ukraine and before the Russian forces, a tank like the Spanish Leopard 2A4 will require an additional deployment to not be as vulnerable as the Russian T-tanks have been in the first phase of the invasion against individual grenade launchers such as the Javelin (American) and the C90 (Spanish) with which the Ukrainian resistance has stopped them.
When he goes into combat –if he finally gets to do it- the old leopard recovered in Calatayud will need a human entourage no less. In the wastelands of Donbas or in the plains of southern Ukraine, he would be preceded by commandos of men searching for their predators, the tank destroyer hunters.
“It is advisable that this tank is accompanied and protected in a combat environment –explains one of its former operators in the Spanish Army-. That is: tank destroyer squadrons and hunters of the opposing tank destroyers, in addition to air cover and artillery curtains.”
This soldier refers to armed sections that would be deployed in combat vehicles around the formation of leopards to form a safety zone on the flanks of the cars. This way of fighting has been tested by the Spanish Army in the forests of the province of Valladolid with its armored units in anti-ambush training.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.