From Portable Weapons to Leopard Tanks: 7 Stages of Western Assistance to Ukraine

Leopard 2A7 being tested in Norway. January 2022. Photo: Ministry of Defense of Norway

A year ago, when Putin was only blackmailing Ukraine and NATO with a full-scale invasion of his troops surrounding our borders, international diplomacy resorted to various attempts to convince the Kremlin dictator not to do so.

Back then, in one of the personal conversations of the presidents of the United States and Russia, Joe Biden threatened to respond by other means, in addition to sanctions, in the event of a military escalation. To deter Moscow’s aggressive intentions, Washington intended to expand military assistance to Kyiv.

Actually, the flow of Western weapons from Ukrainian partners began before February 24, 2022, precisely because of the growing threat from Russia. The preventive strengthening of the Ukrainian army was to increase the price that Russia would have to pay for aggression. However, as you know, these arguments did not shake the resolve of the Kremlin initiator of the war.

After the beginning of the Russian invasion, Western weapons in Ukraine turned from a tool of deterrence to a tool of defence. Issues such as the speed of delivery, quantity, quality, and ease of mastering and use of Western military assistance by the Defence Forces have moved from the theoretical to the purely practical — our survival depended on them.

Putin miscalculated fatally when he ignored warnings of Biden and other peacekeepers. The volume of supply and quality of weapons from Western partners really changed the balance on the battlefield. From painful losses, the aggressor army has already moved to shameful defeats.

On the other hand, no one initially expected the real amount of obligations that Kyiv’s allies would have to assume. After all, the war did not end in a few hours, days, or weeks, as many thought. Our country surprised the world with its unbreakable will to fight.

Every day of the war, Ukraine more and more insistently declared the need for support with weapons. Ukrainian soldiers have proved that they are able to dispose of it decently. Investing in the fight against the aggressor is becoming increasingly difficult for our partners, but they have finally realized that this is an investment in a victory, and not in hopeless resistance.

In April, Kyiv’s allies united into the Advisory Group on Defence of Ukraine, now widely known at the place of the first meeting — Ramstein. At regular meetings in the “Ramstein” format, current problems and requests of the Ukrainian Defence Forces are discussed, plans are drawn up: what, when, and in what quantity can be provided by Western partners.

Of course, while helping Ukraine, other countries cannot but ignore numerous factors, in addition to the actual Ukrainian needs and wishes. These include:

  • actual availability of parks and arsenals that can be transferred without significant losses for the country’s defence capability;
  • problems with logistics and security of supplies in conditions of the full-scale war;
  • the readiness of Ukrainians to use previously unknown weapons, their integration into parks and arsenals of military units, as well as their maintenance and repair;
  • certain reservations regarding novelties and military secrets, or vice versa — fears about the defects and shortcomings of Western technology;
  • numerous levels of decision-making — between different institutions and between individual allied countries;
  • finally, there is a constant uncertainty about the feasibility of supplying Ukraine with more powerful weapons (at the level of both public opinion and “political will”), calculating the prospects for war and the risks of direct confrontation with Moscow. 

In this article, the Centre for Strategic Communication lists the main intermediate stages in increasing military assistance to Ukraine by allies who have had a significant impact on the course of this war.

1. Weapons for Partisans 

February 2022, the strike groups of the Russian army, without hiding, are preparing for a quick reprisal against the enemy. At that stage, the prevailing opinion was that Ukraine’s chances of retaining heavy weapons and military equipment — aircraft, ships, air defence systems, and armoured vehicles — in a head-on collision with the Russians were extremely low.

Ukrainian soldier after the launch of Javelin. Image by Radio Liberty

Therefore, the main focus was providing mobile groups with portable weapons, which could cause significant damage to Russian convoys and aviation. In fact, the experience of the Winter War of 1939-1940 and resistance movements in Chechnya and Afghanistan was on everyone’s mind.

Large batches of convenient and effective anti-tank systems Javelin and NLAW began to arrive in Ukraine. Portable anti-aircraft systems such as Stinger were provided to destroy aircraft and helicopters. According to Forbes.ua, about one and a half thousand units were received in March and early April.

The partners’ fears that the entire Ukrainian army would turn into light infantry and partisans did not come true. But the received ATMSs and MANPADS really played an important role.

At the beginning of the invasion, a stable front line did not yet exist. Russian armoured columns broke deep into Ukrainian territory, not caring about their own security from the flanks and from the rear. In Kyiv, Chernihiv, Sumy, and Kharkiv regions, these columns have become tempting targets for Javelin and NLAW operators. In addition, Western ATMSs have proven themselves well in urban battles.

MANPADS have also proven themselves very well. Russian aviation sought to gain dominance in the sky and resorted to landing attempts. Because of this, it suffered considerable losses already in the first month of the full-scale war. Since April, the aggressor’s aircraft began to behave more cautiously, and the role of tactical and transport aviation as a whole decreased significantly. 

2. 155 Calibre Satisfies Shell Hunger 

In spring, Putin eventually said goodbye to dreams of a quick seizure of Kyiv and the replacement of power with his puppets. Instead, the enemy groups focused on the epic battle for Donbas, planning extensive flank attacks in cauldrons of the most capable Ukrainian troops — those holding positions in the east of Ukraine for 8 years.

According to the new plan, the shock of the defeat or captivity of the forces of the JFO was to break the will of the Ukrainians to resist — to force them to surrender, or even lead to the fall of the power hated by the Kremlin.

Russians considered the theatre of hostilities in Donbas to be convenient and profitable. Firstly, the war here was politically easier to justify with the goals of “liberation” of their pseudo-republics. Secondly, the invaders inertially considered the local population in the east to be more favourable to them. Thirdly, there is already a solid front line and occupation control over the rear: the communications of Russian troops have become more secure and shorter. Finally, the reduction of the active section of the front allowed to concentrate more resources on it, achieving a decisive advantage over the defence forces of Ukraine.

It was primarily about dominance in the means of fire damage: in the cannon artillery and ammunition arsenals. Indeed, to move forward, the Russians resorted to the tactics of “creeping barrage,” when Ukrainian positions were blindly showered with deadly strikes, regardless of the destruction of entire cities and villages. 

Despite the heroic resistance of the defenders, the invaders one by one conquered Ukrainian cities: Kreminna and Izium in April, Popasna and Rubizhne in May, Lysychansk and Sievierodonetsk in June.

The ratio of cannon shots at that time was 1 to 10, and sometimes 1 to 20 in favour of the enemy. This gave the Rashists reason to hope to destroy our army methodically. Ukraine largely exhausted its artillery reserves, not being able to update the required volumes of barrels and ammunition of Soviet standards.

It was decided to overcome the shell hunger of the defence forces by switching to the NATO 155-mm calibre. In May, it was decided that the United States, Canada, and Australia would jointly supply 100 M777 howitzers. It was these guns that defeated the Russian troops at the crossing near Bilohorivka, where the enemy lost about 100 units of armoured vehicles. From May to June, the United States provided 36 M777 howitzers more.

The first images of howitzers M777 in Ukraine in May. Video of the Operational Command “West”

In addition, the Armed Forces of Ukraine received dozens of self-propelled artillery units of 155 mm calibre, including: CAESAR, ZUZANA, KRAB, M109. It was the appearance of Western artillery and ammunition that allowed Ukraine to fight off the Russian offensive in Donbas. 

3. Harpoon Catches Violators near Odesa  

One of the first victorious reports of the Russian Ministry of Defence in February sounded like this: “The Ukrainian Navy exists no more.” The aggressors considered the undivided domination of the Black and Azov Seas to be an important guarantee of their success in Ukraine.

This allowed them to blockade ports, shell coastal positions, and plan amphibious operations. The Russians testified to the seriousness of their intentions by seizing Snake Island in February. Odesa and Odesa Oblast were in the zone of special danger of landing of enemy troops.

The self-esteem of Putin’s corsairs sank abruptly along with the flagship cruiser Moskva in April. 

Finally, it was possible to change the situation in the Black Sea in the middle of the year after arming the coastal defence forces with the American Harpoon anti-ship missiles. On June 17, this weapon sank the tug of the Black Sea Fleet “Vasily Bekh,” which provided the occupation garrison on Snake Island. Further methodical shelling of the island made it impossible for the Russians to maintain it.

Having made another “gesture of goodwill” and leaving the Ukrainian land and territorial waters, Moscow was forced to agree to a grain deal, which significantly weakened the naval blockade.

Approximate areas of coverage of the water area by the Harpoon Coastal Defence System, based on theoretically possible launch areas. Illustration by defence-ua.com

4. High-precision missiles stop the onslaught of fire

After almost a month of hesitation, in mid-June, the USA decided to transfer weapons to Ukraine, which significantly strengthened Ukrainian firepower and changed the game on the battlefield. Ukraine received the first HIMARS systems at the end of June. 

It was this weapon that became crucial in July. Dozens and possibly hundreds of munitions depots, military bases and command posts of the occupiers were destroyed thanks to this MLRS. Ukraine gained a significant advantage, easily hitting rear targets at a depth of 40-80 km from the front line.

MLRS HIMARS

The most important fact is that Russian MLRS are not even slightly comparable to the Western MLRS in terms of high accuracy, and therefore in terms of effectiveness. HIMARS guarantees a 98% probability of directly hitting a 10 m target at a distance of up to 80 km.

At the beginning of 2023, the Russians are already firing significantly fewer shells every day than they did in the first months of the war. The reason is that the huge warehouses of ammunition, which were created by the invaders in the front-line zone, have now been destroyed by well-aimed shots via HIMARS. And this means that the Russian tactic of “volley fire” is now problematic.

Another example of a creative approach was the adaptation at the end of the summer of the American AGM-88 HARM anti-radar aircraft missile for use from Su-27 fighters. This way, enemy air defence systems suffer significant losses.

5. Locked skies

The response to the transition of the Russians to a campaign of terrorist attacks against critical infrastructure was the replenishment of the Ukrainian anti-aircraft and anti-missile defence with Western models.

A few days after the mass strike on October 10, we received the MIM-23 Hawk anti-aircraft missile complex. In autumn, Ukraine also received the first NASAMS and IRIS-T systems, which have already proven to be highly effective against cruise missiles. 

In the first months after the invasion, Ukraine’s air defence deflected about 20-30% of Russian missiles, but as of early 2023, this figure had reached 60-75%.

The “icing on the cake” was the announcement in December of the transfer of the Patriot air defence system battery to Ukraine, which was discussed during President Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington. Currently, the delivery of two Patriot batteries, one of which is set to be transferred by Germany, with 8 launches in each, is in the talks. According to Mykhailo Podoliak, adviser to the head of the Office of the President, the Patriot air defence system will be on combat duty in Ukraine as soon as in mid-spring this year.

So far, due to their scarcity, the American SAMs cannot resolve all the problems. However, the delivery of such complex weapons attests to trust that Ukraine has earned, which gives us hope for the transfer of more batteries in the future.

Meanwhile, the winter campaign to destroy Ukraine’s critical infrastructure with missiles and drones, which was the calling card of Russian military commander Surovikin, seems to have failed. This is evidenced by the latest personnel decisions regarding this “General Armageddon.”

6. Training in Europe 

Military exercises and training abroad are important, because they allow not only to adopt the experience and knowledge of allies, but also to do it safely, considering that the entire territory of Ukraine is within the range of enemy missiles and drones.

On July 21, the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine announced that in the coming months, training of about 10,000 Ukrainians would take place under the leadership of the UK Armed Forces. Today, these soldiers are already applying the acquired knowledge and skills on the battlefield. 

On October 17, the EU Council of Ministers for Foreign Affairs adopted a formal decision to launch the Military Assistance Mission (EUMAM Ukraine), the main goal of which is to develop the military capabilities of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. 

In November, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, said, “15,000 Ukrainian soldiers will undergo training in various EU member states. It will be a great effort to restore and improve the capabilities of the Ukrainian army“.

Ukraine’s ambassador to the UK Vadym Prystaiko reported that starting from January 1, 2023, 19,200 more soldiers and officers of the Armed Forces of Ukraine will undergo training on the territory of the UK.

7. Tanks and armoured vehicles are a harbinger of a counteroffensive 

In January 2023, it was reported that in the new tranche of American aid, a special focus is put on transferring armoured vehicles to Ukraine. As in the previous stages, this is the response of the partners to the practical needs and requests of Ukraine. 

In a December interview, the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Ukraine Valerii Zaluzhnyi said, “I know that I can defeat the enemy. But I need 300 tanks, 600-700 IFVs, 500 howitzers. Then, in my opinion, it is quite realistic to reach the borders as of February 23.”

The US has already announced that it would give Ukraine 50 of its Bradley IFVs with 500 TOW anti-tank missiles, 100 M113 armoured personnel carriers, 55 MRAP armoured vehicles, and 138 HMMWV transporters.  In early January 2023, Germany announced the transfer of the Marder IFVs to Ukraine. France joined the partners by promising to share their rather particular AMX-10 RC “wheeled tanks.”

Tanks and armoured vehicles have already been delivered to Ukraine before, in particular, American M113 armoured personnel carriers. In addition, our country received over 300 Т-72 tanks and their analogues and Soviet planes, including 18 Su-25, from allies. Almost all Soviet tanks that remained in service with neighbouring countries were handed over to us. Today, on the other hand, the discussion is already about Ukraine receiving Western tanks, which, experts hope, will be able to ensure a qualitative advantage on the battlefield like HIMARS did back in the day.

On January 11, Poland was the first to announce the decision to transfer 14 modern Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Germany also stated that it was ready to supply Leopard tanks to Ukraine, but only when other NATO members agree to it. According to Sky News, in addition, the Armed Forces can count on British Challenger 2 main battle tanks.

Leopard 2 tank, image by: Ukrinform

The prospect of a large-scale counteroffensive by the Armed Forces of Ukraine largely depends on NATO’s readiness to supply Ukraine with its modern tanks. For a long time, the alliance maintained a taboo on this issue, but, judging by the situation, the decision to provide tanks to Ukraine has finally been made. Gradually, the question of the famous American Abrams is also getting raised, although so far, US officials are quite reserved about this idea.

***

On January 11, Secretary General of NATO Jens Stoltenberg commented on the conversation with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, pointing out that “Time is of the essence. We must quickly provide more modern weapons,” which is required for the “vital support which NATO allies provide to Ukraine in its brave fight against the Russian invasion. 

40 countries and the products of more than 130 companies are already involved in the military support of Ukraine. We are receiving the weapons of all 10 largest Western weapons manufacturers, according to the Defence News rating. Thus, the Ukrainian army is the world leader in the speed and intensity of mastering new technologies. 

The war with Ukraine, among other things, significantly undermined the position of the Soviet military-industrial complex inherited by Russia: it may have entered the final stage of its history.

After the collapse of the USSR, the Russian (and wider post-Soviet) military industry became critically dependent on supplies of equipment that it does not manufacture, in particular, on Western electronics. Sanctions largely blocked the possibilities for its development. Currently, the existing arsenals are being actively depleted and physically disposed of during the war. Eastern Europe will get rid of its Soviet tanks, planes and missiles, giving them to Ukraine. Former large customers, such as India, Pakistan or Egypt, have an opportunity to see the dubious quality of Russian weapons. And it is not that easy to buy something from Russia these days, considering how much it needs by itself.

Ukraine is rapidly giving up the old weapons, largely having no other choice, and is transitioning to the long-dreamt-of NATO standards. But in the end, all former “clients” of the Soviet military industry have to go through this path.

Centre for Strategic Communication and Information Security

The media version of the material is available on the Glavkom website

Total
0
Shares

Related Posts