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Ukraine’s Tank Problem

It seems to be a case of little provision for so much supposed effect. The debates, the squabbles, the to-and-fro about supplying Ukraine with tanks from Western arsenals has served to confirm one thing: this is an ever-broadening war between the West against Russia with Ukraine an experimental proxy convinced it will win through. Efforts to limit the deepening conflict continue to be seen as the quailing sentiments of appeasers, the wobbly types who find democracy a less than lovable thing.

So far, promises have been made to ship the US M1A2 Abrams, Germany’s Leopard 2 and the UK’s Challenger. Others have alluded to doing the same thing – including France regarding its Leclerc tanks – but tardiness fills the ranks, and logistics will make the provision of such weapons a long affair. Re-export licenses will have to be issued, notably regarding the Leopard 2; training Ukrainian tank crews will also need to be undertaken.

All in all, the picture is not as rosy as those in Kyiv think, despite the confident assessment from Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andriy Melnyk that his country’s defence forces would have access to “at least a hundred tanks” within three months.

The US tanks are, for the most part, still grounded in their country of origin, with their deployment potentially delayed for months, if not years. Pentagon deputy spokesperson Sabrina Singh was frank in admitting that, “We just don’t have these tanks available in excess in our US stocks, which is why it is going to take months to transfer these M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine.” Singh, it should also be remembered, expressed the department’s view earlier this month that the tank was hardly suitable for Ukrainian needs, given how its jet turbine engine hungers for JP-8 jet fuel, unlike the diesel engine used by the Leopard and Challenger counterparts.

The engine is also rather tricky to maintain for crews, leaving it susceptible to blowing in the event of error. No less an authority than the Pentagon press secretary US Air Force brigadier general Pat Ryder, admitted that the M-1 “is a complex weapons system that is challenging to maintain, as we’ve talked about. That was true yesterday; it’s true today; it will be true in the future.”

There is also a backlog of orders for the tank. The Lima facility in Ohio, operated by General Dynamics, is the only facility that assembles the Abrams. It can produce a mere 12 tanks per month and must fulfill orders to supply 250 A2 tanks for Poland starting in 2025 to replace the same number of Soviet-era T-72 tanks Warsaw supplied to Kyiv last year. Taiwan also put in an order for 108 M1A2 tanks in 2019. Even getting to work on the 31 units promised by the Biden administration for Ukraine looks to be ambitious.

The wrangling over supplying Ukraine with tanks has been an at times acrimonious affair. This is hardly surprising. European states have their own specific readings, however dark or cautious, about how to approach the supply issue. The magic number being sought by Kyiv is 300. After initial resistance, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz gave in to his peers, both in his coalition outside, to send a company of Leopard 2 tanks and permit countries with the same tanks in their inventories to supply them to Kyiv. A fortnight of aggressive chatter at a number of venues, including Ramstein Air Base, pressing the flesh and breathing down various necks, saw a change of heart and, it has to be said, weak will on the part of the Chancellor.

It is impossible to see how the provision of such weapons, against a larger enemy with no evident sign of capitulation and determined to maintain the fight in the field, however slapdash and ailing, will be a “gamechanger”. That word ought to be scrapped from any credible analysis, but we see it used repeatedly in the tabloid certitude of final victory.

There is Ed Arnold of the Royal United Services Institute, who is confident that this tank transfer “will make a real difference.” But even Arnold attaches a few caveats, noting that much will depend on how Ukraine uses them. “Do they put them straight into the fight as soon as they’re available? Or do they integrate them into larger formations, train and rehearse those larger formations, and spend a bit more time integrating them into the way that they fight to then potentially use in the summer?”

Whatever the answer to such questions, this is a war that will yield no victors and will, in guaranteed fashion, make a mockery of victory. And the only cruel reality here, short of needless oblivion through imbecilic error of judgment, is to get the warring parties to the table to reach an agreement that is bound to cause despair as much as relief. It might, as unpalatable as it seems, require Ukraine to surrender a portion of devastated earth in the east. The unthinkable will have to be entertained.


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  1. Steve Davis

    “The US tanks are, for the most part, still grounded in their country of origin, with their deployment potentially delayed for months, if not years.”

    My guess is – delayed forever.

    We all know that Germany’s pre-condition for sending its tanks was that the US send some also. They forced the US hand, but it seems that was as far as they were prepared to go. The pre-condition should have included arrival in Ukraine.

    With friends like that…

    Ouch, yes, I forgot…

  2. Douglas Pritchard

    In reality who is paying for this biffo?
    These are incredibly expensive toys, and the marketing guys in USA have aimed their product at advanced nations whose population is wealthy enough, and frightened enough to surrender education, and health, and suchlike, to the US military machine.
    Countries such as our own.
    To send expensive goods to a country with a bank balance in the red, and notorious corruption at the top does not make financial sense.
    Unless, of course, there was stuff going on that a democratic country would find it needed to hide.
    And if that does not work, then it`s the US Taxpayer, and even more debt.

  3. Andrew Smith

    The US contribution of tanks is modest and more acknowledging what EU NATO nations, with the UK and Canada, have done and are going to do. In fact the Leopard (diesel) is far better suited vs. the Abrams (jet fuel) due to existing infrastructure inc. maintenance, rehab, ammo & supply logistics amongst numerous EU/NATO nations.

    Ukraine is quite good on PR and the need to keep up pressure on NATO nations for support, but as important is what the media do not talk about inc. ammunition supply e.g. Germany’s Rheinmetal have allegedly ramped up munitions production for both Leopard and HIMARS.

    Apparently the idea of more tanks for Ukraine, realistically late spring, is to draw Russia into more mobile or manoeuvring type battles to break embedded trench/front line warfare, that requires more complicated tactics and command that Russia may struggle with vs. base artillery bombardments &/or Wagner assaults of front line, logistic or civilian infrastructure.

    Related, for now Ukraine using HIMARS with a range limited by the US of 80km, allowed them to severely damage lax Russian logistics and munitions dumps then pinning them back and compelling them to disperse; now it’s rumoured they will receive longer range munitions to push/pin Russia back further.

    Finally, on tanks, not only has Putin created indirectly one of the (planned) largest standing militaries in NATO & regionally i.e. Poland (has a long memory on what is ignored by anti-Ukraine/NATO ideological left &/or RWNJs i.e. ‘Molotov-Rippentrop Pact’), which has agreed with South Korea in the short term to buy near 200 K2 tanks and 200 K9 self propelled guns.

    Other bordering nations (ex. Hungary?) are in furious agreement on the need to be prepared as they see themselves as next in line for Putin’s adventures. It would be much simpler if Putin simply withdrew Russian forces back behind pre 2014 lines and negotiated in good faith, but that’s clearly not going to happen.

  4. Consume Less

    I am confused about the fuel thing with the Abrams engine. On Wiki it sayes it is a multi fuel engine.

    The Honeywell AGT1500 is a gas turbine engine. It is the main powerplant of the M1 Abrams series of tanks. The engine was originally designed and produced by the Lycoming Turbine Engine Division in the Stratford Army Engine Plant. In 1995, production was moved to the Anniston Army Depot in Anniston, Alabama, after the Stratford Army Engine Plant was shut down.[1]

    The engine can use a variety of fuels, including jet fuel, gasoline, diesel and marine diesel.[2]

  5. Terence Mills

    There is much to be learned from the ongoing war in the Ukraine.

    Missile and drone delivery and defence systems are obviously critical to the way this war is being waged : Israel understands this and relies heavily on the Iron Dome system of anti-ballistic missiles designed to fulfill an Israeli defense system.

    Presumably the tanks will be used as mobile delivery systems to engage the Russian missile onslaught.

    I wonder if our AUKUS submarines will have the capability to protect Australian cities and critical infrastructure from incoming missiles and predatory drones ? If not then we need to rethink our future defence capabilities.

  6. Steve Davis

    There is an air of unreality in many comments about the progress of the Ukraine conflict, from Ukraine officials, from US/NATO officials, and from a number of blog comments.

    From the article above; “Ukraine’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Andriy Melnyk (said) that his country’s defence forces would have access to “at least a hundred tanks” within three months.” And “The magic number being sought by Kyiv is 300.”

    No-one commenting here has referred to or examined those comments, although Terence and Douglas have asked the right questions. (We need more people to ask questions about where we are going with defence.)

    The fact is, and the reality many can’t face is, that Ukraine had 2000 or more tanks at the start and is now pleading for more. So where are they now? They are, for all practical purposes, gone. Destroyed. So the promised 100, if they arrive, will make no difference to the outcome.

    That’s reality.

  7. Hensenberry of York

    Steve, in one way it makes sense to reduce the US tank inventory by 300 as such outdated technology is next to useless against drones and high tech RF and laser weaponry. Make way for the new I say. Get the tanks off the books and balance the budget. Tally ho.

  8. Steve Davis

    Hensenberry of York, thanks for your comment. I like what you say, but with some reservations.

    Yes, much WWI-style technology has become outdated due to progress in missile technology. So I’m pleased to note our government’s interest in missiles, but not so sure about nuclear subs. Those subs could no doubt have a defence value, but are more likely to be used offensively in the service of US hegemony; a project of questionable morality.

    And it’s good to see someone acknowledging the edge that Russia has in military technology.

    But “Balance the budget” ??? I’m not sure what you refer to there, as the US has no interest in balancing its budget, and European nations seem powerless to balance theirs. Britons are sitting at home shivering because the UK cannot access gas at affordable prices, and as far as I know that goes for most of Europe.

    And “Tally ho” ? I’m sorry, you probably meant nothing by it, but it’s too reminiscent of dreams of Empire for my taste. It was Johnsonian dreams of Empire (“Global Britain” I think he called it) that prevented a resolution to this disaster last April.

  9. Pingback: Nuclear news – week to 7 February | Nuclear Australia

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