M1 Abrams: What Ukraine needs to win in Ukraine? The arrival of Abrams tanks in Ukraine is without question likely to be impactful in a number of key respects. However, a true ability to “reclaim” and “hold” territory previously held by Russian forces will likely require much more heavy armor than the small number of tanks on the way.
While more tanks are of course slated to arrive over time, Ukraine will likely need more “mass” and “wide area maneuvers” to succeed with a large-scale counter-invasion or effort to “retake” large territories in disputed areas. A small number of Abrams tanks, if properly fortified by artillery, some air support, and dismounted infantry, could certainly breach the “perimeter” of Russian formations and potentially “break” through or “penetrate” Russian defenses. This kind of operation could be extremely important, yet it would likely fall short of enabling Ukrainian fighters to “reclaim” territory.
M1 Abrams Tank: Armor Makes a Difference
By no means does this mean the effort is not well served, as it could potentially enable an important and successful longer-term strategy. Since Ukrainians have proven so effective at anti-armor kinds of hit-and-run ambushes, which decimated invading Russian armored vehicles, perhaps they could employ their largely defensive anti-armor posture long enough for more heavy armor to arrive.
Certainly if used with artillery, overhead surveillance showing the size, speed, shape, and angle of approach of attacking Russian vehicles and dispersed but well-armed groups of dismounted fighters, anti-armor weapons could slow down or thwart armored Russian advances long enough for larger amounts of heavy armor to arrive. This kind of strategy might make the most sense, as a large-scale, direct mechanized engagement across wide swaths of territory might favor Russian forces simply due to sheer numbers.
Pure Numbers Don’t Apply to Russian Disadvantage
When it comes to heavy armor, the numbers discrepancy between Ukraine and Russia is significant, as Global Firepower’s 2022 Ukraine-Russia military comparison says Russia operates 12,566 tanks, as compared to Ukraine’s 1,890 tanks. Operating six times as many tanks, even if many of them are not modernized, sustained, or well maintained, would seem to give invading Russian forces a numerical advantage difficult to overcome.
Simply put, this amount of available Russian hardware, combined with the expansive geography, seems to suggest that Ukraine will need hundreds if not thousands more tanks to ultimately prevail.
The exact technological capacity of the Abrams export variants marked for Ukraine may not be known. Yet, their ultimate success will likely depend upon the range and fidelity of their targeting sensors and thermal sights. Should Ukrainian Abrams operate with superior targeting sensors in terms of range and resolution, then a much smaller number of Ukrainian tanks could potentially destroy large amounts of Russian armor.
For example, the famous Gulf War tank battles were won decisively by the U.S. Army in large measure because the Abrams’ thermal sights were able to see, track, and destroy Iraqi T-72 from standoff distances where they themselves could not be detected.
Winning heavy armor engagements against Russia will be essential, as Ukraine’s long-term success may depend largely upon an ability to truly “pivot” from its successful more defensively oriented hit-and-run, an ambush-style anti-armor fight, which stopped Russia’s initial advance into more mechanized offensive operations designed to retake and hold territory.
The Pentagon, NATO, and the 50-nation-strong Ukraine Defense Contact Group have all supported this, which is why many more tactical trucks, support vehicles, and logistical equipment have been sent to Ukraine in recent months, as advancing forces claiming territory need sustainment, troop transport, supplies and protection to secure their advances.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.
March 17, 2023 at 1:25 am
Fodder. Tanks are something that is deployed in great numbers
March 17, 2023 at 9:27 am
God bless people in the world.
When more and more people say that the M1 Abram tank is the best, I think about the German Tiger II tank more and more. Then I remember the many people arguing about which is the best between the M4 Sherman and the Tiger II. Even if people don’t think about logistics, nor people attack tanks with anti-tank missiles or anti-tank mines.
But there is a legend in the Iraq war, 1 T-55 and 2 RAF attack helicopters fight a duel, even if it wasn’t true, I have much respect for the legendary tank corp.
God bless America.
March 17, 2023 at 11:07 am
Thank you. Finally, a straighforward and concise article that answers the question posed in the headline. Didn’t think you had it in you, 1945…