Hundreds Of German And Polish Tanks And IFVs Begin Arriving in Ukraine

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German-made Leopard 1A5 tanks have begun to arrive in Ukraine in large numbers. A week after the first photos appeared online depicting one of the 40-ton, four-person tanks apparently near the front line, we now can confirm the identity of what might be the first brigade to operate the lightweight tanks.

It’s the Ukrainian army’s 44th Mechanized Brigade. A possible model unit for the Ukrainian army’s ongoing force-generation as Russia’s wider war on Ukraine grinds toward its third year and the usual mud-bound early-winter stalemate sets in.

The newly formed 44th Brigade’s main equipment—Leopard 1A5s and Polish-made Wolverine fighting vehicles—should be available in large quantity through the coming year. A German-Dutch-Danish consortium so far has identified nearly 200 of the 1980s-vintage Leopard 1A5s it can pay industry to recondition before shipping them off to Poland for training, and then to Ukraine for front-line use.

Poland meanwhile has pledged to Ukraine 200 of the 25-ton, eight-wheel Wolverines—and could pledge more as production of the nimble fighting vehicle ramps up. Ukraine soon should have enough Leopard 1A5s and Wolverines to equip several brigades.

These brigades will be unevenly armored. Yes, the Leopards have fast, accurate fire-controls for their 105-millimeter main guns. But their steel armor is just 70 millimeters thick at its thickest, making them perhaps the least-protected tank in Russia’s 22-month wider war on Ukraine.

The Wolverines likewise have effective 30-millimeter autocannons, but their Polish designers wanted the vehicles to be capable of swimming. That meant reducing armor protection in order to keep down the Wolverines’ weight.

The 44th Brigade’s relative lightness compared to, say, the army’s dozens of brigades operating Soviet-vintage tanks—or to the 10 or so brigades Ukraine’s NATO allies equipped for last summer’s southern counteroffensive—could weigh on their potential for major offensive action.

But it won’t be the exact amount of armor protection on a few hundred vehicles that decides whether Ukraine can resume offensive action once the early-winter mud dries up in January or February.

No, Ukraine’s main problems are threefold: artillery ammunition, mine-reconnaissance and battlefield leadership. “The prerequisite condition for any offensive action is fires dominance,” Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds wrote in a study for the Royal United Services Institute in London.

Despite suffering frequent ammunition-shortages, Ukrainian artillery batteries lately have managed to achieve local firepower superiority over Russian batteries. “This has been achieved through blinding the counterbattery capability of Russian guns and the availability of precise and long-range artillery systems,” Watling and Reynolds wrote.

“Ensuring the sustainability of this advantage by properly resourcing ammunition production and spares for a consolidated artillery park is critical,” the analysts added.

But that means sustained support from the entities that provide the bulk of Ukraine’s shells: the United States and the European Union. Pro-Russian Republicans in the U.S. Congress, and pro-Russian countries within the E.U.—Slovakia and Hungary, to name two—could complicate future ammo donations.

In addition to steady supplies of shells, the Ukrainians need technology and tactics for detecting and defeating or avoiding the biggest battlefield impediment to armored assaults. “Mines constrain Ukrainian vehicles in their ability to maneuver,” Watling and Reynolds explained.

“It is necessary to thoroughly [conduct mine-reconnaissance] ahead of any major push, lest equipment loss becomes unacceptable,” the analysts added. “This cannot be carried out in depth and often relies on dismounted engineers. It is therefore very difficult to plan operations beyond the defenses immediately in front of Ukrainian positions, meaning that breaches forwards are difficult to exploit.”

“Assistance, therefore, should focus on equipment and techniques for detecting mines.” That might include drones that can spot mines, as well as heavy engineering equipment plus training for Ukrainian sappers. Lots of them.

But all the shells and mine-clearing gear in the world doesn’t matter if Ukrainian brigades can’t use them at the right time and place in coordination with other forces in pursuit of a plan that results in something someone can call “victory.”

They don’t matter, in other words, without leadership. “Planning remains a significant challenge for Ukrainian units because of the limited availability of trained staff officers,” Watling and Reynolds wrote. “The rapid expansion of the [armed forces of Ukraine] with the mobilization of civilians means that there are many more units than staffs.”

Capable staff officers don’t show up on billion-dollar lists of pledged military aid. They don’t make for dramatic photo-shoots. No nativist, pro-invasion political movement makes a symbol of a staff officer the way it might turn a tank or fighting vehicle into an icon of its opposition to a free and democratic Ukraine.

But staff officers matter as much as ammunition and mine-clearing capabilities do. So it’s exciting for allies of Ukraine that Ukrainian brigades are getting a whole lot of fresh tanks and fighting vehicles respectively from Germany and Poland.

It’d be more exciting to see a million shells bound for Ukraine from Europe, a thousand newly-trained sappers graduating from a NATO engineering school or a few dozen clever majors and colonels peering at a map in a bunker somewhere.

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