Tanks In Afghanistan: Supplementing or Augmenting Air Power Via Direct Fire Support
By Murielle Delaporte
Leopard 2 (www.forces.gc.ca)
12/09/2010 – M1A1 Abrams vs Leopard 2A6M?
If the Canadians and the Danes regularly use their tanks in the Afghan theatre – respectively since 2006 and 2007 — the U.S. military leadership has always been reticent to imitate its allies out of fear to replay the scenario of the Soviet intervention in the eighties in the minds of the Afghan population. The Canadians were the very first ISAF members to deploy seventeen Leopards 1C2, which they had to replace because of increasingly high maintenance costs and the looming risks of lacking spares by 2012. They therefore deployed as early as 2007 twenty Leopards 2A6M. The Danes have been using fifteen Leopards 2A5DK since 2007.
Repeated tactical successes of the German-made Leopard seem to have demonstrated the key role of the tank in operations: sixteen tanks M1A1 thus will supplement the arsenal of the Marines and will be deployed in the Helmand Province in the spring of 2011. Such an initiative seems intended less as an “escalation” than a mean to replace the Canadian tanks, on which American forces have been regularly relying for support (it was the case no later than last month during the offensive of Panjwaii). Canadian armed forces must indeed leave Afghanistan in July 2011, leaving behind only a thousand advisers . If figures are correct and add up, the overall number of tanks within the Coalition in Afghanistan would in actual fact go down from thirty five to thirty one as of this summer.
Such an initiative seems intended less as an “escalation” than a mean to replace the Canadian tanks, on which American forces have been regularly relying for support (it was the case no later than last month during the offensive of Panjwaii). Canadian armed forces must indeed leave Afghanistan in July 2011.
Direct Fire Support Wanted
Among the advantages of the tank recognized in Afghan ground operations:
• An undeniable deterrence capability without needing a large number of tanks
• A reconnaissance capability (allowing in particular to check the presence of civilians in hostile territory, thus reducing losses within the population)
• An ability to provide close proximity and rapid fire support other than relying solely on air support (thus less potential collateral damage also)
• An extremely effective protection against IEDs (although extra-armor is no silver bullet in that matter)
• An auxiliary logistics support particularly appreciated by light infantry units (such as the paratroopers)
Among the disadvantages are the questions of reduced mobility compared to light armored vehicles (in terms of terrain, but however not in terms of threats) and the logistic challenge to bring them over the theater.  The First Abrams was actually delivered by C-17 (which can carry one M1A1 versus two for the C-5) on November 26th to Camp Bastion.
Arrival of the first Canadian Leopard 2A6M CAN in Afghanistan in 2007 Credit: www.army.forces.gc.ca
“The ponies want to gallop” 
With regard to Canada, the outdatedness of C2 had encouraged the government to borrow twenty net generation tanks – the Leopards 2– considered definitely more powerful and deployed as of August 2007.As Adjudant Bruce Rose, from the Royal Candaian Dragoons noted at the time:
« With the Leopard 1 C2, we had to push the engine to its limits to engage, but with the Leopards 2’s 1500 horse power, one has to hold on the poneys who want to gallup. » 
In addition, better protection against IEDs, better shooting capability and air conditioning (the lack of which had been compensated by special suits in the C2s).
The agreement between Canada and Germany lead in 2009 to two outsourcing contracts regarding maintenance with the German firm Krauss Maffei-Wegmann in 2009:
The loan of 20 Leopard 2 tanks by Germany plans their return to their country of origin at the time of the end of the agreement. To satisfy this requirement, Canada will convert 20 tanks Leopard 2A6 bought of the Netherlands to the German standards and will turn them over as replacement. Since the tanks must go back to Germany by September 2012, a deal was concluded with Krauss Maffei-Wegmann, the manufacturer of the material, at the end of July 2009 to restore the tanks. (…) the prolongation of the Afghan mission from 2009 to 2011, announced in March 2008, created the need for currently carrying out the rotation of the 20 tanks Leopard 2A6 in service in the theater.
The 20 tanks were useful under the difficult conditions of Afghanistan during the two last years, and it is planned to withdraw them from operations in 2010 to repair them and give them back. A contract was allocated to the manufacturer of the material, Krauss Maffei-Wegmann in Germany, to carry out urgent work of repairing and upgrading. This urgent contract, evaluated at 86.9 million dollars (CAN), was granted to Krauss Maffei-Wegmann in June 2009. 
A contract is allocated to Krauss Maffei-Wegmann, the manufacturer, for repair, check up and the upgrade of 20 tanks Leopard 2A4 to be deployed in Afghanistan in September 2010.
A contract is allocated to Krauss Maffei-Wegmann, the manufacturer, for the conversion of 20 tanks bought from the Netherlands back to German standards,in order to give them to Germany as replacement.
Related SLD Articles
- http://sldinfo.com/?p=13618 (in English)
- http://sldinfo.com/?p=3903 (in English)
- http://sldinfo.com/fr/2010/m1a1-en-afghanistan/ (French version of this article)