In the coming weeks and months, Germany’s Leopard 2 main battle tanks (MBTs) will be to arrive in Ukraine. Considered among the very best tanks in service in the world, even a small number could play a big role on the battlefield – especially as they’ll be supported by French AMX-10 RC wheeled tank destroyers, and American M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicles among other Western-made armored platforms.
The former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said that the Western armor “creates real problems” for the Kremlin’s ground forces, and could prove critical in stopping any planned spring Russian offensive.
“When you put these three types of tanks together and you bring them in real numbers into Ukraine, and I would estimate there will be at least 100, maybe as many as 200, by mid-spring, call it the end of March, that creates real problems for Putin,” Admiral James Stavridis, United States Navy (Retired), and NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe (2009-2013), told radio host John Catsimatidis, TheHill.com reported
Stravridis said the vehicles could be enough to help Ukrainian forces could strike along the Russian military’s frontline, which is now stretched hundreds of miles.
“With these tanks, the Ukrainians can mask that armor and use it to punch through the Russian line, separate them, peel them apart, break the logistics chain,” he added.
Berlin has pledged to send 14 Leopard 2 MBTs, while Warsaw has announced it will send an equal number of German-made tanks. The Canadian military will supply an additional four, and Spain’s and Norway’s governments are each now considering how many Leopard 2s could be supplied. In addition, the Netherlands is now determining if it could purchase the 18 Leopard 2 tanks it leases from Germany to send those to Ukraine. In total, NATO nations could send upwards of 80 German MBTs.
Those are of course in addition to the 14 British Challenger 2 tanks that are also being readied for Ukraine, while the United States last week announced it would send 31 M1 Abrams. Even with these tanks, it is still short of the 300 to 400 MBTs – a division’s worth – that Kyiv said would be necessary to change the course of the war. However, these could still be significant enough to hold the line and perhaps drive back Russia’s forces in the Donbas region.
Holding Out Through the Winter
Just as Ukrainian civilians are enduring a cold and bitter winter, and many are likely counting the days until the spring thaw – Kyiv’s military has to hold out until the Western armored vehicles arrive.
In the meantime, they’re relying on Cold War-era Soviet MBTs, notably the T-72.
Mechanics, who had previously fixed cars, trucks, trains and buses, are now maintaining Ukraine’s fleet of tanks and other military vehicles. As NBC News reported, it has required on-the-job training for many of these volunteers.
“We have never dealt with military equipment before. This is a different type of facility. We weren’t prepared for this, but the war started and we had to push back the Russian Federation — this is what we can do as mechanics,” one volunteer explained through an interpreter.
The teams have had to pour over manuals, while parts are often salvaged from damaged or destroyed tanks – including those that had been operated by Russia. This, however, has led to concerns that the Ukrainians won’t be able to maintain Western vehicles.
That notion has been dismissed by Bohdan Ostapchuk has helped coordinate the repair of captured vehicles at the facility for the nonprofit Serhiy Prytula Charity Foundation.
“If they give us parts and one week to explore the manual, we will repair every tank that the USA, Great Britain, Germany will send to us and we will return them to the front lines for our soldiers,” Ostapchuk, a former TV host and political candidate, told NBC News.
It could be up to a year before Ukrainian military personnel are trained to operate; and as importantly how to maintain the M1 Abrams. But in the meantime, the Ukrainians are working to keep their T-72s and other Soviet-era armor in service. There are even mobile repair units that head to the front lines to do the maintenance in the field.
Spring is coming, as are Western armored vehicles, but neither could arrive soon enough.
Author Experience and Expertise: A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.