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Ukraine is finally getting NATO tanks, but equipment it received earlier in January might be the real game-changer

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This week President Biden announced that the U.S. will send 31 M1A2 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Germany finally relented and agreed to send 17 Leopard 2 main battle tanks too. Poland is sending 14 Leopard 2s and 60 additional tanks. More European countries will likely soon send additional Leopards. Further, the U.K. agreed to send 14 Challenger tanks.

American vs. Russian armor

Kyiv will need tanks for its expected spring offensive to retake more territory. At the outset of the war, Ukraine had about 850 tanks. They have lost about half that number in combat. However, due to the vast number of Russian tanks that they’ve captured, they have more tanks than they started with. 

The M1A2 Abrams can effectively engage armor 3,500-4,000 meters away and has better optical sights than Russia’s tanks. Russia’s T-90, its most advanced tank, has an effective range of 2,000-3,000 meters in the day and 2,000-2,600 meters at night. Further, the U.S. tank has much better stabilization than Russia’s allowing it to fire more accurately on the move, and its crew compartment is much better protected. On the other hand, in Russian tanks, ammunition is stored inside the turret which is therefore usually blown off if the tank suffers a hit.

However, equipment included in a previous aid package could have a much larger effect on the battlefield.

Related: AbramsX tank launches kamikaze drones and goes electric

They aren’t tanks but Ukraine needs them more

A Stryker assigned to 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 7th Infantry Division parks before conducting a combined arms blank-fire exercise during training exercise Rising Thunder on December 10, 2021 at Yakima Training Center, WA. (Photo by Capt. Cortland Henderson/2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division)

Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs) and Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) may ultimately be more valuable in Ukraine’s efforts to defeat Russia.

The problem with the Western tanks is their weight. Both the Abrams and the Leopard weigh well over 60 tons, and with the spring thaw, those heavy tanks will most likely be road-bound or risk getting bogged down, which could make them vulnerable to anti-armor ambushes. 

Yet, the Bradley and Marder IFVs are much faster and can easily traverse cross-country terrain due to their lighter weight. The M1126 Stryker Combat Vehicle APC is even lighter, more mobile, and more transportable than even the Bradleys are. The vehicles are also much better armed than their Russian counterparts.

Related: Watch: Russian armored personnel carrier destroyed in Russian retreat

One misconception needs to be cleaned up: Many people have been referring to Bradleys as light tanks. They are not. They are designed to bring the infantry into and out of the combat zone. However, with the 25mm Bushmaster cannon and TOW missiles, the Bradleys can wreak havoc on Russian armor and APCs. 

In early January, the U.S. announced it would send 59 Bradleys and 90 Strykers to Ukraine. Germany will send 40 Marders, and other European countries have joined in too.

Shooting training of German soldiers with infantry combat vehicle Marder from the mechanized Infantry Battalion as part of the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF) at the military training ground Rena. NATO exercise Trident Juncture in Norway, Rena on October 23, 2018. (Allied Joint Force Command Naples)

According to Rob Lee, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank, these new vehicles that Ukraine will receive are more significant than tanks and this author agrees.

Ukraine has already proved that it is much better at true combined arms operations, while Russia still follows the old Soviet-era doctrine that has proved unsuccessful. Ukraine has synchronized armor, infantry, artillery, aviation, engineers, and special operations forces much better than Russia. 

If Ukraine is to punch through the Russian defenses again this spring, it will need the armor to do so. And with its infantry forces being more mobile with the inclusion of better and more IFVs and APCs it could make the Russian military pay even more dearly this time around. 

Feature Image: M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles assigned to 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, wait to fire at Grafenwoehr Training Area, Germany, Jan. 13, 2021. (Photo by Staff Sgt. Thomas Stubblefield/1st Armored Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division)

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Steve Balestrieri