A top Russian defense expert said that the supply of US-made M1 Abrams to Ukraine would add to the difficulties of the Russian military in Ukraine, as the M1 tank outperforms all of Russia’s serial-production tanks.
Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, a Russian think tank, believes that the deliveries of Abrams tanks to Ukraine can seriously aggravate the situation at the front on the battlefield for the Russians.
“M1A2 SEP v.2/3 tanks are today the best in the world regarding the combination of combat potential. Even in export versions, the Abrams M1A2 SEP v.2 variant significantly outperforms any Russian production tank (the newest is the T-90M, the Armata has not yet gone into a large series),” Pukhov was quoted as saying by the Russian newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.
Pukhov explained that the ammunition currently being used by the Russian tanks mainly comprises old Soviet shells which can defeat the Ukrainian T-64s, T-72s, and T-80s at relatively short distances.
However, the introduction of “Western tanks with powerful guns, modern armor-piercing shells, and fire control systems can lead to a sharp increase in the distances of tank battles.” The Russian military may find itself at a disadvantage in such a situation.
“In such a duel, we may find ourselves in disadvantageous conditions,” Pukhov said.
Pukhov further said that Russia’s inventory of anti-tank missiles lacks the modern third-generation anti-tank missile systems similar to Javelins that have been devastating Russian tanks.
He added that while Russia does have powerful Kornet laser-guided missiles, they are few in number, and most of the anti-tank missiles are Soviet-era Fagot and Konkur models.
Nevertheless, Pukhov maintains that a mere “30-50 Abrams tanks are unlikely to affect the situation in the operational sense.” Still, if Ukraine gets around 200 or 300 tanks and correctly uses them, they can become “a significant operational factor.”
According to Pukhov, the West’s aim behind providing Ukraine with a limited number of weapons is essentially the exhaustion and gradual “grinding” of Russian forces and not precisely a “decisive Ukrainian victory.”
Russia Suffering Losses
So far, the US has pledged 31 M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine, while Britain has agreed to send 14 Challenger-2s, which are expected to arrive by the end of March.
Meanwhile, Germany and Poland have also pledged 14 Leopard-2 tanks, together with several other European countries that have also promised to supply a small number of Leopard 2s and some Russian-designed and locally modified T-72 tanks.
It is essential to consider that even without these tanks, the Ukrainians have managed to inflict massive losses on the Russian armor. The Russian Army has reportedly lost over 1700 main battle tanks (MBTs) as per the latest figures compiled by the military tracking blog Oryx based on visual confirmations.
However, the actual figures could be much higher.
However, most of these Russian tanks have not been destroyed by Ukrainian tanks but rather by Ukraine’s drone-assisted artillery fires and infantry forces armed with anti-tank missiles.
Apart from that, the Russian Army is to be blamed for its poor tactics and lack of coordination between its armored units and the infantry, artillery, and airpower. This general lack of combined arms approach by the Russian Army is a critical factor that helps explain the poor performance of the Russian armor.
If the Russian Army had first attempted to secure urban terrain with adequate infantry and other airborne reconnaissance assets, the Ukrainian troops might not have found it so easy to get into good positions for ambushing Russian armored columns.
This also applies to the American M1 Abrams, designed to fight as part of a combined-arms team of tanks, infantry, artillery, and aircraft connected by a good communications network.
So, for example, when poorly trained Saudi troops employed export versions of the M1 in Yemen, even the Abrams suffered heavy losses at the hands of Iran-backed Houthi rebels, as was witnessed through several videos posted by the Yemeni insurgent group, which show the M1A2 being devastated by simple anti-tank weapons.
In the video below, a Saudi M1A2 can be seen getting wrecked by the Tosun anti-tank guided missile (ATGM), an Iranian-built variant of the Soviet-designed 9M113 Konkurs ATGM, which relies on a trailing wire system for guidance.
M1 Abrams tank was hit in Yemen by a very basic Iranian-built Tosun anti-tank guided missile.pic.twitter.com/7tqaTkxne3
— Sk Boz Phd (@ProfessorBoz) January 24, 2023
In several such videos posed by the Houthis, one thing that stands out is that the destroyed tanks are unprotected without any infantry support.
Notably, the United States began combined-arms training for Ukrainian troops in January in Germany, where they are being trained in the combined use of artillery, armor, and ground forces so that they are better able to move and coordinate their company- and battalion-size units in battle, and hence, will be better prepared to mount an offensive or counter any Russian offensive.
The training program aims to get a battalion of about 500 Ukrainian troops back on the Ukrainian battlefields in the next few weeks to fight the Russians.
Ukraine Repeating Russian Mistakes?
Logistics is another problem that Russian armored units face in Ukraine, something that even the Ukrainians must watch out for.
Russians launched a massive multi-pronged assault on Ukraine, creating several long supply lines vulnerable to Ukrainian interdiction. Therefore, several lost Russian tanks were captured or abandoned because their crew was left without fuel or spares.
The same thing could play out even in the case of the Ukrainians, who are sourcing a diverse range of tank types from its Western partners, including the British Challenger 2, the American M1 Abrams, German Leopard-2s and Leopard-1s, and the French Leclerc and AMX-10 RC.
Ukrainian military experts point out that the Ukrainian crews would receive training for maintenance and repair of these various models, which would help in the case of minor breakdowns and if the necessary parts are available.
However, in the case of complex issues, the equipment will have to be sent either to a manufacturer or to a country where appropriate logistics centers are available.
So, while the Leopards and Abrams could be serviced in Poland, the Challenger-2s will have to be sent to the UK.
For instance, the British Challenger-2s use the 120mm L30A1 gun, which unlike the Abrams and the Leopards, is not smooth-bore but a rifle and uses non-NATO-unified split-loading ammo, meaning this could even cause problems in terms of the supply of ammunition.
Another example is the M1 Abrams, powered by complex gas turbine engines that consume a lot of fuel. In contrast, most Western tanks, such as the Leopard-2s, Challenger-2s, and Leclercs, and Ukraine’s Soviet-era tank types use more conventional diesel engines.
While the T-64 and T-80 series, in particular, produced in Ukraine, also have gas turbine engines, the later variants and derivatives of the T-80, including Ukraine’s modernized T-84 Oplot, switched to diesel engines that were easier and less expensive to maintain.
Ukraine cannot afford these logistical problems when the Russian military targets its repair facilities, potentially affecting the combat capability of the Ukrainian armed forces on the ground.
The Russian military claimed to have struck Malyshev Plant in Kharkiv on February 12, which is said to be Ukraine’s tank repair facility. This plant and nearby areas in Kharkiv have repeatedly come under Russian attacks since the onset of Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine in February 2022.
“Disabling military infrastructure is the number one task. Ukraine cannot produce equipment now, but it is trying to repair and restore it at repair enterprises. The same Malyshev Plant is a huge production. We are trying to find and destroy these objects, so they must drag equipment to the West for repairs,” said Russian military expert Vladislav Shurygin.