US edges closer to sending armored weaponry to Ukraine

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After months of resisting Kyiv’s pleas for tanks to face increasingly dug-in Russian forces along the long southern and eastern fronts, the United States and its allies are now poised to deliver a variety of armored fighting vehicles to Ukraine.

Asked Wednesday if US-produced Bradley Fighting Vehicles were under consideration for transfer to Ukraine, President Biden replied in the affirmative. A senior administration official said that Bradleys could be included in a package of weapons to be announced as soon as this week.

Earlier Wednesday, France said it would provide Ukraine with an unspecified number of light tanks.

The first supply of Western mobile armor is another major milestone in the escalating provision of advanced weaponry to Ukrainian forces, including heavy artillery and long-range precision rocket launchers. It comes just weeks after the Biden administration announced that it would supply Kyiv with a Patriot missile battery, the most sophisticated air defense weapon in the US arsenal, to defend against waves of Russian missile and drone attacks on energy and civilian infrastructure far from the front. line.

That line, where the Ukrainian military is engaged in a grueling fight for incremental gains against Russian ground forces, is spread for hundreds of miles along a north-south front in the eastern part of the country. US officials have said that the Ukrainians need the ability to conduct combined arms maneuvers, with armored vehicles allowing them to engage the enemy and move forward while under fire.

The United States assesses that “there will be continued fighting along that line … for the foreseeable future,” a second senior administration official said, with little expectation that combat will slow down during the winter months. In a shift from training only small units to operate specific weapons systems, the allies are now pulling thousands of Ukrainian soldiers off the front lines for combined maneuver training in Europe.

Pentagon eyes major expansion of Ukrainian military training

But until now, Ukraine’s allies have rebuffed Kyiv, arguing that the Western armor is too logistically complicated to be useful.

Germany has repeatedly turned down Ukrainian requests for its Marder infantry fighting vehicles and Leopard 2 main battle tanks, largely on the grounds that it did not want to be the first to provide such weaponry.

Much of the West’s hesitation to send advanced armaments has revolved around reluctance to provoke Russia to escalate the war. Decisions to send systems such as HIMARS, the US precision rocket launchers that were first transferred last summer, have come as the situation on the battlefield “evolved,” the second administration official said.

As expected, each advancement in arming Ukraine has brought accusations from Russian President Vladimir Putin that NATO is actively fighting a war against Russia. But it is Moscow’s brutality, especially attacks against civilians, that has made the West more forward-leaning, administration officials counter.

“Let’s just be crystal clear here,” the second official said angrily. “Mr. Putin can claim all he wants that this is a war by the West,” and he is fighting “essentially for [Russia’s] security. … We all know this is a bunch of BS. This is a Russian war of aggression on Ukraine.”

“We are and will continue to provide them the kind of systems to defend themselves,” this official said.

Biden administration to send Patriot missile system to Ukraine

The decision to send armored combat vehicles comes just weeks after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urgently appealed for tanks during a lightning visit to Washington late last month. On Wednesday, in his nightly address to the Ukrainian people, Zelensky hailed the French announcement as “a clear signal to all our other partners: There is no rational reason why Ukraine has not yet been supplied with Western-style tanks. … We must put an end to the Russian aggression this year exactly, and not postpone any of the defensive capabilities that can speed up the defeat of the terrorist state.”

“Modern Western armored vehicles, Western-type tanks are just one of these key capabilities,” Zelensky said.

The administration continues to rule out sending even larger Abrams battle tanks, which weigh 55 tons and rely on a turbine engine that guzzles fuel at a drastic rate, said the first official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity about the sensitive issue. . They are also prone to breakdowns and require extensive maintenance expertise.

The battle tanks are so heavy that then-President Trump was dissuaded from plans to include them in the 2019 July Fourth celebration in Washington on grounds that their steel-plate tracks would destroy city streets. The Abrams ultimately stayed in a “static display” on rail cars near Anacostia Park, while Trump was flanked by Bradleys for his Independence Day speech.

The Bradley, while technically not a tank, would offer a significant upgrade for Ukrainian ground forces. Weighing about 28 tons, it travels on tank-like tracks and carries a three-person crew with room for up to six additional soldiers inside. The United States has thousands of vehicles, and sending an unspecified number to Ukraine would not undercut US inventories.

Named after Gen. Omar Bradley, a senior US commander during World War II, the Bradley lacks the firepower of the 120mm “main gun” cannon fitted on an Abrams. But it is equipped with heavy armor and an array of other weapons, including a 25mm chain gun and M240 machine gun. It is designed to travel up to 35 miles per hour, fast enough to keep up with the Abrams in American combat units.

France’s plan to supply French-made AMX-10 RC light tanks was announced Wednesday after a phone call between Zelensky and French President Emmanuel Macron. It was not immediately clear how many tanks would be delivered, or when they would arrive.

The wheeled vehicles have been in service with the French military since 1981 and are being gradually decommissioned and replaced with an updated system. Primarily used for reconnaissance and transporting troops, its 105mm gun is smaller than that of many tanks, but the vehicle is considered highly agile and maneuverable.

Also on Wednesday, Poland signed a $1.4 billion deal to purchase a second tranche of US Abrams tanks, replacing more than 300 Soviet-era tanks and armored personnel carriers sent to Ukraine last summer.

Ukrainian forces have also added hundreds of captured or abandoned Russian tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and armored personnel carriers to their existing stock of Soviet-era vehicles. But spare parts and ammunition have been hard to find.

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