Tanks have long been at the top of the list of Ukraine’s demands to Western governments.
Poland has pledged a dozen German-made Leopard 2 tanks, and the United Kingdom has offered up 14 of its own Challenger 2 main battle tanks.
Many other countries are considering Ukraine’s insistent requests for heavy armour.
In the age of long-range precision fire, drones, missiles and powerful anti-tank weapons, many observers have considered the tank to be obsolete.
Some countries have even started to phase them out completely, claiming the days of massed armoured assaults are over.
So why are they needed?
Predicting the demise of the tank is premature.
It is true that tanks have recently become vulnerable to high-precision fire and highly portable Western anti-tank weapons like the Javelin. Russia’s T-72 and T-80 tanks have come off worse in most battles in Ukraine.
Tanks are vulnerable and always have been, ever since they were invented in the closing years of World War I more than a century ago.
However, tanks have continuously evolved, along with the weapons designed to destroy them, and Ukraine is in need of hundreds if it wants to launch its counteroffensive to retake first the south, then the rest of the country.
Its own Russian-legacy tanks are worn and in need of replacement after months of industrial-level combat.
NATO countries are ideal candidates to donate some of their inventories, and for Ukraine, the tanks can’t arrive quickly enough.
Western tanks have been designed very much with the defeat of Russian tanks in mind. With reactive armour, powerful main guns and increasingly effective countermeasures, tanks are manufactured to stay in the fight and keep crews safe.
The latest-generation main battle tanks are vital for Ukraine if it wants to punch holes in Russian defensive lines and retake territory that Russian forces seized in the opening weeks of the invasion.
Southern Ukraine is flat and ideal tank territory. It is also where Russia has been building rows of trenches and fortified bunkers to stop a Ukrainian advance.
In a Ukrainian offensive, tanks along with troops protected by infantry fighting vehicles like the American Bradley, German Mardar and even the Russian-made BMP-2 would advance.
Infantry fighting vehicles are designed to transport troops to hot spots during a battle. They offer protection and fire support to the infantry squad inside.
This combination is a powerful one for an army, especially when coupled with long-range fire and massive air support, particularly from combat drones.
Used correctly, tanks are the armoured fists that can punch through defensive lines.
They are powerful, deadly weapons, but they’re not invulnerable and need protection. As the weapons change so does the type of protection tanks need, but tactics often beat technology, and cadres of senior Ukrainian officers are being trained up by the United States in combined armed offensive operations, which means the use of all weapons at Ukraine’s disposal in the most effective ways so they will compliment each other and ensure victory.
There are issues with introducing foreign weapons systems into Ukraine that all need their own spare parts, training and repair crews. Keeping them supplied and battle-worthy will be a significant challenge.
For a successful offensive in the south, Ukraine would need to stockpile weapons, tanks, fuel and ammunition close to the Dnipro River without being discovered.
Kyiv’s forces would then need to cross the river at multiple points while under fire. Advance units would need to hold beachheads on the far side of the river. Ukrainian units then would need to assault the extensive defensive positions the Russians have prepared. Both sides would need to pour in reinforcements and keep them supplied.
In all this, strategic deception would play its part and keep Russia guessing as to where Ukraine would attack. Accurate long-range fire would help Ukraine disrupt Russian supply chains and hamper the arrival of reinforcements. In all this, tanks, if used smartly and decisively, could tear through Russian lines, the mailed fist Ukraine desperately needs.
Now that the threshold of Western arms transfers has been lowered, more countries could donate tanks from their own stocks, and Ukraine could be given the tools needed and what it has long been asking for to win this war. These powerful weapons would be a vital and timely addition.
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the tank’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.