Yesterday was a good day for Ukraine, with France, Germany and the U.S. all announcing they would send powerfully armed infantry fighting vehicles to help in the fight against Russia’s invasion.
The announcements mark a new phrase of Western military support and have come at the same time that Ukrainian officials hinted at a new offensive in the spring.
Great. What are they sending?
Let’s have a look…
The US Bradley
The Bradley fighting vehicle appeared on battlefields in the early 1980s and is armed with a 25mm automatic cannon, a 7.62mm machine gun, and a TOW (that stands for tube-launched, optically-tracked, wireless-guided) missile system that can hit and potentially take out an armored target more than two miles away.
The fully tracked transport vehicle – of which Ukraine will receive 50 – typically carries a three-man crew and a six-man infantry squad. It has a top speed of just over 41mph, so is highly mobile.
While the armored vehicles being sent are not tanks, the Bradleys provide "a level of firepower and armor that will bring advantages on the battlefield," Pentagon spokesman General Pat Ryder said.
"It's not a tank, but it's a tank killer," Ryder told reporters. "We're confident that it will aid [Ukraine] on the battlefield," he said.
In short, the Bradley is the perfect vehicle to contribute to the Ukrainian spring offensive hinted at in recent days by the head of Ukraine’s Military intelligence, Kyrylo Budanov.
The German Marder
The German Marder is another armored fighting vehicle in a similar vein to the U.S. Bradley.
It is a tracked vehicle armed with a 20mm cannon and 7.62 mm machine gun, but lacks the extra firepower of the Bradley’s TOW missiles system.
The Marder also has a three-man crew and the space to carry 5-6 infantry troops at similar speeds to the Bradley. Germany has not specified how many it will send.
The French AMX-10
Developed during the 1970s and – a little surprisingly - still currently serving with the French army, the AMX-10 is a wheeled vehicle with a 105 mm cannon that was outdated by the latter stages of the Cold War, optics allowing gunners to hit targets out to about 1,500 meters, and aluminum armor thick enough to keep out shell splinters, most machine gun bullets and small cannon shells, but nothing bigger.
At full load-out the vehicle weighs 22 tons.
The French military found them to be reliable and fairly mobile in African fighting, but poorly-armored even to be considered for use in conventional battle featuring tank-to-tank slug matches, anti-tank missiles, and dense artillery strikes.
The number being sent to Ukraine has not been confirmed but it is believed the French have around 30 available to deploy right now.
Why are they only being sent now?
Western allies have been very cautious about which weapons systems they send, fearful of antagonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin and provoking a Russian response beyond the borders of Ukraine.
As such, the situation over the last 11 months or so of war has been frustratingly reactive. Take for instance the fabled-Patriot air defense systems, which were only promised after Ukraine had already spent weeks being pummeled by almost weekly mass-missile and kamikaze drone attacks.
But better late than never, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the transfer of armored vehicles was approved due to changing realities in the nearly one-year-old war, where the frontline now sits on the eastern Donbas region after Russia failed to seize the capital Kyiv.
The U.S. is providing Ukrainians with "what they need to defend themselves, based in large part on where the battle is now," Price told reporters.
"Now that we are seeing fronts emerge and intensify in various parts, including in the Donbas," Price said, "there are certain systems including these fighting vehicles that the Ukrainians have requested and that we deem are appropriate to provide."
Is that the whole story?
There is another element to it – it’s not a coincidence that the Bradleys and Marders were announced less than 24 hours after the AMX-10s.
Supplying anything that even resembled a tank was a big psychological red line for western allies and one that Germany in particular had been hiding behind for months.
So, when France said it was sending the first western style “tanks”, the dam burst and other countries immediately came under pressure to follow suit.
Do Ukrainian troops know how to use the new vehicles?
Not yet, but each country is offering training in its respective vehicle which is unlikely to take as long as the training for more complex weapons systems like the Patriot air defense.
Speaking of which, is Ukraine getting any more of those?
Funny you should mention that – as well as the Marders, Germany is also now sending one to Ukraine.
This follows a similar announcement by the U.S. two weeks ago during a visit to Washington by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
What’s still on Ukraine’s wish list?
While undoubtedly a welcome contribution to the war effort, Germany and France both have vehicles that are on the heavier end of fighting vehicles.
Germany’s Leopard 2 is a full-on main battle tank, weighing in at around 66 tons. It rides on caterpillar tracks like a bulldozer, is equipped with the NATO top-standard 120mm cannon, and is protected by modern layered armor potentially capable of shrugging off a direct hit from a Russian T-72 main gun armor-piercing round.
A Leopard’s thermal sights enable the crew to see in the dark and reliably hit enemy vehicles at ranges, if panzer enthusiasts are to believed, of up to three kilometers.
France operates a vehicle similar to the Leopard called the LeClerc. The LeClerc is a main battle tank armed with the same cannon as the Leopard, and comparable optics, crew comfort and armor.
Its weight is double that of the AMX-10. Paris has not offered the LeClerc, which by any standard really is a tank, to Ukraine.
What are the people in charge saying?
Responding to Germany’s promise of a Patriot missile system, Zelensky expressed his appreciation for the contribution, saying on Twitter that "Germany is making an important contribution to intercepting all Russian missiles!"
U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz "reaffirmed their unwavering solidarity with Ukraine and the Ukrainian people in the face of Russia's aggression," a joint statement said.
Biden, speaking afterwards at a cabinet meeting, said that he agreed with Scholz to "increase the support for Ukraine."
"Right now, the war in Ukraine is at a critical point," Biden said. "We have to do everything we can to help the Ukrainians resist Russian aggression."
Has Russia responded?
Russia's ambassador in Washington, Anatoly Antonov, urged the U.S. to consider the "possible consequences of such a dangerous course," in reference to the new Bradleys.
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