The delivery of Leopard and Abrams tanks to Ukraine, a “logistical challenge”

The delivery of Leopard and Abrams tanks to Ukraine, a "logistical challenge"

Germany on Thursday announced a first delivery of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine between “late March and early April”. This does not mean that the Ukrainian forces at the front will be able to use them already this spring. The delivery of these long-awaited tanks to Ukraine is only the first step in a very complex and long journey to bring them to the front.

Berlin and Washington have reached an agreement in principle. Now there is the practical work: how to get the German and American heavy armored vehicles to the Ukrainian front as quickly and safely as possible. As Volodimir Zelensky recalled in his speech on January 25, Ukraine needs these reinforcements without delay to counter the next Russian offensive, scheduled for this spring. Germany mentioned a delivery window of “late March to early April.”

Until now, Western countries have managed to deliver tens of billions of dollars worth of military equipment without any problems. “Officially, Russia has never managed to attack a weapons convoy in what military experts describe as a cat-and-mouse game that Ukraine is winning,” the US media ‘The New York Times’ said in an article published on wednesday january 25.

Machines that hardly go unnoticed

But the Leopard 2 tanks promised by Germany, like the American Abrams, have been designated priority targets for Moscow to destroy. “They will burn,” warned Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Huge machines, weighing more than 55 tons, hardly go unnoticed on Ukrainian roads. “It’s a real logistical challenge,” said Jeff Hawn, a specialist on Russian military issues and an outside adviser to the New Lines Institute, a US geopolitical think tank.

The details of this operation are among “the best kept secrets of this war,” says ‘The New York Times’. First of all, you have to decide the place of delivery of the deposits. “For security reasons, the delivery into Ukrainian hands will probably take place in a European NATO country neighboring Ukraine (Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia),” says Jeff Hawn. Certainly the Americans or the Germans will not want to risk exposing their men to a possible Russian attack on Ukrainian soil.

Once the Ukrainian army has taken over the Leopard 2s and Abrams, it will have to find its own way of bringing these tanks to the front lines. And with ultra-modern tanks, it’s not just a matter of getting behind the wheel and driving to the Donbass. “The German Leopard 2s are a bit easier to drive and maintain because their design is closer to what the Ukrainians have already used. But with the Abrams tanks, it’s a whole new electronic environment, with a very specific engine and specific fuel,” summarized Jeff Hawn.

Therefore, the convoys will not only be made up of armored vehicles. They also have to have spare parts in case of technical breakdowns, fuel reserves and specially trained personnel to maintain and operate these war machines on a daily basis.

A piece of equipment that can quickly take up a lot of space and be more easily detected by the Russians. As a result, it is unlikely that the Ukrainians will send all the heavy tanks they are supposed to receive – 31 Abrams tanks and 14 Leopard 2 tanks – to the front line at once. “They’ll make groups of four to six tanks,” explains Jeff Hawn.

Railroad or highway?

Then you have to decide how to get them there. A headache. “The railway may look attractive, but the Russians know the Ukrainian railway network well and could look closely at it if they really want to destroy those tanks,” says Huseyn Aliyev, a specialist in the Ukrainian-Russian conflict at the University of Glasgow.

The highway is not a much more attractive alternative. Some roads simply cannot support the weight of these tanks. For example, “there are bridges in the Ukraine that were built to support the maximum weight of a Soviet tank, which is lighter than these new Western models,” says Huseyn Aliyev.

Therefore, the solution would probably be to use the best maintained main roads, which are also the most exposed. Not to mention the need to mobilize flatbed trucks to transport them, because “we’re not going to run these tanks to preserve as much fuel as possible in the tank,” says Jeff Hawn.

In these circumstances, the specialists interviewed believe that there will probably be a mix of means of transport. A little by train, then by road and/or vice versa… but “always at night and with the best possible camouflage”, Huseyn Aliyev emphasizes.

Therefore, the route taken will be drawn up with the utmost care. And it is possible that the Ukrainians will establish several routes and alternate as they send the armored platoons.

In time for the spring offensive?

It is, therefore, a “very gradual process that will take a long time,” acknowledges Jeff Hawn. However, Ukraine only has a limited amount of this resource.

In the case of the Abrams, the transfer to Ukraine “may take more than a year,” according to the US military interviewed by the New York Times. But in case the armored vehicles were shipped from the United States. Fortunately for kyiv, “some of these tanks are stored in warehouses in Europe, such as Germany,” Jeff Hawn said.

In addition, you have to take into account the training time of these highly sophisticated American tanks, which can last for months. But Huseyn Aliyev is convinced that “the public announcement of the shipment of the tanks only confirms a decision that was made behind the scenes.” The training of the Ukrainians in the use of Leopards and Abrams must have started several months ago. What guarantee is there that the military equipment will arrive in time to participate in the defense against the probable spring offensive of the Russian army?

*This article is adapted from its original in French

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Written by Editor TLN

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