On Monday morning, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy posted that American M1 Abrams tanks were “already in Ukraine and are preparing to reinforce our brigades.” This confirmed a statement that President Joe Biden made last week when he indicated the tanks were to arrive within days.
It was only in May that Ukrainian troops began training in the operation and maintenance of the United States’ main battle tank, and some had suggested that the tanks were unlikely to see combat before the end of the year. However, it appears that timeline has now been busted. According to The New York Times, the arrival is “months ahead” of earlier estimates and means that the Abrams tanks are on hand in time to become involved in the counteroffensive Ukraine is conducting in Zaporizhzhia.
However, it’s not clear how soon those tanks will make their way to the front. Other Western tanks have often been retrofitted with cages to help protect against drones and with additional armor to guard against anti-tank weapons. That’s true of even the British Challenger 2, which arrived in Ukraine as one of the most heavily armored tanks in use. It’s likely that the Abrams will also receive some Ukraine-centric upgrades before it sees combat.
The 31 M1 Abrams tanks are unlikely to redefine operations along the front line any more than the Challenger 2, Leopard 2, or other Western-provided tanks. The pace of operations in the counteroffensive is being controlled at the moment by the difficulty of clearing thickly planted minefields and dealing with swarms of kamikaze drones. Those two things have gone a long way in turning operations in and around Robotyne and Verbove into an infantry-forward fight where tanks are not making as much impact as might be expected on either offense or defense.
However, there are some indications that Russia expended the majority of its mines ahead of those first defensive lines, and that minefields are becoming rarer and sparser as Ukraine penetrates more of the “Surovikin lines,” strong defensive lines named after Russian Gen. Sergey Surovikin. For example, some satellite images show a large number of vehicle tracks crossing fields in multiple places south of Verbove—which would be unlikely if Russia had those fields heavily mined.
There is still a chance, and maybe even a likelihood, that at some point in the future Ukraine could reach a point where those M1 Abrams could be used in a genuine tank-supported breakthrough.
In the meantime, Wikipedia has an article on main battle tanks used in the armies of every nation. Running through that article and ignoring all the variants and local versions that exist, especially of aging Soviet designs, it’s amazing how much of the world’s rolling stock is currently represented on the front lines of Ukraine. Other than China’s Type 99 and the South Korean K2 Black Panther, just about the only representative of current main battle tanks not pulling up to the front lines in Zaporizhzhya is the French Leclerc (which France isn’t sending because their numbers are few and there’s no new tank ready to replace them).
This also leaves out the T-14 Armata, which supposedly was in Ukraine earlier before Russia pulled the tanks (tank?) out to keep it from getting dusty. Russia’s small prototype fleet of T-14s is unlikely to wander somewhere that is closer to combat than to a photo op, though the T-14 didn't manage a photo op that can be definitively said to be inside Ukraine.
Tank designers are going to learn a lot from what happens in the coming weeks. A lot. Most of that won’t be about how these tanks perform in massed attacks against other tanks. It’s going to be about preserving the all-important crew when confronting mines, artillery, anti-tank weapons, and FPV drones. It’ll be about the changing role of armor on the battlefield.
Still, every now and then one of these tanks is going to get the chance to direct its gun at some Russian counterpart. That will be interesting, if brief.
In any case, the M1 Abrams has arrived in Ukraine. It’s unclear how many of the expected 31 tanks have been delivered. Regardless, expect Russia to announce it has destroyed 147 of them by Thursday.
This story from Liga.net concerning a drone reportedly brought down through electronic warfare near the city of Kursk, Russia, supposedly goes back to a source within Russian intelligence. It’s being widely reported, but there doesn’t seem to be any official confirmation of these events from either Ukraine or Russia, so keep in mind that some aspects of this story may represent either fanciful reporting or deliberate misinformation.
Still, if true, it shows how a drone can end up doing more valuable damage after being “captured.” If not true … it's a pretty good propaganda piece designed to make Russia think twice about closely inspecting Ukrainian drones.
Republican Sen. Mike Lee wants to know who let the corgis out.
Lee insists that there is some nefarious force—not skipping the side order of antisemitism—behind the online effort to troll Russian military bloggers, tankies, and bots. And it’s hard to decide if he’s being grotesque or merely harebrained. Maybe a little of both. In any case, it’s always interesting to see a U.S. senator so clearly taking directions from Russia.
Once upon a time, when British secret service officers were being recruited to spy for the Soviet Union, they would occasionally be shown a glorious Order of Lenin or other big reward that was awaiting them on that day when their task was over and they were at last allowed to defect to the motherland. Considering some of Lee’s solo trips to Moscow, it seems possible that Vladimir Putin might have tipped open a box to give Lee a glimpse of an oh-so-shiny Hero of the Russian Federation just waiting for his special day.
Fighting continues to be heavy in the area around Verbove, where Ukrainian forces have occupied the second Surovikin Line and reportedly moved into the western part of the village. As kos reported last week, Ukraine has consolidated its gains around Robotyne and north of the first line of defensive trenches. Now the struggle is to clear more of the defenses in that second line, secure the town of Verbove along with local high ground, and prepare to move on.
Self-described Ukrainian military officer Tatarigami_UA has put together a thread showing the combined use of several forms of available data to determine the current situation.
Out of this, the most important message may be: “I want to emphasize that russian defense has not collapsed. Despite enduring substantial losses and being compelled to retreat, they still maintained control over their forces and afforded organized retreat, continuing to present a formidable challenge to our forces.”
Russian hasn’t been routed, but it is retreating. Satellite imagery appears to show Russian vehicles heading south out of Verbove. However, if accurate, that shouldn’t be taken as any signal that the village has been abandoned, or that Russia has in any sense surrendered the area. Ukraine has also taken some heavy losses as it has moved into Verbove and the fight at the moment is described as exceptionally difficult. Ukraine may take Verbove in days, or they may be still working to control this area for some time. NASA FIRMS data suggests the area to the northeast of Verbove, where a series of trenches are known to exist, is currently being pounded.
The official areas of control are about where they were last week, but there are reasons to believe that Ukraine has taken areas both inside the town and to the north. On Saturday, it was reported that Ukraine had moved armored vehicles (reportedly including BMPs and Bradleys) across the second line of defenses and used them in the attack on Verbove, supposedly losing several vehicles in the process. The losses are definitely not good. However, that Ukraine is able to bring these vehicles to the fight shows that their control over those defensive lines has expanded and is solid at this point. It also suggests that the minefields around Verbove are not nearly as dense as those north of Robotyne.
In the area south of Bakhmut, Ukraine continues to hold Klishchiivka and Andriivka in the face of repeated Russian assaults. Considering the Ukrainian guns positioned on high ridges west of the town, dislodging Ukraine from this area would take a considerable effort, but Russians are reportedly lining up a big swing designed to recapture some of this territory. Ukraine’s public concerns about this reported upcoming assault could be real, or they could be taunting Russian commanders who have repeatedly launched failed and costly attacks from the east.
In case you’re in the mood to start your own Russian military, you can snap up this MiG-21 for less than the cost of a late-model Cessna.
Why show up at your next conference in a Learjet when you can smash some windows with your supersonic arrival? Missiles not included.
Imagine lining up enough drones to have this coming across the battlefield Doctor Manhattan-style?
As this was being written, air raid sirens were sounding in Sevastopol. Ukraine is reportedly mounting another attack on Russian military targets in Crimea.
Kerry and Markos talk about what is happening in Ukraine, what needs to be done, and why the fate of Ukraine is tied to democracy’s fate in 2024.