Senior sources told CBC News that Canada is considering supplying four Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, but no decision has been made.
The sources said the government may announce the donation of tanks on Thursday.
CBC News did not identify the confidential sources because they are not authorized to speak publicly.
One of the sources said Canada is likely to send the A4 tank to Ukraine – the oldest in the Canadian Army’s inventory. Canada bought A4s from the Netherlands during the war in Afghanistan.
The Globe and Mail first reported how many tanks Canada could send to Ukraine’s war effort.
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Earlier Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said his government would provide more support to Ukraine, but declined to join its allies in announcing the donation of German-made tanks to fend off Russian forces.
A military expert said Germany’s announcement that it would send Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine pressured Trudeau to do the same.
“We will continue to be there to provide all possible support to Ukraine,” Trudeau said. “I’m not going to make an announcement today but I can tell you that we are looking very closely at what we can do to support Ukraine.”
Trudeau made the remarks in Hamilton, Ontario, where he is attending a cabinet retreat ahead of Parliament’s return.
For weeks, Ukraine has been asking its allies to supply it with up to 300 German-made Leopard 2 battle tanks. Many of the Allies had these tanks in stock but could only donate them if Germany agreed to transfer the vehicles to a third party.
Earlier on Wednesday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that his country would supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 tanks from its army.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Germany had briefed several allies about its plan ahead of the announcement, including Canada.
“Germany will always be ahead when it comes to supporting Ukraine,” Schultz said later in a speech to lawmakers in the German Federal Parliament.
Allies step up
Germany made the announcement on the same day that US President Joe Biden told reporters in Washington that the United States would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
Germany, reluctant to anger Russia alone by sending tanks, said the Panthers would not be sent unless the United States put Abrams on the table.
Last week, the United Kingdom announced that it would send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Reuters reported on Wednesday that the Norwegian Defense Minister announced that his country will also donate Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, joining Poland, Finland, Spain and the Netherlands.
Walter Dorn, professor of defense studies at the Royal Military College, said donations announced by other countries have increased pressure on Canada to do the same.
“I think there will be pressure from the United States on Canada to recruit Leopard 2 tanks, because the Leopard 2 will be the mainstay of the Ukrainian tank forces,” he said.
Dorn said the Abrams tanks are very different from the Leopard 2s and it is likely that the Allies would like Ukraine to have a more unified fleet of vehicles to ensure it can keep up with parts and repairs on the battlefield.
Dorn said the German statement is important because it allows Ukraine to counter Russian advances in Ukraine and launch its own attacks.
“This is potentially a game-changer because it adds more blows to the Ukrainian forces,” Dorn told CBC News. “They are the best in an entire generation.
“Western weapons are heavier, they have better shields, they can strike more strikes, and they have the ability to capture territory more easily. Really, [Russian] The T-72 doesn’t stand a chance against these modern weapons. »
Dorn said that although Ukraine had ordered 300 tanks, having just 100 of these vehicles would make a huge difference on the battlefield.
Germany said that the tanks would not be ready for battle for several months.
Dorn said training crews and building the maintenance facilities needed to keep the tanks working will take time.
The Canadian Armed Forces have 112 Leopard IIs in their inventory. Includes 82 designed for combat and 30 used for engineering and recovery of disabled vehicles. Many of them are not ready for battle due to maintenance issues.
According to an article published by the Royal Military College last year, “The low service rate of the Leopard 2 main battle tanks has been an endemic problem and concern at a strategic level since its implementation.”
The newspaper blamed the maintenance problems on a lack of infrastructure, technicians and spare parts.
The forces will not specify the number of battle-ready tanks
Retired Lieutenant General and former Canadian Army Commander Jean-Marc Lanthier said in an interview with The Canadian Press that any donation would almost certainly balance Ukraine’s needs with the potential impact on Canada’s military.
“Getting rid of all the tanks—because we have so few of them, so few of those that are actively operating—would have an immediate impact on the Army’s level of readiness,” said Lanthier, who served as an armored officer.
Is this something that should stop us from sending in tanks? I believe we have a moral responsibility regarding the immediate urgency of the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the Ukrainian people. They are at war. We do not. »
Canada bought Panthers from Germany during the war in Afghanistan. By default they are divided into squadrons of 19 tanks each, with two squadrons in Edmonton and a third in CFB Gagetown, note: most of the others are in the Armored Training School in Gagetown.
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“You usually keep a bunch of them in a repository ready to deploy, but that’s not something we necessarily do because we don’t have the numbers,” Lanther said.
Department of Homeland Defense spokesman Andrew McKelvey on Wednesday would not comment on the percentage of the military’s Leopard 2 aircraft currently combat-ready and the number of aircraft retired for maintenance or other reasons.
He said that “tank maintenance is similar to aircraft maintenance, and the condition of the fleet at any given time depends on a comprehensive maintenance, repair and inspection schedule, which comes with specific requirements. In terms of operational training or staffing.”
“For operational security reasons, we cannot say how many Leopard 2s are under maintenance at any time or give an indication of their maintenance schedule.”
Lanter said the question facing the government is whether the benefit of sending tanks to Ukraine outweighs the impact on the military. If that happens, another question will be whether those tanks will be replaced — and if so, how quickly.