Putin Threat Revives European Tank Ambition Dormant Since Cold War




Putin Threat Revives European Tank Ambition Dormant Since Cold WarBy Richard Weiss

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The Ukraine crisis is pushing European governments to review the role of the weapon that dominated Cold War defences as the strength of Russian ground forces stirs political concerns: the battle tank. The cost and war-fighting benefits of developing common armored vehicles for the region could also spur consolidation beyond the pending merger of Germany’s Krauss-Maffei Wegmann GmbH and France’s Nexter Systems SA, said Frank Haun, chief executive officer at KMW, maker of the 62-ton Leopard 2. Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and massing of troops on the Ukraine border has left frontline nations pondering the strength of armored brigades that have shrunk since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Haun said in an interview at KMW’s Munich base. Nordic countries including Finland and former communist states such as Poland are among those reviewing capabilities. “They are beginning to increase spending because of concern regarding Russia,” Haun said. “We are in closer touch with those countries and getting more visitors from there.” Demand for Cold War hulks like the Leopard 2, which fires shells that can penetrate 56 centimeters (22 inches) of steel from 2 kilometers (1.3 miles), faded in Europe as relations with Russia improved, with the focus of tank deployment shifting from the north German plain to the deserts of the Middle East. The most recent new-build Leopard 2 was produced in 2009, after 3,200 were previously sold to 16 armies worldwide.

Spending Revival

The last major pitched tank battles took place in the war against Saddam Hussein after the 2003 invasion of Iraq, when the General Dynamics Corp. M1 Abrams — of which the U.S. Army has received more than 8,000 — saw action alongside Britain’s BAE Systems Plc Challenger 2s. The pair are the Leopard’s main rivals for the mantle of the world’s best performing model. More recently, tanks have proven their versatility in the mountains of Afghanistan, where Canada deployed its Leopard 2s. While defence spending in western and central Europe fell 2.4 percent last year to $312 billion, budgets have begun to revive in states bordering Russia, with increases in Poland, Finland, Norway, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, according to data compiled by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. In contrast, military outlay continued to decline in countries including France, Italy, Spain and the Netherlands. Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said last week that the Ukraine crisis has shattered the illusion that force no longer has a role in European politics. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization must station troops on its eastern flank and halt cuts after Russia boosted its defense outlay for eight straight years, he said at the Army Day parade in Warsaw attended by military representatives of the U.S. and Canada.

Baltic Defences

Finnish President Sauli Niinistoe met with Putin on Aug. 15 for talks about the escalating tensions after saying the world was on the brink of a new Cold War. Finland has a longer land border with Russia than the rest of the European Union combined. Latvia will also seek to bolster Baltic defenses when a delegation meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel today, according to comments from the country’s defence ministry. Concern about the need to respond to a more aggressive Russian foreign policy comes as European tank manufacturing undergoes its biggest upheaval for decades, with KMW poised to create a new regional “champion” via the Nexter deal that should enhance interoperability among armies while helping to pare costs and eke out research budgets, Haun said. The 50:50 merger, sealed on July 1, will create a business with revenue of almost 2 billion euros ($2.7 billion) and more than 6,000 staff.

Airbus Blueprint

For KMW, joining with the Paris-based maker of the Leclerc battle tank will add new products, technology and markets, none of which would be achieved in a mooted all-German combination with Dusseldorf-based Rheinmetall AG, which makes the Leopard 2’s main canon, firing system and ammunition, the CEO said. Rheinmetall and KMW also cooperate on the tracked Puma infantry fighting vehicle and the wheeled Boxer. The Nexter merger, first mulled more than eight years ago, will seek to replicate the success of pan-European aerospace and defense tie-ups including Airbus Group NV and Eurofighter GmbH. It could also help KMW to escape strict defense-exports rules, though Haun said there’s been no pitch to sell the Leopard 2 to Saudi Arabia, a deal opposed by some [eap_ad_2] German lawmakers.

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