Germany to order 105 Leopard tanks to equip German brigade in Lithuania

FILE PHOTO: German Defence Minister Pistorius and German President Steinmeier visit Ukrainians undergoing Leopard tank training in Klietz

By Sabine Siebold

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany plans to order 105 Leopard 2 A8 tanks from armsmaker KNDS for 2.93 billion euros ($3.14 billion), according to a confidential budget draft seen by Reuters on Thursday.

The draft still needs parliamentary approval.

Some vehicles will equip a German combat brigade in Lithuania being set up as part of NATO's deterrence against Russia, said the draft budget, which Spiegel first reported. Others will reinforce the 300-tank force inside Germany.

The Bundeswehr expects to take delivery of the most advanced version of the tanks between 2027 and 2030.

The document noted that most of the purchase was unfunded since there was insufficient money in the regular budget and in the 100-billion-euro special funds established after Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

The draft said the defence ministry was therefore asking for extraordinary financial authorisation, meaning that while the deal can be approved now, a successor government will need to find the money.

German Defence Minister Boris Pistorius has been fighting for a defence budget increase for months, but has not made progress as budget negotiations in Germany's fractious coalition government drag on.

'ZEITENWENDE' SEEN AT STAKE

The budget infighting is jeopardizing Berlin's pledge of a "Zeitenwende" (sea change) after decades of neglecting the military, even as tensions with Russia rise and NATO-sceptic Donald Trump bids for a second term as U.S. president.

Ingo Gaedechens, a member of conservative opposition party CDU and parliament's budget committee, said the tank deal is a manoeuvre by Pistorius to bypass the budget stalemate.

He told Reuters the tank order was justified but that the deal raised questions regarding future funding of German forces, as did the latest purchase of two frigates for more than 3 billion euros and the announcement of an order of Eurofighter jets for some 3 billion euros.

"There's one thing that all three projects have in common: The government refuses to answer the question how these purchases are meant to be bankrolled," Gaedechens said.

"The many blank cheques being issued by Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his Defence Minister Boris Pistorius cause an ever-growing financial bow wave - and nobody in the ruling coalition has any idea how to come to grips with this financial chaos," he said.

($1 = 0.9321 euros)

(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Paolo Laudani, editing by Andrey Sychev and Rod Nickel)