Ukraine Gets Its First Western Heavy Tanks. Here’s What to Know
Ukrainian recruits and their British Armed Forces trainers pose for a photograph on Driver Tank Trainer (DTT) armoured vehicles at a military facility, on Feb. 23, 2023 in Southern England. Credit - Leon Neal—Getty Images
The first heavy tanks from Britain and Germany have arrived in Ukraine as the nation’s army prepares for a spring offensive against Russian forces.
Ukrainian Defence Minister Olesksiy Reznikov tweeted a video Tuesday of himself taking a British Challenger 2 for a test drive, confirming the arrival of 14 tanks. “These fantastic machines will soon begin their combat missions,” he wrote, thanking U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Defense Minister Ben Wallace, and the British people.
The tweet comes a day after German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced that 18 Leopard 2 battle tanks had successfully been delivered to Ukraine.
Reznikov also announced the arrival of American Cougar armored trucks and American Stryker and German Marder fighting vehicles in a Facebook post on Monday. In the image shared by Reznikov, Ukrainian defense leaders and members of the armed forces posed in front of the military hardware while holding U.S., U.K., and German flags.
Ukraine has long called for heavier weapons to bolster its war efforts. But the decision to provide Western-made heavy tanks such as the Leopard 2s and Challenger 2s to Ukraine was not taken lightly by NATO allies, with many fearing it would provoke Russia into further escalating the war.
Below, what to know about Ukraine’s growing supply of Western-made tanks.
What are the British Challenger 2s?
In January, Britain became the first nation to pledge Western battle tanks—in this case 14 Challenger 2 tanks from its supply of 227 to Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Sunak “for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.”
The tanks were built in the late 1990s by BAE Systems and Land Armaments and can carry up to four people. The heavy vehicle weighs over 65 tons and are equipped with a 120 mm rifled gun. The tank’s merit lies in its ability to shock enemies with rapid fire.
In addition to tanks, the U.K. is also providing 20 Bulldog armored troop carriers and 30 AS-90 self-propelled artillery guns, offering Ukrainian forces a competitive upgrade.
Read More: Ukraine Can Only Win if the U.S. Delivers More Weapons Faster
On Monday, Ukrainian crews returned from several weeks of training in Dorset, England, where they learned how to operate and fight using Challenger 2s.
Wallace, Britain’s defense minister, said the soldiers “return to their homeland better equipped, but to no less danger.”
What are the German Leopard 2 tanks?
First made during the Cold War, there are now 2,000 Leopard 2 tanks scattered across Europe. Germany was initially reluctant to send its own supply of the tanks but said it would not get in the way of other nations wishing to send their stock of the German-made vehicle.
Other nations sending these tanks were required to obtain Germany’s authorization before doing so. Poland became the first nation to deliver German-made tanks to Ukraine on the one-year anniversary of the war on Feb. 24.
But in late January—after intense global pressure—Germany U-turned on its decision and announced that it would send 14 of its own tanks.
On Monday, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Berlin had supplied 18 “very modern” Leopard battle tanks, four more than originally planned.
“Our tanks arrived as promised and punctually in the hands of our Ukrainian friends,” Germany’s Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said in a statement.
“I’m sure they can make a difference on the pitch,” he added.
When are the U.S. Abrams 1 tanks arriving?
In January, the Biden administration reversed its call to not send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The vehicle has a powerful engine that makes it mobile while carrying its gun and heavy armor. They can run at speeds up to 42 mph and carry up to four crew members.
The U.S. previously feared that the tanks required too much maintenance for Ukrainian forces to handle. But after mounting pressure both Germany and the U.S. announced on Jan. 25 that they would send heavy tanks, with Biden pledging 31 American battle tanks as part of a $400 million package of military aid.
It was previously expected to take a year or more for the tanks to arrive, but on March 21, the U.S. announced that it will expedite the process by sending M1-A1, an older model of the tank.
The delay in sending more modern M1-A2 versions stemmed from the need to build new tanks or upgrade existing older vehicles, as well as training Ukrainian forces on its systems. Now, the tanks could arrive as early as fall this year.