The war in Ukraine has been defined by images of destroyed armored vehicles. During the early weeks of the conflict, it seemed as if tanks had become obsolete as mobile anti-tank infantry, precise artillery and drones pushed back Russian armored columns intent on surrounding the capital city of Kyiv.
“The Russian tanks didn’t fare well,” said William D. Hartung, senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute. “They were taken out pretty quickly by modern anti-tank systems. And I think that would be a problem also for U.S. tanks in a future conflict.”
Despite the effectiveness of anti-tank systems, such as the U.S.-made Javelin and the British-produced Next Generation Light Anti-tank Weapon, or NLAW, the heavy armor and firepower that tanks can bring to bear remain in demand by both sides of the conflict.
“When you look at how combat has proceeded, and Ukraine has been a great example of that, tanks have been very important to be able to gain and take territory, ” said Bryan Clark, director of the Center for Defense Concepts and Technology at the Hudson Institute. “You need something that’s going to have some protection behind it, that’s going to allow infantry to be able to either use it for cover or use it for indirect fires.”
As Ukrainian tank crews learn how to operate the various donated tanks from Western countries, the U.S. Department of Defense recently announced that it would be sending refurbished M1A1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The department estimates that sending M1A1s will speed up the estimated delivery time to the fall.
“If you look at what the Ukrainians are doing, they’re desperately trying to get hold of our Abrams tanks and German Leopard tanks and some of the better quality arms,” said Conrad C. Crane, senior historian and acting editor-in-chief at USAWC Press. “It’s pretty obvious from that, that the tank is still an important part of the battlefield.”
Watch the video above to find out more about tanks and what military experts view as their potential relevance in future battles