Ukraine Receives Western Tanks, Potential Effect on War Effort

On Wednesday, several western countries and members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) confirmed that they will be sending Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine. Tanks in the package include Leopard 2 MBTs (German) and M1A1 Abrams MBTs (United States). Sources from CNN familiar with the ongoing American deliberations in Washington stated that the US was preparing to send a package of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine (as of January 25th, the White House confirmed they would be sending 31 Abrams to Ukraine). Germany also authorized other European countries to send their own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine since Poland was attempting to send the MBT to Ukraine, but they had to go through Germany to do so (since the Leopard was produced and created by Germany). Russia has responded very negatively to these developments, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov stating that “These tanks will burn just like all the others.” He also reiterated statements made many times by the Kremlin about how Western supplies and arms to Ukraine will be ineffective or useless against Russia, mostly due to the low numbers often supplied to the Ukrainian army (an exception being the Stinger and MANPADS systems, which have proven vital to Ukraine’s air defense network).

A Leopard 2 during a demonstration event held for the media by the German Army in Munster near Hannover, Germany on  Sept. 28, 2011 (Michael Sohn/AP, FILE/ABC News).

Many other NATO members have sought to send Ukraine MBTs for several months, but due to Germany and the USA exerting pressure on other members to not do so, this went undone until recently. However, the effects of these tanks on the war effort are yet to be seen, so the next section of this article will be speculation about the effectiveness of Western tanks on the Ukrainian war effort. Many analysts have debated that due to the small number of tanks being sent to Ukraine by NATO (about 100 in total, adding other countries’ Leopard fleets), their effect will not be as massive as the STINGER and MANPADS systems which have proven key to their air defense network. However, I disagree with this notion. The Abrams tanks have proven to be very effective in the field against multiple different types of tanks, including Iraqi-operated T72s and T60s during both invasions of the country in 1993 and 2003. As stated in an archived Department of Defense (DOD) 1992 report called Early Performance Assessment of the Bradley and Abrams: “23 Abrams were destroyed or damaged in the Persian Gulf area. Of the nine Abrams destroyed, seven were due to friendly fire, and two were intentionally destroyed to prevent capture after they became disabled.” (NSIAD-92-94). Abrams in the 1993 invasion would faced Iraqi-operated T-55, T-62, and locally produced T-72 tanks, all of which lacked modern weapons systems or night vision equipment. Similar issues have been noticed in the Ukraine war, with many modern Russian T-90 and T-80 tanks being destroyed in the field. Observers have noticed more aging T-72 and T-62 tanks being pulled out of storage for use in Ukraine by the Russian army. Many captured Russian tanks have also shown many issues, mostly a lack of maintenance and crew experience. Ukrainian soldiers have been trained in NATO countries since the start of the Russian invasion to utilize NATO weapons systems that they have been given, and it is no different with the Abrams and Leopard tanks they just received. This means that undertrained Russian tank crews with aging 1970s and 60’s era tanks will be going against trained and well-equipped Ukrainian tank crews operating M1 and Leoapard-2 tanks, which have already proven effective against Russian tanks in Southwest Asia. This means that, if Ukrainian tanks are able to be utilized well enough against Russian tanks, it is likely they will be able to significantly outperform their Russian counterparts and likely destroy many of them, giving Ukraine a vital edge when it comes to armored warfare that they have lacked since the start of the invasion. Many analysts also speculate that Ukraine will use these new tanks in an offensive during the Spring to cut off Russian-occupied Kherson and Zaporizhzia oblasts, thus cutting Russia off from occupied Crimea. 

Soldiers assigned to the 1st Armored Division and airmen with the 40th Airlift Squadron refueling an M1A2 Abrams (Department of Defense/Senior Airman Leon Redfern/VIRIN: 221209-F-MI946-1100)

Sources for Article

Reuters-Kremlin Statement


National Public Radio/NPR

ABC News


Department of Defense

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