An American M1A1 Abrams tank from the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment. The US has still not committed Abrams tanks to Ukraine, but European nations are considering it. Photo by Mac Caltrider/Coffee or Die Magazine.
The US announced in early January that it would send Bradley fighting vehicles to Ukraine, a rugged, tracked personnel carrier known to break through barriers. But the first barrier the Bradleys may have overcome was reluctance among NATO members to send their own heavy armor to Ukraine.
After nearly a year of sending ammunition, personal gear, and relatively defensive and logistic-minded equipment to Ukraine, the floodgates may have opened this week for Western armies to send their heaviest offensive weapons, including main battle tanks.
The United Kingdom pledged this week to send its heaviest tank to Ukraine while German officials and several eastern European nations are debating sending Germany’s largest tank, either directly from Germany or via allied nations.
An M1 Abrams main battle tank sits on the back of a military Heavy Equipment Transport line-haul truck at Coleman work site in Mannheim, Germany. US Army photo by Maj. Allan Laggui.
The US has not yet jumped on the tank wagon but an aid package announced by the Pentagon Thursday, Jan. 20, includes 59 Bradleys and 90 Stryker armored personnel carriers, two hard-to-kill systems designed to take a fight directly to a dug-in enemy.
The M1126 Stryker Combat Vehicle provides a lighter, faster, and more transportable alternative to the Bradley. The eight-wheeled, 19-ton combat vehicle comes outfitted with the Protector RWS, a remote-controlled weapons station with an M2 .50-cal machine gun and a Mk19 40mm grenade launcher.
A Stryker vehicle moves through the busy streets of Mosul, Iraq, April 13, 2004. The eight-wheeled, 350-hp, diesel engine Stryker is the Army’s newest tactical fighting vehicle, used for the first time in combat operations by the 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division (Stryker Brigade Combat Team) based in northern Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom II. US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Gretel Weiskopf.
Combined, the Bradleys and Strykers are clearly meant to put the Ukrainian army back on the offense amid the relatively deadlocked positions the two armies have so far established.
Not on the US list, so far, is the M1 Abrams tanks. The huge main battle tanks — the heaviest and most imposing in the US inventory — have been specifically requested by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
However, the delivery of Bradleys and Strykers, along with European fighting vehicles, to the Ukrainian battlefield has signaled a sea change, possibly paving the way for the Abrams.
US Marines from 4th Tank Battalion, Twentynine Palms, California, roll down a dirt road on their M1A1 Abrams during a day of training at Exercise Africa Lion 2012. US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Tyler L. Main.
But while the US has yet to commit the M1 to Ukraine, several European nations have taken the plunge on offering main battle tanks. The UK said this week it would send 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks, the British Army’s main battle tank. The Challenger carries a 120mm rifled main gun, capable of delivering long rod penetrator and high explosive squash head, or HESH, rounds.
At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Zelenskyy addressed world leaders and left little doubt that, with Western heavy armor, Ukraine intends to attack rather than defend as the war progresses.
“Crimea is our land, it’s our territory, it’s our sea and mountains. Give us your weapons, and we will get back what’s ours,” Zelenskyy said.
Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses the Dutch Prime Minister in February 2022. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
On Thursday, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin met with the newly appointed German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius in Berlin to discuss a joint path forward.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz abandoned his initial hesitancy to provide weapons to Ukraine when he joined the US in sending infantry fighting vehicles, the Marder and Bradley respectively, in early January.
“Throughout the crisis caused by Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Germany has remained a true friend of the United States and a staunch defender of our allies and values,” Austin said during the meeting.
A British Challenger 2 tank is demonstrated in 2017 at the United Kingdom's The Tank Museum, in Dorset. Photo by Alan Wilson via Wikimedia Commons.
But the promise of 14 Challenger 2s adds fuel to the fire building under the German government to send its own tanks, the Leopard 2. Germany’s main battle tank, the four-man-crewed Leopard 2, brings to bear a 120mm smoothbore cannon and two 7.62mm crew-served machine guns.
While the Leopard 2 is comparable to the Challenger 2 and the M1 Abrams in armor and capability, the German tank’s most desirable trait is its proximity to the battlefield. The Leopard 2 is utilized by multiple European nations, of which many have offered from their own stockpile.
On Friday, Germany announced a 1 billion euro package for Ukraine, but Leopards were not on the list.
Several eastern nations have so far said they would not send their Leopards to Ukraine without re-export permission from Germany.
But even that barrier may be giving way. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has been one of the more vocal critics of the German government for hesitating to send their own tanks, as well as their reluctance to give permission to other nations with the Leopard 2.
“Consent is a secondary issue here … we will either get this agreement quickly, or we will do the right thing ourselves,” Prime Minister Morawiecki told a Polish radio broadcaster after returning from the World Economic Forum in Davos.
Leopard 2A5 main battle tank during a teaching and combat demonstration in August 2010. Photo courtesy of Bundeswehr via Wikimedia Commons.
The US aid package announced Jan. 19, as released by the Pentagon:
Tom Wyatt was a SkillBridge intern for Coffee or Die. He is an active-duty Naval Special Warfare boat operator and a proud father living in San Diego, California. Tom is a budding reporter, looking to pursue journalism and fiction writing upon exiting the Navy.
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Zelenskyy said on his Telegram channel the weapon was produced by Ukraine’s Ministry of Strategic Industries but gave no other details.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the launch occurred Wednesday but gave no further details, such as how far the missile flew.