Ukraine War: Delivery of heavy weapons from Germany starts slowly

The delivery of these modern weapon systems from Bundeswehr stocks is quite controversial in Germany. Not only because the Bundeswehr itself is not exactly lavishly equipped with such material. But also because they are not that easy to use. Experts refer to the long training times for the crews. A 40-day training program was designed for the Ukrainian crews, as the Inspector General of the German Armed Forces, General Eberhard Zorn, recently said in an interview with the Podcast series “Demanded” by the Bundeswehr explained. And the training is quite challenging. Zorn gives an example in the interview: “If the gun has an error message, for example, then there are a lot of electronic backup operation solutions, around 120, which were also taught there during training. And this also requires clear knowledge of the software that is stored there. And that is a point that was the main focus of the training there.”

These are all experienced people who, however, were already active in the war with a different tank howitzer weapon system and who, of course, now only had to be retrained on a new system. I think we managed that well.

Inspector General Zorn on training Ukrainian soldiers on the Panzerhaubitze 2000

In July, the anti-aircraft vehicle “Gepard” should also start: Then the first 15 of 30 “Gepards” are to be delivered to the Ukraine. A second tranche of 15 vehicles is to follow in August. These tanks had also been promised by the federal government weeks ago. However, as it quickly became apparent, not from Bundeswehr stocks. Because the “cheetah” – stationed until the end of 2006 with the missile defense battalion 131 in Hohenmölsen in Saxony-Anhalt – was retired years ago.

The decommissioned anti-aircraft tanks are in the warehouses of the manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW). He had bought back many of the “cheetahs” from the Bundeswehr and other NATO armies. Some of them eked out their existence in two warehouses in Wallhausen in Saxony-Anhalt, which the KMW subsidiary Battle Tank Dismantling rented from Rockensußra in Thuringia. The business of the Thuringian company is actually the scrapping of tanks and other military vehicles. Now the “cheetahs” are being used in Ukraine.

The vehicles would be “restored by the industry,” said Inspector General Zorn. According to Zorn, the corresponding contracts have been signed. The training of the Ukrainian crews is also guaranteed by the industry, there is a “clear training plan”.

Extensive training

Whether the “cheetahs” can quickly be of use to the Ukrainian army, which is finding it increasingly difficult to withstand the attacks of the Russian army, especially in the east of the country, is disputed in Germany. Training on the complex tank stuffed with software takes a long time, military experts have been saying for weeks. Because it’s not just about practicing the right moves, but also about mastering them safely in combat under stress. Former “Gepard” soldiers in the Bundeswehr reported to MDR that the basic training of a crew alone takes up to three months. It is said that even mechanics need months to become proficient in maintaining and repairing the complex weapon systems. Appropriate special tools must also be available for this.

It is unclear whether the manufacturer KMW trains the Ukrainian crews. When asked by MDR, the company said it would not comment on the details for security reasons.

Where does the ammunition come from?

Doubts about the “cheetah” gift to Ukraine also point to problems with ammunition. The anti-aircraft tank requires special 35mm cartridges made for the model, produced by the Swiss manufacturer Oerlikon. According to reports However, Switzerland refused to supply such ammunition to Ukraine – because of the strict export laws for ammunition in Switzerland. But apparently the federal government has a solution to the ammunition problem. Because on one on June 21st by the Department of Defense published list of arms shipments to Ukraine “53,000 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition” are also listed. Where it comes from, people keep silent about it.

With the publication of the list, the federal government obviously wants to meet critics who, to put it mildly, accuse it of being too reluctant to support Ukraine. So far, ammunition and light, hand-operated anti-tank weapons have been supplied, as well as spare parts for the Soviet-made MIG 29 fighter plane. The NVA of the GDR had this model in its inventory, and today it is also flown by the Ukrainian Air Force.

Dangerous for Ukraine’s own planes too?

This leads to an anecdote that was circulated several times in the author’s conversations with former “Gepard” soldiers and former fighter pilots, and which culminated in the sentence: “Hopefully the Ukrainians won’t shoot down their own planes with the Cheetahs.” Background: The friend-foe recognition software sends – to put it simply – a radar signal to a recognized aircraft. If it is a NATO aircraft, it sends a special signal back to the tank, which then does not shoot. Aircraft of Soviet or Russian design such as the MIG 29 should not be equipped with the corresponding equipment that transmits the NATO code, at least as standard. A corresponding conversion of the Ukrainian fighter jets would therefore have to take place here. It is likely that something like this will happen. KMW also did not want to answer questions about this when asked by MDR.

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