The deployment of the recently-donated main battle tanks (MBT) to the Ukrainian conflict zone is unlikely to change the status quo on the ground, military experts claim. And here is why.
"The arrival of NATO tanks in Ukraine is overshadowed by the fact that during the 11 months of the conflict, over 2,000 tanks, including those in service with Ukraine and those supplied to Kiev by the countries of Eastern Europe, were destroyed," explained Russian military expert and analyst Alexey Leonkov.
"Therefore, the arrival of even a hundred or two hundred tanks is unlikely to change this trend," he continued.
According to the military expert, the Ukrainian Armed Forces' MBTs had been largely destroyed with old anti-tank systems and sub-caliber shells. Russia's most modern anti-tank weapons have not been at play in Ukraine yet, he noted.
1. Previous Wars Showed NATO Tanks Aren't 'Wonder Weapon'
"This is not a 'wonder weapon' and everyone knows that. These tanks have already participated in various military conflicts with a varying degree of success. These military conflicts can be defined by the term 'colonial wars.' That is, technically developed states used these tanks in fighting against those who had problems with the modern military equipment, that is, with a weak enemy". Alexey Leonkov - Russian military expert and analyst
The Leopards’ first combat experience, and battlefield losses, occurred during the US-led war in Afghanistan. In the course of fighting against the Taliban,* three Canadian and six Danish Leopard 2s were irretrievably lost, with another 15 Canadian Leopards were disabled but repaired.
Likewise, Turkey deployed dozens of its Leopard 2A4 tanks to northern Syria in 2016 and 2018 to fight against Daesh (ISIS)** and Kurdish militias, where a dozen or more of them were knocked out by IEDs, suicide car bombs, or anti-tank guided missiles. Some of these armored vehicles were reportedly destroyed by the Soviet-era anti-tank guided missiles Malyutka ("small one" in Russian).
The M1 Abrams’ debut was during Operation Desert Storm, the US war with Iraq in 1990 and 1991, that aimed to drive the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Even though the tank performed relatively successfully at the time, several years later, US tank battalions sustained losses in urban combat during Washington's invasion of Iraq. Reportedly, over 80 Abrams had been destroyed by then and 530 more had been forced back to the US for extensive repairs.
2. Surprise Surprise! Russia Has Large Arsenal of Anti-Tank Weapons
"When these tanks arrive in Ukraine, a lot of [Russia's] anti-tank weapons, ground-based, stationary, mobile, air-based, various anti-tank systems will be waiting for them," Leonkov said. "For their part, the T-90M Proryv-3 tanks have modern guns that are capable of penetrating the frontal protection of these [NATO] tanks with armour-piercing sub-calibre projectiles (…) Do not forget that these [NATO] tanks will go without the cover from [Ukraine's] air forces and air-defence systems."
According to Leonkov, both Russia's T-90M and Т-72B3 main battle tanks are equipped with armour-piercing sub-calibre projectiles which could pose a serious challenge to the NATO MBTs. While T-72B3 is an upgrade of the agingT-72B tanks, the T-90M ‘Propyv-3’ has every feature that advanced western tanks enjoy and is quite on par with modern versions of the M1 Abrams and the Leopard 2, according to Russian designers.
In addition, a strike version of the Russian-made Marker robot is also due to be deployed to the Ukraine conflict zone. The robot will be capable of automatically detecting and destroying the German and US-made tanks with anti-tank guided missiles, as Dmitry Rogozin, former director general of the Russian federal space agency Roscosmos, revealed to Sputnik earlier this week.
"The [announced] number of [NATO] tanks is absolutely not enough to carry out any kind of tactical or operational-practical operation. Much more tanks are required for that. However, even with an advantage in tanks, it would be difficult for them to overcome the anti-tank weapons systems possessed by Russia". Alexey Leonkov - Russian military expert and analyst
3. Deployment Will Take Time, But Russia Won't Wait
Moreover, the German-made and US-made tanks will be sent in batches and are likely to be deployed gradually on the Ukrainian battlefield, Leonid Reshetnikov, retired lieutenant general of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) told Sputnik.
"The impact of the Abrams and Leopards [on the situation on the battlefield] will be stretched out over time and will not play a significant role in the next quarter, and maybe even six months. German tanks will arrive no sooner than in a month and a half or two months. The tanks will not arrive in a single package, but at intervals of several weeks. As announced, 31 American tanks Abrams will appear in Ukraine in three four or five months. Training takes an average of 7-8 weeks. Then the question arises as to when and how [Ukrainian] crews will be trained. And this will also affect the effectiveness of these tanks. All this will take time. But no one in Russia will wait until they [get prepared properly]". Leonid Reshetnikov - Retired lieutenant general of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR)
4. NATO Tanks to Face New Challenges for the First Time
At the same time, one shouldn't delude oneself into believing that NATO tanks will be mostly engaged in direct tank duels, Leonkov underscored. International military observers expect that Leopard 2s and M1 Abrams will have to fight in urban conditions and in the fields; amid the spring thaw, summer heat, and winter freeze; against conventional forces, militias, and special operation forces. Some of those challenges the NATO machines will face for the first time, according to observers.
"We will soon see how really effective the Abrams is," Serbian military expert Milovan Bajagic told Sputnik. "We will see its shortcomings while operating on Ukrainian soil; we will see how he gets stuck in the mud or snow (…) Abrams is a very heavy tank. In a bunch of pictures you can see him stuck in the mud (…) It is also vulnerable, as shown in the Gulf War and other conflicts. It is extremely vulnerable, despite powerful armour."
New tanks will be deployed to solve a limited range of tasks as they will be incapable of solving certain problems of a serious strategic offensive, according to Leonkov. The advantage is on the side of Russia, he stressed, adding that it virtually impossible to reverse this advantage with the announced deliveries of NATO battle tanks.
* An Afghan militia under United Nations sanctions for terrorist activities.
** A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.
Credits : Ekaterina Blinova
- A freelance journalist and has a specialist's degree in history and specialises in US, European, Middle Eastern and Asian politics, international relations, sociology and high tech
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