David Ax writes
What will Ukraine do with its new tanks?
Weapons worth tens of billions of dollars have flowed from European and North American countries to Ukraine. guns. Lead. missiles. Artillery elements.
Initially, the countries involved insisted the weapons were “defensive,” designed to help Ukraine counter the advancing Russian army, which invaded without provocation.
A year later, as the battered but still mighty Russian army prepares for a new offensive, the type of weapons destined for Ukraine has changed dramatically. Now, what is pouring in from the West are armored vehicles, long-range missiles, and advanced tanks.
The distinction between offensive and defensive weapons has always been somewhat arbitrary. Now, however, Ukraine has the potential to “play” hard and possibly drive Russia off its territory, using some of the best weapons in the world. This means that the stakes for all parties are greatly raised.
Why is not a secret. After successfully liberating large swathes of the southern and northeastern parts of their country last fall, Ukrainian forces are reported to be planning a new counteroffensive this year. The Allied nations are digging deep into their arsenals to ensure this anticipated counterattack has the best possible chance of success.
When, in February of last year, Russian forces crossed into northern Ukraine while also advancing deep into the Donbass region in the east, the United States and other allies prioritized shipments of ammunition, shoulder-fired anti-tank missiles, air defense systems and — most importantly — artillery. , including hundreds of large weapons compatible with Western-style shells.
Artillery, perhaps more than any other type of weapon, aided Ukrainian forces in defending their capital, Kiev, and ultimately halted Russian advances to the east and south. More than 11 months later, Ukraine has received from its allies at least 750 towed, self-propelled rifles and vehicle-mounted rocket launchers. Another 100 or so are on the way.
Written by Mykhailo Zabrodsky, Jack Watling, and Alexander F. November for the Royal United Services Institute in London.
With the Russian offensive largely halted — or even reversed, in places like the Kiev region — arms transfers to Ukraine have begun to include more weaponry designed for offense rather than defense. In successive batches, since last spring, Poland has donated more than 200 old tanks. Some of them were Soviet T-72s. Others were local variations of the same Soviet type.
These tanks were among the first items to be converted into offensive weapons by foreign countries. This change accelerated over the summer as the United States and other allies began sending armored personnel carriers—fast-moving vehicles that carried infantry into battle so they could support the tanks that would normally lead an attack. More than 1,400 of these vehicles have been donated by the United States, the Netherlands, Spain, Lithuania, Germany, Australia and other countries, many of them of the American M-113 design.
The APCs arrived just in time to join the twin Ukrainian counter-offensives in Kharkiv Oblast and Kherson Oblast—in the northeast and south, respectively—beginning in late summer. Exploiting gaps in the Russian lines, Ukrainian brigades pushed deep into occupied territory, cutting Russian supply lines and forcing back tens of thousands of Russian troops.
The counterattacks liberated thousands of square kilometers of occupied Ukraine and paved the way for another possible counterattack sometime in 2023. Kirilo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence service, told ABC News early last month that the Ukrainian military was planning a major offensive in the spring. . The offensive is said to be aimed at liberating Ukrainian lands “from Crimea to Donbass”. Meanwhile, Russian forces have indicated that they may launch strikes of their own to consolidate gains and “disrupt” plans for a Ukrainian offensive.
The possibility of two counterattacks has raised the stakes as Ukraine’s allies continue to adjust the content of their donated weapons. As new weapons come in and soldiers learn to use them, “we’ll see the Ukrainians gain the ability to advance and change the dynamics on the battlefield,” said Laura Cooper, U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia. “This is what we focus on.”
This new urgency appears to have prompted the United States and other allied nations to begin offering a surplus of infantry fighting vehicles. These vehicles are similar to armored personnel carriers, but with more offensive weapons, including turret-mounted automatic cannons and anti-tank missiles.
With their heavy armament and high speed, infantry fighting vehicles are particularly useful for offensive operations. The United States and Germany, respectively, gave Ukraine the M-2 and Marder vehicles. General Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Army’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters Jan. 20, shortly after the Pentagon announced that the donation “provides the shields needed to advance the offensive to liberate the Russian-controlled part of Ukraine” Ukraine’s initial donation of 109 M-2s.
However, the M-2 and other similar vehicles were only the beginning. More and better compounds soon followed. The UK pledged 14 of its best tanks, the Challenger 2. The US offered 31 M-1A2 main battle tanks.
Germany belatedly agreed to a Polish donation of about 12 German-made Leopard 2 tanks, signaling to other European countries that they could do the same. Then Germany offered Ukraine about 12 of its tanks.
Tanks move quickly and their firepower is aggressive by nature. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a tweet that the donation of NATO-style tanks, with their advanced armor, optics and fire control systems, represented “an important step on the road to victory”.
It is also the clearest sign yet that the weapons Ukraine’s allies are sending into the war zone are increasingly intended for offense rather than defense. This signals some major changes to the battlefield.
* David Axe is a regular columnist for Forbes magazine and the author of several books, most recently Drone War: Vietnam.
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