At the beginning of the 2010s, in a difficult financial context due to the debt and euro crises, the Netherlands decided to pursue a policy of budgetary austerity. For the Dutch armed forces, the potion was particularly bitter, with a fairly significant drop in their credits. They were therefore forced to give up some of their capabilities… starting with their two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks.
The consequences of these budget cuts even ended up worrying NATO which, in 2016, estimated that the Dutch forces had lost their “employability” while the security situation in Europe had started to seriously deteriorate with the annexation of Crimea by Russia, two years earlier.
However, the Netherlands took some measures to prepare for the rise in power of its armed forces, such as, for example, leasing eighteen Leopard 2A6 tanks from Germany in order to equip a squadron to be integrated into Panzerbataillon 414 of the Bundeswehr, itself subordinated to the 43rd Mechanized Brigade of Koninklijke Landmacht [Armée royale néerlandaise].
At the same time, the Dutch defense budget began to gradually increase. But this increase was accentuated from 2022, in order to take into account the consequences of the war in Ukraine, triggered by Russia. Thus, in 2014, the Netherlands devoted 7.8 billion euros to its armed forces. This figure must be increased to 21.4 billion in 2024.
However, this significant effort is not yet sufficient to allow the Royal Netherlands Army to reactivate at least one battalion of heavy combat tanks. At least, a political decision is missing to take the plunge. A decision which cannot be taken immediately given that the formation of the next government has still not been finalized, more than two months after the last legislative elections.
In the meantime, in a response to a written question asked by a Member of Parliament [.pdf], the outgoing Dutch Minister of Defense, Kajsa Ollongren, explained the ins and outs of this issue. First, she confirmed, the current budget does not make it possible to finance the acquisition of tanks as well as their operating costs. [personnels, maintien en condition opérationnelle, etc]these having been estimated at 315 million per year, over a period of 15 years.
“Given the deterioration of the security situation since 2022, it is essential that our armed forces are further strengthened. […] If there are additional credits, we will look at their capabilities across the board. [Mais] the decision on a tank battalion is up to the next government,” explained Ms. Ollongren.
The political context also explains why the Dutch Ministry of Defense has not yet followed up on the offer made by its German counterpart regarding a shared purchase of Leopard 2A8 tanks.
As a reminder, last May, the German government notified a framework agreement to Krauss-Maffei Wegmann [KMW – KNDS Allemagne] for the potential production of a total of 123 Leopard 2A8s. With a value of 2.9 billion euros, this offers the possibility to other interested countries to acquire them under the same conditions as those applied to the Bundeswehr, whether in terms of price, delivery times. delivery and logistics support. The Czech Republic has already expressed its interest in this initiative.
“The Netherlands was invited by the German government to participate in the initiative on the shared purchase of Leopard 2A8 tanks,” confirmed Ms. Ollongren. But no follow-up could be given due to the status of the current government, which only has to deal with current affairs.
Furthermore, estimating that robotic systems could represent a third of the capabilities of a tank battalion, the Dutch minister indicated that the Netherlands has launched national programs to develop “future land combat systems”. And to add that it is also a question of establishing a “connection” with the Franco-German Main Land Combat System project. [MGCS – Main Ground Combat System].