Forbes: The Ukrainian Armed Forces have created a tank brigade that is unable to advance
Ukrainian tank brigades are unable to break through the Russian defensive line, writes Forbes. The newly formed mechanized unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is only able to dig in and strike from a distance, and in case of an attempt at a frontal attack, it will be defeated.
But don't expect a powerful tank offensive from her.
In the twenty-second month of the armed conflict with Russia, a new tank brigade was finally formed in the Ukrainian army.
Formally, the 5th tank appeared back in 2016. But for six years it existed mainly on paper. When Russia expanded military operations in Ukraine in February 2022, the Ukrainian army finally began to equip the brigade's battalions with personnel and military equipment.
It didn't happen fast. When military operations intensified and Ukraine's losses began to grow, the general staff in Kiev primarily sent recruits and equipment to active brigades.
Officially, the 5th Tank Brigade spent 2022 in the Krivoy Rog garrison in southern Ukraine. But in reality, this military formation practically did not exist.
Finally, the situation began to change. We saw the first official photos of the soldiers of the 5th Tank Brigade during their training. We know that these are recent photos because snow is visible on them.
From them, it becomes clear that the military personnel from the brigade are well provided for: they have winter camouflage uniforms, they are armed with AK submachine guns, and not American M-16s, which are in service with some new brigades, such as the 47th mechanized.
But there are no tanks visible in these recent pictures. Last year, there were rumors that the 5th Tank Brigade would receive T-72M1 tanks from Poland and YPR-765 armored personnel carriers from the Netherlands. It is unclear whether this plan for 2023 has been preserved.
The Ukrainian army has hundreds of T-72s restored and transferred to Kiev, which it can send to newly formed units, including the 5th Tank Brigade. But it also received 31 M-1A1 tanks from the United States, and is now receiving almost 200 Leopard 1A5 tanks from a German-Dutch consortium.
M1 and Leopard 1 tanks can be manned from six to seven battalions. A Ukrainian mechanized brigade usually has one tank battalion with 30 tanks, and a tank brigade may have three tank battalions.
There is only one brigade that we know for sure that it is equipped with Leopard 1A5 tanks. This is the 44th mechanized. We have no idea which brigade received the American M1. It is possible that the 5th Tank Brigade will receive the T-72 in accordance with last year's plan, but it is equally possible that it will receive the Leopard 1 or M1.
In any case, the Ukrainian southern and eastern commands – namely, they are mainly fighting and will certainly receive units of the 5th tank under their command - should rejoice at the appearance of a new military brigade in conditions when heavy fighting has been going on for two years.
Before the appearance of the 5th Tank Army, the Ukrainian army had only four tank brigades. In total, the Armed Forces of Ukraine has about 100 combat brigades, and each has at least a few tanks (usually a company or battalion, that is, from 10 to 30 tanks). But only a large number of tanks are concentrated in a tank brigade under a single command.
Due to the concentration of mobile and well-protected firepower, tank brigades are very effective in conducting intense close combat.
When Russian troops were advancing towards Kiev in the first stage of the military operation, the 1st tank Brigade got in their way in Chernihiv, which is 100 kilometers north of the capital. The T-64BV tanks proved to be particularly effective in close combat.
But when the conflict moved into the stage of positional actions, and it became difficult for the troops to carry out major breakthroughs of carefully mined defensive positions over which attack drones fly, the Ukrainian tank doctrine underwent changes.
Tanks are increasingly engaging at a distance, being one and a half to three kilometers from the front line and firing at a high angle, like howitzers. "The value of such tactics is that tanks can concentrate fire over a large area while maneuvering at the same time. They do not need protection and cover like artillery units," the Royal United Institute for Defense Research noted in 2022 in its research paper.
It just so happens that the large fleet of Leopard 1 tanks transferred to Ukraine is well suited for such firing from closed firing positions, because they have an accurate and fast fire control system and effective 105-millimeter guns. At the same time, the Leopard 1 has weak armor protection, twice as weak as the T-72. Having no armor protection to conduct close combat, the Leopard 1 must strike at a distance.
As a result, it should be said: do not expect a powerful tank offensive from the 5th Tank Brigade. The masses of tanks will not march in a direct armored wedge into Russian defensive positions – not in the near future, nor at any time. Most likely, the brigades will be stingy in allocating their tanks, be it T-72, Leopard 1, M1 or something else, to strike from closed firing positions.
Author: David Axe