Ukraine to get Tank Shipments
What are they getting, how are they going to use them, and will they help?
In the last week, the political logjam that prevented the sending of tanks to Ukraine seemed to break up. Britain is sending Challenger IIs, Germany is sending Leopard 2s, France is sending AMX 10s, and the US is sending M1 Abrams tanks. Additionally, Germany has agreed to allow other countries using the Leopard 2 to send them to Ukraine.
Two factors seemed to help bring about the agreement – Ukraine’s aggressive move against corruption amongst high ranked officials and the jointly timed agreements by the US and Germany to send some of their tanks.
But many questions remain about Ukraine’s ability to push the Russians back. And, there is the growing concern about escalation – even up to nuclear war.
The critical shipments are Main Battle Tanks (MBT) which are expected to dominate the older Russian tanks. The other shipments are Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV) which allows infantry to keep pace with the fast moving tanks, dismount to carry out missions the tanks can’t do, and provide covering fire for dismounted infantry.
CHALLENGER II. This British tank is one of the best in the world and the British were the first nation to promise to deliver tanks. It has highly advanced armor that is still a secret even after three decades. It also has advanced optics and communications to target the enemy. Britain has promised a dozen tanks (a squadron).
The biggest weakness is that only a dozen are being sent to Ukraine and Britain has few Challenger IIs to allow it to send a sizable number to turn the tide against the Russians. They however are sending other equipment to equip the armored unit.
AMX 10 RC. The French are sending a light tank clone. Unlike a tank, it runs on wheels instead of treads. It uses 105 mm ammunition which is unique to the French. It can’t defeat an MBT, but can destroy lighter medium tanks. However, it is fast on roads and is designed for reconnaissance. Unfortunately, it is slow on the muddy type of terrain that may be found in Ukraine.
The French are moving to a newer tank design, so this tank will become obsolete. The French are intending to send about a dozen.
M1 Abrams Tank. This American tank was designed for a war between NATO and the Soviet Union, so it makes for a good fit in the Ukraine War. 31 are being sent, which will make up a battalion. It is powered by a gas turbine, which can use kerosene, and various jet fuels. It has excellent optics, thermal imaging, and stabilization so it can fire even while moving. It uses the same secret armor that the British Challenger II uses.
Many consider the Abrams to be the best tank in the world.
The downside is that it requires lots of maintenance and a qualified mechanic requires three months of training, although the tank crew can learn their job in a month. It requires a good logistics system to remain combat ready.
Another problem is that the US will not be sending tanks from its prepositioned reserves in Europe, which means that it will take several months to field them in Ukraine.
Ukraine’s allies are also sending Infantry Fighting Vehicles.
M2 Bradley. This American IFV was designed in the 1980s, although it has been modernized many times. However, the US is retiring the Bradley, so the US may be sending many more in the future.
The Bradley was designed to withstand the radiation of tactical nuclear warfare. Its armor was designed to defeat the cannon of the Soviet BMP, which was its probable opponent at the time.
It carries the TOW anti-tank missile, which can defeat Russian tank armor. It also has a 20mm chain cannon which can penetrate the armor of lighter armored vehicles.
The US is sending 50 M1 Bradleys to Ukraine and current video of these vehicles on trains indicates that some of them may very well be in Ukraine already.
Marder. This is a German IFV. It was designed to operate with the German Leopard tank and has the same level of protection and mobility as the Leopard 2.
Germany has 390 Marders in service and many more in storage. They have indicated that they will give 40 to the Ukrainians. Since the Germans consider them a defensive weapon, they haven’t had as many political problems as exporting the Leopard II to Ukraine.
Leopard II. The future of Ukraine’s rearmament program this year depends on the Leopard II. Like the American M1 Abrams and British Challenger II, it is considered a world class MBT. And, since there are 3,600 built and there are over 2,000 in various European countries, it promises the number of tanks that would dramatically change the balance of power in Ukraine.
Now that Germany has authorized sending this tank to Ukraine, several European countries (plus Canada) have promised over 100 tanks to create 2 to 4 Leopard battalions.
Much has been made of the time it would take to train tank crews. However, depending on the level of training, the time can take as little as 4 weeks or as long as several months. However, American officers who have worked with the Ukrainians say the Ukrainians are fast learners.
Basic training for a tank crew can take as little as a month. This includes classes on operating the vehicle, using the cannon, and basic tactics. The problem is that this doesn’t teach crews to operate in conjunction with other tank crews at the company or battalion level. This requires additional training and training exercises up to the battalion level.
If Ukraine intends to train its forces in battalion or brigade level maneuvers, the time goes up exponentially, although the ability of the tank crews also increases exponentially.
If Ukraine intends to create new units and field all the tanks, IFVs, artillery, logistical support vehicles, engineers, etc. as a cohesive combat team, it will take months.
One reason that training a large unit takes time is that the NATO countries are teaching Ukrainians the doctrine of combined arms. Combined Arms Operations use combinations of infantry, mobile firepower, offensive and defensive fire, engineers, and aviation assets to defeat the enemy.
This is something the Russians haven’t been able to master. They tend to use tanks, artillery, and infantry separately, which is inefficient because no single arm of the military can decisively defeat a determined defender. An example was the fighting north of Kiev, where the Russian advance was bogged down in the Pripyat Marshes because they had to rely on armored vehicles travelling down a single hard top road. Infantry covering the flanks on foot would have made the drive more successful.
As new tanks and IFVs are delivered to Ukraine, they will have to be integrated into new units that can carry out combined arms operations.
The number of MBTs and IFVs will impact how the equipment is used and deployed. For instance, the British Challenger II tank unit is too small for frontline service. It will probably become a mobile reserve in the north of Ukraine.
The American Abrams tank won’t be operational until the tanks are delivered in several months. Until then, American equipment will be limited to a mechanized infantry role using the Bradley IFV. The Bradleys could operate independently against infantry and Russian IFVs like the BMP. One Bradley tactic is to dismount the soldiers from four Bradleys and then move the vehicles to an oversight position where they can cover the infantry with its 20mm chain gun and anti-tank missiles. The Bradleys also use a hunter-killer team of one tank and three Bradleys.
The future of the Ukrainian offensive against the Russians depends on the Leopard 2. Two to four Leopard 2 Brigades, along with IFVs like the Marder or Bradley could have a serious impact. The tracked tanks and IFVs could cut through the muddy terrain of Zaporizhia to the Sea of Azov. This would cut off the land bridge to Crimea. This type of offensive would be ideal for vehicles like the Bradley or Marder. They would cover the flanks of the tanks and be able to dismount their infantry if there are tactical obstacles slowing down the armor.
The key to winning this war is for the Ukrainians to capture or seriously threaten Crimea. The promised armored vehicles could help Ukraine to do that. But Russian are threatening to attack these new shipments on route, time will tell if the Russians succeed in destroying or damaging the shipments before reaching the battle front.