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Video Above Pentagon 2.9B Ukraine Support Package

By Kris Osborn, President, Center for Military Modernization

(Washington, D.C.) Tanks, Armored Personnel Carriers, body armor, night vision, helicopters, “massive” amounts of artillery and air defenses to destroy Russian fighter jets, protect their helicopters and better secure ground forces from air attack … are just a few of the things Ukrainian sources say they need more of to fend off Russian attackers and ultimately win this war.

Ukrainian sources and fighters on the front lines of the ongoing war tell Warrior Ukrainian forces still need much more heavy armor to help “retake and hold” new territory gained in counter offensives. 

Iraqi T-72 Tank

Iraqi T-72 Tank

Tanks, Helicopters, MEDEVAC & Night Vision

It would make sense that Ukrainians would need more heavy armor, and sure enough there are now many news reports that more Soviet-era T-72s are on the way from Eastern Europe. These are the tanks that Ukrainians are familiar with, as they do have some of their own. However, as opposed to the earlier days of the Russian invasion when Ukrainian fighters armed with anti-armor weapons were able to use dispersed formations and ambush-style hit and run attacks to cripple and destroy Russian mechanized formations invading. 

These tactics proved surprisingly effective as anti-armor weapons such as Javelin anti-tank missiles were fired upon advancing Russian forces at points where they were more vulnerable, in places with narrow passageways such as bridges, urban streets or small passageways. Dismounted Ukrainian fighters used buildings, cross sections and other locations from which to seize a tactical advantage and attack from dispersed, hidden or less detectable positions. Attacking Russian tanks from higher altitudes, or “top-down” positions proved effective as tanks are known to be more vulnerable to attack on the top of the vehicle.

However, as opposed to stopping or destroying invading armored vehicles, the Ukrainians have more recently been “regaining” territory in a substantial way, one reason why the Pentagon has now been sending more tactical trucks. Advancing forces need supply lines, logistical support and of course a way to transit fighters, ammunition and weapons. Heavy armor is also critical for Ukrainian forces as they will continue to need to “break through” the Russian perimeter and “advance” and “close” into “contact” with the enemy. 

Global Firepower’s 2022 Military Strength rankings report that Ukraine only operates 2,596 tanks, compared with Russia’s 12,420. Clearly this is a massive deficit, which Ukrainian forces have somehow been able to overcome. Sure enough, multiple news reports are now quoting Ukrainian President Zelensky saying their forces are receiving 90 T-72 tanks. "We are sincerely grateful to the Netherlands, the United States, and the Czech Republic for providing significant and urgently needed support -- 90 T-72 tanks," Zelensky recently tweeted, as cited in multiple news reports, such as RadioFreeEurope.

90 tanks? Compared with Russia’s 12,596? How could that possibly even begin to close the gap or address the deficit? This is particularly true now because the war has changed in character from more of a “defensive” fight to stop a Russian invasion into a more rocket and artillery-centric exchange of attacks supported by advancing heavy vehicles. 

There has to be much more Soviet-era hardware lying around Eastern Europe. As Ukrainian forces advance, they may be inclined to employ more of a traditional Combined Arms approach wherein they use artillery, long-range precision rockets and advancing armored vehicles all in tandem with one another to achieve a synergistic, impactful battlefield effect. 

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While certainly nobody in the West wants Russians to get their hands on export variants of the Army’s Abrams tank, could the US and its allies give them the Abrams? Poland, for example, recently placed a large order for export variants of the Abrams tanks, Taiwan is acquiring them and even the Iraqi forces received export variants at some points during the Iraq campaign. Truly repelling a heavier, larger Russian force, even one that has been heavily damaged and depleted, will require heavy armor.

Video Above: Mike Mears, former Director of Human Capital, CIA, sits down for an exclusive interview with Warrior Maven's, Kris Osborn

Ukrainian forces also say they need air-defenses and weapons for their helicopters to defend them against Russian ground attacks. Could Ukrainian helicopters be armed with some kind of Hellfire missile. Hellfires are of course now in service with a large number of countries. 

Perhaps certain earlier variants of US Army helicopter countermeasures could be sent. Common Missile Warning System, a weapon which has protected helicopters and saved lives in combat for years, comes to mind. These “flares” fire off a helicopter under attack and throw heat-seeking missiles off course and saved many lives in Iraq when US Army helicopters came under fire with RPGs fired by terrorists and insurgents. The US Army also has newer countermeasures such as one called CIRCM (Common Infrared CounterMeasures), a “laser-jammer” of sorts which intercepts and interrupts or jams the guidance systems on incoming missiles, throwing them off course.

“We need improved weapons for their helicopters so that they can be more effective to defend those helicopters. We need more air defenses that can be deployed along the front lines, so that we can take down those fighters that are killing the helicopters and the other Ukrainian troops on the ground,” a source close to combat in Ukraine told Warrior.

MEDEVAC support, Ukrainian sources explain, is likely among their most critical needs, as the rapid transport of injured soldiers simply saves lives and sustains the force in ways beyond description. Ukrainian sources explain that more air support is needed to establish MEDEVAC support.

“They don't have that (MEDEVAC) because they don't have secure air to really get that done,” the source explained. “They're in a position where they have the manpower, they have the will to fight, and we need to give them everything that they can that way they can. They can hold their own and bring a speedy end to this war.”

Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk

Sikorsky UH-60M Black Hawk

Given this, why not give Ukraine helicopters? US Army Black Hawks, Chinooks or even older Apaches? This would also make sense given that, much like the tank discrepancy, Ukraine operates at a massive “helicopter” deficit, according to Global Firepower. The site reports that Ukraine has only 112 helicopters, compared with Russia’s 1,543 helicopters. This is an enormous difference, and certainly helicopters are known to be critical for MEDEVAC. Offering helicopters for the lower-tier of the air column is now without risk, given the prevalence of shoulder-fired anti-air weapons, however given that the Russians have, somewhat surprisingly, been unable to achieve air superiority, it seems helicopters could be used in a very effective way by Ukrainian forces, provided countermeasures or other protections were in place. Certainly, the US has large numbers of legacy utility helicopters such as Black Hawks which could prove extremely critical to saving Ukrainian lives.

Finally, Ukrainian fighters also report that they are desperately in need of more body armor, communications equipment and “night vision” goggles to see, target and attack Russian forces at night.

“Pilots are using their smartphones to communicate…its bad,” the source explained.

This problem could introduce somewhat of a double-edge sword, because while radios can be critical for command and control, targeting and real-time communications, they can also emit an “electronic” signal which could either be “jammed” or give away their position to an enemy. Nonetheless, there are of course many kinds of encryption, and the Ukrainians seem to have effectively countered Russian EW to a large extent by operating with a “decentralized” command and control system.

Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and the Defense Editor for the National Interest. 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.