British Tanks, German And American Fighting Vehicles. Ahead Of A Planned Offensive, Ukrainian Paratroopers Are Bulking Up With New Weapons.

Mar 27, 2023

British-made Challenger 2 tanks, German-made Marder fighting vehicles and Stryker fighting vehicles from the United States all have arrived in Ukraine—and joined Ukraine’s elite air assault force.

The British, German and American vehicles hunker behind some paratroopers, in their distinctive maroon berets, in a photo the Ukrainian defense ministry published on Monday. The tanks and fighting vehicles “have officially joined the air assault forces,” the ministry crowed.

It might seem like nonsense—assigning 71-ton Challenger 2s and 31-ton Marders to formations that, in theory, deploy by parachute. Even the Stryker—a relatively nimble, wheeled vehicle—tips the scales at 16 tons.

But the Ukrainians know what they’re doing. The paratroopers are getting new heavy vehicles because they’re likely to need them in the coming weeks and months, when they lead Ukraine’s long-anticipated counteroffensive.

In Kyiv’s order of battle, air assault troops don’t actually travel by helicopter or airplane very often. Especially in the current war, where the Ukrainians are fighting on their own soil and where, in any event, Russian air-defenses rule out large-scale air assaults.

In Ukrainian custom, “air assault” basically means “elite.” Before Russia widened its war on Ukraine in February 2022, the (then) seven air assault brigades were the only Ukrainian brigades that always were on alert. Each brigade’s 1,400 troops were trained and equipped for major combat, and ready to deploy at a moment’s notice.

Think of Ukraine’s air assault forces as rough equivalents of the U.S. Army’s own high-readiness forces—the 82nd Airborne Divison, the 101st Air Assault Division, the 75th Ranger Regiment. Major portions of these American formations always are ready to deploy, even if they don’t deploy by airplane or helicopter.

It’s true that, before 2023, Ukraine’s air assault brigades were a bit lighter than the army’s mechanized and tank brigades were. Where a tank brigade might’ve had three tank battalions, each with around 30 diesel-powered T-64, T-72 or T-80U tanks, an air assault brigade typically had just a single company with gas-turbine T-80BV tanks.

Thanks to its multi-fuel turbine, T-80BV tends to be a bit quicker and easier to gas up than diesel-powered tanks are. The turbine tank suited the air assault brigades’ preference for moving fast over long distance and hitting hard at the targets of their choosing.

That method of fighting may have suited Ukraine’s twin counteroffensives in the south and east back in the fall of 2022. The counteroffensives punched through weak spots in Russian lines in late August and early September and, in a heady few weeks, advanced deep into occupied territory, ultimately liberating more than 2,000 square miles of Ukraine.

The expected 2023 counteroffensive might meet stiffer resistance. While they wasted much of their offensive combat power trying and failing to capture Bakhmut, Vuhledar and a few other eastern towns this winter, the Russian army and its allies also began building extensive fortifications in order to leverage their defensive combat power.

These fortifications—concrete tank-obstacles, trenches, minefields and pre-sighted artillery kill zones—now dot eastern and southern Ukraine. Many of the Russians’ surviving deployed troops—a mix of volunteers, draftees, mercenaries and Ukrainian separatists, perhaps 150,000 in all—wait behind these fortifications. Reconditioned T-62 tanks are arriving on train cars. Older T-55s might be on the way.

For all their losses while on the offensive, the Russians still can fight a defensive campaign. It’s easier to dig in and shoot at an exposed attacker than it is to advance across minefields and punch through trenches.

The Ukrainians’ best brigades almost certainly will lead the attack. The 92nd and 93rd Mechanized Brigades. The 4th Tank Brigade. And the 10 air assault brigades, include the best-of-the-best 80th Air Assault Brigade, possibly the first of the parachute units to trade its T-80BV tanks for Challenger 2s.

The Challenger 2 is a diesel tank. And with a top road speed of 37 miles per hour, it’s a bit slower than a 50-mile-per-hour T-80BV is. But a 71-ton Challenger 2 is much better protected than a 43-ton T-80 is, and the British tank with its 120-millimeter rifled gun and advanced fire-controls shoots farther and more accurately than a T-80 can do with its own, 125-millimeter smoothbore gun.

A Challenger 2 might not sprint along a highway as fast as a T-80 can do, but if you’ve got to fight your way through enemy fire and blow a hole in fortifications, you’d want the tougher tank. Even if it’s slower.

The coming fight will be a hard one. Thus it makes sense for the Ukrainian air assault forces to get heavier. If there’s a catch, it’s that the initial consignments of 14 Challenger 2s, 40 Marders and 90 Strykers are far too small to reequip all the air assault brigades. They could rearm the 80th Air Assault Brigade and perhaps part of the veteran 25th Air Assault Brigade.

But to stiffen all of its parachute units ahead of a likely counteroffensive, Kyiv would need lot more Western-made vehicles. As in, five or six times more.

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David Axe


  1. “It might seem like nonsense—assigning 71-ton Challenger 2s and 31-ton Marders to formations that, in theory, deploy by parachute.”

    I thought so, too.

    “But the Ukrainians know what they’re doing.”


    Anyway, the Challengers will certainly punch some holes into mafia defenses when the time comes, and I can’t wait to see it happen. I most certainly hope that many more Western tanks will arrive in Ukraine VERY soon.

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