West German officials protested yesterday that their Leopard II tank is getting a bad rap in the United States under procedures that threaten the whole future of standardizing NATO weapons.
West German defense official Georg Leber made that protest directly to Defense Secretary Harold Brown in a meeting at the Pentagon, sources said, while Manfred Woerner, chairman of the Bundestag Defense Committee, sounded the same complaint at a luncheon meeting with correspondents.
Woerner said "there are more than rumors" that the U.S. Army has determined that the American XM-1 tank is superior to the Leopard II. But he said the West German government has not been shown the data that support such a finding.
"I will ask my government" to obtain the U.S. Army data on the XM-1 vs. Leopard II evaluation, Woerner said, "to show that the Leopard is not inferior."
The German defense official, who holds a job comparable to the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said it appears to him that the United States is backing out of the agreement that called for the United States and West Germany to build a new battle tank together.
"We got the impression in Europe," said Woerner, "that you are speaking of a two-way street" in building and buying weapons for NATO "but that you are not practicing it."
He said his government's hopes in regard to NATO's new battle tank are now pinned to supplying the gun for the XM-1, which Chrysler will build for the U.S. Army. The XM-1 gun competition is between the U.S. 105 mm and German 120 mm smooth bore, and the British 120 mm rifled-barrel gun.
"The United States must know," Woerner said in making a case for buying German components for the XM-1 tank, that European nations "have a right to a fair share" of the standardization program for NATO.
Defense Secretary Brown, in meetings with both Leber and Woerner over the last few days, has given "assurance that you will stick to the agreement" on the tank, Woerner said. The crucial decision on which gun to use is scheduled to be made in December.
Urging American leaders to look beyond the representations being made by industry and other vested interests in regard to buying components for the XM-1, Woerner said standardizing NATO weapons is so important to the alliance that it is "a political question too important to leave to industrial interests."
The German defense leader said allowing the British to compete in the XM-1 gun competition was "the first step out of the whole agreement" on building NATO's new tank.
Asked if building components for the XM-1 tank is a condition to Germany's buying the American advanced warning and control plane, called AWACS, Woerner replied that this is not a U.S.-German question but a NATO one.