The decision was applauded by Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who said the armoured vehicles — also known as “tank-killers” — were “exactly what Kyiv needed” to fight Russian aggression in the coming months.
The US and other allies are using the winter months to send large amounts of weapons and equipment that Ukraine will need when fighting heats up in the spring.
Germany is sending Ukraine around 40 Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles and France will deliver the AMX-10 RC, a high-mobility armored reconnaissance vehicle.
This is the first time that western tanks will be deployed in Ukraine.
Why are armoured vehicles being offered now?
Looking ahead to a likely spring offensive, US and Germany are sending Ukraine an array of armored vehicles to expand its ability to move troops to the front lines and beef-up its forces against Russia.
The vehicles provide a strategic war-fighting capability as the season change brings muddy terrain and Ukraine launches an aggressive campaign to recoup territory taken by Russia, particularly in the east.
The Bradleys and the 40 German Marders fit into what advanced militaries call a combined arms maneuver fight — the ability to use a wide range of ground, air and other weapons and fighting units in seamless coordination to win a battle.
A look at the Bradley armored carrier:
- The M2A2 Bradley is a medium-armored combat vehicle that has tracks rather than wheels, but is lighter and more agile than a tank.
- It can carry a crew of three and an additional five or six troops, and is seen as a critical way to move infantry squads safely into battle.
- It is generally armed with a 25 mm autocannon mounted on the top, a 7.62 mm machine gun and an anti-tank TOW missile launcher that can be used when the Bradley is stopped.
- TOW stands for “tube-launched, optically tracked, wire-guided,” which means the missile is fired only at targets that troops can actually see on the battlefield, so it is very effective in open spaces such as large fields.
- Made by BAE Systems, the Bradley weighs 80,000 pounds and can reach speeds of 61 kph.
France has pledged a similar armored vehicle called the AMX-10 RC. The wheeled high-mobility armored reconnaissance vehicle has a 105-mm gun and carries up to four people. Germany’s Marder has a 20 mm gun, and a crew of three and can carry five or six into battle.
How will the armoured vehicles help?
Ukrainian forces could fire rounds of artillery and airstrikes into a Russian stronghold, and then quickly move infantry troops in armored vehicles to the front for a ground assault to take advantage of Russia’s weakened state.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the Bradley will be helpful as the fight escalates in the eastern Donbas region, where there is “a lot of farmland, a lot of open ground”.
The decision, he said, reflects Ukraine’s current military needs, but is “also taking a look at what the fight is likely to be going forward.”
Both Russia and Ukraine have suffered heavy losses of tanks and other armored vehicles in the last 10 months, so sending the Bradleys and Marders will help offset those losses for Kyiv.
Timeline for the vehicles
US and German officials have not provided timelines for when the training would finish and how quickly the armored vehicles could arrive in Ukraine.
The Pentagon said expanded combat training of Ukrainian forces will begin this month. “The Bradley instruction will be built into the training. It will take a couple of months, basically, to get this capability fielded, to get the Ukrainians trained,” said Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia and Ukraine.
Germany has said that its vehicles should be ready to go to Ukraine in the first quarter of this year. Training for the Marder Infantry Fighting Vehicles should take around 8 weeks, said German officials.
Why no tanks?
Despite Ukraine repeatedly asking for tanks, US and other allies have resisted sending heavier, more powerful and complex armored vehicles.
America’s M1 Abrams tank, for example, carries a far more powerful gun and is more heavily armored, but weighs a lot more and uses jet fuel, rather than diesel. All of that makes it more difficult to maintain and sustain as troops are on the march.
“We absolutely agree that Ukraine does need tanks,” Cooper said, adding: “But we have to be cognizant of maintenance and sustainment considerations with tanks. And certainly we know that the Abrams tank, in addition to being a gas guzzler, is quite challenging to maintain.”
She said that is why the US partnered with the Netherlands to refurbish T-72 Soviet-era tanks that Ukrainian troops would already know how to use.
(With inputs from agencies)