Arms deliveries discussion – what are heavy weapons actually?

Updated on 04/18/2022 at 8:40 p.m.

  • The discussion on whether Germany should supply heavy weapons to Ukraine is gaining momentum.
  • But what do you mean by “heavy weapons”? And would it be so easy to deliver them?
  • We answer the most important questions.

You can find more information about the war in Ukraine here

After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the federal government fundamentally changed its arms export policy. Since then, weapons have also been delivered to the war zone in Ukraine. So far, however, there has been a red line: the delivery of heavy weapons.

In the meantime, however, voices are getting louder to reconsider this taboo. More recently, the Green Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, had advocated the delivery of heavy weapons. But what is a heavy weapon? And what makes them so problematic? We provide answers to the most important questions.

What do we mean by “heavy weapons”?

The Federal Agency for Civic Education (bpb) describes heavy weapons systems as “the core of modern armed forces”. They differ from small arms and light weapons (eg rifles and rocket-propelled grenades) on the one hand and from nuclear, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction on the other. The bpb divides heavy weapons into four categories:

  • Armored vehicles (troop carriers, light tanks, main battle tanks)
  • Artillery (multiple rocket launchers, self-propelled guns, towed guns) of a caliber greater than 100 millimeters
  • Combat aircraft (attack helicopters, fixed-wing fighters)
  • Capital ships (submarines, surface combatants larger than the size of a corvette)

Why are heavy weapons considered taboo?

Many experts fear that Russian President Vladimir Putin will see a delivery of heavy weapons as Germany’s entry into the war.

The problem: There is no official definition of going to war. The European perspective generally tends to see troop deployment as a decisive factor. But no one knows how the Kremlin boss thinks. In theory, he could interpret any support for Ukraine as going to war.

What heavy weapons could Germany supply?

The federal government does not provide specific information on past and planned deliveries. CDU politician and former Bundeswehr Colonel Roderich Kiesewetter told the Germany Editorial Network that Ukraine “especially needs tanks, armored vehicles, artillery systems, multiple rocket launchers and associated ammunition”. In particular, the Leopard 1 main battle tank and the Marder infantry fighting vehicle are considered as possible candidates.

What problems does the delivery of heavy weapons pose?

Tanks like the Leopard or the Marder are very complex technical machines. To operate them, Ukrainian soldiers first had to be trained. On the one hand, you would need personnel to carry out these trainings. On the other hand, such training often takes a long time (up to several months). Given the impending Russian offensive in eastern Ukraine, the weapons may simply arrive too late.

Another problem is that of spare parts, which are often difficult to obtain. However, for weapon systems to be operational, they must be maintained regularly. It also requires trained personnel.

Sources used:

  • Federal Agency for Civic Education: what do we mean by heavy weapons?
  • tagesschau.de: Baerbock at EU meeting: “Ukraine needs heavy weapons”
  • tagesschau.de: Debate on deliveries: Heavy weapons for Ukraine?
  • rnd.de: Heavy weapons for Ukraine: what can and should Germany deliver?
  • wdr.de: Arms deliveries: what are heavy weapons?

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