6 Jan 2023
On the roads leading to Ukraine’s frontlines, a striking change has become visible in recent months. Where once the armoured vehicles being ferried in were familiar from the Soviet era – T-model tanks, BMPs and post-Soviet Ukrainian-built BTRs – they have in recent months been joined by a growing array of western-supplied vehicles.
Bushmasters from Australia can be seen alongside Polish Dziks and British-made Spartans, soon to be joined by scores of even more impressive vehicles: US Bradley and German Marder infantry fighting vehicles and French AMX-10 tank destroyers.
While Kyiv has been pushing hard for its allies to supply main battle banks, such as the US M1 Abrams and the German Leopard II, demands so far resisted, the armoured vehicles now pouring into Ukraine are in many ways a better fit for the kind of war and tactics that the Ukrainian military has been using against Russia.
Faced with a shortage of armour at the beginning of the war, and – on paper, at least – heavily outgunned, Ukraine’s armed forces rapidly turned those shortcomings into advantages.
Confronted with a lumbering Russian military approach that concentrated its heavy tanks and had a large reliance on recently upgraded Ukraine’s road system, Ukraine’s lighter forces have successfully emphasised speed and mobility – not least in Kyiv’s successful counteroffensives in both the east and south against Russian forces.
Vehicles such as the French tank destroyers, sometimes called a “light tank”, are a good fit for the way Ukraine has been fighting despite not having the heavier armour and battlefield capabilities of a main battle tank.
Equipped like the US Abrams M1, with a 105mmgun, the French AMX-10 is both faster (on road at least) and more agile than the M1. Crucially the French vehicle has almost twice the operational range of the US tank (800-100km compared with about 425km for the M1).
The anticipated delivery of the US Bradley fighting vehicles will hugely bolster Ukraine’s mechanised infantry capabilities, which Kyiv has used highly effectively in its counteroffensives in Kharkiv, Donetsk and Kherson provinces last year.
A shortage of such units, however, has meant that many of the same brigades have been moving from front to front to fight where needed. The Bradley’s armour and its main weapon, a 25mm chain gun paired with a lighter machine gun and a pair of TOW anti-tank missiles, make it a highly capable modern fighting vehicle that would be useful in supporting urban fighting in key cities such as Bakhmut, as well as more widely.
What the new promised deliveries make clear – as well as the suggestions from governments including the UK that main battle tanks might follow – is the increasing determination from Ukraine’s western supporters that Russia’s war against Ukraine should be brought to an end as quickly as is feasible.
With both Kyiv and Moscow eyeing new offensives in the coming months along frontlines where the fighting has recently become more “positional” – being fought along reinforced frontlines rather than a warfare of movement – ability to break through the relative stalemate in places like the Donbas region is likely to rely heavily on armour.
However, with reports that Russia has been bringing in more and newer T-90 tanks, the demand by Kyiv for the main battle tanks it still sees as a key to liberating Russian-occupied areas – including the Crimea – is unlikely to go away.