Armor: Tanks For Ukraine


January 24, 2023: American leaders are stalemated over sending M1 tanks t0 Ukraine. Most politicians and Americans in general prefer sending Ukraine the M1s so the Russians will be pushed out of Ukraine sooner rather than later. Senior military officials insist that the Ukrainians won’t learn to use the M1s quickly enough to make a difference. The Ukrainians disagree and point to many recent examples of their quickly adapting to new weapons systems in terms of operators and maintainers. The American opposition is coming mostly from the same experts who initially predicted that the larger and better equipped Russian force would soon defeat the Ukrainians. The United States has thousands of M1 tanks in reserve. These are not the latest models but were seen as adequate replacements for M1 tanks lost in some future conflict. That conflict is going on now in Ukrainian except that, because Ukraine is not a NATO member, they are willing to do all the fighting if NATO continues sending all the weapons and munitions they need. The Americans have already stalled on sending some weapons (like longer range missiles and any tanks at all) for fear of angering the Russians and triggering an expanded war. That has not happened and the Russians have taken unprecedented losses. Senior American military officials appear to accept reality because it is so radically different from what they predicted.

Germany had a similar situation but was willing to allow other NATO members, like Poland, to send their Leopard 2 tanks anyway, without reference to what the Americans do with their M1s. Britain is ignoring American misgivings and sending fourteen of their similar Challenger 2 tanks. The problem is that there are thousands of unused Leopard 2 and M1 tanks available but only a few hundred Challenger 2s. Britain could not afford to build as many tanks as Germany and the Americans, and simply didn't have many to send. Germany finally heeded the pleas of Poland, the Baltic States and Ukraine by no longer trying to block Leopard 2s from going to Ukraine. Poland borders Ukraine and has been preparing to move the tanks into Ukraine. The only NATO nation with M1 tanks is Poland, which ordered 250 and has already received seven to be used for training crews and maintainers. Poland has 247 Leopard 2s and a dozen are being sent to Ukraine immediately for training crews and maintainers. Some of that training may already have taken place in Poland. Sending Leopard 2s to Ukraine is a popular move to most Poles, who see themselves as next on the Russian invasion list. The Ukrainian can stop the Russians sooner with the tanks. Russia continues to make vague threats of reprisals if NATO “escalates” the situation by sending tanks. Ukrainians regard these as empty threats. Russia has already thrown everything it has at Ukraine and failed. The Russians are planning a Spring Offensive with new troops who are poorly trained, led and armed. This won’t succeed but it will get more Ukrainians killed and delay the expulsion of Russians from all Ukrainian territory. The Polish Leopard 2s enable Ukraine to hit the Russians first and speed up the end to Russian control of any Ukrainian territory.

While the Americans won’t send M1s, they have agreed to send a useful collection of other weapons and vehicles. This includes 59 Bradley IFVs (Infantry Fighting Vehicles) armed with 590 TOW anti-tank missiles and 295,000 rounds of 25mm ammunition for the 25mm autocannon each M2 has.

Also headed for Ukraine are 90 Stryker APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers) with 20 mine rollers. These are 8x8 wheeled vehicles introduced in 2002. Stryker was successful in Iraq and Afghanistan but only about 5,000 were built and the army no longer needs all it has.

The U.S. is also sending 53 MRAPs (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles). Ukraine has already received some of these armored trucks and can use more.

Finally, Ukraine is getting 350 more hummers (High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles or HMMWVs). These are not combat vehicles but excellent for moving people and material cross country in a combat zone.

The U.S. is also sending additional missiles of the munitions for the NASAMS (National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile Systems) Ukraine already has. Another eight Avenger air defense systems are going as well.

While the U.S. has already sent over a million 155mm artillery rounds (50,000+ tons), they are sending 20,000 more plus about 600 GPS- guided 155mm artillery rounds and 95,000 105mm artillery rounds for the few 105mm howitzers sent to Ukraine.

Along with the M2s, Germany is sending 40 similar Marder IFVs and France a dozen or more 6x6 wheeled AMX-10 RC armored reconnaissance vehicles. These have a crew of four and a turret mounted 105mm gun. The M2s, Marders and Strykers carry a squad of infantry in addition to an autocannon.

These IFVs are not as well protected or heavily armed as tanks but are useful because current Ukrainian tactics use similar Soviet-era armored vehicles and T-72/80 tanks for attacks. The tanks do not lead, but are behind the infantry vehicles providing direct 125mm cannon fire at targets the infantry designate. The Western IFVs are more effective than what Ukraine already has but Western tanks like M1s and Leopards can get out front because they are better protected and more reliable that T-72s. That has been demonstrated several times in combat since the 1990s. Ukrainian leaders point out that not having M1s or Leopard 2s means the war will last longer and more Ukrainians will be killed. Despite this, tanks are not being sent, but IFVs are.

Since September, Germany has been promising to send Ukraine a hundred Marders. Domestic politics and Defense Ministry problems prevented that. Germany is under increasing pressure from its NATO allies to deliver Marder 1A3 IFVs to Ukraine. The manufacturer, Rheinmetall, assured the government in March that it could upgrade 100 of the retired Marders to the 1A3 standard within weeks and send them off to Ukraine. Initially the German government agreed, but then, for the usual political and Defense Ministry reasons, halted the shipment of Marders to Ukraine. The problem was not Germans, who generally backed sending the IFVs, but German politics and most Germans were unsure of exactly what was going on here.

This is nothing new. German defense policy since the end of the Cold War in 1991 has been an inexplicable mess. Before the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, West Germany (the Russians still occupied East Germany until 1990) was the largest, best equipped and formidable military force in NATO. In 1989 the West German military had half a million active-duty troops. Five years later a united Germany had a force of 250,000 and the reductions continued until 2014, when there were only 179,000 troops. The situation changed in 2014 because Russia seized portions of Ukraine. Ukraine mobilized forces faster than expected and halted the Russian operation in eastern Ukraine (Donbas). In 2022 Russia decided to finish the job and invaded all of Ukraine. That was a major disaster for Russia.

After 2014 Ukraine sought to rearm and asked for support from NATO, which NATO provided. Many NATO members, especially the East European nations that joined after 1991, saw themselves as next on the target list if Russia succeeded in Ukraine. These Russian attacks on Ukraine were a major disappointment for Germany. With the largest economy in Europe, Germany took the lead in establishing economic links with Russia. This was seen as the best way to keep the peace, including Germany becoming dependent on Russia for most of its natural gas and oil needs. Plus the Russians generously rewarded German leaders, and still do.

Meanwhile the German military never recovered from the huge personnel and budget cuts that occurred between 1991 and 2014. In 1990 Germany spent $40 billion (2.52 percent of GDP) on defense. By 2001 that was down to $26 billion (1.32 percent of GDP). By 2o14 defense spending was only 1.15 percent of GDP. By 2020 it was 1.4 percent and the German military was still lacking many basic weapons (armored vehicles, warplanes and warships) and the money to keep them operational. Often less than 20 percent of these weapons were combat ready. It was an endless scandal that was made possible by the inability to expand the size of the military. By 2019 Germany had only been able to expand its military by 5,000 troops (to 184,000.)

Ukraine went through similar reductions in defense spending and military personnel in the 1990s, but after 2014 rebuilt their military much more effectively than anyone, especially the Russians, expected.

The Marder IFV is very effective, and probably the best IFV developed by any NATO nation during the Cold War. Between 1968 and 1975 Germany produced 2,103 Marders and only the Germans used them until the 1990s. By 1991 the Marder had been upgraded to the 1A3 standard and as the German army retired them, export customers could finally obtain them. A replacement for the Marder was not put into service until 2015, when the first Puma IFVs entered service. The 41-ton Puma was larger than the Marder but the 34-ton Marder 1A3 had most of the new tech the Puma used. Only 350 Puma’s have been built so far due to design and production defects. There are many more Marder 1A3s available and Ukraine saw this as an opportunity to equip their new offensive force with one of the best IFVs available. So far in September Ukrainian forces have destroyed about a quarter of the Russian forces in Ukraine and recovered much territory the Russians had occupied in 2022. The Ukrainians are still at it and point out that their efforts would be more effective if they had the hundred Marder 1A3s Germany had promised them back in March. That is being blocked by the dysfunctional and perplexing German defense decision making that has been the norm since the 1990s. That obstacle was finally overcome in late 2022.

The first Pumas were delivered to the German Army in 2015, and all 350 were delivered by 2021. Puma was to replace Cold War era (1970s) Marders. Puma contains lots of innovations, many of them suggested by Marder users. The basic model has a remote (from inside the vehicle) control turret equipped with a new 30mm automatic cannon. This type of system has worked well in Iraq, where it was widely used in American vehicles.

The Puma's 30mm cannon can fire computer-controlled shells that will detonate inside buildings or over troops taking cover behind a wall or in a trench. The 30mm cannon can fire up to 200 rounds a minute, and has a range of 3,000 meters. Optional weapons include a guided missile launcher or automatic grenade launcher. The 30mm gun has an armor piercing round that is also effective against personnel. The Puma has a crew of three (commander, gunner and driver), carries up to eight infantrymen (or cargo) in the rear troop compartment, and is "digital." Noting the success, the U.S. Army has had with equipping their armored vehicles with "battlefield Internet" communications equipment, the Germans did the same with Puma.

While the Puma was designed to accept additional armor protection, the Germans preferred to use the 32-ton version, which is about what the Marder 1A3 weighs. Rheinmetall has no problem designing and building these IFVs and most Germans support giving them to Ukraine. What’s missing is a government that can make a decision and carry it out. In the end the Pumas did not go to Ukraine because field tests of 18 Pumas in December saw all 18 fail under simulated combat zone conditions. Marders were sent instead because they worked and had similar capabilities.




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