What if the hardest part is yet to come? After being relieved to see Westerners (finally) give him heavy tanks as a gift, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has faced the logistical headache these vehicles present. Both for their delivery and for their maintenance.
If we know how many tanks are offered to Ukraine – one hundred, Washington sent, in particular, 31 Abrams tanks, Berlin – 14 Leopards – it is still unknown when they will arrive on the territory of Ukraine. Officially, the UK expects to deliver its Challenger 2 tanks by the end of March. Germany guarantees that this will be done in late March/early April for its Leopard 2, a model that Kyiv has made a priority. And for good reason: it is the most common in Europe. And therefore it is the easiest to obtain and, above all, to maintain.
Train, preferred transport for tanks
The best solution would be for countries willing to contribute to send mainly 2A4 tanks, “for training and logistical reasons“By facilitating, for example, the dispatch of spare parts,” explained former army inspector General Bruno Kasdorf. “In Germany, the Rheinmetall weapons group, which supplies the tank gun and its electronic systems, has already indicated that it can supply a total of 139 Leopard tanks.
If armored trucks exist, they can only move one tank, or even two at a time. And they should be used only on the last kilometers, at the front line. Hence the invaluable use of trains since the beginning of the war. Ukrzaliznytsia (UZ), the equivalent of SNCF in Ukraine, has allowed the transport of more than four million refugees and 300,000 tons of humanitarian aid. But also military equipment, especially in Lvov, a large western city that has become a center of Western aid.
“Giving all that equipment away is one thing, using it is another.
Also in the process, most of the tanks should join the conflict zone. Time is needed here too: if France has not yet given the green light to send Leclerc, it nonetheless sent a few to Romania in October to bolster NATO’s presence. This gives an idea of the complexity of these trips. Because of their width and weight—the Leclerc tank and its armored personnel carrier weigh about 100 tons—it took seven to eight days for these exceptional convoys to travel by train to Chinku.
In addition to the difficulties of transporting tanks, their maintenance also raises questions. As well as the ability of Ukrainians to quickly use it. “The training of Ukrainian crews should quickly begin in Germany.”assured the German government on Wednesday. “In addition to training, the package will also include logistics, ammunition and systems maintenance.”
However, the task remains challenging. “Giving all that equipment away is one thing, using it is another.“, a US military source told AFP. If the Ukrainian army isn’t starting from scratch – it had a fleet of almost 900 Soviet-built tanks before Feb. 24 – the Leopard 2 and other Challengers are harder to understand. “Soviet tanks are super rustic, there are fewer electronics on board. Given the variety of promised Western tanks and armored personnel carriers, this can be a logistical headache for them,” the French cavalry officer warned.
Colin Kahl, number 3 at the Pentagon, also expressed his concerns on January 19: “The Abrams tank is a very complex technique. It is expensive, requires complex training, it has a jet engine. I think it consumes 11 liters of kerosene per kilometer.” “Not the easiest system to maintain“, he added … before clarifying that a change in the American position is not ruled out. A week later, Washington did change its tone.