The future battlefields include wide open regions ideal for tank combat, pitting the Russian T-90 against the British-supplied Challenger 2.
In light of recent developments in the Ukraine war, large-scale armored combat in the east of the besieged country may soon follow.
According to the BBC, Britain has promised to supply 14 Challenger 2 tanks and 30 AS90 155mm self-propelled guns to Ukraine, marking a significant increase in Western backing for the country. The latest military aid package reflects “the UK’s determination to step up its support,” the paper claims.
The UK would be the first Western country to transfer tanks to Ukraine if the exports go through, which could push other NATO members like Germany also to supply Leopard 2 tanks.
However, Euronews has reported that if Germany sends Leopard 2 tanks, it could do so as early as 2024, as German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall has stated that it will need a confirmed order to start repairing some of its 350 Leopard 2 units stored for Ukraine.
It was also reported last week by the independent media outlet Meduza that General Sergey Surovikin, previously the Commander-in-Chief of the Aerospace Forces, had been replaced by Russian Army Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov as the new commander of Russian forces in Ukraine.
The report cited a statement by the Russian Defense Ministry saying that the change in leadership responds to the increase in tasks that the Russian military intends to solve and to ensure closer cooperation between the various military branches.
Last December, TASS, the Russian state news agency, announced that a shipment of modern Russian T-90M Proryv-3 tanks had arrived in Ukraine. According to TASS, this particular T-90 tank is the most cutting-edge model in the line, which was originally based on the T-72 of the Soviet era.
The article says that after the tank personnel arrived, they would train in gunnery and vehicle control before being integrated into combat operations.
After the successful siege and eventual conquest of Soledar and Bakhmut in the Donbas, Russian forces may be moving forward in anticipation of a large-scale armor offensive in Dnipropetrovsk.
As Jean-Philippe Lefief pointed out in Le Monde this week, the capture of Soledar would prevent Ukrainian supplies from reaching Bakhmut.
In addition, Lefief mentions that once Soledar and Bakhmut have been captured, Russia can continue with offensive operations to take Sloviansk, a critical city for its plans to consolidate control over the Donbas region.
The capture of Sloviansk could pave the way for Russian offensive operations in adjacent Dnipropetrovsk, which Russia shelled early in the war but has escaped ground fighting and remains under Ukrainian control.
The Dnipropetrovsk steppe region has significant features that make it ideal for large-scale armored maneuvers. Its vast open spaces of grassland, devoid of tall vegetation or notable topographical features, provide it with long lines of sight and enormous maneuvering space conducive to tank warfare, which has so far been virtually absent in the Ukrainian war, despite that Russia and Ukraine have significant numbers of Soviet-era tanks.
Gerasimov’s switch to Surovikin as his deputy may imply preparations to intensify combined-arms warfare, emphasizing air power in support of ground forces.
In 1977, Gerasimov graduated from the Kazan Higher Tank Command School and rose rapidly through the ranks. Surovikin is the mastermind of the Russian air campaign in Syria that tipped that civil war in favor of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Just as the Ukrainian war has become a testing ground for both Western and Russian military doctrines, tactics, and technologies, the tank battle in Dnipropetrovsk may become a testing ground for the latest Western and Russian tank designs.
As the British Army points out, the Challenger 2 is designed to destroy other tanks, and so far, it claims that no unit has been destroyed by enemy action.
The Challenger 2 is equipped with an L30 rifled tank gun, which can shoot high-explosive crushed head (HESH) and sabotage rounds for demolition and anti-tank purposes, as noted by Rheinmetall.
As for the secondary armament, the source mentions that the tank is armed with a 7.62mm coaxial chain gun and a 7.62mm pintle machine gun. He also claims that the tank is protected by second-generation Chobham armor, which can withstand direct hits from the T-72’s 125mm main gun.
Rheinmetall mentions that the tank features thermal sights for the tank commander and gunner, providing a “hunter-killer” capability where both crewmen can track two targets simultaneously, and is powered by a diesel engine. 12-cylinder Perkins with 1,200 horsepower.
Against Challenger 2, Global Security notes that the Russian T-90M Proryv-3 is intended to be an interim design until the T-14 Armata can be sufficiently produced for the Russian Army.
According to Global Security, the T-90M Proryv-3 uses a modified version of the T-14 Armata’s 125mm 2A82-1M cannon with a longer barrel and an updated fire control system.
It appears to be able to fire sabot-type rounds, remotely detonated high-explosive Telnik rounds, and cannon-launched Sprinter anti-tank missiles, which are used against targets outside the effective range of the main gun and against attack helicopters.
According to the same source, the tank is also equipped with a remotely operated 12.7mm Kord heavy machine gun and a 7.62mm coaxial machine gun for close-range combat. The T-90M Proryv-3’s approach to defense is predicated on the idea that the best offense is a good defense.
According to Global Security, the tank is outfitted with slat armor on the underside of the turret and at the rear, Relikt Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) that kills enemy shells within a meter of the tank’s hull armor, and radar-evasion technology.
Like the Challenger, the T-90M has thermal sights and tank destroyer capability. Interestingly, the Cate’s Research Investigation Bureau (CRIB) military blog notes that the T-90M Proryv-3 is equipped with the PNM-T thermal sight, which replaces the older Sosna-U sights that use French-made components and are mounted on the old T-72B3M and T-90M units.
This development may be aimed at reducing Russia’s dependence on Western military technology, which the war in Ukraine has made strikingly clear.