PARIS — The Netherlands is considering recreating its own tank battalion amid Russia’s war in Ukraine, though there’s currently no funding for the imitative, according to parliamentary documents.
The current defense budget doesn’t cover the costs of setting up a tank battalion, and such a decision would require additional money and would be up to the next government, Dutch Defence Minister Kajsa Ollongren and State Secretary of Defence Christophe van der Maat wrote in a Feb. 5 response to parliamentary questions.
The Netherlands, which had close to 1,000 tanks at the height of the Cold War, got rid of its last two tank battalions in 2011 after budget cuts. Since 2015, the country has leased 18 Leopard 2 A6 tanks from Germany that form one of five companies within the German-Dutch 414 Tank Battalion.
“Given the deteriorating security situation since 2022, it’s essential that our armed forces be strengthened further,” Ollongren and Van der Maat wrote. “If there is additional budget for the Armed Forces, we will look at capabilities across the board. A decision on a tank battalion is therefore up to a next Cabinet.”
NATO’s defense-planning capability review released in 2022 noted shortcomings for the Dutch military in land-based power and combat support. Adding a new tank battalion would strengthen the alliance and support the Netherland’s priority objective to create a heavy infantry brigade, the defense officials added.
The government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte took on a caretaker role after elections in November while a new Cabinet is negotiated. A caretaker government in the Netherlands traditionally limits itself to business at hand, while avoiding controversial decisions, such as allocating the billions of euros required to set up and operate a tank battalion.
A tank battalion costs between €260 million and €315 million (U.S. $280 millions and U.S. $339 million) a year, based on a 15-year planning period that includes buying the tanks as well as maintenance, spare parts, operating and personnel costs, the officials said. The battalion’s structure might mirror that of the 414 Tank Battalion, with the tanks owned by the Dutch and 20% of personnel being German.
The Dutch 2024 defense budget increased to €21.4 billion from about €15 billion in defense spending last year. The amount doesn’t include funding for tanks.
Amid Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine, NATO members in July last year pledged to spend at least 2% of their respective gross domestic product annually on defense, with 20% of defense funding allocated for major equipment. The Dutch 2024 budget amounts to 1.95% of GDP, according to the Dutch government.
The German government last summer invited the Dutch to a joint purchasing initiative for the Leopard 2 A8 main battle tank, according to the letter to parliament. The Netherlands asked to defer a decision given the government’s caretaker status.
The Czech Republic said in December it was in advanced negotiations with Germany for the A8 variant, developed by Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, a member of the KNDS joint venture. The tank would come with a 120mm canon by Rheinmetall. KNDS and Leonardo have also signed an agreement to provide Italy with a main battle tank based on the Leopard 2 A8.
The Netherlands is seeking to join the Franco-German Main Ground Combat System project. Paris and Berlin plan to invite other interested European Union members to join the project once their governments have defined the future tank’s specifications, French Armed Forces Minister Sébastien Lecornu said in September.
The Netherlands and Denmark last year agreed to buy 14 Leopard 2 A4 tanks for Ukraine for about €165 million, after previously joining with Denmark and Germany to supply at least 100 Leopard 1 A5 tanks to the embattled country.
Rudy Ruitenberg is a Europe correspondent for Defense News. He started his career at Bloomberg News and has experience reporting on technology, commodity markets and politics.