Explainer: Main Battle Tank
The article discusses the utility of Battle tanks in the Russia- Ukraine War and Are tanks significant in this war or is it another media bubble ready to be burst?
By Peder Foss
Let us talk about Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) for a while. Ukraine has been begging the West for tanks and has finally got them or at least a promise to get them. Are tanks significant in this war or is it another media bubble ready to be burst?
Firstly, Main Battle Tanks are based on the trinity firepower, mobility, and protection. The Israeli Merkava tank focus a lot on protection because Israel wants their crew to survive being hit by a missile or another tank. The Russian tanks focus more on mobility and firepower, the protection is not important when the Russian military doctrine is based on attacking in echelons. Also, when the Russians have a lot of tanks and also a lot of people to spare, the need for protection gets lesser attention.
The Ukrainian War.
The Ukrainians have been promised new tanks, but do the Ukrainians really need new tanks? Let us find out. Ukraine will get Leopard 2 Tanks, Challenger 2 Tanks, and the Abrams tank. In addition to these tanks, the Ukrainians get a lot of different Infantr Fighting Vehicles (IFV) and Armored Personal Carriers (APC)
The major reason for why the Ukraine is requesting western made vehicles and other vital military equipment is quite simple. The Ukrainians are running out of Russian made equipment. They received what the former Warsaw Pact countries had in storage. If the West wants to continue to support Ukraine, it must give Ukraine western made equipment. However, there are several concerns about giving Ukraine modern military systems. There is the risk of these modern systems to fall into Russian hands. Another concern is that the Ukrainians need to be trained to use all the new equipment and the logistical problems.
The Ukrainians have showed an ability to learn and to use modern equipment. The Ukrainian armed forces have transformed from an underfunded weak military force in 2014 to a well-trained military force. The other issues associated with giving Ukraine the new defense systems are discussed as below.
- Beginning with the Challenger 2 tank. It is an excellent tank, but there is a problem with it that it has a rifled main gun, which means it cannot fire the same ammunition as the Leopard 2 and the Abram tanks. The two latter ones have a smoothbore main gun. The Challenger tank will be upgraded and get the designation Challenger 3 and this tank will have the same main gun as the Abram and the Leopard 2, but the Ukrainians will not get that one, not yet anyway.
- The issue with the Abram tank in the gas turbine engine, it is a multi-fuel engine, but requires a huge logistical chain to deal with this gas-guzzling beast. It has, as I said earlier, the same main gun as the Leopard 2 so the ammunition will not be a problem force these two tanks. The Leopard 2 tanks are manufactured by several different countries and there are differences between them. The sights, sensors, communications, and other internal equipment are different from each country. This might not be a major issue, if something happens to the equipment and it requires repair.
- The Ukrainians also get the M2 Bradley, the German Marder, and the Swedish CV90 which brings forth logistic concerns in acquiring foreign military tanks
The logistical nightmare for the Ukrainians.
Canada earlier provided Ukraine with APCs in the LAV category. The Australians have provided with APCs as well. The Americans have also added to the mix with their old M113 APCs. The French are giving the Ukrainians something I call a light tank, the AMX 10. The French government is considering to provide Ukraine with their latest MBT, the Leclerc.
In addition to all this, the Ukrainians get new artillery systems, the French CEASAR, the MLRS, the Swedish Archer, new missiles to both the MLRS and the HIMARS. The West is also providing with a lot of ammunition, fuel, food, and all spare parts that are needed to conduct military operations on this scale.
The Ukrainian armed forces will most likely use these Western-made vehicles in a Brigade Battle Group. There are certain speculations that can be made over the use of this new military unit which shall be discussed in future articles. However, for now, when reading about the vehicles Ukraine get from the West, it reminds me of the US Army's 83rd infantry division during the Second World War. This division had been nicknamed “The Circus Ragtag.” During its march across the Europe, it “collected” every vehicle it could lay its hands on. The 83rd even used fire engines, buses, captured German vehicles, and even a captured German fighter plane. Thus, given the nickname Circus Ragtag.
The Ukrainians will have their own Circus Ragtag with all the different vehicles they receive from their partners. But it is a race against time, will the Ukrainians get the vehicles and other equipment in time for either its own offensive or to defend against the Russian offensive? It also depends on if the Russians are able to launch an offensive.
The Russian Armed Forces have logistical problems, especially north of the Crimean Peninsula. The Crimean Peninsula is more vulnerable than in the east. Ukrainian forces have been able to hit the supply lines from the Donbas region, but not been able to cut the supply lines off completely. The other supply route across the Kerch bridge is even more vulnerable if the Ukrainians can destroy the bridge for an extended period of time.
It is important to remember, tanks are only one component. It must then be deployed with mechanized/motorized infantry, artillery, air defense, air support, and the logistical chain to be functional in a war. The war in Ukraine has again started the debate if the tanks are obsolete in a modern war. This debate has been ongoing since the Yom Kippur war and yet tanks are still in use in the majority of armies around the world.
There are steps toward getting smaller and lighter vehicles which are easier to transport to conflict zones. The Chinese Army (PLA) has developed a new fighting vehicle within this category, the Type 15. This light tank is easy to deploy and cheaper than heavier main battle tanks. Poland developed a new concept tank, which is lighter than other MBTs, the Polish called it PL-01. But artillery and portable anti-tank weapons will be developed further as a result of this war.
This year will be the decisive year of this war. There are uncertainties about how the Russian Government will react if they begin to lose more territory, especially the Crimean Peninsula. Will they use CBRN weapons? Maybe C-weapons? But I doubt they will use any tactical nuclear weapons.
The Ukrainians are now asking for fighter planes, only the time will tell if they get any.
Disclaimer: This paper is the author's individual scholastic contribution and does not necessarily reflect the organization's viewpoint.