Ukraine’s Weaponry Wish List for the West Now Presented to US General Mark Milley

Reuters reports Zaluzhnyi’s pushes for heavy armament supplies, as expressed in his talks with the Chairman of U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley. The previously published “wish list” of heavy weaponry Ukraine is hopping to receive includes 300 modern Western tanks, 600-700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers. For reference, NATO tank (armor) company consists of 14 main battle tanks, and heavy (armor) NATO division requires 200+ tanks.

Previously I have speculated that EU members could supply up to 100 main battle tanks in 2023 to UA. While theoretically EU alone can supply those 300 tanks, the European countries would have to significantly decrease their tank forces to do so. (There are still some hundreds of tanks in storage in Europe, but their repairs and modernization would take time and a lot of Euros.) And tanks are not easy to replace. Europe doesn’t produce any main battle tanks. US and South Korea are among the small number of Western countries with running tank production facilities. Most of European countries have been reducing their tank fleets since the end of the Cold War, with some occasional modernization programs of the tanks remaining in service. Moreover, as things are going right now, next year UA may ask for 600 tanks.

Zaluzhnyi’s request from US makes sense, because, practically speaking, only US can bring the numbers of tanks and other heavy weaponry to Ukraine’s satisfaction. Unlike EU countries, which operate hundreds of tanks each at best, US has thousands on them. If combined EU could scrub one hundreds of tanks in working condition for UA, only the US has the capacity of providing another 200 in short term. Yet, unlike EU, US legislators are more likely to block such large donations. And the US military industrial complex (MIC), while producing M1 Abrams tanks, isn’t able to quickly or cheaply ramp-up the production in order to replace them in the next couple of years.

Another point to consider is the value of Western tanks. While Soviet once were sold after 1991 for $100,000 apiece or so, the same era Western tanks are sold for millions of dollars each. Poland contracted 250 M1 Abrams tanks for ~$4.75B, meaning each unit goes for $19M (including upgrades, ammo, services etc.). If US to donate 100 similar tanks for UA, it would cost somewhere around $2B. And unlike near-end-of-life Javelins or Vietnam era M117 APCs etc., those are actually needed in the US military. So, the scheme of donating old weapons for the price of new and putting the allocated military aid budget back to the US MIC to replenish the stocks with new weapons, just won’t work because those are actually valuable, and because the military industrial complex won’t be able to replace them with new tanks fast enough.

But let’s assume EU+US would manage to donate ~200 main battle tanks to Ukraine (and I don’t count the French light tanks, since they aren’t MBTs and play a different role in war). Up until now, the West supplied UA with 400+ of upgraded Soviet vintage tanks, namely T-72 and T-55 and their clones. This did not allowed Ukraine to form new tank units for a major offensive against Russian forces. Instead, those were likely used to plug holes in heavy armor fleet, caused by the losses in the war. At the beginning of the war, UA had 800+ tanks in service and at least similar number in inoperable reserve (this is my rough estimate). During the first four months of war, Ukraine lost about 400 tanks, or about half of its initial tank fleet. This is according to UA Army General in charge of logistics. We are now closing to one year of fighting, meaning this number only grew since. The ~400 Eastern Block tanks supplied to UA could only cover a portion of their losses in armor. And there are no more Soviet tanks readily available for Ukraine. The European countries which still have them in service (e.g. Poland) need them until they could be replaced by modern tanks.

The Ukrainian reserve of tanks was significant (let’s say about 1,000 tanks), but the effect of the strikes probably made any efforts to restore them into serviceable condition unlikely, especially in significant numbers. It is possible Ukraine might send their inoperable tanks to the factories in Eastern Europe in order to restore them and be sent back to UA. Ukraine also captured some number of Russian tanks, though this number is probably in dozens, not in hundreds, as Ukraine reported. Thier serviceability is questionable. They are different enough to require specific replacement parts, unavailable for UA, since they underwent modernization programs in Russia.

On the other side of the frontline, Russia is trying to ramp up its production of modernized T-90 and to upgrade their existing T-72’s to compensate for armor lost in battles or abandoned in retreat. There are no exact numbers, but some mentions talk about 200 T-90M tanks supplied to Russian Army in 2022, which seems optimistic but not impossible. Even more tanks can be upgraded to T-72B3 or more modern variant, assuming needed components such as thermal vision, optical and electronic systems are freely available. If so, Russia has probably managed to replace its losses in armor. But the additional tanks needed for arming the newly created units are under question. My guess is Russian industry cannot supply enough at this point. This is why older tanks are being brought out of inoperable reserves, such as T-62M. Those can only receive some basic upgrades in armor plating, but probably not in new engines, cannons or optics. They would have significant disadvantage on the battlefield if put against modernized and/or more modern Eastern or Western tanks, or against anti-tank weapons. As such, they could realistically provide direct-fire support for the infantry in low intensity fighting, but not much more.

To summarize. At the beginning of the war UA had about 800 tanks in service, which is equivalent to ~4 heavy (armor) NATO divisions worth of tanks. In the first 4 or so months of the war, UA admitted losing about half of them, i.e. ~2 heavy NATO divisions worth of tanks. During the first year of war, UA was supplied ~400 tanks of Eastern Block (mainly Soviet) origin — the amount similar to their losses in the first four months. Having no more available reserves of Eastern tanks, UA is now asking for 300 modern Western tanks. My assumption is that they might have lost around this number since their last admission of tank losses. This assumption of mine is based on seemingly reduced number of losses on both sides after the first and most intense battles of the war, which were accompanied by heavy losses in heavy armament on both sides. In reality, it is more likely up to 200 main battle tanks could be supplied by the West to UA during the 2023, while these are Ukrainian actual needs right now to maintain some balance. Towards the end of 2023 Russia will probably field hundreds of new and upgraded more-or-less modern main battle tanks. While Soviet tank production capacities are unachievable for the modern Russia (especially under Rasputin’s incompetent government), 20 or so new tank a month seems realistic enough number. If so, the armor disbalance between the Russian and Ukrainian armor will continue to shift in Russian favor, despite Western tank supplies. On the other hand, NATO was asked by UA to donate 1.5 heavy divisions worth of main battle tanks, just so that Ukraine could delay the inevitable defeat for a bit longer.

And, of course, there are again talks about “shifting the tide of the war” in the mainstream media in regard to Western tanks. Like the multiple rocket launcher systems before, and the M777 howitzers before them, and the Javelin anti-tank missiles before them. While all of those had more impact on the battlefield than I had expected (mainly because of the terrible performance of the Russian MoD during and before the war), those didn’t shift any tides of war into Ukrainian favor. All they managed to do is slowing the Russian advances to the practical halt, turning the war into positional war of attrition. And any Western supplied tanks won’t “accelerate [Ukrainian] victory”, as Zaluzhnyi put it, but only delay its defeat, costing more death and destruction on both sides.


Also, there is an overview of the Western main battle tanks and other armored combat vehicles published in Moskovskiy Komsomolets newspaper. The author is Mikhail Barabanov, a Russian military expert whom I highly respect for his military knowledge and “no-nonsense” approach. He makes a quick review of the armor intended to be supplied in Ukraine. According to him, the Western main battle tanks and infantry fighting vehicles have advantage in fire-control systems over their Russian counterparts, and also equipped with weapons which are highly dangerous to Russian armor. He summarizes the article:

Briefly speaking, the Western armor supplies to Ukraine create a serious challenge for the Russian Armed Forces. It won’t be possible to fight [those tanks and IFVs] by dragging out [Russian] old junk from the storage. The growth in quality of the enemy combat vehicles requires to be met with [Russian] own quality [of armor].

And most importantly, the start of the current limited supplies of assorted Western hardware may be only a warming before the start of really significant supplies of modern US military tech, including the M1 Abrams tanks.”

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