Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III is meeting with his new German counterpart in Berlin as a prelude to the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting at Ramstein Air Base later this week.
The secretary arrived in Berlin and will meet with the newly appointed German Defense Minister, Boris Pistorius.
“We’ve worked with Germany very closely since the beginning of this crisis,” a U.S. senior defense official said speaking on background.” The United States is really focused right now on making sure that Ukraine has what it needs to deal with what is right in front of it.”
U.S. officials believe that Russia is readying a spring offensive in Ukraine. The country’s partners have been focused on providing Ukraine with what it needs to defend itself. Particularly, the countries are looking to provide what Ukraine will need to parry the Russian offensive and launch attacks to take back the territory Russia has taken in its illegal invasion. This includes air defense capabilities and artillery.
“But what’s really important at this point is providing Ukraine with armor capabilities, and in particular, maneuver armor capabilities,” the official said.
The United States has already pledged 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and the training needed to effectively use them. Ukrainian troops are training in the 7th Army Training Center at Grafenwoehr, Germany. These troops are learning to use this new capability at the battalion level.
All told, allies and partners have provided about 900 armored personnel carriers to Ukraine, and European allies are training Ukrainian forces, also.
But they need more. “We’ve already been working with Ukrainians on T-72s [tanks] and on other Soviet-era tanks,” the official said. “What’s facing them is the next step. And that’s why we’re looking at modern, mechanized armored capabilities. And that’s why the focus on tanks, and Germany is the key to that capability.”
The most immediately accessible and usable tank capability is the German Leopard 2. The Leopard 2 has digital fire control, laser rangefinders, a fully stabilized main gun and advanced night vision and sighting equipment. Its main gun is a 120 mm smoothbore, and it can fire on the move over rough terrain.
A number of European countries — most notably Poland and Finland — have said publicly that they are willing to provide Leopards to Ukraine. “They are ready to donate them,” the official said. “They need third-party transfer approval from Germany for that.”
One of the focuses for the secretary is to work with Germany to “unlock that decision,” the official said.
The United Kingdom has said it will provide Challenger tanks to the Ukrainians and the French have pledged AMX-10 light tanks.
U.S. officials expect to make progress on this issue here in Berlin and at the Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting. One encouraging aspect is “10 countries and counting” will have a meeting on the sideline of the contact group meeting focused particularly on the issue of getting Leopard tanks to Ukraine.
“We are seeing a general awareness among the members of the UDCG on the importance of this and the willingness to find ways to work together,” the official said. “And in coordination, we will address this … urgent need.”