Ukraine update: It’s a tank. No it’s not. Who cares! Bradleys and AMX-10s are going to Ukraine

Ukraine update: It’s a tank. No it’s not. Who cares! Bradleys and AMX-10s are going to Ukraine

UPDATE: Thursday, Jan 5, 2023 · 9:20:25 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Honestly, it’s raining steel on Ukraine today — in a good way. UK now suggesting that it may send tanks to Ukraine, though whether that means challengers are incoming or whether the UK is going to send more tanks around NATO to free up additional T-72s, we don’t know.

Anyway, we’re definitely going to be doing this again tomorrow as details on some of these deals become clear. In any case, the apparent  deal on AMX-10s and Bradleys seems to have broken open the idea of sending Ukraine what it needs. Finally.

UPDATE: Thursday, Jan 5, 2023 · 8:44:58 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Germany follows up by saying they will send 40 Marder fighting vehicles. Twenty to be sent soon. Twenty more being refurbished.

That’s going to make the logistics much more difficult, and likely Marders and Bradleys will end up operating in different areas. Still, Ukraine is probably happy to have all this steel incoming.

UPDATE: Thursday, Jan 5, 2023 · 7:31:56 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Now we may have a number… 

Great News: A new U.S. weapons package for #Ukraine will include about 50 Bradley Fighting Vehicles, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, with one of the officials saying the package will be worth roughly $2.8 billion.

— Glasnost Gone (@GlasnostGone) January 5, 2023

UPDATE: Thursday, Jan 5, 2023 · 7:16:39 PM +00:00

Mark Sumner

Let it be so…

Russian defence analysts are warning of a Ukrainian blitz on Luhansk in February along the Svatovo-Kreminna axis A stark contrast to the repeated reassurances of Russian proxies in the summer that Luhansk was safe

— Samuel Ramani (@SamRamani2) January 5, 2023

UPDATE: Thursday, Jan 5, 2023 · 4:12:12 PM +00:00 · Mark Sumner

A brief island story … Potemkin Island is a large (8km by 4km) island in the Dnipro River just across from the city of Kherson. When Russia finally retreated from all of Kherson Oblast west of the Dnipro, neither side had military forces on the island. However, three weeks ago Russia launched a new mini-invasion, occupying the island with a small force. The following week, Ukraine landed forces on the island and liberated the homes that line the island’s northern shore. For the moment, Potemkin appears to be split down the middle.

Islands near Kherson. Open in another tab for a larger view.

Presumably, Russia wants to occupy the island as a forward post for attacking Kherson. From Potemkin, you could hit the city with plain old mortars. You could practically throw a stone. Ukraine definitely wants to avoid that, and actively liberating the people on the island is definitely a net good.

Then on Thursday, Russia attacked the bridges. Not the bridges to Potemkin, because there are no bridges. The island is actually connected to the city by a ferry service. Instead, Russia bombed the bridges to tiny Karantynny Island directly off the west bank from Kherson. Karantynny (the name translates as “Quarantine Island,” so you know there’s some history there) is actually a city park. It also contains the Kherson Zoo—that would be the zoo from which Russia stole a raccoon. 

Why did Russia attack these bridges? That’s not clear. Maybe they were protecting the scene of their raccoonapping crime. Maybe they just wanted to deny the people of Kherson a nice place to go on a sunny afternoon. Maybe they didn’t realize the bridges don’t run to Potemkin. 

Anyway … Potemkin. Looks like a nice place. Almost no roads or vehicles. Just about every house on the water. Assuming it’s not subject to frequent flooding, how cool must it be to live on Potemkin Island and commute to a job in Kherson by taking the morning ferry? Let’s get people back to that life. And also find that raccoon.

The French AMX-10 is an “armored reconnaissance vehicle” carrying a crew of four. Depending on the update, it weighs between 15 and 22 tons, is capable of speeds up to 85 kilometers an hour, and mounts a 105 millimeter main gun with a high-penetration round capable of cutting through the armor of any tank Russia has in the field. It’s a heavily armored vehicle carrying a turreted gun designed for the singular purpose of taking out other armored vehicles, but it runs on wheels, not treads, and so, say the lords of categorization, it’s not a tank.

The U.S. Bradley weighs in at 33 tons, has durable spaced armor, and definitely does run on treads. But it mounts a 25 mm chain gun on its blocky turret rather than a smoothbore cannon, typically pairing that 200-rounds-a-minute beast with a pair of anti-tank missiles. In addition to a crew of three, it can also carry six fully equipped soldiers inside its armored chassis. So … also not a tank.

Historically, there have been tanks that didn’t have treads. There have been tanks that didn’t mount big guns. In the days when armies fielded light tanks, medium tanks, heavy tanks, mobile guns, and a mad variety of mobile tank destroyers with and without turrets, either the AMX-10 or the Bradley might easily have been slotted in. These days, when “tank” means almost exclusively main battle tank, neither of them clears the hurdle of “tankness.”

Whatever they’re called, it looks like both of them are headed for Ukraine. When they arrive, semantics are going to matter a lot less than firepower.

Following a phone call between French President Emmanuel Macron and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Wednesday, the French military announced that they would be the first to send a western-designed armored fighting vehicle to the war. That statement has to be parsed a bit to be understood, because western nations have definitely sent Ukraine a lot of tanks and other armored vehicles at this point. However, the tanks being sent have all been some form of Soviet-designed tank, almost all of them with recent NATO upgrades. The western-designed armored vehicles sent, like the M113s delivered by the U.S., aren’t considered fighting vehicles even if they are bristling with machine guns. So … first western-designed armored fighting vehicle. France even called them “light tanks.” Take that, military language sticklers.

In any case, the AMX-10 RC is something very different from most of the hardware that has gone to Ukraine. In introducing the AMX-10 RC I really should use this video, which is not only in French, but features two French soldiers talking over each other to such an extent that you can barely pick up a word, even if your middle school did insist on making you take a language class. But honestly, the best introduction to this vehicle I could find comes from the video below, assembled by the folks behind that great time sink, the World of Tanks game. A game where, I will personally testify, these things are absolutely hated by everyone driving every other form of tank.

Why do other tank drivers hate these f***ing French-wheeled vehicles? Because they’re fast. So fast and agile that in many cases they can literally circle another tank quicker than that tank can turn its turret. There’s little more irritating than sitting there in a well-armored heavy tank, positioning yourself to ease your well-nigh impenetrable god-gun turret over the nearest slope, only to have one of these clown cars pop over that hill, shoot you in the ass, disappear over another hill, then squirt back into the scene from another direction to repeat the process.

Thank goodness that my personal experience is limited to watching pixels get torn apart. In the real world, prepare to see more Russian T-72 drivers competing in the turret toss championships. Because the AMX-10? Russian tankers are also going to hate them. These little bastards are dangerous. 

Можливості ходової французьких легких колісних танків AMX-10 RC, які пообіцяли передати Україні

— Vitaliy Trubnykov 🇺🇦 (@vokinburt_avia) January 5, 2023

There were tweets this morning that claimed the AMX-10s were already rolling off transport planes in Ukraine. These appear to be an exaggeration. How many and how soon are answers that we still don’t seem to know. France has 240 of these vehicles currently in service, all of which are being phased out as they are replaced by another wheeled vehicle, the ERBC Jaguar. One French military source indicated that AMX-10 RCs could arrive in Ukraine in “weeks,” but that’s the only such statement we have at the moment.

In other western-designed armored vehicle news, President Joe Biden confirmed yesterday that the United States is investigating sending Bradley fighting vehicles to Ukraine. Which version of the versatile platform, and how many will be sent, remains unclear. But hopefully the U.S. won’t spend time stripping down vehicles to take out modern fire control and communication systems. Just send them. (And hey, wouldn’t this be a great opportunity to field test a Black Knight prototype?)

As you watch this video on the Bradley, be prepared to be gobsmacked by the pure firepower and toughness of this “transport” vehicle.

In Desert Storm, the Bradley destroyed more enemy vehicles than the M1 Abrams.

Military analyst Mark Hertling, who commanded a Bradley team in Desert Storm, has long been singing the vehicle’s praises and giving the reasons why this vehicle, not the M1 Abrams, should be America’s way of putting western steel on the Ukrainian battlefield.

While a tracked vehicle, it doesn’t have a lot of complicated engine/turret issues. Good gas mileage, max speed of about 40mph cross country, low maintenance, solid protection & firepower. The infantry variants has a lot of room in the back for troops. 5/

— MarkHertling (@MarkHertling) January 4, 2023

The Bradley isn’t just tough in a fight, its solid in day-to-day operations. Unlike actual tanks, it doesn’t leave a trail of broken parts in its wake or require the constant tinkering of a turbine engine mechanic. Even the Bradley’s treads have a reputation for staying on (which is saying something) and though it may not be as fast as the AMX, it’s much more capable of dealing with the muck currently confronting Ukrainian forces on the front lines. 

There’s a reason why way back in April, even as he was talking about why setting up the proper supply and logistics limited the ability of U.S. to deliver many weapons to Ukraine, kos was already pulling for Biden to dispatch the Bradley. Everything he said back then sums up why this is the perfect vehicle to load on the next round of transport planes.

Now that the taboo against “heavy” weapons is shattered, let’s get the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle into Ukrainian hands. It is being phased out of the U.S. Army, and there are thousands available for gifting.

The Bradley is nowhere near as difficult and complicated to maintain and supply as a modern combat tank, it can be mounted with tank-killing missile systems, it can protect infantry during the kind of open ground combat we’re seeing in south and east Ukraine, and it can more safely transport infantry to combat zones than softer-skinned vehicles (including through defensive Russian artillery barrages). To get a sense to how much simpler the Bradley is, the training program to maintain it is 12 weeks, while it’s six months for the M-1 Abrams tank. And the Bradley uses regular diesel, not jet fuel like the Abrams.

These two vehicles—the high-speed mobile gun and the battle-tested infantry transport—may seem quite different. However, just about everything Hertling says in his praise of the Bradley (good mileage, easy maintenance, capable armor, and the firepower to push through tough situations) also applies to the AMX-10. These vehicles could have tremendous impact on the fighting in Ukraine, especially if Ukrainian troops have a chance to develop tactics that play to the strength of both vehicles.

Now that France is providing the AMX-10, and the U.S. is offering up the Bradley, let’s hope Germany will join in by sending Ukraine the Leopard. In fact, there are already suggestions that these moves by France and the U.S. are putting more pressure on Germany to just say yes to unleashing their MBT. Watching an army that is scouting the field in an AMX-10, delivering troops in Bradleys, and driving forward behind Leopards would be an example of NATO unity and a thing of beauty.

Unless you were on the opposite side in T-72s and BMPs. Then it would be a horror show.

I’ve had several notes asking about Part II of the Field Guide to Drones. Believe me, I want to get there, because that part contains some of the most interesting items—all those drones that don’t just look like miniature planes. The problem that I’m having is that the number of new drones entering the conflict keeps increasing. Already the first field guide is obsolete as a number of additional winged drones have joined the combat space.

Another thing that seems to be happening repeatedly is modification of existing drones to press them into new roles. For example, Russia’s Orlan-10 may be the most common drone of the entire conflict, and while it started off as a surveillance drone used to help target Ukrainian assets for artillery strikes, recent versions have been outfitted with a belly pod capable of carrying a pair of small bombs. Exactly how these bombs are delivered isn’t clear—inaccurately is the likely answer as unlike rotor drones, the Orlan can’t stop to hover over a target—but the Orlan-10 is just one out of many drones that have seen significant changes since the beginning of the invasion.

One day soon I’m going to just have to go with a guide to the nonwinged drones that I currently know about (with some water-dwelling and possibly land-based drones tossed in) while knowing that it will be obsolete the day it comes out. After that, there will be updates to try to keep reality and the “field guide” somewhere in the same universe. Look for this in the next couple of weeks.

None of the above means that an M113 isn’t still a great tool for Ukraine. 

Soldiers from the 66th brigade on an Australian supplied M113AS4🇦🇺, liberating territories in the Svatove-Kreminna direction.

— NOËL 🇪🇺 🇺🇦 (@NOELreports) January 5, 2023

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