The Turkish operations in Northern Syria have caused some debate about the quality of the Leopard 2 tanks. The Leopard 2 is widely regarded as one of the best tanks in the world, yet the Turks seem to lose them on the battlefield at an alarming pace. Yesterday, another Leopard 2 became the victim of an anti-tank missile, and Kurdish forces were quick to publish footage of the incident on YouTube.
Russian blog bmpd notes that the Leopard 2 has a fatal construction error where the ammunition is stored close to the lightly armored side of the tank. This fundamentally turns the Leopard 2 into a “bomb on caterpillars”.
The story is more complicated than that, though. The Turkish tanks are of the Leopard 2A4 model which isn’t optimized for asymmetric warfare. Basically they are intended for a head on battle with the enemy, so their armor is primarily on the front. Later 2A5, 2A6, and 2A7 models boast better protection in a counter-insurgency environment where threats like IEDs and mines are prevalent. However, Germany has refused to upgrade the Turkish tanks due to political disagreements.
Sébastien Roblin has a nice analysis of Turkey’s poor experiences with the Leopard 2 in Syria in The National Interest. He suggests that there are technical reasons for the tank’s problems, but that tactical decisions contribute as well. Instead of using the tanks alongside supporting infantry, Turkey has kept them behind as long-range fire-support weapons. This has isolated the Turkish Leopard 2s on exposed firing positions where they are vulnerable to ambushes.