The United States, Germany and more Western allies are poised to join Britain in sending heavy tanks to Ukraine in a move that could prove a gamechanger in Kyiv’s war effort.
Washington is sending 31 of its fast-moving M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, while Berlin will initially supply at least 14 Leopard 2 tanks and give permission to other NATO countries – including Poland, Finland and Denmark – to deliver their own to Kyiv.
Britain was the first NATO country to announce it would send 14 next-generation battle tanks to Ukraine in the form of the Challenger 2 tanks.
And French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday that he asked his defence minister to ‘work on’ the idea of sending some of France’s Leclerc battle tanks to Ukraine.
Ukraine has been struggling to gain an advantage after battlefield successes as they have the same Soviet-era T-72 tanks that Russia has – meaning a delivery of Western tanks could be a gamechanger for Kyiv after 11 months at war.
Kyiv has pleaded for months for Western tanks that it says it needs to give its forces the firepower and mobility to break through Russian defensive lines and recapture territory.
Here MailOnline looks at how the West’s tanks measure up against Russia’s and what this might mean for Ukraine’s war effort.
Germany’s 55-ton Leopard 2 tank combines aspects of firepower, protection, speed and maneuverability – making it adaptable to many types of combat situations.
The tank’s manufacturer, Krauss-Massei Wegmann, has touted it as ‘the world’s leading battle tank’ with a 120mm smooth bore gun and a fully-digital fire-control system.
The £5million tank has a crew of four and a range of 342 miles as well as top speeds of about 45 miles per hour (68km/h). Now with four main variants, its earliest version first came into service in 1979.
Germany’s 55-ton Leopard 2 tank combines aspects of firepower, protection, speed and maneuverability – making it adaptable to many types of combat situations
The Leopard 2 is also diesel-powered – not driven by jet fuel that powers America’s M1 Abrams – and is easier to operate than the big US tanks, and thus has has shorter training times, military analysts say.
Rheinmetall AG, a German defense contractor that makes the 120mm smoothbore gun on the Leopard 2, says the tank has been deployed by ‘more nations than any other’, with 3,500 units being supplied to 19 countries. More than 2,000 of those have been sent to over a dozen European countries and Canada.
It is this sheer number of Leopard tanks that has meant they are seen as the best option for Ukraine – as they would be easily deployable to Ukraine.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that three to six weeks of training would be needed for operating crews and support staff to reach basic proficiency.
Ralf Raths, director of the Panzer Museum in Munster, Germany, said experienced Ukrainian tank crews would likely be able to learn to use the Leopard 2 fairly quickly, and training could be shortened to focus on essential knowledge.
Western deliveries of Leopard 2s could help equip Ukraine with needed high-caliber munitions to replace its own dwindling Soviet-era stockpiles, opening a new avenue for supplies of Western firepower to get to Ukraine, Yohann Michel, a research analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said.
The US is expected to send its M1A2 Abrams tank to Ukraine in the coming weeks to help with their war-effort.
The £5million tank is equipped with a 120mm smooth bore cannon which is loaded manually by one of the four crew members and has a range of effective fire in excess of 2.5 miles (4km).
The 26-ft long tank also has a target acquisition system with hunter-killer capability as well as two 7.62 machine guns and another 12.7mm machine gun.
The US is expected to send its M1A2 Abrams tank to Ukraine in the coming weeks to help with their war-effort
The tank is also well-protected against all-known anti-tank weapons as it has Chobham composite armour, which is made up of steel and uranium.
The 71-ton Abrams tank, which was first produced in 1990, also has a range of 265 miles as well as a top speed of about 42mph. Its also features caterpillar tracks which helps it perform well as it moves across country.
But the tank, which is powered by jet fuel, is considered less suitable than the Germany’s Leopard 2 and the UK’s Challenger 2 tanks due to its high fuel consumption and maintenance needs.
Colin Kahl, the Pentagon’s top policy adviser, said last week the Abrams tank is a ‘very complicated piece of equipment’. He added that it’s expensive and hard to train on.’
A decision on whether to send the fearsome tanks to Ukraine could be announced as soon as Wednesday, though it could take months or years for the tanks to be delivered.
US officials said details are still being worked out.
One said the tanks would be bought under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides longer-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased from commercial vendors.
Britain announced it would deploy 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks and train Ukrainian troops to use them.
The £5million Challenger 2, with a 120mm rifled gun and a 7.62mm machine gun, is a battle tank designed to attack other tanks.
It is the UK’s only guaranteed 24-hour, all-weather mobile tank with protected precision direct fire and anti-tank manoeuvre capability, the British army says.
Britain announced it would deploy 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine in the coming weeks and train Ukrainian troops to use them
An earlier version of the tank claimed the longest-distance tank kill in history, with the war machine destroying an Iraqi tank from three miles away during the Gull War.
The 27ft-long Challenger 2 has a crew of four and a range of 340 miles on-road and 160 miles off road.
However, it has a top speeds of about 37mph (59km), meaning it is slightly slower than Germany’s Leopard tank.
The 75-ton Challenger 2 has been described by British military commanders as a modern tank which is ‘much better protected, more reliable and quicker’ than Russia’s Soviet-era tanks.
The diesel-powered tank, which weighs 62.5 tonnes, has been in service with the British Army since 1994 and has been deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and Iraq.
Ukrainian President Zelensky has sent his thanks to the UK for providing his country with the much-needed battle tanks.
Zelensky tweeted at the time: ‘Always strong support of the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges.
‘In a conversation with the Prime Minister, I thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.’
France’s £14 million Leclerc main battle tank features a 120mm smoothbore tank gun, which is 52 calibre long, as well as 12.7mm and 7.62mm machine guns.
The fearsome 63-ton tank is said to be able to engage six targets, located around 2km away, within one minutes with a hit probability of 95 per cent, according to Military Today.
A French Leclerc tank of the 501th Tank Regiment based in Mourmelon-le-Grand, takes part in a drill on a shooting field in Suippes, north-eastern France, on December 6, 2018
The 32-ft long Leclerc tank, which was first produced in 1990, is operated by three personnel: a tank commander, gunner and pilot.
It features advanced protection against mines and rockets with a modular armour system, which can be tailored to the threat.
The armour is made up of a combination of steel, ceramics and Kevlar.
The tank, powered by an 8-cylinder diesel engine, has a maximum speed of 44mph and a range of 342 miles.
The tank is also fitted with a battlefield management system, which allows commanders to know the tank’s location and the amount of ammunition and fuel they have left.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday that he had asked his defense minister to ‘work on’ the idea of sending some of the battle tanks to Ukraine.
France will make its tank decision based on three criteria, Macron said: that sharing the equipment does not lead to an escalation of the conflict, that it would provide efficient and workable help when training time is taken into account, and that it wouldn’t weaken France’s own military.
In a joint declaration with Germany, the two countries committed to their ‘unwavering support’ for Ukraine.
RUSSIAN T-90 AND SOVIET-ERA T-72
Russia, as well as Ukraine, have relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which have been destroyed in their hundreds in 11 months of fighting.
The 45-ton tank, which has a range of 290 miles, is equipped with a 125mm smooth bore gun as well as a 7.62mm machine gun and a 12.7mm machine gun which are mounted on top of the roof.
The T-72, which was produced in 1973 and has three crew, is less agile than the Leopard 2 and other similar Western tanks because it can’t reverse at speed.
Russia, as well as Ukraine, have relied primarily on Soviet-era T-72 tanks (pictured), which have been destroyed in their hundreds in 11 months of fighting
Ralf Raths, director of the Panzer Museum in Munster, Germany, said: ‘Imagine a boxer who cannot move freely in the ring, but only in one direction.
‘The other boxer, who can move in all directions, has a big advantage and that it is the case with the Leopards.’
The T-72 is by far the most common battle tank Russia has in operation in Ukraine but Moscow does have more advanced tanks in existence.
Russia has deployed around 1,000 of its advanced T-90 tank in Ukraine, compared to around 5,000 T-72s.
The £4million T-90 is supposed to be one of the best tanks in the world, and has upgraded armour and missile protection systems compared to the T-72 which make it harder to destroy – at least in theory.
Pictured: A Ukrainian serviceman walks next to a destroyed Russian main battle tank T-90M Proryv, in Staryi Saltiv in the Kharkiv region on May 9
Since Russia invaded, countless T-90M Russian tank have been destroyed by rocket launchers and Javelin anti-tank guided missiles.
Russia may deploy its most advanced tank – the T-14 Armata – to Ukraine but this is likely to be a high-risk decision for Vladimir Putin, British intelligence chiefs said in a briefing last week.
The tank has been in development for 11 years and the programme has been dogged with delays, reduction in planned fleet size and reports of manufacturing problems, Britain’s Ministry of Defence said.
The T-14 would also pose a logistical headache for Russia as it is larger and heavier than other Russian tanks.
The MoD said even if Russia does deploy the tank, it will ‘primarily for propaganda purposes’ as commanders are ‘unlikely to trust the vehicle in combat’.
Russia may deploy its most advanced tank – the T-14 Armata (pictured in a 2019 military parade in Moscow’s Red Square)- to Ukraine but this is likely to be a high-risk decision for Vladimir Putin, British intelligence chiefs said in a briefing last week