Leopard 1A5BE spotted in Ukraine, but Belgium hasn’t sent them yet

According to some Ukrainian sources, the first Belgian Leopard 1A5BE tank appears to have arrived in Ukraine. This speculation is based on a video, although, without any official confirmation either from Belgian or Ukrainian authorities, it remains a mere assumption. 

Leopard 1A5BE spotted in Ukraine, but Belgium hasn't sent them yet
Video screenshot

Now, let’s delve into the distinct visual attributes that set apart the Leopard 1A5BE, formerly a part of the Belgian army, from other variants of this tank. 

The Leopard 1A5BE, specifically from Belgium, boasts a cast turret and is absent of additional armor protection, distinguishing it from the rest. Moreover, the apparent gunner’s sight housing is another unique feature correlated to the deployment of a different fire control system as compared to other Leopard 1A5 models.

Leopard 1A5BE spotted in Ukraine, but Belgium hasn't sent them yet
Video screenshot

Unknown buyer

Let’s cast our minds back to an announcement made in August 2023. It hinted at an anonymous buyer procuring 50 “golden” Leopard 1 tanks for Ukraine from a private Belgian company known as OIP Systems. The specifics regarding the contract’s value and delivery date remained shrouded in mystery. However, the narrative involving the potential Belgian “golden” Leopard 1 destined for the Armed Forces seemingly ended there, as no further information appeared in our public domain. 

Fast forward to January 2024, our public sphere was treated with images suggesting the possibility of one [or even more] Leopard 1A5BE tanks in the hands of the Ukrainian Defense Forces, actively involved in repelling Russian military efforts. 

In any event, the distinguishing form of the turret sight housing on this Leopard 1A5 points to it being of the BE variant. By this logic, we can infer that there might be multiple Belgian Leopard 1A5BE tanks in possession now – the concept of only a single, slightly unconventional armament does not make operational sense, even if it’s a tank primarily used in the drive-and-shoot style warfare.

Not for the first time

While it’s yet to be officially validated, the shipment of the Belgian Leopard 1A5BE to Ukraine, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first instance of significant gear from Belgium making its way to our armed forces, often with the involvement of intermediate players. 

Brazil begins own production of Leopard 1A5BR tank spare parts
Photo credit: Reddit

Come summer of 2022, it was Great Britain that took the initiative to acquire approximately 20 M109A4BE self-propelled artillery units from private Belgian businesses. Not stopping there, it went on to bring these units up to spec at its own expense before delivering them into the hands of our brave defenders.

The unique Leopard 1D5BE

The Leopard 1A5BE, a Belgian variant of the Leopard 1 tank, is in a league of its own. Belgium took the well-built German design of the main battle tank and tailored it to their unique needs – the ‘BE’ in its moniker, after all, stands for ‘Belgian Edition’. 

Leopard 1A5BE spotted in Ukraine, but Belgium hasn't sent them yet
Video screenshot

For starters, the Leopard 1A5BE goes off the beaten path with its own distinct fire control system. Manufactured by Belgian SABCA, it greatly differs from the standard German EMES 18 system that graces most Leopard 1s. The benefits of this cutting-edge technology? Superior targeting precision, faster reaction time, and an undeniable edge in combative situations. 

Equipped with a passive thermal imaging system, the Leopard 1A5BE truly stands out from its counterparts. With this technology, operators can effortlessly detect and identify targets in challenging conditions such as nighttime or foggy conditions, much more effectively than other Leopard 1 variants. 

Then we get to its unique aesthetics. Instead of the standard three-tone ‘NATO’ camouflage, the Leopard 1A5BE sports a jigsaw-esque pattern. Uniquely suited to blend in with the Belgian terrain, it provides an extra coat of protection, setting a new standard for stealth. 

Dissimilar storage arrangements add another pinch of variety to the Leopard 1A5BE. Unlike other Leopard 1 tanks, this variant boasts a large storage box at the turret’s rear. This additional room means more supplies can be stowed away, extending the tank’s operational longevity in the field. 

Last, but by no means least, the Leopard 1A5BE displays a highly efficient exhaust smoke system. By creating a smoke screen that conceals the tank from enemy sight, this feature further enhances the tank’s battlefield survivability. While similar systems exist in other Leopard 1 models, none quite match up to the advanced and effective system displayed in the Belgian edition.

Belgium replaced Brazil

Tasked with supplying the Leopard 1 with 105 mm tank ammunition, KNDS, the Belgian government’s local branch, received an extensive order from Ukraine. The requested stock, amounting to thousands of rounds, should ideally have been fulfilled by now. 

This scenario gives us an inside look into the challenges confronting the Leopard 1A5/A5DK designated for Ukraine, predominantly the pronounced inadequacy of ammunition. To overcome this, one of the proposed solutions was to procure reserves from Brazil. 

Yet, Brazil, one of the final few nations still using these tanks, refrained from supplying Ukraine with ammunition. This action ended up causing a blockade by Germany on items produced in Brazil’s Iveco DV – KTO Guarani unit.

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