Deliveries of tanks offered by NATO countries to Ukraine are making headlines this week. kyiv has been requesting these weapons from its Western allies since the beginning of the Russian offensive, and it seems that now, 12 months after the fighting began, these requests are being met.
The United States announced that it would send 31 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine. In a hastily scheduled speech on Wednesday, President Joe Biden noted that US tanks are complicated to operate and maintain, so the US will provide kyiv “the parts and equipment needed to effectively support these tanks on the battlefield.”
It was also confirmed on Wednesday that the German government will send Leopard 2A6 tanks from its own stock and allow other countries, such as Poland, to transfer German-made tanks to Ukraine. On January 14, London announced its intention to ship its Challengers 2 to kyiv while Paris’ decision to supply French AMX-56 Leclerc vehicles also seems inevitable.
Russian experts and journalists have been locked in a heated debate over the differences between these Western main battle tanks and the Russian T-90s, comparing their armor, guns, accuracy, active and passive protection systems, maneuverability , their fire control systems, their ammunition, and many other attributes.
Ultimately, however, these discussions have no practical value. The battlefield is the only litmus test for all the advantages and disadvantages of any type of weapon or military equipment. Reliable statistics on combat use are all that is needed for a comparative analysis of modern main battle tanks, if it is to be credible.
Another thing to remember is that all tanks are vulnerable to modern anti-tank systems, so the question is how many NATO tanks are going to Ukraine?
How many tanks does kyiv need?
To simplify the calculations, we will use an armored division, the main structural and tactical unit of armored forces in the former Soviet republics, as a benchmark. According to Soviet manuals, an armored division must have 296 tanks, 230 infantry fighting vehicles, 54 self-propelled artillery systems, more than 2,000 regular vehicles and almost 12,000 soldiers and officers.
How many divisions does Kyiv need? At least one for each of the three main fronts – in Lugansk, Donetsk and Zaporozhye. The line of contact in the special military operations area is currently 815 km long, which makes three divisions too small to make a difference, but let’s ignore that for now.
Three armored divisions combined would have a total of around 900 tanks. Apart from that, another armored division might be needed on the Belarusian front, which might see very heavy fighting. In the event of an escalation there, an armored division or similar unit in reserve is essential, which increases the number of tanks required from 300 to 1,200.
Finally, no commander-in-chief can do without his own reserve, the so-called supreme high command reserve. Without at least one armored division, this reserve cannot really count as such, which means 300 more tanks for a required total of 1,500.
Another thing to consider is likely Ukrainian casualties in offensive operations. The average daily losses of an armored unit in this case amount to 10 to 15%. About 15-20% of out-of-service tanks are usually unrecoverable losses, while the rest require repairs (general maintenance for 30-50%, mid-level repairs for 15-30%, and overhaul for 10-20%).
Simply put, at least 300 more tanks are needed to compensate for losses during combat operations. This gives us a figure of 1,800 tanks, which should be considered an absolute minimum.
These are very rough and somewhat simplistic calculations, but they give us ballpark numbers.
How many tanks will kyiv receive?
So far, NATO countries have reserved tanks for Ukraine, numbering in the dozens. This is only a fraction of the hypothetical minimum.
Britain and Poland officially committed one armored company each, comprising up to 14 tanks respectively. Germany will supply a similar amount, while the United States is preparing the supply of 31 Abrams heavy weapons.
At a recent meeting of the US-led Defense Contact Group at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, officials from 12 countries discussed sending a total of about 100 tanks to Kyiv, if Berlin were to give the go-ahead, which, according to an ABC report, it did.
Rheinmetall could also supply a total of 139 tanks to Ukraine, including 88 Leopard 1s and 51 Leopard 2A4s, but the German manufacturer concedes that only 29 of them could be shipped before summer 2023.
What impact will NATO have‘s tanks have?
Will all these tanks soon see combat? Take the example of the M1 Abrams, considered one of the symbols of American military power.
A small number of these tanks manned by poorly trained crews and lacking large-scale maintenance and supply infrastructure support would most likely yield negative results. They will fail to change Ukraine’s fate on the battlefield, while images of burning American tanks will likely hurt American public opinion.
So one of America’s first weapons, the pride and joy of its defense industry, will be humbled on the battlefield for a long time. This is something the Pentagon cannot allow under any circumstances.
Therefore, before actual combat occurs, evacuation teams, tank repair units, and supplies of spare parts must be in place, while crews must receive superior training to handle American tanks. .
Finally, the first deployment of American main battle tanks in Ukraine must be accompanied by a significant success of the Ukrainian army, at least at the tactical level, which would require no less than 200 to 300 (or even 400 to 500) tanks.
Otherwise, supplying the M1 Abrams to Ukraine makes no military or political sense. Transferring them a company (10-15 tanks) at a time would only mean that this equipment will burn on the battlefield without having a significant impact or even attracting anyone’s attention.
So far, Russia has had no major problems with enemy equipment. Since the launch of the military operation, according to Lieutenant General Igor Konashenkov, spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Defense, Russian forces have destroyed 376 planes, 203 helicopters, 2,944 drones, 402 anti-aircraft missile systems, 988 MLRV and 3,898 field artillery guns. and mortars.
As well as 7,614 tanks and other armored vehicles.
No room for complacency
It is very likely that the first NATO tank companies will be used as training units for Ukrainian crews, while Poland will initially provide maintenance and repair capability for servicing German tanks or Americans.
However, do not think that the training will be spread over a very long period. It can take a few weeks to complete a full training program, while training T-64/84 crews to fight in the M1 Abrams or Leopard 2A5 could be completed in days.
What counts in reports about Western tank deliveries to Ukraine are not so much the tanks themselves as the breaking of a taboo that until recently prevented the transfer of heavy armored vehicles of manufacturing west to Ukraine.
Once this taboo is broken, there is every reason to assume that sooner or later Kyiv will not only receive the 1,800 Western main battle tanks it badly needs, but much more than that.
At that time and perhaps even earlier, Ukraine will be able to create a strike force on the Zaporozhye front, for example. If such a force succeeds in breaking through the Russian defences, it could cover the 82 km to Melitopol in less than three days, which would dissect the full depth of the Russian defense in this region.
With this in mind, the Russian armed forces must achieve tangible military and political results long before Western arms supplies reach their full potential.