Why doesn’t France send its Leclerc tanks to Ukraine?

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Why doesn't France send its Leclerc tanks to Ukraine?

All eyes are on France. While kyiv is desperately demanding heavy tanks of Western construction from its European and American supporters, several countries have answered the call. In the front line, the United Kingdom, which on Saturday promised to send Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine. Poland is ready to deliver fourteen German-made Leopard 2 tanks to kyiv, but is waiting for the green light from Berlin. .

But for the moment if Paris will deliver so-called “light” AMX-10 RC reconnaissance armored vehicles and has already sent Caesar guns, France remains silent on a possible shipment of its Leclerc tanks, heavy armored vehicles. Why such a withdrawal from its European neighbors? Does the French army have sufficient capabilities to send these tanks to Ukraine? What can these heavy armors change on the ground? For Frédéric Coste, senior researcher at the Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), contacted by 20 minutesthere are several reasons that prevent Paris from participating in this particular military effort, and in particular the available fleet of Leclerc tanks at the present time.

What is a Leclerc tank?

If kyiv insists so much on sending heavy tanks, it is with a specific objective on the battlefield: pushing the enemy out of all Ukrainian borders and regaining all of the territory. For the moment, the so-called “light” tanks which will be sent by France, the United States or even Germany, make it possible to contain the front line, to prevent Russian advances. This is the main difference between Leclerc and AMX-10 RC. “The latter are indeed used for reconnaissance, to locate the enemy or open a route, explains Frédéric Coste. If they have a significant firing capability, they are not tank destroyers”. They are lighter, faster and run on wheels, not tracks. They are therefore also more manageable.

Conversely, Leclerc tanks are heavy armored vehicles weighing between 50 and 60 tons with little autonomy. These are called assault tanks, “used in support of infantry or to attack buildings and vehicles, they are notably used as anti-tank weapons, and to help advance the front “, develops Frédéric Coste. It is therefore these tanks that Ukraine would like to recover. They are of the same category as the British Challengers 2 or the German Leopard 2s. So far, kyiv has managed to push back the Russian invader on several fronts thanks to the approximately 300 armored vehicles delivered, of all types, of Soviet design. “The former Warsaw Pact member states that joined NATO held a stock of these tanks. It was easier to first send these armored vehicles to the Ukrainian army, which did not need training to use them since it uses the same ones,” adds the research master. But the stock is decreasing and the needs are more and more pressing.

Why doesn’t France also send heavy armored vehicles?

So that’s kind of the question of the moment. And the Leclerc tanks in all this? Why is France not participating in this effort? This silence in Paris can be explained in several ways, according to Frédéric Coste. Firstly, France considers that with the distribution of the AMX-10 RC tanks, “it has just taken a step” in its military support in kyiv “because it is heavy equipment”, in addition to the Caesar guns already on site, he explains. In addition, “France has continued to reduce its Leclerc fleet and only has 200 left, but it needs them for its own protection”, develops the research master. And that is mainly the problem. Especially since thirteen Leclerc tanks are already in Romania and “if the Russians begin to develop a more aggressive attitude towards Ukraine’s neighbours, we will have to be able to dissuade them, possibly by sending other Leclercs in the area,” he added.

On the other hand, the French Ministry of the Armed Forces has placed an order for 50 additional renovated Leclerc tanks as part of the mid-life modernization of 200 vehicles, the industrialist Nexter announced on Thursday. Knowing that a first order for 50 Leclerc XLR tanks had been placed in 2021 and that the first 18 series copies must be delivered this year to the Army. “This means that in the months to come, 68 tanks will leave gradually for renovation, they will no longer be available to be transferred to Ukraine, specifies Frédéric Coste. Especially since if France is renovating, it is first and foremost for her. “So if we transfer Leclercs to Ukraine, France weakens,” he summarizes.

Could they be a game changer on the ground in Ukraine?

If kyiv is asking for more today, it’s because its army is facing many losses on that side. Admittedly, not as heavy as those of Russia, but the Russian army had a much larger stock initially. And today, Ukraine no longer has the capacity to take back territories. As explained above, these heavy tanks allow you to push back the enemy and the front lines. “France is already delivering light tanks to us. It’s very good, ”conceded Mykhaïlo Podoliak, adviser to the Ukrainian presidency, to AFP. “But we still want to get 250-300-350 heavy tanks,” he added. For him, the Ukrainian victory and therefore the end of the war will only be achieved thanks to this kind of military aid.

However, not everything is so simple. For Frédéric Coste, there is a volume problem. “Heavy armored vehicles are still in their hundreds on the Russian side,” he recalls. So even if the tanks promised by the United Kingdom and Poland can improve the situation on the ground, “it will probably not be enough to reconquer the lost territories”.

And even if this fleet came to inflate Ukrainian military capabilities, many problems still complicate things, especially in terms of logistics. Apart from the transport of the tanks, which will take more or less time depending on their origin, we will have to train the Ukrainian pilots, send new ammunition, set up a logistics chain for repairs, for spare parts , establish specific workshops. “It’s a real headache for all the countries concerned”, summarizes Frédéric Coste. In any case, it will take time, and recent announcements will not have any immediate consequences on the turn of the fights.

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