Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has confirmed Britain will send Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, becoming the first country to pledge Western heavy armour to Kyiv.
The British confirmed the move to send heavy tanks to Ukraine on Saturday, with 10 Downing Street, the Prime Minister’s official residence, providing a readout of a call between Sunak and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky describing how they “reflected on the current state of Russia’s war in Ukraine, with successive Ukrainian victories pushing Russian troops back and compounding their military and morale issues” and the “need to seize on this moment with an acceleration of global military and diplomatic support to Ukraine.”
“The Prime Minister outlined the UK’s ambition to intensify our support to Ukraine, including through the provision of Challenger 2 tanks and additional artillery systems,” the readout confirmed.
The floodgates were opened to this escalation in the type of Western weapons being sent to Ukraine by Emmanuel Macron’s France earlier this month, when the Frenchman pledged AMX-10 RC armoured vehicles to Kyiv — with Germany and the United States following with their own pledges of Marder and Bradley vehicles not long after.
While the armoured car-like AMX-10s were somewhat dubiously described as “light tanks” when the pledge was made, the Ukrainians lobbied hard for Western main battle tanks — some formerly communist-controlled countries have already sent Soviet-type tanks — to follow, with interest shown in America’s M1 Abrams and, in particular, the German-made Leopard 2.
Some countries in possession of Leopard 2s, particularly Poland, have expressed willingness to send some to Ukraine, but preferably as part of a wider international coalition. Germany is also insisting it has a right to stop countries which have purchased Leopards from sending them on to Ukraine or indeed any third country without their permission, further complicating things.
Britain’s Challenger 2 has only been exported to Oman and has a distinctive rifled barrel, and so has been less sought after by Kyiv than the relatively ubiquitous M1 Abrams and Leopard 2, which accept the same sort of ammunition and require less specialist gear and know-how to operate, generally speaking — but the hope, according to 10 Downing Street, is that sending them will set an example for other Western powers to follow.
President Zelensky, too, indicated in a social media post that he had thanked the British premier for making “the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.”
Always strong support of the UK is now impenetrable and ready for challenges. In a conversation with the Prime Minister, @RishiSunak, I thanked for the decisions that will not only strengthen us on the battlefield, but also send the right signal to other partners.
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) January 14, 2023
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Britain’s state-backed public broadcaster, has said it “understands” that only 12 Challenger 2s have been earmarked for Ukraine — underlining the partly symbolic nature of the commitment.
BBC defence correspondent Jonathan Beale observed that Sunak’s decision will prove to have been significant “only if other Western nations follow” his lead, with the British tanks “unlikely to make a big difference in the war” by themselves.
“Ukraine says it needs hundreds more tanks and armoured vehicles to retake the territories still held by Russia,” he noted.
Britain is in no position to provide main battle tanks in significant numbers because the country’s governing Conservative (Tory) Party has long seen the military, which is unable to strike and is limited in its ability to speak out against government policies, as an easy target for cuts compared to, for example, the increasingly far-left higher education sector, or the ever-growing diversity, inclusion, and equality industry — which fight their corners fiercely.
It was confirmed in 2019 that only 148 of the British Army’s already small fleet of 227 Challenger 2s would be upgraded into Challenger 3s over the coming years, with the remaining vehicles mothballed and used for parts.
This meant aiming for a tank fleet dwarfed not only by the likes of Russia, China, and America, estimated to have close to 13,000, over 6,300, and near 6,000, respectively, at the time, but also smaller than that of second-rate powers like Germany (230+), Japan (660+), and even Spain (320+), with The Times, Britain’s de facto newspaper of record, observing that the British Army will actually be left with fewer tanks than the likes of “Serbia, Cambodia or Burma”.
— Breitbart London (@BreitbartLondon) June 6, 2015