Which Ukrainian Tanks Can Fire Depleted Uranium Shells, Beside Abrams

M829 APFSDS depleted uranium tank munition / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense
M829 APFSDS depleted uranium tank munition / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

Although the caliber of guns on modern Western tanks is the same, it doesn't mean the ammunition is interchangeable without issues

Depleted uranium tank ammunition will be supplied to Ukraine, the United States officially announced and placed among the items provided within the new $175 Presidential Drawdown security assistance package announced September 6th.

The supply of these gun rounds was debated and anticipated for a while and comes especially anticipated amidst the upcoming delivery of M1 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine, expected to arrive in the early days of autumn this year. But in fact, it's not just Abrams tanks that will make use of the new shells coming in batches.

Read more: USA Announced the Forty-sixth Security Assistance Package for Ukraine
M1 Abrams
M1 Abrams / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

The 120mm M829 armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) munition is a standard anti-armor weapon for American tanks, in the first place. However, Ukraine's current primary Western tank, the Leopard 2 of German making, can benefit as well.

The thing is, the M1 Abrams' M256 tank gun is a licensed copy of Rheinmetall Rh-120 L/44 that is used on Leopard 2A4 and Leopard 2A5 versions of the German counterpart. Moreover, smoothbore tank ammunition in NATO countries is made according to the same STANAG 4385.

Theoretically, ammunition for Leopard 2 and Abrams is interchangeable, so M829 can be fired by the Leopard of the mentioned modifications. As for the Leopard 2A6 which is also available to the Ukrainian forces in quantity of 21 units, there is information that in 2019, during the Strike Back 19 multinational exercise in Bulgaria, Greek Leopard 2A6HEL (local modification) used M865 target practice shells, designed to resemble the 120mm M829.

That is, at least loading the munition and making a shot with depleted uranium ammunition is possible for Leopard 2. The objective though is not just to make a shot but also hit the target, and that is where the issues begin.

The fire control system is responsible for the tank's accuracy, it has to correctly calculate the weight, the speed of the munition, take into account its ballistic properties and errors in order to make the shot successful. And those might slightly differ for the DU shells: M892A2 has a 4.92-kg penetrator that travels at speed 1,680 km/h; while the Leopard 2A4's standard tungsten DM33 APFSDS round uses a 4.6-kg penetrator traveling at a speed 1,650 km/h.

DE Shells for Abrams
Infographics credit: UA War Infographics, Top Lead

On the other hand, the practice shows that the difference in specifications for sub-caliber ammunition can turn out so insignificant that it has no impact on the accuracy of aiming at all. On Soviet-type tanks, after all, traditionally only a few modes for ammunition types are used: to fire armor-piercing, HE, or HE-FRAG ammunition, respectively.

At the same time, the Leopard 2A4's fire control system called EMES-15 is made "acquainted" with a new type of shell quite easily: by replacing the memory card if the installed one doesn't contain information about the required ammunition type. That is, the integration of new rounds can be done relatively quickly.

Ukrainian Leopard 2A4 Credit GenStaff, 33rd Mechanized Brigade of AFU
Ukrainian Leopard 2A4 / Photo credit GenStaff, 33rd Mechanized Brigade of AFU

That being said, Leopard 2 can fire depleted uranium shells without major issues although the accuracy in this case may drop slightly below the declared "training ground" results.

Either way, using them will barely ever be necessary at all because it's hard to imagine when around 70 European-produced tanks in service with the Armed Forces of Ukraine will suddenly all run out of ammunition to the point they have to borrow shells from Abrams that arrived from behind the ocean.

M829 / Illustrative photo credit: U.S. Department of Defense

We should not forget that Leopard 2 is a bestseller with over 3,600 copies worldwide, and so it has an appropriate amount of ammunition in multiple countries. And it's not like standard German tungsten munition is not some second-rate ammunition and can penetrate a russian-Soviet tank just fine.

On a final note about the British Challenger 2 tanks in service with Ukrainian forces. The answer is no, M829 DU shells cannot fit inside the L30A1 gun. Despite having the same 120mm caliber, it's rifled inside of smoothbore, has a separate loading mechanism, and the ammunition, accordingly, does not meet the STANAG 4385 standard.

Read more: How Big is the Difference Between Western and Soviet Tanks and Why Its Not Just About Weight or Automatic Ammo Loading