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Od 25 maja 2018 r. obowiązuje w Polsce Rozporządzenie Parlamentu Europejskiego i Rady (UE) 2016/679 z dnia 27 kwietnia 2016 r. w sprawie ochrony osób fizycznych w związku z przetwarzaniem danych osobowych i w sprawie swobodnego przepływu takich danych oraz uchylenia dyrektywy 95/46/WE (ogólne rozporządzenie o ochronie danych, zwane także RODO).

W związku z powyższym przygotowaliśmy dla Państwa informacje dotyczące przetwarzania przez Wojskowy Instytut Wydawniczy Państwa danych osobowych. Prosimy o zapoznanie się z nimi: Polityka przetwarzania danych.

Prosimy o zaakceptowanie warunków przetwarzania danych osobowych przez Wojskowych Instytut Wydawniczy – Akceptuję

Philosophy Behind Operating a Leopard

Tank crew members, sappers, military medics – thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are undergoing training in Western Europe. Many of them come to train at the Leopard Training Center.

It is the beginning of March, almost noon. There is a lot going on at the tank shooting range in Świętoszów. Behind my back are four Leopards 2A4. Around them, soldiers in olive green overalls are bustling around. On their shoulders there are badges with a blue and yellow flag. Two tanks are already waiting on the access paths. Given a signal, they move forward. After a moment, a shot is fired. One, then another – right in the target. Great.

Activities at the shooting range signal that the training is slowly coming to an end. The Ukrainians arrived in Świętoszów a few weeks earlier. Most of them came here straight from the battlefront. However, for security reasons, they cannot say exactly where they served or which unit they represent. The commander of their battalion is the only person who talks to the media. He introduces himself as Vadim. He holds the rank of major. “Most of us are experienced tankers, and there is little that can surprise us. But, of course, the differences between Leopards and the T-72s and T-64s we used before are colossal. Suffice it to say that thanks to night vision and thermal imaging, Leopards are capable of fighting at night. This is something that post-Soviet tanks cannot do,” emphasizes Vadim.

JWO Marcin Chrabąszcz, an instructor at the Leopard Training Center in Świętoszów, explains: “Purely technical knowledge is not enough. We want to convey to the Ukrainians a kind of philosophy behind using this type of tank. And the basis here is movement, constant movement.” However, let us start from the beginning.

The Ukrainians are training in Poland due to the involvement of the European Union. It was the EU that initiated the European Union Military Assistance Mission Ukraine (EUMAM UA) in October 2022. A few weeks later, the first soldiers appeared at centers in Western Europe in order to learn, i.a., how to operate modern equipment, under the guidance of instructors from NATO countries and countries cooperating with the Alliance. For the government in Kiev, such training is of utmost importance. One of the reasons for this is that the West has begun to transfer to the Ukrainian military weapons they have never dealt with before, and it was necessary to send them to the front as quickly as possible. “For the time being, our ambition is to train up to 15,000 Ukrainian soldiers. However, this number can even be doubled,” said Gen Robert Brieger, Chairman of the EU Military Committee, during a recent visit in the vicinity of the town of Brzeg, where Ukrainian sappers are undergoing training. Back in February, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell officially announced that this would in fact happen. These figures might, however, quickly change. A lot depends on the demand reported by the Ukrainian army, which is directly linked to the situation on the front and the future decisions of European governments on equipment deliveries. Meanwhile, at the turn of February and March, more countries spoke out on the necessity to urgently strengthen not only the Ukrainian ground forces, but also the air force.

Over 20 countries have become involved in EUMAM UA. Poland plays a key role among them. It is here that CAT-C, one of the two operational commands overseeing the course of training, is located. It is headed by MajGen Piotr Trytek, commander of the 11th Lubuska Armored Cavalry Division. The second operational command is located in Germany. Leopard tank crews are also trained both in Poland and in Germany. Sending this type of machines to the East had been the subject of long diplomatic struggles in Europe, which were ultimately brought to a happy end. On 9 March, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of National Defense, Mariusz Błaszczak, announced that Poland had sent another ten Leopards to Ukraine. The first four had arrived there a year after the Russian invasion. “We managed to gather an entire battalion of Leopard 2A4 tanks. In addition to the 14 Polish tanks, Ukraine will receive eight machines from Canada, eight from Norway and at least six from Spain,” said Deputy Prime Minister Błaszczak. They are all expected to constitute one of the biggest reinforcements for the Ukrainian army.

No Rush…

I slide into the tight cabin with my feet forward, I take my place in the seat and put on the helmet. I push a few buttons, move a few gears, and set off. Empty spaces and sandy hills move in front of my eyes. I accelerate and try to avoid the wrecks of burned buses. Suddenly, I feel a jerk and I come to a halt. The engine starts to increase RPM, but I don't move by even a meter. “You hit the bus with your back. The tank has its length, so you need to add some distance,” I hear in my headphones. Well, driving a 55-ton Leopard is not an easy thing to do. Even when you are in a simulator.

The Ukrainian soldiers certainly have no such problems. After all, they came to Świętoszów with a solid knowledge base, and, as instructors unanimously say, they absorb new information like a sponge. “The Ukrainians would be most happy to train non-stop,” says BrigGen Grzegorz Barabieda, commander of the 10th Armored Cavalry Brigade. “To tell you the truth, I've never met soldiers who would train with such great commitment.”

They do not have too much time, because the course itself is unique. “Normally, we have 45 days to prepare Polish crews for service. In the case of Ukrainians, the process had to be significantly accelerated,” admits Gen Barabieda. “Our specialists have prepared a new training program for them, which lasts 30 days. But since we didn't want to give up any element, the classes are extremely intensive. Ukrainian soldiers train for ten hours a day, six days a week,” he adds. The first part of the course is mainly theory and work on simulators. Afterwards, the trainees go out into the field. “Under normal circumstances, we focus on training each crew member individually. The crews learn tactics later, at their home battalions. In the case of the Ukrainians, however, we introduce such elements right away, as they will be sent to the front directly after the course,” emphasizes WO Sebastian Szpyrka, another instructor at the Świętoszów center.

Ukrainian tankers must, first of all, learn how to use Leopards in the best possible way, as this will give them a huge advantage over the enemy. “The Russians mainly use tanks whose designs were developed back in the USSR era. One Leopard is capable of fighting an effective battle against four T-72 tanks,” assures Maj Maciej Banaszyński, commander of the Leopard Training Center. “Old habits still resurface in some of them,” adds WO Szpyrka. “The gunners correct their shots with regard to the movement of the target. They forget that in this tank everything is calculated by a computer. Still, the progress they are making is huge.”

Tanks of both types once battled against one another using Agdus laser firing simulators mounted on cannons and rifles. “The Leopard is faster and more maneuverable. Suffice it to say that in reverse gear it can develop a speed of up to 30 km/h, while the T-72 retreats at a speed of 3 km/h,” reminds JWO Chrabąszcz. On top of that, Leopard can operate at night. Above all, however, it can conduct effective fire at a distance of up to 4 km, while the T-72 strikes targets at a distance of 2 km at most. “At the beginning of the course, the Ukrainians asked me if Leopard could be used as artillery. I replied that it could. But why would it? The main advantages of this tank are mobility and maneuverability. The crew should let the enemy approach them, leaving a relatively short distance, but in such a way that they themselves remain out of the range of the enemy cannon, then fire effective shots and jump away,” points out JWO Chrabąszcz. Of course, developing such a habit is not easy, because until now the Ukrainians have been using tanks with the same parameters as those used by the Russians. When the adversaries saw each other, the speed of reaction was the decisive factor. Whoever was the first to get within firing distance and fire an effective volley survived. After switching to Leopards, Ukrainian tankmen should keep cooler heads. SSWO Krzysztof Sieradzki from the Świętoszów center says: “We explain to them – don't rush, wait until the enemy approaches you. From a distance of 2.5 km you will almost definitely be able to successfully hit them, but they won't be able to reach you.”

Best Weapon, First Target

During the classes that I have the opportunity to observe, the Ukrainians fire at targets 1,800 meters away. The mock-ups they hit rise in front of the moving tanks moments before. Earlier, they also fired at night. “They performed very well. The average score was 4.8,” reports Maj Banaszyński. The crews must be not only in sync, but also remain flexible and versatile. The instructors train the tankers so that, if necessary, the commander is able to drive the tank and perform firing, and the gunner knows how to take over the commander's duties. On the battlefront, where losses must be anticipated, such skills are crucial. Especially since the Russians will probably hunt down Leopards with particular ferocity. First, in order to destroy equipment that is particularly dangerous to them as quickly as possible, and second, to fuel their propaganda. The Kremlin-controlled media, after all, are already eager to report on every Western-made howitzer or rocket launcher that has been successfully eliminated, often exaggerating the news.

In Świętoszów, the Ukrainians train not only in the field. “If any group needs a moment to practice a selected element in peace, they can always return to the simulator hall. Although the training schedule is tight, we try to be as flexible as possible,” emphasizes Maj Banaszyński. I witness that before I go out to the shooting range – almost half of the simulators in the hall are manned. “Without the simulators, adequate preparation of the Ukrainian crews would simply be impossible. That's why we are trying to expand our base,” admits Maj Banaszyński.

March Forward

During training, Vadim repeatedly stresses that both he and his men are eager to return. “We want to support the guys who are fighting and dying there,” he says. They all realize that they are getting their hands on a powerful weapon. “If Leopards are prepared in the right way, they can really do our army a lot of good. Although, of course, it must be kept in mind that tanks on the battlefront do not work alone – they need support from the infantry, aircraft, mechanized troops. It's a whole system,” he explains. A system that will not only help to halt the Russian offensive announced for the spring, but also make it possible to organize their own. Of course, Ukraine still has too little modern armament to think of a lightning-fast and effective strike, similar to the September counterattack near Kharkov. It can, however, hope for a slow forward march and... further supplies from the West. The first group of Ukrainian tankmen, namely Vadim and his men, have already returned to Ukraine. A new group of troops is now undergoing training at the center. There is fierce fighting taking place in Ukraine, and experts predict that we all need to prepare for a long war.

Łukasz Zalesiński

autor zdjęć: Maciej Nędzyński/ CO MON, Łukasz Zalesiński

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