The Ukrainian military has been using innovative ways to make some of its older tanks more effective on the battlefield.
Kyiv launched its large-scale counteroffensive, and the Ukrainian military is going to pour everything it has against the Russian defenses.
That means using older tanks in unconventional ways.
Ukrainian Tanks and Indirect Fire
Despite pre-war assessments about the value of armored warfare in modern combat, the tank has played a key role in the war in Ukraine.
Both sides have been using tanks profusely in several roles, including maneuver warfare and urban combat. There have also been tank-on-tank engagements, though not at the rate of other wars, such as World War Two or the Arab-Israeli wars.
At the start of the invasion and for many months, the Ukrainian forces had less advanced main battle tanks compared to their Russian adversaries. To compensate for their qualitative shortcomings, the Ukrainians forces adopted unconventional tactics that maximized the effectiveness of their tanks and minimized their exposure to Russian fire.
Instead of using older tanks to engage Russian tanks and mechanized infantry directly, the Ukrainian military is employing the armored vehicles in a semi-artillery role that uses indirect fire to hit targets at medium ranges.
Ukrainian tank crews combine high-explosive fragmentation projectiles with range finders and guidance devices to shoot accurately at distances of up to six miles.
Moreover, modern technology allows Ukrainian tankers to calculate fire corrections within a few seconds. Combined with small drones that act as scouts, this technique is highly effective on the battlefield.
“The value of this technique is that it allows tanks to concentrate fire over a wide area while they can manoeuvre without the protection and screening needed by artillery pieces. Ukraine therefore planned to use armour as mobile reserves supporting its formations, capable of offering blunting fire against enemy movements and to support counterattacks if conditions permitted,” the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) think tank assessed in a report on the conventional fighting on the ground.
The Ukrainian Counteroffensive and Western Tanks
And yet, despite the innovative ways the Ukrainian military is using to make its tanks more effective, Kyiv needs more advanced main battle tanks if it is to defeat the Russian forces.
For a long time, Germany was an obstacle, preventing the transfer of the German-made Leopard 2 main battle tank to Kyiv. However, after much diplomacy, Berlin acquiesced and is now the biggest provider of tanks to Ukraine, committing scores of Leopard 2 and Leopard 1 main battle tanks to Kyiv.
Now, the West has delivered or committed to delivering more than 200 Challenger 2, Leopard 2, Leopard 1, M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks (France has also sent several AMX-10RC tank destroyers).
The ongoing counteroffensive will take a toll on the Ukrainian tank arsenal, and the Ukrainian military will soon require more machines. The U.S. military is sending 31 M1A1 SA Abrams, but that is not enough in the long term. The West should continue to provide Ukraine with the necessary tools to finish this war as soon as possible.
A 19FortyFive Defense and National Security Columnist, Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations, a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ), and a Johns Hopkins University graduate. His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.