A Blog by Jonathan Low


Jul 27, 2022

The Importance of Germany's Gepard Air-Defense Tanks (Finally) Reaching Ukraine

As Russia runs out of smart munitions, its pilots are forced to fly closer to their targets in order for unguided missiles and bombs to hit their targets. 

The German Gepard anti-aircraft weapon is mobile, employs a devastating rate of fire and is accurate out to 3 miles with its radar accurate to 9 miles. This will make it even harder for Russia to use its air force without being shot down. That German Chancellor Scholz finally approved the transfer - after 3 months of delays - suggests he could no longer stand the political pressure and that his fear of Putin has been reduced by Ukraine's growing battlefield successes. JL 

The Wall Street Journal reports and David Axe reports in Forbes:

It took three months for the first Gepards to arrive in Ukraine, after Berlin said in April it would send them. German Chancellor Scholz’s strategy has been to delay tanks and other heavy weapons in the hope a negotiated settlement would make them moot. (But) Mr. Scholz finds himself increasingly isolated on arming Ukraine. A Gepard is mobile and protected, as it combines the chassis of a tank with an armored turret. Its twin cannons fire 550 rounds a minute out to three miles. Its radar has a nine-mile range. The Gepard is an Su-25-killer because Russian doctrine, and shortage of precision weapons, compels attack pilots to fly very close to enemy forces to employ unguided rockets and bombs.

Wall Street JournalThe cheetah is the world’s fastest animal and can reach a speed of up to 70 miles an hour. If Germany’s Gepard (“Cheetah”) anti-aircraft tanks had traveled at that pace, they would have finished the 1,100-mile journey to Ukraine in about 16 hours. Instead it took three months for the first three Gepards to arrive in Ukraine on Monday, after Berlin said in April it would send them.

What a disgrace for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on the global stage, and what a political embarrassment at home. Even Berlin’s announcement of this military aid came two months into Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Scholz’s main strategy, if that’s what it is, has been to delay the tanks and other heavy weapons, presumably in the hope that a negotiated settlement at some point would make them moot.

Frustrated Ukrainians, Germans and NATO allies have been treated to a range of German government excuses for the slow-roll. Berlin has fretted that Germany didn’t have equipment to send without diminishing its own military readiness, or that the Ukrainians wouldn’t know how to use German weapons, or even that providing heavy weapons would provoke a Russian nuclear attack. None of that has stopped others, including more vulnerable Poland and the Baltic states, from sending weapons.

The good news is that Mr. Scholz at least finds himself increasingly isolated within his own administration on arming Ukraine. Leaders of the Green Party, part of the coalition government with Mr. Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD), have demanded accelerated arms shipments for months.


The third coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party (FDP), agrees. Over the weekend Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, the FDP chairwoman of the parliament’s defense committee, called for Mr. Scholz to scrap the complicated “circular exchange” whereby Germany sends new weapons to Eastern NATO members so they can send their older weapons to Ukraine.

Mr. Scholz’s initial response to the Ukraine invasion was exactly correct. He said in February that Europe is under threat and Germany must rearm to help its allies and deter Vladimir Putin. But it’s hard to separate that declared resolve from his timidity on military aid to Ukraine. Allies and the Kremlin are watching Berlin’s actions closely, and it would help Mr. Scholz’s credibility if the next batch of Cheetahs move less like turtles.

Forbes In 1973, the West German army had a problem. Forty-nine years later, the Ukrainian army had the same problem.

That problem: the Russian army and air force’s very-low-flying attack jets and helicopters.

The German and Ukrainian armies also shared a solution to this problem, in the form of a tracked armored vehicle packing a radar and a pair of 35-millimeter guns with fuzed ammunition that explodes in mid-air.

The Gepard. Germany pledged to Ukraine 30 of these self-propelled anti-aircraft guns, or SPAAGs. The first copies began arriving this week. “Our capabilities to protect our sky will be strengthened,” Ukrainian defense minister Oleksii Reznikov tweeted.

The Germans, along with the Belgians and Dutch, once deployed hundreds of Gepards. The plan, in wartime, was for the SPAAGs to accompany tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, protecting them from Russian gunship helicopters and Su-25 attack jets flying underneath the radar horizon of longer-range surface-to-air missile batteries.

Most NATO countries disposed of their Gepards and other SPAAGs as the Russian threat seemed to subside in the early 2000s. One exception is Romania, whose 40 ex-German Gepards now comprise a greater part of NATO’s mobile, short-range air-defenses.

The Russian threat to Ukraine never really subsided—not since Ukraine began moving into the Western sphere following popular protests that prevented a Russia-backed presidential candidate from stealing an election in 2004.

When the Russian army widened its war in Ukraine starting in late February, the same old gunships and Su-25s flew overhead. The Ukrainian army initially lacked adequate air-defenses against low- and close-flying aircraft. It’s not for no reason that, when Kyiv went to its Western allies with a list of weapons it needed, shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles were near the top.


A soldier hauling a 35-pound Stinger SAM is mobile in the sense that he can ride along with the front-line forces. But he has to jump out of his vehicle to shoot a missile. That both slows down his battalion and puts him in the line of fire.

A Gepard by contrast is mobile and protected, as it combines the basic chassis of a Leopard tank with a lightly-armored turret. Its twin Oerlikon cannons fire 550 rounds a minute out to a range of three miles. The three-person crew is cued by a turret-mounted radar with a nine-mile range.

The Gepard is an Su-25-killer. Moreso because Russian doctrine, and the Russian military’s shortage of precision weapons, compels attack pilots to fly very close to enemy forces in order to employ unguided rockets and bombs.

So it was a big deal when, in April, Berlin offered Gepards to Kyiv. Yes, the SPAAGs are old. But so are the aircraft they’re meant to destroy. The Gepard still works just fine. “It's a ‘golden oldie,'” Nicholas Drummond, a British tank consultant, tweeted in reference to the SPAAG.

The Russian air force already has lost 16 of its roughly 200 Su-25s in five months of hard fighting in Ukraine. As the Ukrainian Gepards deploy, that number could rise.


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