WARSAW (Reuters) - Poland aims to get training time on Leopard 2 battle tanks down to five weeks at a centre where Ukrainian soldiers are likely to be taught how to operate the Western battlefield workhorse against Russia's invasion.
The village of Swietoszow in western Poland, near the German border, hosts one of just three Leopard training centres in Europe - the others are in Germany and Switzerland.
The Polish military declined to confirm where Ukrainian soldiers would be trained, but military experts said Swietoszow was the most likely location.
"It is possible or even likely that the training of Ukrainian Leopard 2 tank crews will take place in Swietoszow, but other locations cannot be ruled out," said Jakub Pawlowski, military expert and deputy editor-in-chief of Defence24.pl.
A coalition of Ukraine's Western supporters formed in January to provide Kyiv with German-made Leopard tanks, and on Jan. 20 Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksii Reznikov said Ukrainian troops would be trained on Leopards in Poland.
At a training centre equipped with simulators, 14 crews of four personnel each can undergo instruction at once. Training on the Leopard - the vaunted modern battlefield tank used by many NATO member countries in Europe - has hitherto taken about 10 weeks but this could be reduced to five, instructors said.
"If we intensify training (by maximising the number of) instructors, our time and our weekends, we can train an entire crew in five weeks," Major Maciej Banaszynski, Poland's Leopard training centre commander, told Reuters on Tuesday.
"Leopard tanks are third-generation tanks. Their mobility on diverse terrain is better compared to Russian tanks," said chief warrant officer Lukasz Setny, a senior Leopard instructor.
"A (Russian tank) is like having a new Fiat 26p rather than a second-hand Mercedes. It is easier and more comfortable to drive an old Mercedes than a new Fiat 126p,” he said.
Banaszynski said Polish instructors were running Leopard training courses for tank crews and for drivers. "In addition, we now run courses for mechanics for the arms, chassis and equipment accompanying Leopards,” he said.
The only tank Ukraine has so far used against Russia's invasion has been the T-72 inherited from the former Soviet Union. But Poland's Leopard trainers said it was not difficult to switch from operating old- to new-generation battle tanks.
(Reporting by Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska, editing by Mark Heinrich)