In a stunning shift to their approach, the German government has agreed to send Ukraine around 50 “Gepard” air-defense systems to aid the country defend itself from Russian airstrikes, both German and U.S. officials said at a conference at the US Ramstein Air Force base.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said at the conference that, “We decided yesterday that we will support Ukraine with anti-aircraft systems … which is exactly what Ukraine needs now to secure the airspace from the ground.”
“We are working together with our American friends in training Ukrainian troops on artillery systems on German soil,” she added. Ukrainian troops will travel to Germany to train on the system.
Although it is no longer a frontline system, the fact that Germany is furnishing the Gepard to Ukraine is significant as it is the first time that Germany is furnishing heavy weapons to the Ukrainians.
The Germans had a decades-long policy of not furnishing lethal weapons to a war zone. Prior to this the Germans had only supplied humanitarian aid and medical supplies to Ukraine.
This reversal was a major step as the Germans are now committed, with NATO to supply the Ukrainians with whatever their needs are to defend itself against the Russian invasion that has stretched into its third month.
“We have delivered whatever is possible from the stocks of the Bundeswehr. Whatever Ukraine needs and whatever we have agreed with our allies, we will deliver,” Lambrecht said.
The Germans have vowed to start spending more cash on their national defense. They recently announced that they will by 35 of the American-made F-35 fighters that will replace Germany’s aging fleet of Tornados.
Background on the Gepard Anti-aircraft System:
The “Gepard” (German for Cheetah), is made by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, and since 2010, are no longer in the inventory of the German armed forces, as it ws replaced by Wiesel 2 Ozelot tankette, but the manufacturer has kept a number in its own stocks. The Gepard was designed in the 1960s, was fielded in the 1970s, and then was upgraded several times to keep it in service until 2010.
The Gepard was placed on the hull of the Leopard 1 main battle tank with a large fully rotating turret carrying the armament—a pair of 35mm Oerlikon KDA autocannons with two radar dishes—a general search radar at the rear of the turret and a tracking radar, and laser rangefinder, at the front between the guns. Each of the guns has a firing rate of 550 rounds per minute, which gives the system a continuous fire time of 37 seconds before running out of ammunition as each gun carries 680 rounds.
The KDA 35mm guns have a muzzle velocity of 4,700 feet per second firing FAPDS (Frangible Armour Piercing Discarding Sabot rounds), giving an effective range of 3.4 miles or 5.5 kilometers.
Since the 1980s, the Germans have had Stinger teams accompany the Gepard units and the Ukrainians may opt to do the same since Germany is furnishing the Ukrainian military with Stingers as well.
Conference Attended by Dozens of NATO Allies:
The conference at Ramstein AFB was not a “NATO conference” per se, as countries that are not in the alliance were invited. US Defense Secretary invited over 40 countries to the conference.
The purpose of the conference was “to help Ukraine win the fight against Russia’s unjust invasion and to build up Ukraine’s defenses for tomorrow’s challenges,” Austin said as he opened the meeting.
“As we see this morning, nations from around the world stand united in our resolve to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia’s imperial aggression,” Austin said.
Austin also acknowledged Germany’s shift in policy and welcomed their decision to supply the Gepards to Ukraine. “I wanted to especially welcome a major decision by our German hosts,” he said.
“And yesterday, of course, the British government announced that it will provide Ukraine with additional anti-aircraft capabilities,” Austin added. “And today, Canada announced that it will send Ukraine eight armored vehicles,” he added.
Article by Steve Balestrieri