Mick Ryan on Ukrainian tanks – TTG

A Norwegian Leopard 2A4 main battle tank during Iron Wolf II in Lithuania. It involves 2,300 troops from 12 NATO Allies. The Lithuanian-led exercise is helping to train the NATO Battlegroup which consists of soldiers from Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. Shot in Rukla, Lithuania.

From the beginning of the Russian invasion, arguments over provision of different weapons & technologies to Ukraine have been waged in Europe and the US. Perhaps the most long-standing, and important, is provision of American or European tanks. My aim in this thread is not to argue whether they should be provided. I think it is obvious they should. If Russia can deploy T90s or even its new T-14s (according to British Intelligence), why are we denying similar capabilities to Ukraine? The objective here is to explore the considerations for the introduction of western tanks into the Ukrainian armed forces. The need is well established. Tanks are a valuable part of the modern combined arms team. Tanks save lives!

The first consideration is availability. The Ukrainians need tanks now, so waiting to set up production lines to build new tanks for 2023 is not viable. Which tanks are available now? A part of availability is quantity. The Ukrainians are likely to need hundreds of new tanks (300-500) for the offensives to come. A dozen won’t cut it. This requirement alone restricts the types of tanks that might be provided.

A second consideration is how western tanks will fit into the current Ukrainian military. These are doctrinal and organization issues. However, given Ukraine has long operated a large tank fleet, this is a minor concern. They know how to do this & can do so better than most.

A third consideration is strategic sustainability. What are the depot maintenance capabilities in Ukraine? Depot level maintenance of tanks and their power packs – as well as the electronic subsystems – will be a key part of introducing western tanks. Ukraine has already been fulfilling these functions for its current large fleet of tanks. A new system isn’t required, but some modifications might be needed. But given the demonstrated capacity of Ukraine to adapt in this war, it is very possible.

A fourth consideration is training. New systems always require evolved training systems whether it is the introduction of different technologies and techniques, new simulators, and training aids (engines, driver training, guns, subsystems, ammo, ranges, etc). Once again, as an existing tank operator, many of these systems already exist in Ukraine. But they will require modification. And potentially, training supplementation in other countries will be needed to speed up absorption of the tanks into Ukraine’s army and its schools.

A fifth consideration is battlefield combat support for the tanks. By this I mean the engineering and command vehicles that are integral to heavy armour operations. While Ukraine has some capacity here, bridging, ploughs and other vehicles might also be needed.

A 6th consideration is battlefield logistic support. Fuel trucks (tanks need lots), low loaders, recovery vehicles like the Hercules will probably all need to be part of any tank fleet provided to Ukraine. And, ammunition of several types will be needed in large quantities. Once again, as an existing user of tanks, Ukraine understands these requirements and the battlefield systems and organisations needed to ensure tanks are supported and maintained on the battlefield. It is about modification, not establishing new organisations for Ukraine.

A 7th consideration is a digital battle command support system. Tanks play a vital role as a protected hub for digital information management and command on the battlefield. It is a force multiplier on the modern battlefield. So this will be an important consideration for which tanks go to Ukraine. And, we will need to ensure that this digital system can be linked to other parts of the combined arms team.

While there will be other challenges, the provision of a tank fleet will involve all of these considerations. They each interact – ticking them off individually is almost never possible. But, the Ukrainians have demonstrated throughout this war that they are very capable of integrating very complex hardware and weapons quickly. They are an adaptive, learning institution with a strong imperative for constant improvement. We need to stop looking for excuses like ‘this is a complex system’. I don’t recall these arguments when M1 tanks went to Iraq, or Egypt. And as someone who commanded a brigade with M1 tanks, if the Australian Army with its very light logistic footprint (and lack of tank strategic sustainment for the first decade in service) can do it, the Ukrainians definitely can!

Final point – as I have written almost since the start of the war, at some point we need to start providing common fleets to Ukraine. The provision of tanks is the opportunity to provide Ukraine with a single type to simplify maintenance, training, ammunition, digital comms. Given need for commonality, and the considerations in this thread, there are only 2 solutions: the M1 tank and the Leo 2. Both are huge fleets, which could be made available. Providing them is not escalatory. It just takes political courage. End.

Comment: This is retired Australian Army Major General Mick Ryan’s take on this great debate which he published as a twitter thread (@WarintheFuture).  There are no shortage of opinions on this matter. Retired US LTG Mark Hertling (@MarkHertling) is adamant that the Leopard 2 is a much better fit for the Ukrainians than the M1 Abrams. His position is based on logistics. Being that he spent his whole career as a tanker, I don’t think he’s talking out his ass. Others are just as adamant that the M1 presents no logistical challenges that the Ukrainians cannot master. I tend to agree that the Ukrainians can handle the logistical challenge and would be giddy getting large numbers of either tank.

I think the Leopard 2 would be a better fit, but I was never a tanker. My only combat experience with armor was with M-48s and AMX-13s. Poland is getting 250 M1A2 Sepv3 tanks, but delivery is not scheduled to begin until 2025. Why not give them what we have in Germany now so the Poles can transfer their Leopard 2s to Ukraine? They’re in the best position to transfer, train and maintain immediately. The Germans may squawk, but I doubt they’ll switch sides over the decision.

TTG 

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32 Responses to Mick Ryan on Ukrainian tanks – TTG

  1. blue peacock says:

    TTG,

    The Winter/Spring offensives and counter-measures by both sides are going to be very interesting.

    I have read the Russian army is preparing a 3 axes offensive. I guess a second try at what they attempted at the beginning of the invasion. A large force down from Belarus and additional thrusts in the East & South. They expect to mobilize 500K soldiers for these offensives. Apparently, they believe that volume of artillery, ground troops and armored vehicles will breakthrough Ukrainian defensive lines. Sounds to me like a WWII Soviet style approach.

    The Ukrainian army on the other hand seem to be tight lipped. I have not read any plausible speculations on their operational plans.

    How do you see the battlefield chessboard moving?

    • TTG says:

      blue peacock,

      By spring the Russians will probably field a large infantry force. But I doubt that force will be anything but ill-trained and ill-equipped. They are not using near enough artillery and armor now to support the infantry they have. Maybe this is because they are holding it back for future offensive operations. I have my doubts on that. I certainly don’t see the Russians supporting three distinct thrusts simultaneously. Having said that, I do think they will continue to try to take the Donbas and do their damndest to hold in the south.

      The Ukrainians remain tightlipped as usual. That’s as it should be except when implementing a deception plan. I have no idea what Ukrainian plans are other than to go on the offensive. More importantly, the Russians don’t know either.

  2. Thomas says:

    Less need for jet fuel with the Leos, the negative being that the Leos are more prone to detonating if hit in the wrong way due to the hull ammo storage lacking blow off panels.

    As regards the M1s, I don’t know if this is still a thing, but starting with the M1A1HA, they have depleted uranium as part of the armor. One of the things that happens when we export them is we put turrets on them that lack the DU armor inserts and replace it with something else. That might block us sending the M1s that we use to the Poles as it would technically be exporting nuclear material.

    • TTG says:

      Thomas,

      I think there is DU in the M1 armor, but the DU used in the armor lacks the isotope that can be used in nuclear weapons. It is harmless to the crew unless it is vaporized by an armor piercing round. Even in that case, the AP round is far more deadly to the crew than the DU that may be vaporized. I don’t think this would involve exporting nuclear material. Besides, we’re already planning to export the Sepv3 model to Poland and elsewhere.

      • A. Pols says:

        Uranium is pyrophoric and while that doesn’t much matter for DU cores for shells. in tank turrets that could be a problem. On the other hand, most of all this is just talk. Whatever we send or talk about sending is most likely going to be too little, too late. After that you can switch over to post facto analysis of what went wrong.

  3. Whitewall says:

    By the amount I am reading all across most media, I get the feeling that without a large supply of Western tanks now, all will be lost for Ukraine. The coverage of the debate between Germany, Poland the US and others seems awfully public.

    At the same time, the media especially internet like MSN, is saturated with threats of doom for any Western nation that upfits Ukraine from here on. The amount of stories and the armageddon tone of them is just hard to believe. Sounds like Moscow might be saturating the media and taking advantage of this tank debate.

  4. Leith says:

    Ryan makes some good points. Especially vital IMHO is the aspect he mentions in the final paragraph about needing to provide: “…common fleets to Ukraine. The provision of tanks is the opportunity to provide Ukraine with a single type to simplify maintenance, training, ammunition, digital comms.” Ukraine armored troops don’t need a mixed armored division of US Abrams, German Leopards, British Challengers, Polish PT-91 Twardys, Slovenian M-55Ss & M84s, and French AMX 10RCs,

    And he is right about the need for support vehicles. Ukraine ain’t the Iraq desert. There are going to be lots of rivers to cross. Germany has sent some Biber bridging tanks but definitely not enough. With all the defensive fortifications Russia has been building in Luhansk and Zaporizhzhia Oblasts there is going to be a need for Mine Plows, breaching systems like the MICLIC or Python, plus armored bulldozers to fill in anti-tank ditching. And there will be lots of opportunity to get stuck and need a tow. I recollect that one NATO member sent a tank retriever recovery vehicle or two, but they will need a lot more. They can’t depend on those farm tractors during the middle of a major armored offensive.

    • Babeltuap says:

      Major shakeup in Ukraine’s government. Not a good look during a hard land war. Who knows where this is going but the equipment is going to Poland first. Poland is becoming the new EU pack leader.

  5. Fourth and Long says:

    TTG,

    Thank you for another of your very informative updates on the critical situations to our East. Because of your expertise and experience in these matters it is understandable that you overlook other very interesting and possibly vital issues. Such as a story of a 72 yr old man who gets up one day to single handedly commit a terrible massacre using a powerful rifle. Thankfully he committed suicide though, and promptly, so we will never know his motivation and the case is closed. The good Lord probably smiles on such events thinking to himself: “And it’s a good thing too – who would want to probe the thoughts of such an immoral person? I will send powerful angels to the news agencies to explain that the whole thing is due to the recent record setting rains. That the villain thought I, acting as rain god, was angry and needed human sacrificial victims to quench my anger. It happens.”

    And this item below concerning which our offices have already received emails, posted letters and phone calls expressing profound concern. At the link you can find photos of lab chicken served with sauce on a plate and even better — shiny new stainless steel bioreactors!

    I include a sample of the aforementioned complaint data set:

    *****This will cause a huge unemployment crisis amongst not only Chicken farmers, breeders and dairy farmers (eggs . Chickens lay eggs) and the related support industries including trucking and egg throwing contests — but what about the chickens?!

    Mr ______ It is my considered opinion that things have gone too far. ******

    ————–
    Lab-grown meat moves closer to American dinner plates
    By Leah Douglas.
    https://www.reuters.com/business/retail-consumer/lab-grown-meat-moves-closer-american-dinner-plates-2023-01-23/
    WASHINGTON, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Once the stuff of science fiction, lab-grown meat could become reality in some restaurants in the United States as early as this year.

    Executives at cultivated meat companies are optimistic that meat grown in massive steel vats could be on the menu within months after one company won the go-ahead from a key regulator. In a show of confidence, some of them have signed up high-end chefs like Argentine Francis Mallmann and Spaniard José Andrés to eventually showcase the meats in their high-end eateries.
    But to reach its ultimate destination – supermarket shelves – cultivated meat faces big obstacles, five executives told Reuters. Companies must attract more funding to increase production, which would enable them to offer their beef steaks and chicken breasts at a more affordable price. Along the way, they must overcome a reluctance among some consumers to even try lab-grown meat.

    Cultivated meat is derived from a small sample of cells collected from livestock, which is then fed nutrients, grown in enormous steel vessels called bioreactors, and processed into something that looks and tastes like a real cut of meat.

  6. Leith says:

    General McCaffrey believes the M1 is the better option. He claims it is multi-fuel and not solely dependent on jet fuel and claims it is much better than the Leopard. Although he is probably speaking of a specific upgrade. McCaffrey as far as I know was infantry and never served in an armored unit. Although the 24th Mech Inf Division he commanded in the Gulf War included several Tank Battalions.

    https://twitter.com/mccaffreyr3/status/1617442785266929664

  7. Babeltuap says:

    German tanks in WWII were much better than US tanks. Unfortunately for Germany we just made a lot more of them. Quality is not important. It’s quantity. NATO has a production problem not a quality problem.

    • blue peacock says:

      Babeltuap,

      Production is a function of orders. More orders = more production.

      I would assume that Russia is on a war footing. Other than the Eastern European countries who have real-world experience of Russian colonialism, the West is not serious about defeating the Russian army in Ukraine. It could, as the Ukrainian army has demonstrated such a capability if sufficiently armed.

      • Bill Roche says:

        BP I think U R Rite. The west is not serious about defeating Russia in Ukraine and Germany is an example. All the talk of who send tanks to Ukraine first is nonsense. If the US “jumps in the tank first” the Germans will say now there is no need for German tanks. Bottom line is that Germany and France really see no advantage to them if Ukraine is sovereign and other eastern Slavs are safe. Bottom line … shee, they really don’t care. The Poles, who have had a history w/German and France, know this. So does the rest of Eastern Europe. Therefore Putin continues to hold the trump card – oil and gas. And Putin knows this. Western Europe will sell out their mothers for it. The NATO alliance is thus, unaligned. Putin just has to prolong Ukraine’s agony for another year and the west will cave. Europe continues to be split along the lines that Churchill suggested so long ago. Slavs, Balts, and Bulgars better fend for themselves for Western Europe is a whore to Russian gas and will help no one in the end (There is a joke in there but I’ll leave that to a correspondent more creative than I).

        • Fourth and Long says:

          Bill Roche,
          There is thinking that the delay sending tanks needs quotation marks around the word “delay.” In other words Lloyd Austin and Company are having us on a bit. Reasoning is that there is known to be division within the Kremlin between “the towers,” or so the story goes. Simplifying a bit – many there see the military path forward from here for them as frankly hopeless and therefore want to get out and are delaying as they try to arrange deals for themselves in a postwar (excuse me, post special military operation) Russia. Then there are others, for sure, who contemplate fighting. In the above formulation the Austins, Bidens and Milleys basically know that, and the delay is purposed towards allowing time for saner, less sanguine heads (or towers) to prevail.

          There is another nuance, not discussed here too much which has to do with the British outlook and intent versus the American. Briefly, the British (their Brexit was engineered to these ends, btw, in this model) are in a hurry as compared with the Americans and are looking to establish an Eastern European cordon sanitaire running from the Baltic sea down to the Adriatic including western Black Sea areas – over which they will rule. This is an oversimplification perhaps but it puts them at odds for instance with Germany who have ruling factions very much interested in their old Ost Plan – farmlands and minerals of Ukraine etc.

          So the delay is not simply a matter of battlefield strategy and tactics. There are various elephants and gorillas in the room including the huge, colossal hedge funds, one in particular.

          • Bill Roche says:

            You disappoint this am. I set up our most creative correspondent for a joke on “gas” in “the end” and you speak of hedge funds.
            Let’s dispense with the British. They wish to establish a line from the Baltic to the Adriatic etc, (how Churchillian) and take Eastern Europe’s resources? Hrumpfh. The British make a fine BT but they can’t even rule London. C’mon.
            The idea of a reemergence of the old German “Ost Plan” makes sense. To my earlier point .. the Germans don’t give a pfennig for liberty, democracy, and freedom. That’s not their DNA. So why should they rile up the Russians when they could just split “der Ost” up w/them. I think, they think, Stalin and Hitler had a fine idea in ’41. Too bad Dolf mucked it up. From the German perspective, subdue those Ukrainian untermensch, reassert Russian control over much of eastern Europe, and get back to selling Berlin oil. Things were tracking fine around 1912. Austrians, Czechs, western Hungarians and Poles, may be left once again to the German hegemon (as they should have been). In my old age I need to simplify. WW II screams out as a final act of Russian and German imperialism. Aber es ist nicht sehr spat. Alles es nicht verloren This Ukrainian war is a chance to make things right once again if the f”n Americans would just butt out. Russia rules east, Germany rules west, Russia sends Germany fuel and Germany make cool stuff. This is the Europe that should have been.
            What does this say about NATO? It s/h closed shop in ’92-’93. The Twisted Genius, months ago, spoke of an eastern European NATO. Nations, who see Russia for what she is … a bully, must align b/c the brutal truth is Eastern Europe can expect no big time assistance from the West. period.

          • LeaNder says:

            So why should they rile up the Russians when they could just split “der Ost” up w/them.

            … they could just split “den Osten” up w/them …

            that’s the objective case (in German an Akkusativ). You can tast it by asking: split up who or what?

          • LeaNder says:

            Correction:
            You can tast test it by asking

        • So let’s recognize reality and bug out.

          TTG’s analysis of the war may be correct, but my knowledge is insufficient to judge.

          What is obvious is, despite the Orwellian full court press of the media, is we don’t have to and shouldn’t be there.
          https://original.antiwar.com/richard_morchoe/2022/12/05/it-is-time-for-neutralism/

          • Bill Roche says:

            We d/n have to stay in Germany after WW II. Should we have left Germany to the Soviets? You are probably aware there are several other countries b/h this question.

  8. blue peacock says:

    Vladimir Putin is said to have turned against the head of the feared Russian Wagner mercenary group after he ‘failed to take the hint’ and kept on bragging that his forces were achieving more success than Russia’s army.

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11666173/Putins-newly-appointed-military-commander-sees-collapse-support-just-12-days-job.html

    Lol! It is quite conceivable that the prisoner forces are accomplishing more than Putin’s “super power” army.

  9. Lee Patten says:

    Can someone explain if the fire control systems and other digital instructions will be in English or Cyrillic? I’m guessing not all Ukrainian tank crews read English and therefore this would be a hindrance to quick familiarisation.

    • TTG says:

      Lee Patten,

      I don’t think that will be much of a hindrance. A lot of the Stugna-P ATGM systems are in Arabic since they were intended for export. They’re being used quite effectively by Ukrainians in spite of the Arabic. By now, the Ukrainians are using a number of weapon systems that probably have not been translated to Ukrainian.

  10. JamesT says:

    I wonder if US generals are hesitant to send M1s to Ukraine out of fear that Russia will capture one (ie buy one from a Ukrainian crew), and then watch the Russians and the Chinese take it apart and figure out how it works. The more sophisticated its “digital battle command support system” the more attractive this would have to be for the Russians and the Chinese.

    One the other hand if a Leopard gets captured – that will be great news for General Dynamics.

  11. blue peacock says:

    Off-topic.

    Ex-top FBI official involved in Trump-Russia probe is charged with ‘trying to get billionaire oligarch Oleg Deripaska off sanctions list in return for cash’: Also ‘took $225,000 from ex-spy working for China’

    * Charles McGonigal, 54, has been charged with violating US sanctions
    * He was previously in charge of New York’s counterintelligence division
    * Law enforcement says he has links to Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska

    https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-11667515/Ex-FBI-agent-arrested-links-Russian-oligarch.html

    Charles McGonigal & Peter Strozk – our crack counter-intelligence team!! Makes one wonder about our intelligence apparatus?

  12. Mike B says:

    Meanwhile, back in the Washington swamp, Fox is reporting that the FBI counterintelligence agent who led the Trump-Russia probe has been arrested for taking money from sanctioned Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

  13. Fourth and Long says:

    It’s a silly 3 minutes and 45 second propaganda clip but it sneaks in an interesting tidbit about how they ain’t buyin’ the Ukrainians being the operators of any tanks.

    Russian plan to destroy Western tanks in Ukraine revealed; NATO alarmed over Putin’s ambitions:
    https://youtu.be/c1XekaxFH2k
    Russian President Vladimir Putin is ready with his new strategy if Ukraine gets tanks from Western powers. Russia is all set to beef up its troop deployment in the crucial Donetsk region. The security officials in Donetsk told TASS that they are fully prepared to take on western tanks. The officials even told TASS that they are expecting at least 300 mercenaries in the region. Rheinmetall, a German defence company, has stated that 139 Leopard battle tanks could be delivered to Ukraine if required. The NATO Chief even travelled to Berlin in a fresh attempt to persuade Germany once more, citing Russian President’s Vladimir Putin’s new offensive plan, claiming that Moscow wants to control the entire Ukraine.
    ——
    You nuts & bolts guys can see what you think about the crew of 4 for western tanks versus 3 for eastern bloc. They’re saying obviously that if 200 tanks then minimum 800 “mercenaries” (NATO soldiers) and if 1000 then 4000 etc. Not counting repair facilities and needed staff. (Country Joe and the Fish anyone?).

    In other nooze:

    Biden is ready to hand over 10 Abrams tanks to Kiev to put pressure on Berlin
    (It became known about Biden’s readiness to hand over 10 Abrams tanks to Kiev to put pressure on Berlin).
    American President Joe Biden is allegedly ready to give the Kiev authorities 10 Abrams tanks to put pressure on Germany, which has not yet decided to supply Leopard 2 tanks, the media reported, citing sources.

    Biden can give Kiev 10 Abrams to put pressure on Berlin to give Leopard 2 to the Ukrainian side, Sky News Arabia interlocutors reported, TASS reports.

    Biden believes that Ukraine needs 500 tanks to confront Russia.

    German Chancellor Olaf Scholz previously announced Germany’s readiness to supply Leopard 2 to Ukraine if Washington handed over Abrams to Kiev.

    Suddeutsche Zeitung pointed out that the decision of the German side not to transfer tanks to Ukraine yet caused misunderstanding and anger among Germany’s NATO allies. The United States reacted particularly violently. (Continues at link – need translation app or equipped browser ..)
    https://vz.ru/news/2023/1/24/1196332.html

    Now why do I bring out that last item? Because I think it supports my thesis as sarcastically outlined in a reply to leaNder the other day that in fact the real PTB have been nosing around in the President’s residences looking for dirt (and even possibly indicting an f b i agent) because he (President Biden and or Ron Klain) was too dovish for some tastes. Maybe I’m wrong and it’s just partisan politics. But maybe not.

  14. Babeltuap says:

    Russia has several thousand tanks and keeps producing them…meh. Not sure what the strategy is here. All these tanks will get blown up. Russia will lose many as well but they have MORE and are making MORE. Now what? It was hard enough for Ukraine just getting this commitment. It won’t happen again.

    • wiz says:

      The West can produce more just as Russia can.
      NATO will keep sending what ever it takes just to keep the fire burning.
      They don’t care if the fire consumes Ukraine, as long as Russia burns as well.
      The problem with fires is that they tend to spread uncontrollably.
      If this one does, peace on Earth will finally be achieved. Our radioactive ashes will be the only witness though.

      • elkern says:

        Not so sure that USA can “produce more” tanks, etc, in any timeframe that will matter in the Ukraine war.

        In order to “maximize Shareholder Value”, we moved our industrial base to China. It will take years – or more likely, decades – to recreate the industrial base that was a key part of our victory in WWII.

        Example: Electric Boat (General Dynamics) got contracts to pretty much double Submarine production (from 1/yr to 2/yr), but they haven’t been able to hire/train enough skilled workers, so they’re running way behind.

        • TTG says:

          elkern,

          I think we’re more in the upgrade mode rather than producing more from scratch. It’s the same with a lot of Western producers, except for South Korea. They’re producing the new K2 Black Panther that Poland intends on buying. We have increased our artillery ammo production some 600% from where it was last spring.

        • Peter Hug says:

          I believe the Lima Army Tank Plant in OH is currently making 11 M-1s/month as new production. We still can make stuff, in NW OH at any rate. There is likely some excess capacity to ramp that up if needed.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lima_Army_Tank_Plant

          • TTG says:

            Peter Hug,

            I’ve seen recent photos of 30 T-34-85s arriving in Russia from Laos. However, it’s not what it appears to be. The Russians aren’t that desperate. This deal was arranged in 2019 in exchange for T-72s. The working T-34s were to be used for museum displays and movie props. They just happened to arrive now.

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