Ukraine needs more
than armoured forces
Fighter planes and helicopters are necessary to protect from assaults on defensive lines
By Irwin Rapoport and Hugo Barecca
March 2, 2023
The Americans, British, Germans, Poles, Canadians and several other countries are providing and planning to send tanks and armoured fighting vehicles to help Ukraine defend itself and to launch attacks to recover lost territory and liberate citizens under Russian occupation. There are suggestions that the Americans are already training Ukrainian pilots to operate fighter planes and helicopters, which could mean the U.S. and others are willing to send such weaponry.
This can be a positive as Ukraine requires a modern and powerful army with the latest military technology but having tanks and a powerful air force may have anticipated and unanticipated negative consequences.
Let us be crystal clear – we completely oppose the invasion of Ukraine and want the Russians out, and, without question, have Russian officials charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity be successfully prosecuted. Ukraine should not give in to Russian demands and the Ukrainian people need our help. When we state “the Russians,” we refer to the government and military leadership – not necessarily the people. Though a significant segment of the population either tacitly or passively supports the actions of the Putin regime, many brave individuals are protesting against the war and risking their lives in doing so – the possibility of being killed or imprisoned for many years without the possibility of release in horrific conditions.
Here are some links regarding Western military aid for Ukraine:
This one covers Ukraine’s request for planes:
With that being said, the Ukrainian government has asked for more than 300 tanks and for planes – Russian models that their pilots are familiar with and advanced British, American, and French models
In regards to tanks, should the Ukrainians be supplied with 150 Leopard 2 tanks, 150 M1 Abrams tanks, and 50 Challenger 2 tanks, along with 150 plus Bradley Fighting Vehicles and various armoured personnel carriers (APCs), that would constitute a powerful armoured and mobile element. The smart play would be to establish four armoured divisions equipped with Leopards – three for the front lines (40 tanks each) and one as a reserve (30 tanks). It would be a similar setup for the Abrams tanks. For the Challengers, one front-line division (30 tanks) and one reserve division (20 tanks).
Each division would need a separate base as concentrating tanks in two or three locations makes them vulnerable to air and missile strikes. Nor can these bases be located close to civilian areas, as that would expose people to attacks. Furthermore, the bases must be near rail lines to transport them to front-line staging areas. And, of course, each base requires missile batteries to repel air and missile strikes.
Nor can armoured divisions fight alone. Infantry support is essential, and thus each front-line armoured division has to be paired with a mobile infantry division equipped with 25 Bradleys, 20 APCs, and many trucks to carry troops and various supplies (food, fuel, ammunition, etc.). The armoured divisions would also need various support vehicles to carry supplies, complete battlefield repairs, and provide other key services. In addition to panzer divisions, the Germans army in WWII had Panzer Grenadier regiments to support the tanks. Tanks without infantry support are vulnerable.
Receiving tanks and armoured vehicles and transporting them safely to bases is a daunting task, as well as setting up the bases. But then comes the next hurdle, successfully bringing these vehicles to the assembly points for the offensive operations. During the German invasion of France in 1940, despite pleas from Col. Charles de Gaulle, the nation’s armoured expert, the French army did not establish armoured divisions and instead distributed tanks in packets of two or three to infantry units along the line. It was only later, during the 1940 Battle of France, that armoured regiments were established. For tanks to be effective they must be concentrated in large numbers to punch holes in enemy lines and force defensive units to break and retreat, exposing them to air attacks.
Defensive operations employing tanks are easier compared to offensive operations as they can be hidden to avoid air attacks and can lie in wait to be involved in ambushes and counterattacks. But to conduct major and effective offensive operations, 30 to 40 tanks are necessary, and to successfully and safely deploy them – getting them from the staging area to the frontline and then to advance into enemy territory – requires command of air via fighter planes and fast attack helicopters. The fighters keep out the enemy planes, especially those specializing in knocking out tanks, and helicopters are essential to locating and taking out opposing tanks and infantry units armed with battlefield anti-tank weapons that can destroy and immobilize tanks and armoured vehicles.
… to conduct major and effective offensive operations, 30 to 40 tanks are necessary, and to successfully and safely deploy them… requires command of air via fighter planes and fast attack helicopters.
Nor is it wise to have mixed tank formations, as this means having spare parts and ammunition for different types of tanks. It is more efficient and ideal to have one type of tank operating on specific battlefields and defensive strongpoints.
Having the tanks is step one, but does Ukraine have sufficient helicopters and fighter aircraft to support advances spearheaded by tanks and mobile infantry? The Germans in World War Two perfected blitzkrieg tactics combining air power, artillery, and tanks to smash through enemy lines and encircle and cut-off enemy armies. Secure frontline command and control centres are essential to coordinate attacks and retreats.
The Russians may appear to be declining militarily, but let’s not deceive ourselves. They have a well-equipped air force, many powerful attack helicopters, and a great variety of anti-tank missiles that can be utilized by infantry, various types of vehicles, helicopters, and aircraft. Moreover, missiles can be targeted to hit individual moving tanks and armoured vehicles. They know tanks are being sent to Ukraine and are preparing to counter them in battle.
We can foresee the Russians targeting trains carrying tanks and launching missile strikes and bombing raids at the ports receiving the tanks and other vehicles. These would be military targets, and if civilians are hurt and killed, then the excuse could be made that military vehicles should have been shipped to ports with minimal civilian populations. The Russians could also target the rail system with missile attacks and bombing raids before the arrival of the military aid and during its transportation. Before the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, Allied bombers and fighters targeted German rail lines and yards, communications centres, and bridges in the Normandy area to prevent the Wehrmacht from sending reinforcements to repel an allied landing.
Having tanks may also lead to a situation where the Russians cease their attacks on Ukraine’s energy infrastructure and hoard missiles and bombs to await the unloading and transportation of the tanks and setting up of their bases. Although this could give civilians a much-needed respite, there are ramifications and implications. We know that North Korea is supplying weapons to the Russians, as is Iran, and China could easily provide missiles, smart bombs, anti-tank weapons and missiles to replenish exhausted missile stocks.
The Russians could also threaten to increase attacks on civilian targets if Ukraine accepts tanks and planes or threaten the lives of Ukrainian nationals under occupation. We know that the Russians are entirely unsympathetic to the deaths and injuries that their assault on Ukraine has caused and continues to inflict.
We urge the immediate advancement of not only APCs and tanks but also 4th-generation fighter planes such as the F-16, attack helicopters, and advanced air-defence systems capable of knocking both Russian jets and missiles out of the sky. Critically, NATO as a whole must expedite the training of Ukrainian pilots. Simply providing tanks without the necessary components of an integrated attack strategy makes the jobs of tank crews and ground forces exponentially more difficult and dangerous.
We cannot predict the future, nor would we try to. The Russian Invasion of Ukraine is taking us into uncharted waters and, at the same time, is taking us back to the days of WWII. This is a bizarre situation, and the very idea that a war is taking place in Europe is highly unsettling and surreal. People are dying and suffering in Ukraine, and the ripple effects of the war are impacting countries across the globe and creating economic and food security hardships.
Should Putin and his gang be eliminated and the war ends, this would be wonderful, but there are no signs or signals of attempts to oust the regime. At this point, we must hope that the Ukrainians continue their heroic defence of their country and that the war ends as soon as possible on their terms.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of WestmountMag.ca or its publishers.
Feature image: F16 fighter plane, U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Andy Dunaway / Public Domain
Other articles by Irwin Rapoport
Other recent articles
Irwin Rapoport is a freelance journalist with Bachelor degrees in History and Political Science from Concordia University.
Hugo Barreca, who resides in New York City, attended Concordia University where he earned a Specialization in History and Brooklyn College. where he earned an MA in Education. He currently teaches economics at an NYC public high school.
There are no commentsAdd yours