Ukraine gets Western Armor (in six months)(maybe)

With the muddy season in Ukraine morphing into the frozen season with the arrival of General Winter on the front, Western military allies in the proxy international war with Russia have decided to up the ante from just supplying small arms, air defense systems, artillery of all sorts and anti-tank weapons, to delivering some significant medium armor to Kyiv.

Germany is sending hulking 40-ton Marders, armed with a 20mm cannon. France is sending AMX-10 RCR– neat little 16-ton 6×6 wheeled tank destroyers with a 105mm gun that we have covered several times before. The U.S. is sending 50 Bradley CFV/IFVs, which typically mount a 25mm chain gun and a dual TOW launcher and has infamously ballooned to 30 tons over the years.

AMX-10 RCR (RCR stands for Roues-Canon, or wheeled gun, Revalorisé, upgraded)

Why the light armor rather than Leopards, Leclerc’s, and Abrams? Well, several reasons. One, there are few roads and bridges anywhere in the world that support such heavy tracks. Two, the tracks themselves are much more fragile than you would think, and require massive tractor-trailers such as the Oshkosh M1070A0 Heavy Equipment Transporter and its 5-axle trailer, just to be able to move around the countryside to the battlefield. Third, a tank isn’t just a vehicle but a collection of advanced mechanical, mobile artillery, and electronic systems that all need their own dedicated training and support pipeline.

And it is the latter that is the biggest deal, by far.

It takes months for the U.S. Army to mint new armor MOS Soldiers and they still require extensive training once they reach their units to be able to operate their tracks at a platoon, company, and battalion level. Just training in basic vehicle operation takes a long time, and that isn’t even getting into gunnery or maneuvering.

You don’t just whistle up an armored brigade from nothing.

See, Desert Sheild Round Out Woes

For reference, in Desert Sheild, the Army called up three National Guard “Roundout brigades” (48th, 155th, and 256th Brigades from Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana, respectively) just in case they were needed to fight a North Africa 1941-style armored campaign against Saddam’s armored legions. The Roundout process was a holdover from the old REFORGER days when it was expected to rapidly activate units that were in supposed “enhanced readiness” and bolt them on to understrength active duty divisions to make them combat-ready should the Russkis cross the Fulda Gap. This saw National Guard units in the 1980s and 90s take possession of M1 Abrams, M1 Bradleys, and AH-64 Apaches at a time when a lot of active duty units still had M60s, M113s, and AH-1s.

Prior to Desert Sheild, the three Guard brigades were reporting C-2/C-3 readiness ratings meaning that they could go to war anywhere from 15 to 42 days after the “balloon went up.” However, this soon changed to 120 days minimum to get to a basic acceptable standard once they were actually called up, not including the 15 day alert warning they got before mobilization.

Besides the dental and health issues of the reservists that would sideline as many as 2,400 troops in one brigade alone, almost a quarter of those called up hadn’t met basic training goals with more than 600 Soldiers still needing to go to A-school across 42 specialties, even though all units were required as part of their Round Out status to qualify 100 percent of its crews on their Abrams or Bradley during a gunnery cycle.

Check out this breakdown of the 12 mandatory events for minimum deployability requirements, just based upon the more realistic 86-day Desert Sheild post-mobilization training plan and how long it actually took the 155th to get validated (131 days). The 48th managed to pull this off in a more compressed 115 days (30 November 1990 to 28 February 1991, ironically the day the ground war ended in the Gulf War) while the 256th wasn’t ready until M+160. And remember, this was for National Guard brigades– which included a large percentage of prior active service personnel– that had been regularly training for this in monthly drills and yearly summer camps in peacetime long before they were called to pack their duffles for real.

So how long to get the Ukrainian tracks running?

The plan, at least for now, is to allocate the equipment at some future date, which is likely to be stripped from active duty units, and perform crew training somewhere in the safety of the West. I’d bet in a maneuver area in Poland’s Silesia region that has recently been expanding.

Then, picked Ukrainian crews would have to be taken from the lines or depots and sent West to undergo 4-5 months’ worth of training before they could be minimally capable of fighting their mixed bag of Bradleys, Marders, and AMX-10s. Even if they had been schooled on T-64s and BTRs/BMDs, those are nothing like the vehicles they are getting, so it would actually be better to train guys from scratch so they don’t have to “unlearn” things from their Warsaw Pact equipment.

The crews would probably not be trained on the actual vehicles they would use, which in the end would have to be shipped over the border by train under threat of Russian attack. Once the crews would be married up with their (surplus) tracks in a staging area in Ukraine, they would require additional weeks to make ready. 

So even with today’s good news, it will probably be sometime in the summer before this second-hand ex-NATO armor arrives on the frontlines in Ukraine, if at all. At that point, it may very well be a moot point.

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