w/e 27th January 2023
There has been much rejoicing mixed with a sense of relief that the USA and Germany have agreed to send main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine. Although the numbers are relatively small – about 14 Leopards from the Germans initially with the promise of more to come, plus 31 M1 Abrams from the USA – together with the 14 Challenger 2s already promised by the UK, they will be a welcome addition to Ukraine’s tank fleet. The hope is, of course, that other countries will now feel enabled to join in.
This is good news and will allow Ukraine to sustain its struggle against the Russian invaders. But before the UkrAF are able to contemplate mounting a proper strategic offensive to throw their enemy out of their territory, some other military equipment which Zelensky has been asking for also needs to be sent to Ukraine.
Most important of all is the provision of modern military aircraft, including fast jets and attack helicopters. Ukraine’s air force presently fields mainly Russian-built models and is heavily outnumbered by its enemy’s inventory. Being able to secure at least local superiority is an essential prerequisite for the sort of armoured manoeuvre warfare that would come with a spring or summer offensive.
The obvious candidate to boost the Ukrainian fast jet force is the American F-16 Fighting Falcon. This is a single-engine, highly manoeuverable, supersonic, multi-role tactical fighter aircraft, smaller and lighter than many competitors but widely available and sold by the US to at least twenty-five other countries. It is exactly the right ‘plane for Ukraine.
Also required by the UkrAF are more long range, precision, artillery and missile systems. The obvious candidate here is the US ATACMS missile, which has a 300 kilometre range and would allow Ukraine to inderdict, for example, the bridge across the Kerch Strait between Russia and Crimea with great accuracy. An additional advantage here is that it can be launched from the GMLRS and HIMARS equipment already in service with the UkrAF.
Whether the USA will mirror Germany’s decision to send Leopard 2 tanks and allow the transfer of F-16s and ATACMS to Ukraine remains to be seen, but they would undoubtedly help bolster UkrAF capabilities ahead of the expected spring offensive.
Lt Col Stuart Crawford’s latest book Tank Commander (Hardback) is available now