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The two armored vehicles that will define the Ukrainian counteroffensive

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The Ukrainian counteroffensive is underway. In early June, Kyiv launched its long-anticipated push to drive the Russian forces back. Progress has been slow and steady as the Ukrainian military leadership is trying to find the weak spot in the Russian defenses before it unleashes its main thrust.

For the past several months, Ukraine has been building up its forces for this moment. Kyiv has trained and equipped more than half a dozen armored brigades, which are now kept in reserve, ready to strike at the right moment and achieve an operational breakthrough for the Ukrainian forces.

By this point in the war, the Ukrainian military packs some solid firepower, especially on the ground where most of the fighting is taking place. These two armored weapon systems will likely define the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Leopard 2 Main Battle Tank

On February 24, 2023, a year after the Russian invasion, Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal met in Kyiv with Chairman of the Council of Ministers of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki. The heads of government met the first 4 Leopard 2 tanks provided by Poland and greeted Ukrainian tank crew members who already had successful combat experience. (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine)

After much angst, Ukraine finally received its first Leopard 2 main battle tanks earlier this year. Now, the German-made tank is fighting in the fields of Ukraine. As the most populous Western main battle tank in service with the Ukrainian military, the Leopard 2 has the potential to define the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Footage from the ground suggests that the Ukrainian forces have already committed some Leopard 2 tanks in the fight. And last week, Kyiv lost a couple of Leopard 2A6 tanks during a push in Zaporizhzhia Oblast. The tanks likely got incapacitated by the extensive Russian minefields and were abandoned. Western weapon systems aren’t invincible, and one of the largest offensive operations on European soil since the end of World War II will produce casualties on both sides.

The Leopard 2 can help the Ukrainian counteroffensive in a couple of ways.

Related: Leopard 2: A tank so stable that can carry a beer without spilling a drop

First, Leopard 2s can lead the charge and break the Russian lines of defense. Without air superiority, any attack against a well-fortified adversary requires survivability and guts. With a weight of 60 tonnes, a speed of 43 miles on the road and 35 off-road, and a frontal armor 800mm thick, the Leopard 2 is extremely survivable. Indeed, even the Leopard 2s that got incapacitated in Zaporizhzhia were likely repairable if the Ukrainians could have retrieved them.

The second way is by taking on any Russian tanks that try to stop an attempted breakthrough. With its 120mm L/44 or 120mm L/55 main gun (depending on the version), the tank can take on any of its Russian adversaries from great distances.

Germany and other countries that operate the Leopard 2 have pledged close to 100 tanks of the type to Ukraine.

M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle

Army Sgt. Ryan Townsend, 841st Transportation Battalion operations hatch foreman, inspects Bradley Fighting Vehicles as they are parked within the ARC Integrity Jan. 25, 2023, at the Transportation Core Dock in North Charleston, South Carolina. More than 60 Bradleys were shipped by U.S. Transportation Command as part of the U.S. military aid package to Ukraine. (U.S. Transportation Command photo by Tech Sgt. Oz Suguitan)

The M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle is another armored weapon system that will likely define the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Although the Ukrainian tanks are leading the way in the counteroffensive, it’s not just all about tanks. Indeed, there are a lot of elements that make an attack successful. And one of them is infantry fighting vehicles and armored personnel carriers.

These armored vehicles carry mechanized infantry to the fight with relative safety. It is this infantry that captures a trench line, clears a fortified village, or takes out a fortified position. Tanks are formidable on the battlefield, but they are also vulnerable to enemy infantry. So, to be as effective as possible, tanks need their lighter brethren for support.

Related: 5 infantry upgrades about to take US troops to the next level

A M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle with the 6th Squadron, 8th Cavalry Regiment provides security at Hohenfels, Germany on Sept. 20. 2020. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Zachary Bouvier)

The M2 Bradley sports a 25mm M242 chain cannon that can destroy pretty much everything in the Russian arsenal that isn’t a tank. As for tanks, the M2 Bradley packs two TOW anti-tank missile launchers that can penetrate up to 900mm of armor over two miles away. The infantry fighting vehicle can hit speeds of about 40 miles and can carry up to seven infantrymen in addition to its three-man crew.

Footage from the ground from the counteroffensive shows the Ukrainian military is already using M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles to get close and personal with the Russian defense lines. Kyiv has lost a handful of M2 Bradleys in the same incident where it lost the Leopard 2 tanks. Crucially, however, the footage shows that although the M2 Bradleys were incapacitated by mines, their crew and passengers survived to fight another day.

The value of the increased survival rate offered by the M2 Bradley and other Western weapon systems is hard to quantify as it has both operational and psychological benefits.

The U.S. military has committed 109 M2 Bradleys infantry fighting vehicles and four M2 Bradley fire support team vehicles.

Feature Image: U.S. Soldiers with Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team, enter a clearing ready to dismount from M2A3 Bradley Fighting Vehicles and prepare to patrol the area, react to opposition forces and secure the site during combat training while at Exercise Saber Guardian 16 at the Romanian Land Forces Combat Training Center, Cincu, Romania August 2, 2018. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Anita VanderMolen, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Oregon Army National Guard)

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Stavros Atlamazoglou

Greek Army veteran (National service with 575th Marines Battalion and Army HQ). Johns Hopkins University. You will usually find him on the top of a mountain admiring the view and wondering how he got there.