September 8, 2023
The German-made Flakpanzer Gepard is a pair of radar-guided 35-millimeter autocannons in a two-person turret mated with a Leopard 1 tank chassis, which seats a driver. It arguably is the best self-propelled anti-aircraft gun in the world. One former Gepard commander claimed the vehicle’s nine-mile-range Ku-band tracking radar, cued by an S-band search radar, can lock onto birds.
But the Gepard isn’t new. German tank-maker Krauss-Maffei Wegmann delivered the first of 570 copies in late 1976—and the last in 1980. There isn’t a single Gepard younger than 43 years old. So the material condition of the flak vehicles is everything.
Which is why it’s very good news for Ukraine that it apparently has managed to take ownership—likely via Germany—of some of the best-preserved Gepards: the 15 copies that briefly served in the Qatari army starting in 2018.
In April 2022, just two months into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine, Germany pledged to the Ukrainian war effort 52 refurbished Gepards from German stocks. Fourteen months later in June 2023, Germany pledged an additional 15 Gepards. And the United States announced it would buy back 30 Gepards from an unspecified operator—Jordan, it turns out—and hand them over to Ukraine, as well.
Somewhere in the German consignment were some or all of the 15 Gepard 1A2s that Qatar acquired in 2018 specifically to safeguard the air space over the World Cup games that country hosted. There were reports in February that Berlin was in talks with Doha to buy back the 15 Flakpanzers.
In July, a Qatari Gepard with its distinctive camouflage appeared in the background of a video that Oleksiy Makeyev, the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, shot at Putlos military training ground in Germany. And on Friday, the Ukrainian defense ministry posted a video montage depicting repainted Gepards in action.
The former Gepard commander noticed details of the equipment fit that indicate at least one of the Gepards in the video is ex-Qatari. “The condition of this anti-aircraft tank is incredibly good,” the commander commented. “As if it had just come off the assembly line.”
The vehicle’s condition matters. One likely reason Belgium hasn’t brokered, on Ukraine’s behalf, a deal for any of the 55 Gepards its army once operated is that the ex-Belgian Flakpanzers are the least upgraded of the vehicles—and the worst-maintained since Belgium retired them around 2006. “Wouldn’t be my first choice,” the former Gepard commander wrote.
Of equal importance: ammunition. Switzerland until recently had a monopoly on production of new ammo for the Gepard’s twin 35-millimeter autocannons. And citing “neutrality,” the Swiss government has declined to sell weapons to Ukraine. So Germany paid German firm Rheinmetall to set up a new production line.
The first rounds were shipped to Ukraine this week.
David Axe – Forbes Staff. Aerospace & Defense. He is a journalist, author and filmmaker based in Columbia, South Carolina. Axe founded the website War Is Boring in 2007 as a webcomic, and later developed it into a news blog. He enrolled at Furman University and earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 2000. Then he went to the University of Virginia to study medieval history before transferring to and graduating from the University of South Carolina with a master’s degree in fiction in 2004.