I did a video last week, just a basic report piece on Brtiain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, stating that he intended to send artillery and armoured vehicles to assist the Ukrainians repel the Russian invasion of their country. This was followed by the announcement that on the 6th of April the United States Senate had passed a new “Lend-Lease” agreement – The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022.
“…provide enhanced authority for the President to enter into agreements with the Government of Ukraine to lend or lease defense articles to that Government to protect civilian populations in Ukraine from Russian military invasion.”
Lend-Lease was a policy used in World War Two by the US to allow them to supply their allies overseas by effectively lending them equipment paid for by the American government.
All of this has set off a whole range of discussions on just what this all means and the reality of what could be sent and integrated into the Ukrainian military. In fact, I suspect this very topic has been mind-gamed by practically everyone reading this, and certainly by the foreign service personnel and military planning staffs of Western nations that are actually sending weapons to Ukraine.
So, I thought I’d do a more in-depth look to explore this.
For context, a brief description of what the situation, as best can be determined, is on the ground currently.
(Thoroughly recommend War Mapper for up-to-date reports)
The Russian forces that were aimed at Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital, have now all retreated back into Belarus. The apparent aim is to deploy these in the east but considering the mauling many of these units got it is unknown how many can be reconstituted nor how long this will take, in addition to the time needed to redeploy them.
The Pentagon reports that of the estimated 130 Battalion Tactical Groups that Russia used in their invasion, eighty still remain in Ukraine engaged in combat operations. It is estimated that 29 BTGs have so far been rendered combat ineffective due to losses.
The situation in the east of Ukraine is still precarious. The Russians are continuing to advance, though they have still not taken the town of Mariupol, something they have been attempting to do from day one. However, they are moving forward throughout the eastern and southern theatres, albeit slowly.
The Ukrainians success in driving the Russians out of the north of the country and protecting Kyiv, as well as the discovery of massacred civilians in areas previously occupied by the Russians, has them firmly committed to going on the offensive as soon as possible to reclaim their lost territory. One suspects that the thinking in Kyiv is that this means not just the areas taken in the current conflict, but also those occupied in 2014 and probably Crimea as well.
Whether this is feasible remains to be seen, but it does mean the war is likely to enter a far more attritional phase. To this end, the Ukrainians are demanding more weapons.
More to the point, they are requesting that these are modern Western ones that will enable them to go on the offensive – tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and artillery.
And here we have an issue.
As has been pointed out countless times, you just don’t get an entirely new weapon system, climb aboard, and go to war. Well, you can, it’s just not very sustainable.
Crews and operators need to be trained, as do the personnel who are going to maintain the system. This latter fact is easily overlooked. For example, it takes the US Army months to train a mechanic how to properly maintain an M1 Abrams tank, and the crew how not wreck it just by driving around.
Now, the Ukrainians no doubt have some fantastic crews and maintenance personnel, and I for one am well aware of how quickly new skill sets can be learned in adverse circumstances; war is a great motivator for encouraging people’s full attention.
But even if the process can be speeded up, you are still talking about a considerable lead time, probably several months, to get units and their support organs up to speed on using new equipment. There is also the complication of adding a whole new range of parts and ammunition into the military logistics network.
And this is just with ground vehicles. With extremely sophisticated weapons such as fighter jets, another commodity that Ukraine desperately wants, it is an even more complicated situation. Here the technologies between the former Soviet jets the Ukrainians currently operate and equivalent Western designs is radically different, meaning transferable skills for Ukrainian personnel would be even rarer.
So, what is the solution?
Well, it seems that Western nations are beginning to take measures.
I reported a couple of weeks ago that the United States was going to transfer Switchblade loitering munitions to Ukraine. This is occurring, with Ukrainian personnel now trained on the system.
There are major supplies of other equipment being shipped, such as night vision gear. It is all too often overlooked, but the ability to fight at night is a critical advantage the Ukrainians have so far enjoyed over the Russians, who seem to be extremely deficient in this regard.
In contrast, the Ukrainians are likely one of the best equipped night fighting forces on the planet at the moment, and increasingly so!
Other nations have also started sending some heavier equipment, not just the anti-tank and light anti-aircraft missiles dispatched so far. For example, Australia is to supply Bushmaster armoured personnel carriers to Ukraine.
But this doesn’t resolve the issue of heavy weapon supply. Part of the problem here is that the before the war the Ukrainians largely used old Soviet era tanks, artillery and IFVs. But here some steps are also being taken.
The Czechs have just started shipping T-72 tanks and BMP-1 infantry vehicles to Ukraine from their reserve stocks. These, like the Ukrainian vehicles, are old Soviet-era vehicles that were probably scheduled for retirement for newer equipment in the near future anyway.
Though less effective than modern designs, they are simpler to use and maintain than modern Western designs, do use things like ammunition and some parts that are already in the Ukrainian inventory, minimizing retraining and resupply issues and, most critically, are available for immediate use.
Indeed, as has been suggested by many people in the comments of previous videos, the logical thing would be for Western nations looking to supply heavy weapons to Ukraine is to offer to replace old Soviet-era stockpiles in friendly countries with modern equipment. Former Warsaw Pact countries who are now in NATO do still have stockpiles of these weapons and would likely be happy to replace them with new, NATO-standard equipment.
But even that might not be so simple, as was demonstrated by the ongoing controversy over supplying ex-Polish MiG-29s to Ukraine.
Aside from political considerations, the actual usable amount of heavy equipment available to Western European NATO members – the most likely provider of more up-to-date weapons – is probably much less than people realise.
There was a minor row earlier this week about the German government preferring to scrap one hundred Marder IFVs instead of shipping them to Ukraine. But truth is, a lot of these old vehicles, notionally in inventory, have been sitting outside for sometimes longer than a decade and are not functional. Because no one ever thought they’d be needed.
Short sighted defence policies aside, it does seem that any old Soviet gear on hand is going to have purchase requests made for potential use in Ukraine.
Finland is certainly a possible provider. Now very much alarmed by Russian actions and statement, the Finns are looking like soon becoming the latest member of NATO. Their large stocks of older Soviet origin equipment could easily be used by the Ukrainians – but no doubt only if replaced by Western equipment.
The Finns, after all, have their own security to consider.
So, the search could go further than just Eastern Europe.
South Korea, for example, has 35 old Soviet T-80 tanks in their inventory, which were part payment for debts incurred at the end of the Cold War. These are oddities for the South Koreans, who now build and operate far superior tanks.
So it is conceivable they may be willing to sell them.
There are also other operators of Russian equipment that have, according to unconfirmed reports, been approached about selling.
Cyprus has long been an operator of items such as the T-80, plus Buk and Tor Surface-to-Air missiles and Mi-35 attack helicopters, again weapons similar to those the Ukrainians also use.
In fact, Russian success before the war as a weapons exporter means that there are a multitude of users of their weapons that might be available for purchase – though then the political consequences of such an action needs to be considered by the respective country.
However, even if substantial quantities of ex-Soviet or Russian designed equipment can be obtained, the prodigious expenditure of modern warfare means that it seems likely that even these would soon be expended or worn out.
And therefore, the new lend-lease act becomes of greater significance.
Supply of effectively hand me down weapons will keep the Ukrainians in the fight and allow them to progress in the next months. This could well provide time for some of their personnel to be trained on how to operate Western systems and sufficient logistics put in place that will mean they can then use them in any ongoing conflict.
And these tanks, artillery, even aircraft could be drawn from US reserve stocks because of the new Act, which means the US would be essentially just loaning them to the Ukrainians.
I don’t know if that is the intention, because to be honest it strikes me that Western politicians are scrambling to catch up with the situation and have been for a month, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is how things ultimately pan out.