Russia vs West tank fight next phase of Ukraine war

Recent developments in the Ukraine war may soon lead to massive, armored clashes in the embattled country’s east, foreshadowing encounters that had been expected in the early phases of the conflict.

In a significant escalation of Western support for Ukraine, BBC reported that the UK has pledged to send 14 Challenger 2 tanks to the embattled country, alongside 30 AS90 155 mm self-propelled guns. According to the report, the latest military aid package shows “the UK’s ambition to intensify support.”

If the deliveries are made, the UK will be the first Western country to send tanks to Ukraine, which may encourage other NATO members such as Germany, to send Leopard 2 tanks.

However, Euronews reported that Germany could send Leopard 2 tanks in 2024 at the earliest, with German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall stating that it will need a confirmed order to begin repairing some of its 350 stockpiled Leopard 2 units for Ukraine.

Also, in a significant shakeup of Russia’s war leadership, last week independent media outlet Meduza reported that Russian Army General Staff Chief Valery Gerasimov had been named the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine, replacing Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces General Sergey Surovikin, who will now serve as the former’s deputy.

The report cited a statement by the Russian Ministry of Defense that says that the leadership shift is a response to the increased tasks the Russian military seeks to solve and to ensure closer cooperation between various military branches.

Russian state media outlet TASS reported last December that a batch of Russia’s newest T-90M Proryv-3 tanks had arrived for action in Ukraine. TASS notes that the tank is the most advanced variant of the T-90, which is derived from the Soviet-era T-72. The report notes that upon arrival the tank crews would practice gunnery and vehicle control, after which they would join combat operations.

These developments may be in preparation for Russian large-scale armored operations in Dnipropetrovsk following the capture of Soledar and Bakhmut in the Donbas after a protracted and bloody siege.

As noted by Jean-Philippe Lefief in Le Monde this week, capturing Soledar would cut off Ukrainian supplies from reaching Bakhmut. Moreover, Lefief mentions that once Soledar and Bakhmut are captured, Russia can pursue offensive operations to take Sloviansk, a town critical to its plans to consolidate control over the Donbas region.

The capture of Sloviansk could pave the way for Russian offensive operations in the adjacent Dnipropetrovsk, which Russia bombarded during the start of the war but has been spared ground fighting and remains under Ukrainian control.

Dnipropetrovsk’s steppe region has significant features that make it ideal for large-scale armored maneuvers. Its vast open grassland spaces without tall vegetation or notable topographical features give it long lines of sight and huge maneuver space conducive for tank warfare, which until now has been largely absent in the Ukraine war, despite Russia and Ukraine fielding significant numbers of Soviet-era tanks.

The shift from Gerasimov to Surovikin as his deputy may imply preparations for intensified combined arms warfare, emphasizing airpower supporting ground forces. In 1977, Gerasimov graduated from the Kazan Higher Tank Command School and rose quickly. Surovikin is the mastermind of Russia’s air campaign in Syria that turned that civil war in favor of President Bashar Al-Assad.

Just as the Ukraine war has become a testbed for both Western and Russian military doctrines, tactics, and technologies, tank combat in Dnipropetrovsk may become a proving ground for the latest Western and Russian tank designs.

As noted by the British Army, the Challenger 2 is designed to destroy other tanks, and up to now, it claims no unit has been destroyed by enemy action.

In line with that, Rheinmetall notes that the Challenger 2 is armed with an L30 rifled tank gun capable of firing sabot and high-explosive squash head (HESH) rounds for demolition and anti-tank purposes.

For secondary armament, the source mentions that the tank is armed with a 7.62 mm coaxial chain gun and a 7.62 mm pintle-mounted machine gun. It also states that the tank is protected by second-generation Chobham armor, which can withstand direct hits from the T-72’s 125 mm main gun.

Rheinmetall mentions that the tank has thermal sights for both the tank commander and gunner, providing “hunter-killer” capability wherein both crewmembers can track two separate targets simultaneously and is powered by a 12-cylinder, 1,200-horsepower Perkins diesel engine.

Against Challenger 2, Global Security notes that Russia’s T-90M Proryv-3 is intended to be a stopgap design until the T-14 Armata can be produced sufficiently for the Russian Army.

The Global Security report notes that the T-90M Proryv-3 has the same 125 mm 2A82-1M gun as the T-14 Armata, featuring an extended barrel and a new fire control system.

It is reportedly capable of firing sabot rounds, the Telnik high-explosive remote-detonated shell and gun-launched Sprinter anti-tank missile for use against targets beyond the main gun’s effective range and attack helicopters.

The same report notes the tank’s secondary armament is a remote-controlled 12.7 mm Kord heavy machine gun and a 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun. Regarding protection, the T-90M Proryv-3 follows the philosophy that the best defense is not to get hit in the first place.

The Global Security report also notes that the tank is protected by Relikt explosive reactive armor (ERA), which destroys enemy projectiles a meter away from the tank’s hull armor, slat armor on the lower part of the turret and rear, and features reduced radar visibility.

As with the Challenger, the T-90M has thermal sights and hunter-killer capability. Interestingly, the military blog Cate’s Research Investigation Bureau (CRIB) notes that the T-90M Proryv-3 is equipped with the PNM-T thermal sight, which replaces older Sosna-U sights that use French-made components, which are mounted on older T-72B3M and T-90M units.

This development may aim to reduce Russia’s reliance on Western military technology, which the Ukraine war surprisingly revealed.