Indecisiveness between US and NATO on sending tanks to Ukraine has given insight into diverging interests as a delayed response reveals a political failure on the surface level that will affect Kiev’s military capacity to defend against an expected Russian offensive in the coming months. A tank is not an off-the-shelf system that can be readily used without prior engagement and requires extensive training before deployment, both for operators and maintenance crews.
Ukraine has requested 300 tanks to launch a successful offensive against a Russian advance, but the small number being supplied is a symbolic gesture instead of giving Kiev a fighting chance in the conflict. The French are currently still deciding on their commitment. Still, Germany has pledged 112 Leopold 2 tanks, the British are supplying 14 Challenger 2 tanks, and the US is committing 31 Abrams, which is equal to the size of one Ukrainian battalion. The ill-timed decision presents two dilemmas, separate from distracting domestic audiences facing a financial crunch at home.
Firstly, training takes weeks to months, depending on the deployed system. German Leopold-2 tanks, for instance, were designed to be used by conscript soldiers and, despite their simplified nature, require 3-4 weeks of training to achieve basic proficiency and at least 7-11 weeks to be deemed competent. US Abrams, on the other hand, take anywhere between 15 to 22 weeks which is 5.5 months, to be deemed competent. A tank brigade consists of a minimum of 84 crews, a total of 336 people, and it can take up to a month and a half to two months per individual to train.
Germany and the US have agreed to send tanks to Ukraine, with Berlin supplying the Leopard 2 and Washington the M1 Abrams. But will the tanks change the course of the conflict?
We asked a Ukrainian officer in the front-line city of Bakhmut to explain ⤵️ pic.twitter.com/qZjBMO1Zv4
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 28, 2023
Still, the time can increase to five months if more personnel are intended to be put on the battlefield. In conjunction with this training, maintenance crews can take 1.5 times longer, adding additional weeks with highly specialised specialists sometimes taking more than a year to complete their training course. But as a supporting NATO apparatus surrounds Ukraine, there are talks to establish a training facility at a Polish base to streamline processes, but time is not on Kiev’s side.
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Financial & operational costs
Next, the plan may prove financially and operationally costly in the long run, especially as so many different variants are being sent into battle at once. Countries a part of NATO and the US have faced numerous military supply chain issues which have not been able to keep up with the demands on the battlefield. Sharing the burden is seen as lessening this load and an attempt to display unity despite Germany vetoing NATO allies in sending its Leopold-2 tanks to Ukraine on the condition that the US does the same.
The White House understands this and finally reverses its plan stating that the “Ukrainians are going to need to be capable of in the weeks and months ahead well into 2023”. Much has to do with recent incremental gains by Russia in the Soledar and Zaporizhzhia region, which are laying the foundations for a spring or early summer offensive in the Donetsk and Luhansk Oblasts in the southeast of Ukraine.
From Russia’s operational standpoint, the warming of the weather and the hardening of the surface in Southern Ukraine, which is flat, will allow it to increase the tempo of the war using tanks and other heavy vehicles as it looks to break Ukrainian defences. Zelensky’s pleas for robust armament were not just a ploy to extract Western aid but a genuine request in light of Russia’s plan and resolve to prolong the conflict and grind down the resistance of his soldiers and potentially recapture lost territory.
West’s hesitancy to benefit Russia?
One can almost deduce a blueprint between Ukraine, the West, and Russia. As Russia’s assault goes unabated, the West’s ability to galvanize a quick response to Ukraine’s pleas wastes time. It is not delivered at an optimal interval which would lessen the loss of lives and equipment for the Ukrainians. Much of it has been indecisiveness with leaders passing the buck to their counterpart, i.e. Olaf Schulz supplying Leopolds only on the condition that the US also reciprocates and loses sight of the bigger picture of neutralising Russia in a specific timeframe.
The reluctance to send such systems to confront Russia in time has been endowed in Europe trying to portray that the West is not at war with Russia. However, the current state of affairs displays a division among NATO states where some countries wish for talks, like France’s Macron, whilst others, like Poland, have actively facilitated aid to Ukraine.
No matter how much it is denied, Germany’s Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s statement of “we are fighting a war against Russia, and not against each other” is aptly made that exemplifies the growing support against Moscow and willingness to prolong the conflict, which will eventuate with advanced Jet Fighters being granted in due course as the nature of the war escalates. But if there is hesitancy, as has been the case with supplying tanks, this can turn the tide in Moscow’s favour which will use it to consolidate its position in the coming months, costing countless lives of Ukrainian soldiers weary of the escalation, which could’ve been avoided if the US and its allies had been proactive.
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In the case of MBTs being supplied, had training begun in September when Ukraine captured swathes of territory in the Kharkiv region, it would’ve allowed it to continue its forward momentum with the delivery of Western tanks, further pushing back Russian forces as winter withered away. But now, due to this bureaucrat delay, the tanks will arrive, but quite possibly after Russia recaptures more territory in the summer reversing the gains by Kiev, who will seek out more advanced equipment to leverage against Russia’s unrelenting persona.
The writer is a Defence and Political Analyst with a Masters in International Relations from Deakin University, Australia specializing in Conflict & Security. He can be contacted at email@example.com. The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.