PULASKI COMMENTARY: Potential deliveries of Western heavy vehicles to Ukraine are not sufficient (Robert Czulda)

PULASKI COMMENTARY: Potential deliveries of Western heavy vehicles to Ukraine are not sufficient (Robert Czulda)

Three Western NATO member states – France, the United States and Germany – promised to provide Ukraine with some heavy fighting vehicles. Although, on the one hand, this is good news – after all, a certain mental barrier is broken and a new supply channel is to be established – from a purely military perspective, this is rather a symbolic help.

It is worth reminding that in late 2022 Ukraine asked for at least 300 main battle tanks (MBTs) and between 600-700 armoured infantry fighting vehicles (AIFVs).[1] Kyiv’s open request was made after the Ukrainian Army was supplied by several states in Central and Eastern Europe with large quantities of ex-Soviet MBTs. Poland alone delivered more than 230 tanks.[2]

A decision to increase deliveries of weaponry to Ukraine and to expand aid to heavy vehicles is important for the ongoing defence effort. Without such supplies, Ukraine will not have a chance to replenish the constantly growing material losses and to form new units. Own stockpile of tanks and vehicles both in mechanised and motorised units have been systematically decreasing, which is a natural consequence of warfighting.

Heavy armoured vehicles – both MBTs and AIFVs – are particularly crucial. They offer high mobility and firepower. They also have a relatively high protection. Such vehicles are irreplaceable in a clash with an army that uses them to a large extent. In other words, to effectively fight tanks, one needs own tanks.

Expected deliveries

First it was France, who said in early January 2023 that it would send the AMX-10RCs to Ukraine.[3] The French Army has 247 such vehicles.[4] Nevertheless, despite various reports that France was going to supply Ukraine with tanks,[5] AMX-10RC is not a tank per se, but rather an armoured fighting vehicle used mainly for reconnaissance and engaging armoured vehicles, including MBTs (AMX-10RC is armed with a 105 mm gun, which can fire modern anti-tank munition). It lacks, however, proper protection. As noted by “Kiyv Post”, wheeled AMX-10RC is considered as “reliable and fairly mobile in African fighting, but overly poorly-armoured even to be considered for use in conventional battle featuring tank-to-tank slug matches, anti-tank missiles, and dense artillery strikes”.[6] Moreover, it does not have gun stabilised. It means that when (if?) delivered, the Ukrainian Army would use them mainly as fire support and reconnaissance vehicles.

After long months of wavering, Germany finally agreed to support Ukraine with the Schützenpanzer Marder 1 tracked AIFVs of unspecified variant. Roughly 40 vehicles are expected to be handed over by the end of March. They might be equipped with the MILAN (Missile d’Infanterie Legar Antichar) anti-tank guided missiles. Although the vehicle itself is old – it joined the Bundeswehr in the early 1970s – newer variants were deployed by Germany in Afghanistan within ISAF.

At the same time the United States promised to donate the Bradley M2 AIFVs. They entered production in the early 1980s. They are still used by Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and primarily by the United States. M2s are combat proven and still can be useful. Apart from relatively good armament, which includes a 25 mm autocannon and two BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles, an important advantage of this vehicle is its availability in large numbers – the Americans have a stockpile of almost 6,000 M2s and M3s.[7]

Main challenges

As always, however, the devil is in the details – much depends on how much equipment could be sent to Ukraine and when. According to available information, Germany is to donate up to 40 Marders, while the first – and hopefully not the last batch of M2s – is to include about 50 M2s. It is still unclear how many AMX-10RCs would be delivered by France, but according to some estimates “just approximately 30 AMX-10RCs” are “available immediately to be sent to Ukraine.”[8] These are homeopathic quantities.

Moreover, arms deliveries alone are insufficient, as suppliers would also have to support Ukraine with other elements. These primarily include constant and significant supplies of ammunition and spare parts. Without them, even the best vehicles quickly become useless. The list of necessary assistance in this context also includes fuel. Moreover, it is equally crucial to ensure a proper training of both crews and maintenance personnel.

Possible deliveries

Apart from vehicles mentioned above, the West could supply Ukraine also with other relatively modern vehicles. A potential list includes the Leopard tanks, which have been used by several/pro-NATO states, including Canada, Denmark, Greece, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Sweden or Finland. Nevertheless, due to Berlin’s timid approach, deliveries remain unlikely, at least for now.

Deliveries of British tanks are much more likely. According to some press reports, London is now considering supplying Ukraine with the Challenger 2 MBTs, which have been used in combat in Iraq. According to Sky News, the British would send just ten tanks to equip one Ukrainian squadron. From a military point of view, such a small batch would have a minimal combat value, but it is supposed to trigger a new approach from Germany. Moreover, it would bring a mental breakthrough, since the Challengers 2 would be the first tanks delivered to Ukraine by a Western nation.

In total the United Kingdom, which has already provided over 200 armoured vehicles to Ukraine,[9] has 227 Challengers 2. In 2021 London announced that it would upgrade 148 of them and keep them in service until at least 2035 (they will be known as Challenger 3). It is obvious that even if London increased a size of its deliveries to Ukraine, it would not be able to supply Kyiv with more than a few dozen of the Challengers 2.

An interesting scenario, however not yet raised too often, includes deliveries of the Challenger 1 tank. In total the United Kingdom had manufactured 420 MBTs, while 392 of them were later procured by Jordan, but they are to be retired soon. Last year the government in Amman announced a plan to acquire the Leclerc MBTs (French-made) – 80 were reportedly donated by the United Arab Emirates (in the Emirati service since 1995 – some were modified with AZUR Urban kits as part of a 2011 deal with GIAT/Nexter). It means that Jordanian Challengers 1 could be procured by the United Kingdom or by any other Allied country, refurbished, and donated to Ukraine.

Another vehicle that could be potentially delivered is the Stryker wheeled armoured vehicle, which exists in numerous versions and variants, including ICV (Infantry Carrier Vehicle), MC (120 mm Mortar Carrier) and MGS (Mobile Gun System with an 105 mm cannon). Roughly 5,000 vehicles were manufactured and they still serve in the US Army. These vehicles have their drawbacks, but at the same time they are still versatile workhorses able to operate in various terrain and weather conditions.

Conclusions

Without a doubt Ukraine needs additional AIFVs and MBTs – particularly the latter would be crucial to support Ukrainian military effort. So far, unfortunately, Western European countries have not supplied Ukraine with such vehicles. All promised deliveries of vehicles such as the AMX-10RC, Marder and M2 Bradley are important primarily as a way to break a psychological barrier. It remains to be hoped that this will set a precedent, after which it will be easier to transfer more equipment considered by some as “offensive”. This includes in particular a key issue of persuading Germany to give a green light to start supplying Ukraine with the Leopard tanks. Only large deliveries of those MBTs can significantly strengthen the Ukrainian war potential.

The main problem is a small size of promised deliveries – several dozen vehicles are not enough to affect a strategic situation on the frontline.Moreover, Ukraine will receive three more types of vehicles.Although they are largely interoperable and meet NATO standards, this will only increase problems for Ukrainian logistics.Nevertheless, Ukraine currently does not have the comfort to be picky – each vehicle is extremely valuable.

Moreover, the Allied states must start efforts to rebuild their own war potential as soon as possible – this applies to both heavy vehicles, such as MBTs and AIFVs (both in operational forces and in reserve) – and ammunition stocks. Large material reserves would be crucial both in the event of NATO’s direct participation in a future war and in the event of the need to support an ally.

Author: Dr Robert Czulda, Resident Fellow, Casimir Pulaski Foundation

[1] Dan Sabbagh ,UK considers supplying handful of Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine,accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2023/jan/09/uk-considers-supplying-handful-of-challenger-2-tanks-to-ukraine-war-russia

[2] Marek Kozubal , Marek Kozubal: Gra wokół czołgów dla Ukrainy, accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.rp.pl/publicystyka/art37744671-marek-kozubal-ile-leopardow-moze-przekazac-polska-ukrainie

[3] Michael Peck, The tank-killing armored vehicle that France is sending to Ukraine is ‘a bit of an oddity,’ but don’t call it a tank ,accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/france-is-sending-tank-killing-amx10rc-armored-vehicles-to-ukraine-2023-1?IR=T

[4] France to supply Ukraine with wheeled tanks and armored personnel carriers, accessed January  13, 2023, https://mil.in.ua/en/news/france-to-supply-ukraine-with-wheeled-tanks-and-armored-personnel-carriers/

[5] At last, Ukraine gets Western tanks, accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-sending-western-tanks-to-ukraine-amx-10-rc-volodymyr-zelenskyy/

[6] Stefan Korshak, EXPLAINED: France’s AMX-10 RC – Not Bad, Though not Really a Tank, accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.kyivpost.com/post/6434

[7] Craig Hooper, America’s Tough M2/M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles Are Perfect For Ukraine Fight, accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/craighooper/2022/12/30/americas-tough-m2m3-mini-tanks-are-perfect-for-ukraine-and-nato/

[8] At last, Ukraine gets Western tanks, accessed January  13, 2023, https://www.politico.eu/article/emmanuel-macron-sending-western-tanks-to-ukraine-amx-10-rc-volodymyr-zelenskyy/

[9],accessed January  13, 2023, https://news.sky.com/story/uk-considering-supplying-ukraine-with-challenger-2-tanks-to-fight-russian-forces-12783107