Dogfight: if German Leopard 2 meets Russian T-90M in Ukraine
PANAGYURISHTE, BULGARIA — With each passing day, the possibility of Ukraine receiving German Leopard tanks is growing. Although Germany has so far refused to allow them to be sent, many European countries are pressuring Berlin to do so. In this article, we will not reflect on the political decisions still pending.
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Suppose Ukraine already has Leopards. Also, let’s assume they will be mod 2. Who would prevail in a fight that didn’t happen but still could happen?
The human factor
Tank crews have a key stake in the outcome of such a battle. Sometimes, as history has proven, just because you have good weaponry doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed victory. Russian tankers would have a slight advantage in this battle. The main reasons are twofold: the experience and the condition of the tanks.
There are reports that Ukrainian crews are being trained to operate the German Leopard tank. This means that despite their experience as tankers, they will be facing new, almost unknown technology. The risk of them making a mistake in driving the tank is greater than their Russian counterparts. The first crew is more likely to get confused during combat, mostly because of the completely different equipment, than the second crew.
It is not yet known what tanks Ukraine would receive. We cannot put them under the same denominator as the other western technology, but it is noticed that some heavy artillery systems give defects. Mostly defects related to overloading. If such an intense load is placed on the German tank, it may also give a defect. It can appear in the fire control system, or in the rapid wear of the gun. The fact is that since the end of the war, both Russian and Ukrainian sources have not reported any problems with Russian artillery.
If not now, then in a few months in the middle of spring the two tanks may face each other. This is a period of heavy torrential spring rains. That means a lot of mud, really a lot of mud.
Russia boasts the capabilities of the T-90 in such conditions, but this is not exactly the case. Even before the war, we reported that dozens of tanks got stuck in the mud on the Russian-Ukrainian border. The Russians brought a tractor to the training ground to pull out all the tractors stuck in the mud one by one.
The German Leopard is more powerful. 1,500 German horsepower vs. 1,130 Russian horsepower. The Leopard “snarls” with a 12 V MTU cylinder diesel engine. Its Russian competitor cannot boast of such characteristics.
Apart from the fact that the German Leopard is more powerful than the Russian T-90M, it is also more maneuverable than it. Unlike the T-90M, the Leopards are equipped with a much more modern transmission: the Renk HSWL 354.
With a powerful engine and modern transmission in the conditions of Ukrainian mud, the German tank can reach up to 75 km/h, while the Russian up to 60 km/h. This gives the Leopards much better maneuverability. The ground-specific pressure indicator of the Leopard is slightly better than that of the T-90M. Another advantage for better maneuverability.
One German Rh-120 L/44 120 mm gun (or Rh-120 L/55 120mm) against the Russian 2A46M-5 125 mm smoothbore gun. Both tanks have a secondary armament. The T-90M is composed of one 12.7mm Kord Heavy machine gun and one 7.62mm PKMT (belt-fed general-purpose machine gun). The Germans mounted two 7.62 mm MG3A1 or two 7.62 mm FN MAGs on the Leopard’s turret.
Should weapons be compared? To some extent, though, it’s not them that are decisive in the situation, but the ammunition they use. The German Leopard can fire a projectile at 3,500 meters, while the T-90M, according to Russian sources, at 4,000 meters. And if the two projectiles are almost identical in their characteristics, the larger caliber of the Russian gun makes up the difference of 500 meters.
There is a difference in the armor of the two tanks. The multilayer armor of the German Leopards is made of high-hardness steel and ceramic components. Russian armor is made of special alloy and composite materials.
Some say Leopards have a weak spot. This is the board and the rear of the tank since there is minimal armor there. But the same can be said about the Russian tank, especially in its rear.
Realistically, both tanks will take damage if hit by an enemy tank’s projectile. And how will they fare against a hand-held anti-tank weapon? Both tanks will be equally bad and lose this battle. In Ukraine, we saw defeats of Russian tanks equipped with armor like the T-90M. The Leopard 2 is still gone in Ukraine, but in Syria, Turkish troops lost three tanks in one battle near the town of Al-Bab in northern Syria. The tanks were Leopard 2 and were hit by Russian man-portable anti-tank missiles.
And yet – who will win?
Still… if the two tanks met in a tank battle who would have the upper hand? It’s hard to guess. Both tanks have equal stats, with each of them having some kind of advantage.
The Russian tank would win, relying on the inexperience with this technique of the Ukrainian crew. The German tank would also win, relying on its better maneuverability. This battle will be decided by these two metrics. Neither armament nor armor is capable of giving one an advantage over the other.
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