Britain, Poland, and the United States planning to send their Main Battle Tanks (MBT) to Ukraine have raised hopes for an offensive against Russia in the east and the south, where it has annexed nearly 20% of Ukrainian territory.
Britain’s Challenger-2, the German-made Leopard-2, and the American M1A1/2 Abrams MBTs being considered by these countries have rung alarm bells in Moscow, with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warning that such shipments can become legitimate targets.
However, the reports also maintain that the decision to send these offensive platforms is still under “consideration,” indicating an element of reluctance to provoke Russia and possibly escalate the war well beyond Ukraine’s borders.
Russia has long maintained that it does not want to fight the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the US directly. The US has repeatedly clarified since the beginning of the war that it will not fight alongside Ukraine but only limit support to military-financial and equipment aid.
What Does Ukraine Use?
Ukraine uses old Soviet-era T-72s received by Poland and the Czech Republic, donated to it last April, another Soviet-origin T-64, and the locally developed T-80.
The Pakistan Army also uses a version of the T-80. Since April, the Czech Republic transferred at least 40 T-72M1 tanks in return for being replenished with German-origin Leopard-2A4 tanks, part of a circular deal. The first of such 14 replacement tanks arrived in late December last year.
While Poland was reported to have received Challenger-2 tanks from the United Kingdom to “backfill” its inventory, as was announced by then Prime Minister Boris Johnson in late April, it has reportedly been miffed with Germany for failing to transfer its Leopard tanks, as it did with the Czechs.
In May last year, Polish President Andrzej Duda was reported to have been “disappointed” with the German government for being unable to replace their tank stocks. Berlin justified that it was never promised as such, and they could not part with any more Leopard-2s.
Moreover, Ukraine also uses hundreds of abandoned Russian equipment, vehicles, and ammunition, a substantial number of which are T-72 tanks. However, another question is whether they will be enough to punch a hole through Russian lines in the east and the south, especially without heavy air support.
The east of Donbas particularly has a lot of plains as terrain. It will free up Russia to use mass air and ground fire without worrying about civilian casualties, halting the Ukrainian offensives.
Even if it uses the US-made Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) effectively in piercing certain Russian defenses, its impact will be merely tactical, like the Russian withdrawal from Kharkiv and Kherson last year.
Not to mention the process of getting used to handling Western equipment for an essentially Russian-influenced military that predominantly uses weapons from the country. Ukraine also receives Marder IFV from Germany and AMX-10 armored fighting vehicle (AFV) from France.
West Is Not Very Keen
And this is assuming that UK, US, Germany, and France will send their tanks to Ukraine. Poland, speculated to transfer its German-made Leopard-2 MBTs to Ukraine possibly, has confirmed the plan only in principle.
It expects some form of support from other Western nations. In Polish media reports, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki clarified that “we do not intend to hand over the next tanks.”
Without a broader coalition like Poland, we will not hand over these tanks now.” Similar is the case with the US on the Abrams tank, where its officials were quoted as having almost decided against sending it.
Politico quoted unnamed Biden administration officials who pointed to the mammoth logistics of transporting the tank, maintenance on the field without a supply of parts, and a whopping 22 lakh liters of fuel that a tank division consumes daily.
Neither has there been any word on the French Leclerc MBT from the French government, but chances are that Paris will desist from locking horns with Russia.
Infantry & Armor – A Deadly Combination
But the Bradley and the AMX-10s can be converted into tank killers, with anti-tank weapons mounted on their turrets. The Bradleys can be armed with TOW anti-tank missiles that accompany infantry.
Ukraine’s armor can be very effective on the battlefield and have a deadly impact on Russian ground forces. It is unclear whether Ukraine already has the TOW missiles or the Bradleys being transferred to possess them.
According to Colonel Rajendra Bhaduri (retd), an Armored Corps officer, this manner of armored employment is what Russia should have done.
“Russia’s heavy tank losses were because it deployed its MBTs alone without any infantry support. It was puzzling, amateurish, and surprising. Both foot infantry and tanks complement each other, and the Russian logic in using their tanks this way is mysterious,” he explained.
Ukraine will have learned from the Russian mistake and is expected to make good use of the training on the Bradleys.