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By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington D.C.) German Leopard 2 and US Abrams main battle tanks are on the way to Ukraine in response to a critical time-sensitive need to stop Russian advances and succeed in re-claiming, taking and holding territory previously held by Russia.

Tanks Headed to Ukraine

Multiple mainstream German and US news publications are reporting that German Chancellor Scholz has decided to send the Leopard 2s and also citing Biden Administration officials saying the Pentagon will be sending as many as 30 Abrams tanks to support the effort. The Leopard 2s will come from Poland but require German authorization to export, because thousands of Leopard 2 tanks are already in use in Eastern Europe with allied nations such as Poland, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Switzerland and Hungary, among others.

Tanks have been in demand in recent months as the overall nature of the fight in the East has been shifting in a way that requires more heavy armor and mechanized forces. While Ukraine clearly has some tanks already, more may be needed to close in on and “breakthrough” Russian barriers, fortifications and troop positions. Ukrainian forces may need to “mass” to a greater extent and maneuver in different, larger formations than they have thus far. This requires force protection, meaning Ukrainian forces on a counterattack will need built-in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) in the form of drones as well as certain kinds of base protections such as sensors, interceptors, jammers or other countermeasures.

While Ukrainian forces can still leverage the effective “decentralized” approach they have used with great success thus far to a certain extent with ambush-style anti-armor attacks, there is now a need for greater coordination and connectivity regarding wider-area maneuvers with larger forces reclaiming territory. This is why there is a need for more infantry carriers and tanks to move units between forward positions, transport vehicles such as tactical trucks and Humvees and coordinated logistics and command and control.

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Advancing into Russian-occupied areas will require “Wide Area Maneuver,” a tactical approach in which armored vehicles form a “network” across wide areas of terrain with each tank or infantry carrier functioning as a “node” within a broader integrated mechanized formation.

The Abrams and Leopard 2s will join some tanks already in Ukraine, such as the UK’s Challenger 2 tank and Soviet-made T-72s.

In order to support Ukrainian mechanized formations and effective Combined Arms Maneuvers with infantry carriers, Ukrainian forces have in recent months been in need of more tanks. Russian T-72s and T-90s are tanks the Ukrainians already know how to operate. Months ago, a senior Pentagon official said Ukraine operates Soviet tanks and also has captured or reclaimed some from the Russians. Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks will likely impact this equation in a substantial way.

‘We know the Ukrainians have been operating Soviet style tanks. We know they’ve been employing them to pretty good effect,” a Senior Pentagon official told reporters a few weeks ago, according to a Pentagon transcript. Ukrainians have also reclaimed abandoned tanks left by Russian soldiers during invasion attempts due to Ukrainian resistance, difficult terrain or efforts by Russian soldiers to simply abandon their vehicles and refuse to fight.”

GlobalFirepower.com lists that Ukraine operates a number of T-72 Russian-built tanks. Tanks and infantry carriers together, in tandem with artillery, ISR and advancing infantry are all necessary for any kind of advanced, coordinated Combined Arms Maneuver. Tank firepower, supported by mobile infantry on the move in support in Bradley vehicles can exact a synchronized battlefield “effect” upon an enemy force, as is necessary for traditional Combined Arms Maneuver. Their measure of success may relate in large measure to the extent to which they can employ high-speed, modern applications of Combined Arms Maneuver in which sensor-to-shooter targeting timeliness are shortened, ISR is networked to ground weapons and supportive fires in the form of rockets and artillery are used as part of the assault or “move to contact” with an enemy. 

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The presence of tanks will make the arrival of Bradley Fighting Vehicle infantry carriers even more impactful, as armored formations and an ability to transit infantry at high speeds into enemy territory will be critical to any effort to penetrate a Russian perimeter, breakthrough Russian armored formations and “hold” reclaimed areas. This is why, along with the Tanks, the Ukrainians are receiving large amounts of armored vehicles from the Pentagon and NATO allies. The Pentagon list of provided equipment to Ukraine says that, thus far, DoD is sending 109 Bradleys, as many as 1,700 Humvees, 100 light tactical vehicles, 44 trucks, 88 trailers, 90 Strykers, 300 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, 250 M1117 Armored Security Vehicles and 580 Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles. 

Kris Osborn is President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University