UK ready to send Challenger 2 tanks for next Ukrainian offensive
Britain is considering sending tanks to help Ukraine stage a major counteroffensive in the spring.
The UK could supply about a dozen Challenger 2s and become the first country in western Europe to send Ukraine tanks. The Challenger has a 1,200 horsepower engine and is equipped with a 120mm gun. Only one has ever been destroyed in combat, when it was hit by friendly fire in Basra during the Iraq war.
Although no decision has been made, Ukrainian officials expect an announcement at the end of next week when defence ministers meet at the Ramstein airbase in Germany.
In recent days the United States, Germany and France have promised to send armoured vehicles to Ukraine as western countries become increasingly confident in calling President Putin’s bluff, despite the Kremlin’s warning that providing offensive weaponry to Kyiv would provoke an escalated response.
The Biden administration is sending 50 Bradley fighting vehicles, Germany is providing 40 Marder infantry fighting vehicles and France is giving an undisclosed number of AMX-10 RC armoured combat vehicles as well as Bastion armoured personnel carriers.
President Zelensky has been lobbying for tanks since the beginning of the war and the donation of British Challenger 2s to Ukraine could open the door to the US and Germany increasing their support. Ukraine has requested M1 Abrams tanks from the US and Leopards from Germany.
The US and Germany are donating Patriot air defence systems, giving Ukraine the capability to shoot down Russian cruise and ballistic missiles.
Ukraine has set itself the goal of expelling all Russian forces from its territory by the end of the year and says that it needs tanks to liberate land south of Kherson and around the Donbas.
Major General Kyrylo Budanov, the chief of Ukrainian defence intelligence, suggested Kyiv was planning to launch a major offensive in the spring when the weather improves.
Budanov said he expected the fighting to be at its “hottest” in March. “This is [when we will see more] liberation of territories and deal the final defeats to the Russian Federation,” he told ABC. “This will happen throughout Ukraine, from Crimea to the Donbas.”
Ukrainian soldiers have two months to learn how to use western tanks and armoured vehicles to prepare for the offensive. It usually takes 20 weeks for British soldiers to learn to drive Challenger 2s, but Ukrainian troops have repeatedly impressed army instructors with their ability to quickly master complex western equipment.
The UK has 227 Challenger 2s. In 2021 ministers announced that 148 of them would be upgraded to Challenger 3s and the rest would be retired. As recently as 1990 the country had 2,000 tanks.
Despite the plans for a counteroffensive, Ukraine still remains fearful that the Kremlin could use Belarus to launch another assault on Kyiv in the new year after Putin travelled to Minsk to meet President Lukashenko last month.
“We are monitoring Russian movements as they continue to send troops to Belarus,” one Ukrainian defence source said. “We are taking it very seriously.”
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said: “The government has committed to match or exceed last year’s funding for military aid to Ukraine in 2023, and we will continue to build on recent donations with training and further gifting of equipment.
“We have provided over 200 armoured vehicles to Ukraine to date — including Stormer vehicles armed with Starstreak missiles. We have also donated tens of thousands of items including helmets and body armour, mobility and logistics vehicles, anti-tank weapons, air defence missiles and systems, winter and medical equipment.”