What is the difficult situation with Western tanks on the Ukrainian battlefield?

The US, Germany, and the UK have agreed to transfer the main battle tanks to Ukraine, but their small numbers and logistical challenges make it difficult for these tanks to be effective.

After nearly a year, Ukraine asked its NATO allies to transfer Western-made main battle tanks, and the alliance finally accepted. The decision to supply Challenger 2, M1 Abrams, and Leopard 2 tanks comes in the context of Russia strengthening its defenses in the controlled territories in the Donbas, Zaporizhzhia, and Kherson regions.

According to Brandon Weichert, an expert at the Institute for Foreign Policy Studies in Pennsylvania, USA, Western countries decided to transfer tanks to Ukraine to prevent the scenario that Russia was about to launch a major offensive campaign in the spring. Russia has completed mobility and training more than 300,000 reserve soldiers and is ready to launch new and fiercer battles.

He agreed to send a Challenger 2 company of 14 ships. Germany will also deliver a Leopard 2 company with 14 tanks, while the US is committed to providing 31 M1 Abrams tanks.

These are all powerful Western tanks, but Weichert’s decision to transfer a limited number of tanks to Ukraine may be futile in the context of the Ukrainian military struggling to end off advances. 

Challenger Tank

When Russia deploys hundreds of thousands more troops to the front lines, it will be difficult for a few dozen Western main tanks to be effective against Russia’s large armored and infantry forces, Weicher said.

The image published on Russia’s NTV channel in December 2022 shows that the Russian army has transferred about 200 T-90 main battle tanks to the Lugansk region.

Ukraine then asked the West to provide at least 300 tanks to deal with, but this scenario is considered quite far-fetched, as Washington and its European allies do not have enough tanks in service to deliver to Ukraine. 

The Pentagon has admitted that it lacks the required number of M1 Abrams variants to send to Ukraine, while the US defense industry cannot soon increase production capacity as it used to, Weichert assessed.

The M1 Abrams is America’s flagship and iconic tank, so the country can hardly accept the risk of losing this large amount of equipment to Russia in a fight.

“The US cannot risk transferring M1 Abrams tanks equipped with top-secret technologies in their service to Ukraine. They will have to convert and order new production of Abrams before delivering them to Ukraine, so they are difficult to use. can be delivered in the next 12-18 months, even longer,” this expert said.

Even if Western countries fulfill their commitment to delivering tanks, they are only enough to help Ukraine establish a few armored companies, which can hardly cope with a large number of tanks with artillery fire and the air force of Russia in the Donbas.

NATO has repeatedly refused to transfer F-16 fighters to Ukraine, making Western tanks when fighting in this country that will not receive effective support from the air force. At that time, NATO tanks could easily become targets for Russian aircraft.

“Without air cover, Western tanks in Ukraine’s small number are difficult to resist all of Russia’s armored tanks and forces of up to 350,000 soldiers,” Weichert assessed.

In addition to limited numbers and cooperation, Western tanks, when transferred to Ukraine, also face huge logistics, training, and maintenance challenges.

Basically, the US is asking Ukrainian soldiers to operate tanks that they have almost no training in operation and no experience in maintenance in the fierce times of the war.

Unlike the FGM-148 Javelin and FIM-92 Stinger anti-tank missiles, the tank is a complex weapon system that requires months of training to operate, as well as a higher level of maintenance skills than conventional weapons is different.

During that time, Russia could send all the T-90 tanks to penetrate Ukraine before the main Western tanks reached the country, Weichert said.

According to him, Ukraine’s resistance is much better than Russia ever expected, but they are not “supermen” when under great pressure from the enemy for a long time.

Russia initially launched a military campaign with about 160,000 troops, lacking the means and command capacity to carry out the strategy of “hit fast, win fast” But after nearly a year of hostilities, Russia is slowly changing its strategy.

Moscow seems to be massing forces to launch a new offensive, which is expected to be much more fierce. Faced with that wave of attacks, a few companies of Western tanks are unlikely to help Ukraine turn the tide on the battlefield.

“Logistics, geography, and numerical factors still need to be considered in operational plans. Sadly these factors are working against Ukraine,” Mr. Weichert assessed. “Supplying only a few tanks could lead to more Ukrainian dozen deaths and the risk of a large-scale conflict between Russia and the West.”

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