The UK has completed delivery of Challenger 2 main battle tanks (MBT) and other promised armoured vehicles to Ukraine, as Kyiv continues to prepare for its long-awaited counter-offensive against Russian forces.
The development was revealed on 21 April by the UK Ministry of Defence following the latest round of talks between members of the Ukraine Contact Group in Ramstein, Germany, which, in coordination with Ukraine, determines what military assistance can be provided to Kyiv.
According to the release, the completion of delivery included a squadron of (14) Challenger 2 MBTs, 32 AS90 self-propelled 155mm guns, a capability sufficient to support two brigades with close support artillery, more than 150 armoured and protected vehicles such as the Bulldog and CVR(T), and hundreds of additional missiles, including for air defence.
In addition, the MoD stated that “firm plans” are now in place to sustain and support this equipment, including with ammunition, with the UK set to provide more than 300,000 artillery shells to Ukraine throughout 2023, equivalent to more than 1,000 shells per day.
As previously reported, the UK spent around £2.3bn in support of Ukraine in 2022 and pledged to match this contribution in 2023.
Through Operation Interflex, which is training new Ukrainian recruits in the UK, a total of 14,000 Ukrainian personnel have been provided with basic and combat infantry skills, such as trench clearance, battlefield first aid, Law of Armed Conflict awareness, patrol tactics, and rural environment training.
The UK has committed to continue and develop the training provided according to Ukraine’s requirements, including the extension to pilots, sailors and marines, and is now expected to reach 20,000 trained recruits by the end of this year.
To date, the UK has supplied more than 10,000 anti-tank munitions, 200,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, hundreds of anti-aircraft guns, self-propelled artillery, MBTs, armoured vehicles, and more than 200,000 pieces of non-lethal equipment, including extreme cold weather clothing, mine detection equipment, and industrial strength generators.
Other big-ticket items provided to Ukraine by the UK include a small number of M270 multiple launch rocket systems, six Stormer vehicles fitted with Starstreak launchers, more than 28 M109 155mm self-propelled guns, in excess of 2,000 uncrewed aerial vehicles, six autonomous underwater mine-hunting vehicles, and an equipment support package of spares to refurbish up to a hundred Ukrainian tanks and infantry fighting vehicles
Is the Russian spring push over?
The first quarter of 2023 has been dominated by Russia’s attempt to seize the town of Bakhmut in the Doneskt Oblast, a process that has turned into its own war of attrition in a conflict that has stagnated into fixed lines across the front. Hundreds of thousands of military personnel from both sides have been killed or wounded in the now 14-month-long war.
It is thought that of Russia’s initial 180,000-strong 2022 invading force, a significant proportion have become casualties in incessant fighting, with replacements brought about by rounds of mobilisation plugging personnel gaps provided the most basic of training before being sent to the frontlines. It is estimated that around 150,000 Russians have been mobilised since the large-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
Russian bases in the east of the country have been described as “empty”, according to one Western official, as Moscow shuttles its forces around to maintain and hold the line in eastern Ukraine.
The private military contractor Wagner Group has faired little better, with the force no longer recruiting through prisons and likely suffering a severe personnel shortage as a result of battlefield attrition. Wagner is heavily involved in the Bakhmut fighting and has likely sustained significant casualties as a result.
Indeed, Wagner Group is likely to hit another personnel issue in the coming weeks and months, as six-month contracts given to those recruited from prisons in exchange for their freedom are due to expire, with the likelihood that many, if not most, will choose to leave the force and return to civilian life.
Russia’s specialist airborne VDV force has been similarly badly hit in the war, with much of its leadership “dead or wounded”.
In a bid to hold its positions inside annexed land in eastern Ukraine, Russia has built up defensive fortifications along the 600-mile frontline and is looking to renew its stockpiles after expanding large quantities of its more advanced systems in the war so far. This can be seen in the change in armoured vehicles being seen on the frontline, with early war T-80 and T-90 MBTs giving way to older T-72 tanks, and even T-55 models.
Meanwhile, Ukraine continues its own military buildup ahead of an expected spring/summer counter-offensive, which is likely to utilise tactics, techniques, and procedures taken straight from Nato battlefield doctrine and combined arms manoeuvres. Indeed, the ongoing provision of Nato equipment to Ukraine appears designed to provide bespoke combined arms forces, which will see armoured infantry manoeuvre units provided support from tanks, air assets, and artillery during operations.