Lithuania is going to buy tanks. According to some politicians, it has already decided which ones. According to others – not yet. The price is also high, and this could be Lithuania’s biggest purchase. In fact, when it was announced that a letter of intent was to be signed with the Germans already this week, there was quite a stir. Questions have been raised: why with the Germans, why the price, why the tanks and why is this being talked about in public? Jūratė Važgauskaitė is writing at the tv3.lt news portal.
Politicians have been jostling for a couple of days to explain what Lithuania wants to buy and why, and defence experts say that the most logical way for Lithuania to buy tanks is from the countries with which we have the closest defence relationship: the US and Germany. And tanks are absolutely necessary if we want to have a division. And Lithuania wants a division.
By 2030, Lithuania wants to have a division in place, and tanks are an integral part of that. The Commander of the Lithuanian Armed Forces has told the media that a division could have around 50 tanks or just more. A tank battalion would be formed.
At a meeting of the National Defence Council in May, it was decided that Lithuania really needs a division. Arvydas Anušauskas, the Minister of National Defence, said at the time that it was being created in Lithuania after taking into account Russia’s plans for the region.
“The creation of a division would be important in the overall hierarchy of the NATO military forces, and it would also be a matter of making the division heavier, creating a tank unit up to the size of a battalion. Some of the weapons being acquired are already at the divisional level: HIMARS, French Caesar self-propelled wheeled howitzers, Wolf infantry fighting vehicles, unmanned aerial vehicles, combat drones,” the Minister said a few months ago.
According to the Minister, in the current war in Ukraine, the division is the main manoeuvre unit, and its creation in Lithuania will ensure better interoperability with NATO and the realisation of defence plans.
Information that should not have been there?
It is true that, although it was known in advance that Lithuania would need tanks, this week’s announcement of the signing of a letter of intent with Germany for the possible purchase of tanks caused a stir. The communication crisis, or rather the miscommunication between politicians and the disagreement on what should and should not be broadcast to the public, went down like a snowball in a matter of days.
This week, when Lithuania was planning to sign a letter of intent to acquire German Leopard tanks, Kęstutis Budrys, Chief National Security Adviser to President Gitanas Nausėda, explained that the signing is not binding.
“Entering into, let’s say, a certain closer relationship within a group of countries, and here we are talking about signing a letter of intent, is not yet a commitment to make the purchase because only then would the talks start, what could be the conditions, the prices, the other participation, and so on,” the president’s adviser said on Tuesday on the air of Žinių Radio.
He added that “this will be one of the biggest acquisitions not only of the army but of Lithuania in general. We are talking about €2 billion – including not only the cost of the tank but also the ammunition, logistics, and equipment. This is a big purchase.”
The talk about tank prices and where we want to buy from started on Monday, when Minister of National Defence Anušauskas said publicly, after a meeting of the National Defence Council (NDC), that Lithuania plans to sign a letter of intent for the purchase of German Leopard tanks with the country’s manufacturers later this week.
“Soon, this week, we will sign a letter of intent with German manufacturers,” the Minister told journalists, assuring that “if you know how many Leopards are produced in other countries, please share them with us,” Anušauskas said when asked about the options under consideration.
Asked why a German producer was chosen, the Minister said he would not elaborate.
However, his words that it had already been decided what Lithuania would buy were hastily denied by K. Budrys.
“There have been no decisions that one or another model has been chosen. That is why there has been communication that we are in the evaluation process”, the advisor noted.
Why this tank and not another?
Responding to questions, the Minister of National Defence announced on his social media account on Tuesday that when Lithuania was considering the purchase of tanks, it was choosing between three models produced by companies from Germany, the United States and South Korea.
“The Lithuanian army evaluated German Leopard, American Abrams and Korean Black Panther tanks,” the Minister wrote on Facebook.
“The Leopard best meets the operational requirements set by the Lithuanian Defence Staff, while the US and South Korean tanks did not meet all or part of the requirements,” he explained.
“The main evaluation criteria used to make the decision were cost and sustainment, operational environment, mobility, protection, adaptability, protection, firepower and connectivity. In conducting this analysis, the Lithuanian Armed Forces also assessed all potential threats and the required capabilities to counter those threats,” Anušauskas said.
According to him, in its various versions, leopard is deployed in 23 countries worldwide, 14 of which are NATO members.
According to the Minister, the acquisition of Leopard and Abrams is simpler and faster than that of others. These tanks cost similarly, but the maintenance costs of the Leopard tanks are much lower.
The Lithuanian army already has German weapon systems in its armoury, so the leopard would be the most compatible with the current equipment.
On Wednesday, President Nausėda criticised the Minister of National Defence for his publication of information on the purchase of tanks for the Lithuanian Armed Forces.
“We are already talking about things that were published yesterday and were not entirely correct. We have agreed in the Council for the Defence of the State that we adhere to the principle that things that are of limited use should be of limited use and should not be published on Facebook immediately after they come out,” Nausėda told journalists in Šilalė district.
“I understand that it may seem very important to some to share the freshest information on Facebook, but this should certainly not be the main function of a minister or any other public official”, he added.
According to the President, it is important to consider the secondary consequences of the information being made public in such cases.
“And here I am talking about our friends, our partners, and especially our non-friends, who listen to this information with their ears open and draw their own conclusions,” said Nausėda.
Why does Lithuania need tanks?
Giedrius Česnakas, a professor at the General Jonas Žemaitis Military Academy of Lithuania, says that tanks are absolutely necessary for the planning of operations of the Joint Armed Forces. It is impossible to go into battle or defend without artillery, so tanks are needed.
“For larger operations, it is essential. This is how tanks are combined with infantry, artillery, long-range artillery and other reconnaissance capabilities, and ideally also with air power. This is a joint US-NATO model. So, in the development of the division, this will be needed. Smaller forces do not need it yet, like, say, a brigade, but a division needs it,” said the Military Academy professor.
He said that tanks are being coupled with other forces to ensure manoeuvre on a wider front. Chesnak is convinced that nothing better has yet been invented. And while tanks are said to be useful for offence, the professor says they are also needed for defence.
At the strategic level, Lithuania is certainly not attacking anything, and it is only preparing to defend itself. However, tanks are needed for manoeuvre, which includes retreat operations, entrenchment and then potentially going on the counter-offensive.
“This is part of the operational, tactical level. Yes, tanks are used as an offensive tool. That perception comes from the Second World War and the Gulf Wars, but they are also used for defence. Suppose you are forced to give up part of your territory to a potential invader, and how are you going to take it back without counter-attacking? This is what we are seeing in Ukraine today”, said Professor Chesnak.
There are, of course, technical differences between tanks from all manufacturers. Whether American Abrams or German, French, Israeli or other tanks.
“There are some technical, technological differences everywhere. But for small countries like Lithuania, the acquisition of armaments, knowing that it will be long-term because we do not have the resources to renew them frequently. <…> Then we have to think carefully about what we need, calculate how much it will cost to maintain them, repair them, and service them.
We need to think several decades ahead about how much it will cost to modernise, to renew. It is also all about geostrategic choices. If we acquire arms from partners that we want to see physically here, be it the US and Germany, then we gain political favour. This is a lesson that Saudi Arabia has learned very well. They buy arms from everyone. They don’t use them much, but everybody likes them”, said the professor.
Therefore, he said, we also have a choice. And our defence orientations and main partners, apart from Poland, which is a different type of partner, are the US or Germany.
“I did not see in the Minister’s report whether there was an offer to the British, to the French. But when we have so many German forward forces, and we will have more of them, and we have American rotational forces as well, that leaves the two most realistic options in terms of compatibility”, said Mr Chesnak.
According to the professor, it is difficult to say anything precise about the cost. It is not clear what was asked for or what request was sent.
“There is a basic variant, like with cars, but if you want accessories, armour, additional technologies, then everything costs extra. Then there are service issues and training issues. Well, the good thing about the Germans is that they do training in Germany, they have tank ranges, and you can send troops there for training. So there are various issues. But mostly, what is shown in public is the basic model, the minimum. But if something more is needed, it all adds up, and the price can double. It’s similar to airplanes,” the professor said.
He speculated that the furore over the purchase of tanks, over what is better, what is cheaper, and why from one place and not another, might mean that some politicians simply felt excluded from the process. It could also be that the electoral process is beginning.
“Why these discussions became public is hard to say. Because there is also the National Security and Defence Committee, where representatives of the President and the Ministry meet, there one can clarify the issues and only if something goes wrong, “go outside”,” he said, stressing that, unfortunately, there are no long-term agreements on what we want to achieve. We do everything as if it were an anti-climax. This is probably why, he said, our politics is still based on individuals.