Britain led the way in supplying Challenger 2 battle tanks to Ukraine. So far they have been invisible, writes Lt Col Stuart Crawford.
Only a few months ago the UK promised to supply 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, a move which helped persuade other western nations to supply their own tanks. Britain’s tanks have been in Ukraine for some months now.
Since then the floodgates have creaked open, albeit sometimes slowly, and parts of the UkrAF have been re-equipped with NATO armoured fighting vehicles, most notably German-built Leopard 2 tanks, donated by various European countries, and American Bradley infantry fighting vehicles.
The equipment from the west has been sufficient to equip up to 15 Ukrainian brigades, each of perhaps 3,000 personnel or more and about 250 vehicles of all types. These brigades are considered to represent the Ukrainian operational reserve, ready to exploit any breakthrough of the Russian defence lines if and when it happens.
Ukrainian soldiers have also been taught how to operate their new equipment and trained in the western way of war, in combined all-arms operations where the various arms and services combine to best effect.
We now know that some of these brigades have been committed to battle, if only by the photographic evidence of Leopard 2s and Bradleys languishing burnt and forlorn in Russian minefields. A significant number of these abandoned vehicles, however, can and have been rescued and repaired.
What we are yet to see, though, at least from open sources, is any evidence of the Challenger 2s in action. They may well have been, of course, and have managed to survive unscathed so far, but I doubt it. They are just as vulnerable to the mines and UAVs which seem to have taken out some of the Leopard 2s.
A more sombre note there are photographs circulating showing British Mastiff armoured troop carriers destroyed on the battlefield.
But no sign of the Challenger 2s yet. The BBC’s defence correspondent, Jonathan Beale, who is in Ukraine, Tweeted recently that he had asked two Ukrainian generals in charge of operations where the tanks were and was told they didn’t have them. They must be somewhere else, uncommitted so far.
Plus we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the 14 British tanks donated to the UkrAF are a significant addition to their combat power; they’re not – sufficient only to kit out a weak-ish squadron-company group given sufficient mechanised infantry and supporting arms.
Their true value was the symbolism of the gift and the subsequent galvanising of other European countries into similar action.
We should also note that Britain’s donation here has reduced our pathetically meagre number of tanks down to 134 which might be deployable, plus a slack handful of others in training and trial facilities. This is far too few for a country which seeks to be a recognised regional (i.e. European) military power, let alone a global one, writes Lt Col Stuart Crawford.