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Kyiv Looks to Sharpen its Spear With Advanced Western Arms

Ukraine is set to receive a large influx of advanced weapon systems from the United States and its Western allies in the coming months and throughout the rest of 2023.

In recent days, Western-built heavy main battle tanks (MBT) – specifically the M1 Abrams, Leopard 2, and Challenger 2 – headline the support in Ukraine’s pipeline. However, there is much more at play in that the current tranche of security assistance than big-ticket equipment in itself.

Rather, it appears that the U.S. – and the West at large – is now helping Ukraine rebuild parts of its military through integrated packages, at least on land. Indeed, in December 2022, the U.S. specifically announced that it will impart combined arms training to Ukraine’s land forces. This started earlier in January.

Now, the equipment side of Ukraine’s combined arms evolution is starting to take shape, albeit on paper for the time being. For example, in addition to committing 30 M1 Abrams MBTs, the U.S. is also allocating armoured vehicles, munitions, small arms, and specialized equipment valued at over $3 billion U.S.

This new package contains 50 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) with 500 TOW anti-tank missiles, 100 M113 armoured personnel carriers (APC), 55 mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAP), and 138 high-mobility multipurpose wheeled vehicles (HMMWV), and 18 155 mm-caliber self-propelled howitzers (SPH). When viewed in light of Biden’s announcement to send 30 M1s, it is evident that Ukraine will build integrated forces on land using this U.S-supplied equipment.

The ‘combined arms’ element will factor in once Ukraine’s recapitalized tank inventory pairs with not only its IFV and APC units, but its guided artillery element too. In terms of the latter, Ukraine has already built capability centered on the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) which, moving forward, would be supplemented further by 155 mm-caliber SPHs (comprising of various M109A/L variants). Prior to this, Ukraine also inducted M-777 lightweight 155 mm-caliber towed howitzers.

However, all this is only American side of the West’s assistance package. Germany seems to be on board with improving Ukraine’s capabilities on land. Not only is Berlin is preparing to transfer 14 Leopard 2s, but it seems to be coordinating with other Leopard 2 users to rapidly raise two battalions of the tank. Within the German Armed Forces, a battalion consists of 44 tanks. Thus far, Germany – alongside Poland as well as Canada – have allocated 32 Leopard 2s for Ukraine. Similar to Washington’s package, the German arms supply also consists of SPHs (i.e., PzH-2000 and AHS Krab).

Finally – and arguably a key driver of the supply surge – the United Kingdom is also working to supply the Ukrainians with a combined arms element. This package centers on 14 Challenger 2 heavy MBTs and 30 AS-90 SPHs. It is possible that the U.K. will expand this package further and, in turn, aim to match Germany and the U.S. in terms of numbers. Thus (and this is a rough approximation), Ukraine could have upwards of six battalions consisting of advanced Western tanks in the coming months.

However, according to Ukraine’s ambassador to France, the West has apparently committed upwards of 300 heavy MBTs to Ukraine. If this is an accurate assessment, then Ukraine would basically be on track to having one of Europe’s largest heavy MBT forces (outside of NATO’s top powers)…

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