(Paris) The imminent arrival in the Ukrainian theater of Western-made light armored vehicles, or even German Leopard 2 heavy tanks, challenges Kyiv to train its troops in the use and maintenance of a variety of equipment for certain very complex.
Since the beginning of the Russian invasion almost a year ago, the European allies of Kyiv have already delivered nearly 300 modernized Soviet tanks, but never yet Western-built heavy tanks, despite repeated requests from the Ukraine.
“Modern NATO-standard tanks like the Leopards, Challengers or Abrams have a sighting system that allows them to lock in directly on a target and destroy it with one shot. It’s a huge advantage, ”Ukrainian captain Volodymyr Tchaikovsky, deployed in the vicinity of Bakhmout (east) where bloody battles against the Russians are taking place, told AFP.
The taboo that has held since the start of the war seems about to be broken: on Wednesday, Poland said it was ready to deliver 14 Leopard 2 heavy tanks.
This German model of assault tank, considered one of the most efficient in the world, is widespread in Europe, guaranteeing de facto access to spare parts and ammunition.
But Berlin has so far been reluctant to deliver it to Kyiv, for fear of an escalation with Moscow.
Finland indicated on Friday that it was not opposed to it after a discussion between the European countries that have it. “This requires not only the transfer of the equipment itself, but also the training and creation of expertise in terms of maintenance in Ukraine,” said Tarja Jaakkola, an official from the Ministry of Defense.
The British do not rule out supplying Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine.
New announcements could come on January 20, during the next meeting of Ukraine’s allies in Ramstein (Germany).
Last week, Germany and the United States had led the way by promising to send armored infantry or reconnaissance – 40 German Marders, 50 American Bradleys and French AMX-10 RCs.
From a French source familiar with the matter, Paris could sell a total of forty of these very mobile devices.
However, “giving away all this equipment is one thing, using it is another,” said a US military source.
Since the start of the war, the Ukrainians have certainly demonstrated a remarkable ability to integrate the deluge of various equipment sent to them.
And in terms of heavy armor, the Ukrainian army is not starting from scratch: before February 24, it had a fleet of nearly 900 Soviet-made tanks.
But “Soviet tanks are super rustic, there is less electronics on board. Given the diversity of promised Western tanks and armored vehicles, it could be a logistical headache for them,” warns a French cavalry officer. “The ranges are extremely different, each has its own weapon systems, bearings, motors…”
The Leopard 2, like the French Leclerc or the American Abrams fires 120 mm shells. The British Challenger 2, on the other hand, is equipped with a 120 mm rifled gun, which requires specific ammunition. As for the French AMX 10 RC, mounted on wheels and not on tracks, it is less complex to maintain but uses 105 mm ammunition.
However, the high intensity of the fighting makes it crucial to maintain equipment that is under severe strain, especially for front line equipment.
But “Ukraine is in a state of general mobilization, it has a considerable group of manpower. And they have the internal structures and devices to assimilate all this various equipment, ”argues Léo Péria-Peigné, arms expert at the French Institute for International Relations (IFRI).
While the lightest damage is traditionally repaired by mechanics deployed near the front line, heavy maintenance operations are carried out in the rear.
To help the Ukrainians in this area, the allies have already undertaken efforts in the area of “maintenance in operational condition”, a term designating maintenance in military jargon.
For example, the Franco-German group KNDS – bringing together the German KMW and the French Nexter – opened a maintenance center in Slovakia in November to repair French and German land equipment deployed in Ukraine – Caesar guns and PzH 2000 , Gepard anti-aircraft armored vehicles or MARS II multiple rocket launchers.
It is however crucial for Westerners to send their tanks and armored vehicles in quantity and not in dribs and drabs, otherwise they will be counterproductive, warns Léo Péria-Peigné.
“The battle tank is the most complex military vehicle in terms of land maintenance,” he comments. Thus, “the sending of 10 Challenger 2 tanks by the United Kingdom would be a poisoned gift. This would require mobilizing a whole training and maintenance sector for a limited availability rate and therefore a minimal effect on the ground”, knowing that more than a third of the fleet of this type of equipment is traditionally immobilized for maintenance, warns the researcher. .