kyiv challenged to manage the heterogeneous fleet of tanks and armor promised by NATO

The forthcoming arrival in the Ukrainian theater of Western-made tanks and armored vehicles, or even German Leopard 2 heavy tanks, challenges kyiv to train its troops in the use and maintenance of a variety of equipment for some very complex.

Since the start of the Russian invasion almost a year ago, kyiv’s European allies have already delivered nearly 300 modernized Soviet tanks, but never yet Western-built heavy tanks, despite repeated requests from the Ukraine.

“Modern NATO-standard tanks like the Leopards, Challengers or Abrams have a sighting system that allows them to lock in directly on a target and destroy it with one shot. This is a huge advantage,” explains the AFP Ukrainian captain Volodymyr Tchaikovsky, deployed in the vicinity of Bakhmout (east) where bloody battles are being played out against the Russians.

The taboo that has held since the start of the war seems about to be broken: on Wednesday, Poland said it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard 2s.

This German model of assault tank, considered one of the most efficient in the world, is widespread in Europe, guaranteeing de facto access to spare parts and ammunition.

But Berlin has so far been reluctant to deliver it to kyiv, for fear of an escalation with Moscow.

The British do not rule out supplying Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.

New announcements could come on January 20, during the next meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Ramstein (Germany).

– “logistics puzzle” –

Last week, France, Germany and the United States led the way by promising to send armored infantry or reconnaissance – 40 German Marders, 50 American Bradleys and French AMX-10 RCs.

The Bradley armored infantry (AFP – Sophie STUBER, Laurence SAUBADU, Paz PIZARRO)

From a French source familiar with the matter, Paris could sell a total of forty of these very mobile devices. Their delivery “will take place within two months”, said the French Ministry of the Armed Forces on Thursday evening.

However, “giving away all this equipment is one thing, using it is another,” said a US military source.

Since the start of the war, the Ukrainians have certainly demonstrated a remarkable ability to integrate the deluge of various equipment sent to them, the experts agree.

And when it comes to heavy armor, the Ukrainian army is not starting from scratch: before February 24, it had a fleet of nearly 900 Soviet-made tanks.

Ukrainian soldiers in front of a tank on the front line near Kreminna, in the Lugansk region, on January 12, 2023 (AFP - Anatolii Stepanov)
Ukrainian soldiers in front of a tank on the front line near Kreminna, in the Lugansk region, on January 12, 2023 (AFP – Anatolii Stepanov)

Despite everything, “Soviet tanks are very rustic, there are fewer electronics on board. Given the diversity of Western tanks and armored vehicles promised, it could be a logistical headache for them”, warns an officer of French cavalry. “The ranges are extremely different, each has its own weapon systems, bearings, engines…”

The Leopard 2, like the French Leclerc or the American Abrams fires 120 mm shells. The British Challenger 2, on the other hand, is equipped with a 120 mm rifled gun, which requires specific ammunition. As for the French AMX 10 RC, mounted on wheels and not on tracks, it is less complex to maintain than a combat tank but uses 105 mm ammunition.

– complex maintenance –

However, the high intensity of the fighting between Ukrainians and Russians makes it crucial to maintain equipment that has been put to the test. Western tanks, intended for the front line, would not escape the rule.

The AMX-10 RC light combat tank (AFP - Valentin RAKOVSKY, Sophie RAMIS)
The AMX-10 RC light combat tank (AFP – Valentin RAKOVSKY, Sophie RAMIS)

But “Ukraine is in a state of general mobilization, it has a considerable pool of manpower. And they have the internal structures and devices to assimilate all these various equipment”, argues Léo Péria-Peigné, expert in armament at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).

If the lightest damage is traditionally repaired by mechanics deployed near the front line, the heavier maintenance operations must be carried out in the rear.

To help the Ukrainians manage Western equipment, the allies have already initiated efforts in terms of “maintenance in operational condition”, a term designating maintenance in military jargon.

For example, the Franco-German group KNDS – bringing together the German KMW and the French Nexter – opened a maintenance center in Slovakia in November to repair French and German land equipment deployed in Ukraine – Caesar guns and PzH 2000, Gepard anti-aircraft armored vehicles or MARS II multiple rocket launchers.

The German Marder (AFP - Vincent LEFAI, Laurence SAUBADU)
The German Marder (AFP – Vincent LEFAI, Laurence SAUBADU)

However, it is crucial for Westerners to send their tanks and armored vehicles in quantity and not in dribs and drabs, otherwise they will be counterproductive, warns Léo Péria-Peigné.

“The battle tank is the most complex military vehicle in terms of land maintenance,” he comments.

Thus, “Sending 10 Challenger 2 tanks from the UK would be a poisoned gift.

This would require mobilizing a whole training and maintenance sector for a limited availability rate and therefore a minimal effect on the ground “, knowing that more than a third of the fleet of this type of equipment is traditionally immobilized for maintenance, warns the researcher. .

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