What good are Western tanks to Ukraine?

By Dénes Albert
4 Min Read

Western countries will now supply Ukraine with modern tanks, marking a major turning point in the conflict. The outnumbered and outgunned Ukrainians need modern weapons to defeat the Russian army, but the question is whether the quantity and quality that the West has offered will be sufficient.

The British Prime Minister’s Office said in a statement on Saturday that the U.K. is supplying Ukraine with Challenger 2 tanks and air defense equipment. U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on Saturday that the U.K. has decided to seize on Ukraine’s momentum by continuing its military and diplomatic support for the country. He pointed to the Ukrainian military’s successive victories, which have forced the Russians to retreat, at least prior to the battle of Soledar.

It is also known that the combat vehicles offered by the U.K. will be delivered to Ukraine as soon as possible. The specific number of tanks is not stated in the document, but according to British press reports, 12 have been promised by 10 Downing Street and 60 Ukrainian soldiers will be trained in the U.K. to operate the tanks.

What is the significance of the Challenger 2?

In 2022, the Western powers mainly provided the Ukrainians with Javelin anti-tank missiles, HIMARS missile launchers, and then Patriot missile defense systems, while in the field of tanks, only Soviet-era tanks that have been withdrawn from service were handed over.

At the beginning of January, France broke the ice by promising to supply Ukraine with a Western-designed and manufactured land combat vehicle. The AMX-10 RC is a wheeled, light-mobility, armored reconnaissance combat vehicle developed in the 1970s/80s.

The Challenger 2, on the other hand, is a modern, mobile, next-generation tank with high firepower and the world’s most effective armor — putting the U.K. on the front line and making it the first Western country to send modern tanks to Ukraine.

Poland has also joined the British offer, with 14 modern, German-made Leopard 2 tanks. So, now the ball is bouncing back to Berlin, and the allies are waiting for the German government to decide whether the German army might be able to transfer a larger number of Leopard 2 tanks.

However, the French, British, and Polish decisions are a foreshadowing of the West’s realization that without a breakthrough in military support, it will be difficult to retake the Ukrainian territories occupied by the Russian army, which is superior in both combat assets and manpower.

Hungarian security policy expert Bálint Somkuti said that the Western offers so far are insufficient for Ukraine to win the war. He said that “the Americans have sent 50 Bradley tanks, the Germans a battalion of Marder tanks, and the French a third battalion of AMX-10 RCs — a total of one heavy armored brigade, while success on the 1,500-kilometer-long front line would require five to ten brigades.”

Against this background, it is clear that the 12 British Challenger 2 and 14 Leopard 2 tanks offered on Saturday are a significant and real military contribution, but the tanks the British say are a game-changer can only be a breakthrough and a true game-changer against the inferior Russian tanks if they are prepared to supply five or six times as many to Ukraine.

Providing those kinds of numbers could jeopardize the defense capabilities of the offering states, which remains a major concern, especially in the event of an outbreak of hostilities elsewhere in the world, including between China and Taiwan.

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