Undoubtedly, the arrival of Abrams’s main battle tanks in Ukraine will have a major impact on several key aspects. However, a true ability to “recapture” and “hold” territory previously held by Russian forces will likely require far more heavy armor than the small number of tanks on the way.
Although more tanks are expected to arrive over time, Ukraine will likely need more “mass” and “wide area maneuvers” to succeed in a full-scale counter-invasion or to “retake” large territories in areas where they quarrel.
A small number of Abrams tanks, properly fortified with artillery, some air support, and dismounted infantry could certainly break through the “perimeter” of Russian formations and potentially “break through” or “penetrate” Russian defenses. This operation could be extremely important, although it probably would not allow Ukrainian fighters to “recapture” territory.
M1 Abrams tank: Armor makes the difference
This is by no means to say that the effort is ill-served, as it could potentially lead to an important and successful long-term strategy. Since the Ukrainians have proven so effective in the anti-armor type of ambushes, decimating the invading Russian armor, perhaps they could employ their largely defensive anti-armor posture long enough for more heavy armor to arrive.
Certainly, if used with artillery, aerial surveillance showing the size, speed, shape, and angle of approach of attacking Russian vehicles, and scattered but well-armed groups of dismounted fighters, anti-armor weapons could slow or thwart Russian armored advances in enough time for larger numbers of heavy armor to arrive.
This type of strategy might be the most sensible, as a large-scale direct mechanized engagement across wide swaths of territory could favor Russian forces simply because of their numbers.
Pure numbers do not apply to Russian handicaps.
When it comes to heavy armor, the numerical discrepancy between Ukraine and Russia is significant, as Global Firepower’s 2022 Ukraine-Russia military comparison says Russia operates 12,566 tanks against Ukraine’s 1,890 tanks.
Operating six times as many tanks, even if many are not modernized, sustained, or well-maintained, would give the invading Russian forces a hard-to-beat numerical advantage.
Simply put, this amount of Russian weaponry available, combined with the vast geography, suggests that Ukraine will need hundreds, if not thousands, of more tanks to ultimately prevail.
The technological capabilities of export Abrams variants destined for Ukraine may not be known exactly. However, your ultimate success will likely depend on the range and fidelity of your aiming sensors and thermal sights.
If the Ukrainian Abrams is powered by superior range and resolution targeting sensors, a much smaller number of Ukrainian tanks could destroy large numbers of Russian armor.
For example, the famous tank battles of the Gulf War were decisively won by the US military largely because the Abrams’ thermal sights were able to see, track, and destroy Iraqi T-72s from distances they could see themselves. They could not be detected.
Winning heavy armor engagements against Russia will be essential. Ukraine’s long-term success may largely depend on its ability to “pivot” from its successful, more defense-oriented ambush-type anti-armor fight that stopped Russia’s initial advance toward more mechanized offensive operations designed to retake and hold territory.
The Pentagon, NATO, and the 50-nation Ukraine Defense Contact Group have supported this idea, which is why many more tactical trucks, support vehicles, and logistics teams have been sent to Ukraine in recent months. , as forces advancing to claim territory need support, troop transport, supplies, and protection to ensure their advances.