Ukraine is finally getting the German and American heavy tanks as it tries to stop the Russian advance.
After days of confusion, back-and-forth arguments and a lot of backdoor diplomatic negotiations, the Western powers have decided to equip Ukraine with modern heavy tanks.
For years, military analysts argued that these heavily armoured machines have lost their utility on modern battlefields where remotely operated drones, long-range precision missiles and cyberwarfare have taken the centre stage.
But the close encounters between Russian and Ukrainian soldiers in places such as Luhansk and the Zaporizhzhia region have heralded the usefulness of heavy tanks.
Germany has finally relented to allow its Leopard 2 tanks to be delivered to Ukraine. The United States has also decided to roll out its own Abrahms for Ukraine.
Here’s how the entry of main battle tanks can shift the war on the ground.
How many new tanks Ukraine is expected to get?
Germany, US and other allies have agreed to supply Kiev with at least two battalions of Leopard 2 tanks and dozens of M1 Abrams.
A battalion typically comprises three or four companies, each with around fourteen tanks, so that could mean Ukraine stands to receive about 80 to 110 German Leopard 2s. The US will be sending thirty-one M1 Abrams battle tanks, while the UK has announced it will provide fourteen of its own Challenger 2 tanks.
Kiev has asked for around 300 heavy tanks to stop the Russian offensive.
Leopard 2 vs Abrams
Leopard 2 and Abrams are more powerful and advanced than many Soviet-era tanks which the Ukrainian forces use.
The Leopard 2 was first manufactured in 1979 by Krauss-Maffei for the German Ministry of Defence.
Abrams tanks, named after Vietnam-war era US army general Creighton Williams Abrams, were produced by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) in the late 1970s for the US military.
Proponents who have lobbied for Leopard 2 as the most feasible option for Ukraine point to its engine.
The Leopard 2 runs on a diesel-powered MTU MB 873 engine, which can be easily serviced, especially as militaries across the region have German tanks in their arsenal. This means its parts can be easily arranged and replaced.
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In first case there is risk that new MBTs might be engaged sooner than RU is exhausted decreasing capacity for counter offensive. In second case we have time to prepare but RU has time also which means more demanding for UA forces counter offensive.— Mykola Bielieskov (@MBielieskov) January 25, 2023
The Abrams runs on a much more complex but stronger AGT1500 turbine engine. The biggest challenge is transporting the heavy Abrams all the way to Ukraine from the US and then maintaining the logistics of spare parts.
Abrams can carry a crew of four and was first deployed to war in 1991 during the Persian Gulf war. It has thick armour, a 120 mm main gun, armour-piercing capabilities, advanced targeting systems, thick tracked wheels and a 1,500-horsepower turbine engine with a top speed of about 42 miles per hour (68 kilometres per hour).
"Main battle tanks have been an integral part of combined arms warfare since World War II. No major defensive or offensive operation is possible without an operational MBT arsenal," Ukrainian security expert Mykola Bielieskov told AFP.
One reason Berlin was late in approving the delivery of Leopard 2 to Ukraine was Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s concern that Moscow would see it as a major sign of European escalation.
The Kremlin has previously warned that such tank deliveries could lead to a dangerous uptick in tensions.
At the same time, Moscow insists the tanks won't stop Russia from achieving its military goals in Ukraine. “The potential it gives to the Ukrainian armed forces is clearly exaggerated,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “Those tanks will burn just like any others.”
Andrei Kartapolov, a retired general who heads the defence affairs committee in the lower house of the Russian parliament, argued that both Leopard 2 and Abrams are inferior to Russia's T-90 tanks, a modified version of the T-72.
The Russian military might also add the new-generation T-14 Armata tanks - equipped with a computerised fire control system.
Why is Zelenskyy asking for more weapons?
In a video address late Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hailed the creation of what he called a “tank coalition” and said Ukraine will now seek more artillery firepower and push for unlocking supply of long-range missiles and, ultimately, warplanes.
Ukrainian officials have long hoped to get their hands on US F-16 fighter jets and long-range rockets, which can allow Kiev to hit targets inside Russian territory.
But Moscow has issued a serious warning to deter any such plan.
“If Washington and NATO give Kiev weapons to strike peaceful cities deep inside Russia and try to seize the territories that constitutionally belong to Russia, it will force Moscow to take harsh retaliatory action,” Konstantin Gavrilov, head of the Russian delegation to the Vienna Negotiations on Military Security and Arms Control, told a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. “Don’t tell us then that we haven’t warned you.”
READ MORE: US to send Abrams tanks to Kiev, Berlin okays Leopard 2 delivery