Battle for the Tank Market

The US arms industry could be main profiteer from Leopard 2 deliveries to Kiev. German tank producers increasingly threatened by US and South Korean competition.

BERLIN/WASHINGTON/SEOUL (Own report) – The United Sates is holding up the promised deliveries of M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine as a means of attacking Germany’s Leopard 2’s strong standing on the European arms markets. This is suggested by reports from industrial circles. As the Biden administration has confirmed, the promised 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks will probably not be delivered to Kiev before two, or eventually one and a half years. Washington is supposedly ready to quickly replace the Leopard 2 battle tanks, European countries deliver to Kiev, with M1 Abrams, as long as the recipients engage in a “long-term industrial partnership.” This would mean, however, that they would be lost as potential customers for German battle tanks. Experts warn that this would also entail Berlin’s loss of political influence. Poland was the first European state to opt for US battle tanks, already prior to Russia’s intervention, and is also buying battle tanks from South Korea, which it plans to produce itself, in a few years. This, in turn, serves US Interests in Eastern Asia – and weakens Berlin.

M1 Abrams vs. Leopard 2

The Biden administration’s unwillingness to deliver US M1 Abrams tanks to Kiev on short notice had been evident from the very outset. Washington has always maintained that the tank is not easy to repair, requires a complex logistics chain and consumes huge amounts of kerosene. All this speaks against its use in the Ukraine war. Arms experts have repeatedly dismissed this, saying that Abrams can also be refueled with diesel just like the Leopard, also the Leopard must have a service center organized in Poland. It is not evident why the United States could not do the same for their Abrams. In addition, thousands of US tanks are not only stockpiled in the United States, but, for example, also in Kuwait, to be deployed whenever necessary. These tanks are, according to reports, mostly older Abrams M1A1s.[1] However, also a large number of older Leopard 1 models are being supplied to Ukraine. In any case, the US Army also has a huge stock – almost 2000, according to reports – of modern M1A2 tanks, plus tanks in storage sites.[2] It is not clear, why a small number of these should not be expendable.

“One and a Half Years, at the Earliest”

In reality, the German-US deal in late January, where Washington would deliver 31 M1 Abrams for a complete Ukrainian tank battalion, if Berlin equipped another Ukrainian tank battalion with Leopard 2A6s did not hold long. First, it emerged that even though the United States would supply the more sophisticated M1A2, it would only be the model destined for export – fitted with an old armor, developed in the 1960s – but not with the current depleted uranium armor plating, whose exact composition is classified.[3] Parts of the M1A2 electronics would also not be exported because they too are classified. Ukraine should receive brand-new export M1 Abrams. Subsequently it was reported that, in principle, Abrams producer, General Dynamics was capable of completing the 31 battle tanks for Ukraine in about three months. However, the company is already building 250 export Abrams M1A2s for Poland and 108 for Taiwan. Only when these two orders have been completed, would it be able to supply Ukraine,[4] and this would be in 2024 at the earliest. Following harsh criticism, the Biden administration announced that it could deliver the Abrams tanks in two years at the latest, perhaps even in one and a half years.[5]

Industrial Partnership with the USA

Already in January, Switzerland’s daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung pointed out that the refusal of a to rapid delivery of the M1 Abrams promised significant advantages to the US arms-industrial and military policies. If Ukraine mainly receives Leopard 2 tanks from the stocks of the European militaries, these will then have to be replaced as soon as possible. The delivery period for the Leopard 2 is currently estimated from 2 – 2½ years, at the earliest.[6] Washington, however, is now offering “each country that can deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine,” to replace them with “used tanks from its own stocks,” writes the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, quoting industrial circles.[7] M1 Abrams are therefore certainly available, only not for Ukraine, but rather in order to promote the interests of the US arms industry. The author of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, a long-time Bundeswehr expert, with comprehensive experience in foreign operations, who, for a while had been employed by a defense contractor, reported that the US offer was exclusively tied to a “long-term industrial partnership.” “Each country that accepted the American offer, is lost to Germany’s tank industry.”

Trailblazer Poland

The impact this will have, can be seen in the fact that currently a total of 15 European countries use the Leopard 2, while the M1 Abrams is available in Egypt, in Iraq, in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Morocco, in a three-digit quantity in each, in Egypt, even in a four-digit amount. However, among European allies, only Poland has purchased them. Over the past two decades, Poland had initially bought “more than 200 Leopard 2s in Germany” according to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.[8] Over the past few years, however, in conjunction with increasingly closer ties to the United States, Warsaw has also been largely strengthening its ties to the US arms industry. For example, in 2021 Poland concluded a deal to buy 250 M1A2 Abramses – for US $4.75 billion – and in January signed a deal to buy 116 older M1A1s for US $1.4 billion.[9] That has far-reaching consequences. With this procurement, not only an attractive market for the Leopard 2 has been lost. As the Neue Zürcher Zeitung notes, “partners with the same weapons” are also easier to integrate into US military coalitions. This can apply to other European countries, should the USA effectively push through their purchase of the M1 Abrams.

South Korea’s Tank Forges

However, the strong standing of the Leopard 2 is not only being threatened by the M1 Abrams, but also by South Korea’s arms industry, which, until now, has received little attention here. Last year Poland signed a deal with South Korea’s Hyundai Rotem and Hanwha Defense, to buy 1,000 K2 main battle tanks. Of that amount 180 will be built in South Korea and shipped to Poland by 2025. Beginning in 2026, Poland will produce the remaining 820 as a distinct K2PL variant. The two South Korean companies would be able to produce faster and at a more competitive price than their German competitor, noted recently the specialized periodical Foreign Policy.[10] According to the periodical, Slovakia is also discussing the procurement of the K2. Other countries, including Norway have decided to buy South Korean howitzers. The paper points out that this is also in the interests of the USA. For Washington, it is very important that South Korea’s arms industry flourishes, because Seoul is an important ally in Washington’s power struggle against China. Cooperation with the arms industry is also linked to the expansion of military cooperation, wherein Europe will be drawn ever deeper into the conflict in the Asian-Pacific region.

“Berlin’s influence is waning”

Quite independently from this, Germany is not only losing markets with the further advance of South Korea’s arms manufacturers. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung notes that “with each country that German industry loses, Berlin’s political influence on its NATO and EU allies wanes.”[11] At the same time, Washington’s influence – and that of its allies – is growing even stronger.


[1] Michael Evans: US Abrams tanks for Ukraine will lack top-secret armour. 27.01.2023.

[2] Zwischen Leopard und M1 Abrams gibt es nur wenige Unterschiede. 23.01.2023.

[3], [4] Michael Evans: US Abrams tanks for Ukraine will lack top-secret armour. 27.01.2023.

[5] Michael Evans: US warns of delay in delivery of tanks to Ukraine. 24.02.2023.

[6] Matthias Gebauer, Konstantin von Hammerstein: „Aufgebläht ist ein hässliches Wort. Aber ja, 3000 Leute sind sehr viele”. 17.02.2023.

[7], [8] Marco Seliger: Deutsche Panzerdebatte: Welche Rolle spielen amerikanische Rüstungsinteressen? 21.01.2023.

[9] Loveday Morris: Poland is on a quest to have Europe’s strongest military – with U.S. arms. 22.02.2023.

[10] Blake Herzinger: South Korea Could Sweep Up Europe’s Tank Market. 30.01.2023.

[11] Marco Seliger: Deutsche Panzerdebatte: Welche Rolle spielen amerikanische Rüstungsinteressen? 21.01.2023.