Ukraine’s New Strv 122 Tanks Are Crawling Toward The Front Line—And Could Widen The Counteroffensive

Jul 13, 2023

Strv 122s and an Archer howitzer in Swedish army service.

The Ukrainian army’s ex-Swedish tanks finally have appeared, possibly somewhere in Ukraine. At least six of the 62-ton Stridsvagn 122s—Swedish variants of the German-made Leopard 2A5—are visible in a video that circulated online on Wednesday.

Observers have been expecting the four-person tanks with their tungsten-and-ceramic armor, 120-millimeter smoothbore guns and high-tech fire-controls. When they finally showed up, they were wearing Barracuda camouflage netting that masks their infrared and radar signatures.

NATO-invitee Sweden in January and February announced a major arms package for Ukraine including the 10 Strv 122 tanks, 50 CV90 infantry fighting vehicles with powerful 40-millimeter autocannons and eight Archer 155-millimeter howitzers. The vehicle consignment boosted to $1.5 billion the total value of Swedish military support for Ukraine.

The ex-Swedish vehicles apparently equip a tank company, a mechanized battalion and an artillery battery within the Ukrainian army’s new 21st Mechanized Brigade. Unless it’s a very small brigade, the 21st probably also has scores of vehicles that didn’t come from Sweden.

The 21st Mechanized Brigade trained in Sweden this spring and redeployed back to Ukraine right before, or as, Ukraine’s long-anticipated 2023 counteroffensive finally kicked off in southern and eastern Ukraine on June 4.

Seven weeks into the counteroffensive, Ukrainian brigades have advanced a few miles along each of several major axes: south of Kherson city, toward Robotyne in Zaporizhzhia Oblast, along the Mokri Yaly river valley in Donetsk Oblast and south of the ruins of Bakhmut in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.

What’s weird is that the 21st Mechanized Brigade with its ex-Swedish vehicles—some of the best vehicles in the Ukrainian inventory—apparently hasn’t deployed to any of these axes. Instead, it’s inching toward the main line of contact west of Russian-occupied Kreminna in northeastern Ukraine.

We’ve seen a few videos depicting 21st Brigade drones and artillery in action, and other videos depicting the CV90s on the move—and coming under artillery fire—in the fields and woods outside Kreminna. The Strv 122s must be somewhere nearby, maneuvering into position alongside the CV90s.

Exactly what the plan is, no one outside of Kyiv and the 21st Brigade’s headquarters knows for sure. It’s possible the Ukrainian general staff aims for the 21st to fix in place Russian regiments and brigades around Kreminna so that these units can’t move south to reinforce defenses in the sectors where the Ukrainians are attacking.

It’s equally possible Ukrainian commanders expect the Russians will shift forces from Kreminna, anyway—basically inviting the 21st Mechanized to launch its own local attacks … and possibly add another axis to the Ukrainian counteroffensive. A northeastern axis.

Expect the Strv 122s to do what tanks usually do, 17 months into Russia’s wider war on Ukraine. Tank-on-tank combat is rare these days. Rather, tanks tend to roll alongside infantry fighting vehicles, firing their cannons to reduce enemy fortifications so the IFVs can advance.

In this role, the biggest danger the tank crews face is from buried TM-62 anti-tank mines. Kyiv’s allies so far have handed over 71 Leopard 2 and Strv 122 tanks. Three have been totally destroyed and another five damaged. Mines have accounted for most of the losses.

Don’t be shocked when Strv 122s also start taking hits. By the same token, don’t be shocked when the 21st Mechanized Brigade eventually runs out of ex-Swedish tanks—and has to replace them with different tank models.

That’s because Sweden produced just 120 Strv 122s through 2002 and has given away 10. The Swedish army has 11 tank companies, each with 10 tanks, so Stockholm can’t give away any more Strv 122s without disbanding existing units.

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David Axe


    • If (?) they will be in Nato they will upgrade their fleet to F-35’s, which would allow the transfer of Gripens to Ukraine.

  1. There are no plans for that, they are even buying brand new next generations Gripens.

    They are not going to buy new jets when they have a brand new fleet.

    They are cheap, reliable, upgradable and are fully compatible with most NATO missiles.

    I think they will use them for the next decades.
    They are also designed especially to counter Russian jets and have quite some tricks in its sleeve, for example electronic warfare.

    Also, they can be used on poor runways and even highways, giving them several advantages as even bombing air fields will not disable them, unlike American jets.

    They are perfect for Sweden, as they have a relatively small economy so they cannot afford a shitload of F-35’s while with their Gripens they probably have the best air force for the size of the country in the world.

    Even though the F-35 is a more advanced jet, it doesn’t give them any capabilities they need that the Gripens do not meet.

    • Fighter pilots always say, “lose the sight, lose the fight.” An F-35 can see a Gripen easily but the Gripen cannot see an F-35. I’d say that is a very important capability.

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