Canadian Forces to refresh aging fleet of tanks

The Canadian Forces will refresh its fleet of aging tanks with newer Leopard 2 tanks purchased from NATO allies, Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said Thursday.

The Canadian Forceswill refresh its fleet of aging tanks with newer Leopard 2 tanks purchased from NATO allies,Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor said Thursday.

Canadian Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor steps off a Bison troop transport vehicle at the Citadelle in Quebec City on Thursday. ((Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press))
As many as 100of the more modernmachines will be purchased second-hand from the Netherlands.

"This government will not hesitate to provide the Canadian Forces whatever equipment it requires to carry out the difficult tasks we ask them to perform," he said.

In the short term, the Canadian military will lease 20 combat-ready Leopard 2A6Ms from Germany to be deployed in Afghanistan by the next rotation this summer, O'Connor said.

"They are state-of-the-art," he said of the Germantanks, which have stronger armour, go twice as fast and provide superior close-fire capabilities to the tanks they are replacing.

The tanksare from a newer generationthan the 30-year-old Leopard C2scurrently being used by the Canadians in Afghanistan and will offer increased protection against roadside bombs and mines, O'Connor said.

The announcement comes in aweek in which eight Canadian soldiers have died in bomb attacks.

"They are willing use any means … to harm our soldiers," O'Connor said of Taliban insurgents NATO forces are fighting in the embattled country.

Minimum mileage

O'Connor joined Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillierat a NATO meeting inQuebec City Thursday to announce the plans to update Canada's battered armoured corps.

The 100 surplus tanks, which have been sealed in heated buildings for10 years,will begin to arrivefrom the Netherlands in the fall for refitting, O'Connor said.

The announcementwill likely be welcome news to soldiers who have had to endure searing heat driving their current Leopard C2s in the Afghan desert during the summer months.

Leopard tanks lead a Canadian convoy of armoured vehicles in Zhari, west of Kandahar, on Dec. 28. ((Sgt. Dennis Power/DND))

Heat-related health risks have threatened before to cause the tanks to be pulled from service. O'Connor said the newer tanks willbe equipped with a cooling system for the crews before they reach Afghan soil.

Reverses Liberal decision to scrap tanks

Although head of the army Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie has praised Canada's C2s for doing valuable work, he has said they were reaching the end of the line and need to be retired soon.

Canada currently has 17 Leopard C2 tanks in Afghanistan. By updating its fleet, the military has reversed the former Liberal government's decision to do away with the tanks altogether.

The Liberals announced in 2003 that they would scrap the tanks and spend $600 million to replace them with the Mobile Gun System, an eight-wheeled light armoured vehicle with a cannon mounted on top.

The tanks were originally developed in Germany in the 1960s. Canada bought 127 Leopard tanks in 1978-79 and upgraded them. According to the Department of National Defence, the Forces have 114 of the tanks, and theycan remain in service until 2010.