Will NATO tanks make it in time to Ukraine to be able to make a difference?

Ukraine has said that it needs around 300 battle tanks for its spring offensive against Russia. However, the number of tanks its Western allies may be able to get on the ground by the time may fall too short of that number

Rakshit Sharma January 27, 2023 15:22:05 IST
Will NATO tanks make it in time to Ukraine to be able to make a difference?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stands with German army Bundeswehr soldiers at a "Leopard 2" main battle tank during a training and instruction exercise in in Ostenholz, Germany. File/AP.

New Delhi: This week, the US announced that it would send its M1A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which was followed by Germany’s decision to send the Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. However, this may be too little too late.

Ukraine has said that it needs around 300 battle tanks for its spring offensive against Russia. However, the number of tanks its Western allies may be able to get on the ground by the time may fall too short of that number.

Even with the limited number of tanks that are expected to be on the field by the spring, Ukrainian forces will have a great task at hand to use them optimally.

The broader package of tanks that the West is piecing together is an assortment of different tank models with different delivery times and unique logistical needs.

According to a Washington Post report, military experts are doubtful of any decisive effect of the tanks, which Ukrainian forces are yet to be trained on how to use.

“No single weapons system or platform can be a game changer,”  the report quoted Franz-Stefan Gady, a senior fellow at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies, as saying.

He said that the effectiveness of the limited number of tanks set to arrive in March will depend on training and how well the Ukrainian forces integrate the new formations on the front line.

Since Germany waited so long to decide on the tanks, he believes that “it is unlikely that the Leopard 2 will play a significant role in any spring offensive.”

Abrams is too late to see action in the coming months

The US pledged Abrams will take a due course of time before the Ukrainian forces can get their hands on them. The US will first acquire the tanks, and train Ukrainian forces on how to use them before they can be a part of the action.

“We are confident that we will be able to provide adequate sustainment and maintenance support after some months,” a US official aware of the deliberations behind the decision to send Abrams to Ukraine was quoted as saying in the Washington Post report.

It also remains unclear where the US will train the Ukrainian forces to use the tanks.

Interoperable Leopards?

Albeit the Leopards in use of NATO armies in Europe are essentially interoperable, there are subtle differences between stocks held by different countries.  A Spanish Leopard A4 may have a different fire control or radio system from the ones with the Finnish army. Using all these Leopards together effectively would require Ukrainian forces to train on how to use all the subtly different variants.

The British Challenger 2 tanks, which the Ukrainians are expecting soon, use different ammunition from the NATO standard used in Leopards.

This mishmash of different tanks, and even the same with subtle differences, however valuable firepower, offer additional complications of procuring ammunition, training forces and organising logistics.

This also was the reason the US was hesitant to send in the Abrams so far. US officials had said that they won’t give the Ukrainian forces the equipment they can neither use nor maintain as it will offer more problems than whatever use it may be of.

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