Much has been made over the past year of the advanced weapons systems Western nations have sent to Ukraine to aid in the fight against Russia. While this equipment will undoubtedly have a large impact on the battlefield, the reality is that even with all the donations there is not nearly enough to supply the entirety of the Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU). Some newly constituted Ukrainian brigades have been spotted with equipment ranging from a few decades to nearly half a century old.
Typically, Ukrainian Armored Brigades operate with 3 tank battalions. Prior to the invasion, these battalions used Soviet-era T-64 and some T-80 tanks. Post invasion, Ukraine has been able to bolster their reserves with captured Russian T-72s as well as donated Western tanks. This influx of equipment has allowed the Ukrainian Ministry of Defense to stand up multiple units of motorized infantry, mechanized infantry, and tanks.
War watchers have noted that Ukraine has stood up nearly two dozen new brigades over the past few months as they geared up for their summer counteroffensive. While all these brigades received Western training, not all of them received Western equipment. It’s currently thought that nine of the new units have advanced weapons systems while the rest are making do with stocks pulled from strategic reserves or older donated systems.
The 22nd Mechanized Brigade
The 22nd Mechanized Brigade is one such unit. Photos taken of their equipment during training show the range of material Ukraine is working with. Several of their tanks appear to be T-72 Ural tanks, the oldest variant, while others are PT-91 Twardy tanks, a Polish upgrade to the T-72 with greatly enhanced features.
The T-72 Ural was first developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960’s to reduce reliance on the T-64 which was plagued by its expensive production cost and underdeveloped technology. Designer Leonid Kartsev combined components of the T-62, T-64 and an upgraded engine to create Object 172 – which became the T-72. Since then, it served as the main tank of Warsaw Pact countries and the Soviet Union until its dissolution in 1991. During and since, many countries have upgraded and enhanced the T-72 making it a formidable fighting machine. The PT-91 is one such upgrade.
Inspired by their successful upgrades of aging T-55 tanks, the Polish Army decided in the late 1980s to apply the same process to their license-built T-72s. The result was the PT-91 Twardy which had an upgraded engine and transmission for increased mobility, Polish-made Erawa explosive reactive armor for better protection, and significantly upgraded optics and fire control system.
The latter two systems were arguably the greatest vulnerability of theT-72. Older models used an infrared spotlight with an active receiver to paint targets at night. While night-fighting ability is of great importance in modern conflict, the downsides of giving away your own position with a spotlight are apparent. Furthermore, the new fire control system is far more accurate while firing on the move, an essential trait for the survivability of any tank.
Western analysts are eager to see what impact Western equipment has on the war in Ukraine however it may ultimately be Brigades such as the 22nd Mechanized which do the heavy lifting of driving Russia out of the country. While the NATO armed brigades may prove to be crucial in breaking the Russian lines, the other units will surely see more than their fair share of fighting exploiting such a breakthrough, using all the equipment they have on hand.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.