Tanks Alone Won’t Turn the Tide of the War in Ukraine

Some analysts believe that the most effective weapon the United States could give Ukraine is precision-guided missiles. The Ukrainian army, by training and tradition, focuses on artillery. It is that experience that allowed them to quickly and effectively use the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS, to attack Russian munitions depots and command posts.

Russia has adjusted, pulling its logistics centers out of the reach of HIMARS. A more advanced and longer-range missile, such as the ATACMS, could achieve those goals. But for now, weapons that could penetrate deep into Russia are off the table as they are seen as most likely to provoke Putin. Although the United States has consistently been open to providing Ukraine with more powerful weaponry throughout the course of the conflict, it has remained steadfast on this point.

US officials acknowledged that the real power of the 31 Abrams tanks the US announced Wednesday it would send to Ukraine is that they will unlock more donations of German-made Leopard 2 tanks, as well as more artillery and infantry fighting vehicles.

The US supply of tanks “will spur the Germans on and inspire the Poles” while demonstrating NATO unity, said a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive deliberations. In addition to the 112 Leopards Germany will send, Poland has promised 14 (along with hundreds of older tanks) and Canada will send four. Norway said it will send some of the tanks and Spain is considering a donation.

The new donations alone are unlikely to boost combat power enough to win the war for Ukraine, but officials and outside analysts say they will help substantially.

The tanks will break through the trench lines and open a path for infantry in Bradley fighting vehicles to hold retaken territory.

And the tanks send important signals to both Ukraine and Russia about continued American support. For Russia, the tanks show that the flow of weapons from the West is growing, not diminishing. And for Ukraine it’s a huge morale boost, said Andrea Kendall-Taylor, a former US intelligence official who now works at the Center for a New American Security.

“It is a vote of confidence that people are still interested in Ukraine getting back their territory instead of putting pressure on Ukraine to negotiate.,” she said.