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What you need to know about Canada’s Leopard 2 tanks

OTTAWA — Canada is facing pressure to send some of its Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine after Germany said it would donate some of the weapons and approve requests from other countries that have the same equipment. Here is what you need to know:

What are Leopard 2s?

The Leopard 2 is a modern battle tank that first entered service in Germany in the late 1970s and is now used by around 20 countries. Featuring heavy armour and a main gun with good speed, the Leopard is designed to move fast, strike hard and survive on the modern battlefield. The basic design has been upgraded numerous times since it was introduced to add better armour, weaponry, digital technology and other modern features. Some have also been modified for non-combat purposes such as recovering disabled tanks from the battlefield and engineering tasks like carrying mobile bridges.

How long has Canada had Leopard 2s?

The Canadian Armed Forces was in the process of transitioning from main battle tanks to lighter armoured vehicles before the war in Afghanistan forced the military to rethink its plans. Canada first announced plans to obtain Leopards from the Netherlands and Germany in 2007 to protect Canadian soldiers and fight the Taliban. The Leopard has since become a key part of the Canadian Army’s makeup and doctrine alongside infantry, artillery and engineering capabilities.

Why did Canada need Germany to make a decision on sending Leopards to Ukraine?

As part of its purchase of Leopard 2s, Canada would have agreed to certain conditions and restrictions on the use and transfer of the equipment. Such restrictions on military equipment and technology are normal, particularly among Western countries and NATO allies. One reason is to prevent potential enemies from obtaining access to — or even information about — such equipment and technology. Another is to prevent it from being used for nefarious or unauthorized purposes. While Germany has signalled its approval of sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine, Canada will still need to formally request permission from Berlin before sending any of its tanks.

How many Leopard 2s does the Canadian military have?

The Canadian Army currently has 112 Leopard 2s in its inventory. These include 82 designed primarily for combat, as well as 12 that are configured to recover disabled tanks from the battlefield and 18 that can be used for building bridges and other engineering tasks. Of the 82 main battle tanks, 42 are Leopard 2A4s, while 20 2A4Ms that include better mine protection and upgraded digital technology than the 2A4s. The remaining 20 are 2A6Ms, which include an upgraded cannon and better all-around protection. The military refuses to say how many are operational, but former Army commander Jean-Marc Lanthier says about half are unavailable at any given time due to maintenance and other requirements. 

Where are Canada’s Leopard 2s located, and how are they organized?

Most of the 82 main battle tanks are divided between three squadrons. These squadrons are supposed to have 19 tanks each, which are comprised of four troops of four tanks with a headquarters unit of three tanks. Two of the squadrons are with the Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) in Edmonton. The other is with the Royal Canadian Dragoons in CFB Gagetown, N.B. The Royal Canadian Armoured Corps School in Gagetown also has about a dozen Leopards that are used to train tank crews and mechanics, while a handful are located at a repair and maintenance depot in Montreal.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 25, 2023.

The Canadian Press