Defense company Rheinmetall is preparing for another export of combat tanks to Ukraine. The company has acquired 50 Leopard 1A5 tanks from the Belgian company OIP Land Systems, as reported by Handelsblatt from industry sources. The main battle tanks will now be retrofitted at the German locations of the Düsseldorf-based corporation for use in Ukraine. Ultimately, around 30 units of the 50 combat tanks will be delivered to Ukraine. Initially, Belgian media reported on the purchase of the 50 combat tanks. However, it was unclear who had bought the Leopard 1 tanks from OIP Land Systems. The combat tank is the predecessor to the Leopard 2 currently used by the Bundeswehr, of which several dozen have already been exported to Ukraine.
Originally, Rheinmetall intended to purchase Leopard 1 tanks from the Swiss defense company Ruag to provide them to Ukraine. However, due to Switzerland’s neutrality laws, no export permit was granted, prompting Rheinmetall to explore alternative sources. After the U.S. and the U.K., Germany has become the largest supplier of weaponry to Ukraine. The Leopard models are central to this, with several hundred being used or held in reserve by NATO states. Alongside Rheinmetall, the northern German supplier FFG is preparing about 70 Leopard 1 tanks for delivery to Ukraine. OIP Land Systems is backed by Belgian entrepreneur Freddy Versluys, who is believed to have purchased the Leopard 1 tanks in 2014 for around two million euros. He has recently faced criticism from the Belgian government for allegedly charging excessive prices for refurbished tanks. Versluys possesses additional tanks that Ukraine reportedly has significant interest in, including 40 Gepard tanks.
The Germans have retained a minimum number of tanks in an availability pool for the next training module, which has further postponed the delivery of tanks to Ukraine. It is now expected that the first tanks will be dispatched in July. Collaborating closely with the German Ministry of Defense, the Danish authorities have examined the situation and identified quality issues with the tanks. It is anticipated that subsequent deliveries will exhibit improved quality. The Ukrainians currently being trained to operate the more than 100 Leopard 1 main battle tanks that Denmark is donating together with the Netherlands and Germany. The training activity is part of the joint donation with Germany and the Netherlands that was announced back in February.
The Kampfpanzer Leopard 1 is a main battle tank designed by Porsche and manufactured by Krauss-Maffei in West Germany, first entering service in 1965. Developed in an era when HEAT warheads were thought to make conventional heavy armour of limited value, the Leopard design focused on effective firepower and mobility instead of heavy protection. It featured moderate armour, only effective against low caliber autocannons and heavy machine guns, giving it a high power-to-weight ratio. Belgium sold its last 50 Leopard 1A5BE tanks to OIP Land Systems in 2014 for roughly €37,000 each. In January 2023 the government sought to buy these back to give to Ukraine, however the purchase was delayed over a disagreement on price, with OIP wanting around €500,000 each to cover the cost to refurbish them to battle-ready condition.