The burnt out Leopard 2A6.

Via social media

A Russian drone pilot named Vova, short for Vladimir, had a literal front row seat when a lucky Russian infantryman fired a lucky shot at one of the Ukrainian Army’s prized Leopard 2A6 tanks – knocking it out of action.

Almost two years into Russia’s larger war against Ukraine, most tank kills are the result of one or two hits: First, a drone loaded with mines or explosives immobilizes the vehicle. Then artillery, drones, or both will do the rest.

Most of the approximately 13 German-made Leopard 2s that the Ukrainian army has lost so far have been mines and drones, while the Ukrainian army has so far received 71 from its foreign allies.

But it apparently wasn’t mines, drones and artillery that apparently immobilized and then destroyed this Leopard 2A6 outside Avdiivka last week. As Vova watched through the camera of his hovering drone, a projectile fired into the side of the 2000s tank, which has thicker armor and a longer, more powerful gun than older Leopard 2 variants.

“I think the tank was hit by an RPG,” Vova mused on his radio station. An RPG is a rocket-propelled hand grenade: a weapon that you have to get close to in order to use. The best modern RPGs with tandem warheads are just powerful enough to take out a tank – if they hit at the right angle.

To be sure, something hit the tank – hard. The drone’s video feed shows smoke and flames spreading from the tank. It quickly becomes clear: The Leopard 2 was not only damaged, but probably also destroyed.

“The leopard is shit!” Vova screamed. “The leopard is shitty for the first time!”

The difference between damaged And destroyed is really important when it comes to a Leopard 2. The guy is very survivable. A mine or drone could immobilize a Leopard 2 without completely destroying it. After months of experience with their German-made tanks, Ukrainian engineers are used to salvaging decommissioned examples and transporting them to Poland or Germany for repairs.

Photos and videos from the aftermath of the strike in late October appear to confirm that the Leopard 2A6 – one of 21 used by the Ukrainian army’s 47th Mechanized Brigade in the weeks before the unit fired some of the first shots at the five-month-old aircraft of Ukraine, which was equipped for a southern counteroffensive – burned inside.

This suggests that the engine and fuel tanks were hit from the side, where the tank’s armor is relatively thin. This hit started a fire that spread to the interior of the tank. For a tank full of electronics and precision optics, a burned interior is fatal.

This Leopard 2A6 could be the 13th Leopard 2 lost by Ukraine. Worryingly for Kiev, half of these losses have occurred in the last few weeks alone, as the 47th Brigade was moved from south to north to protect Avdiivka from successive Russian attacks, while at the same time the Leopard 2A4-equipped 33rd Mechanized Brigade took a leading role in the southern counteroffensive.

Losing 13 Leopard 2s is bad for Ukraine, but context is important. Ukraine has also received 14 Challenger-2 tanks from the United Kingdom, 31 M-1 tanks from the United States, and hundreds of T-72 and other Soviet-type tanks from its other allies. Fourteen new Leopard 2A4s and almost 200 light Leopard 1A5s are included on the way to Ukraine as compensation for combat losses.

Tanks are not Ukraine’s most urgent military need. The lack of well-protected infantry fighting vehicles, drones, anti-aircraft and artillery shells is far more problematic than the lack of tanks.

One of Drone Squad Vladimir’s comrades seems to appreciate this fact. “Vova, save your voice,” he shouted over the radio as Vova shouted profanities at the Ukrainian Leopard 2A6 crew, who were about to exit their burning vehicle. “There are still a lot of leopards around.”

These are all four crew members of the Leopard 2A6 escaped the lucky hit on their tank testifies to the fundamental solidity of the vehicle design. As Vova’s drone watched, one of the 47th Brigade’s U.S.-made M-2 fighting vehicles raced up, picked up the crew and sped away.

“They took the tankers,” Vova groaned. “I lost track of it.”

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