On Jan. 19, the Department of Defense announced it would send 90 Stryker Armored Personnel Carriers (APCs) with 20 mine rollers to Ukraine as part of a broader $2.5 billion aid package. The Strykers will join the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles and a variety of other equipment that will improve Ukraine’s ability to move with armor.
In addition to the Strykers, Bradleys and other equipment, there is now a clear possibility that the US could send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, both CNN and The Wall Street Journal report. According to CNN, the US “could make an announcement as early as this week” about these tanks. Meanwhile, Germany is reportedly preparing to announce the delivery of Leopard 2 tanks as well.
All of this mobile armor – Strykers, Bradleys, tanks and more – fulfill different roles on a battlefield. The easiest way to better understand this hodgepodge is to look at each component.
What you should know about Strykers or armor to move
The Stryker is an eight-wheeled armored transport designed to fit between the Army’s light vehicles (like Humvees) and heavier transports (like Bradleys). It is operated by a crew of two, with room for a nine-man infantry squad to ride in the rear. The basic Stryker model is lightly armed, with only a machine gun to fire and smoke grenades to hide the vehicle’s movement. There are eight Stryker variants, including ones outfitted with everything from anti-tank missiles to additional sensors or even a mortar artillery piece fired through the opened roof hatches.
The mine rollers mentioned in the press release allow a Stryker to detonate explosives such as anti-tank landmines set off by the weight of heavy vehicles. These rollers, which can be mounted on the front of the vehicle, deposit the mines before they are under the Stryker. As wheeled vehicles, Strykers are particularly reliant on roads that are easily occupied by mines. Using a Stryker to clear mines turns the road into an open path, not just for the Strykers, but for the entire armored column behind them.
[Related: The Army’s new light tank can venture where its beefier cousins can’t]
At a press conference on Jan. 20, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said the US goal was “to provide the capabilities Ukraine needs to be successful in the near term. So you heard us talking about two battalions of Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles – a very capable platform, [as well as] three battalions or a whole brigade of Strykers. So when you add that up, that’s two brigades of fighting power that the US is providing along with enablers and stuff.”
In the United States, a Brigade Combat Team is a formation of about 5,000 soldiers and about 300 vehicles, usually a mix of transports and tanks or heavy weapon vehicles. So far, the United States has promised Ukraine 109 Bradleys and 90 Strykers, which is two-thirds of the way to an armored brigade combat team without the tanks. The US has also provided other vehicles, such as 300 M113 Armored Personnel Carriers, an even more lightly armed and protected battlefield taxi than the Stryker.
What you should know about tanks or armor for battle
For an army to use armored transports, it must break through a line of defenses. That’s the role tanks were built for, as heavy armor for combat.
Tanks are over a century old in concept and execution. The first tanks were built to break the stalemate on Europe’s western front during World War I, where trenches, machine guns, explosives and artillery made every attack horrific and bloody. Tanks, as literal mobile armor, protected soldiers advancing behind them; With cannons and machine guns, tanks could crush defenders. While tanks made their debut in World War I, their use in World War II would change the course of warfare. German armored doctrine, developed in the interwar period, valued armored formations that could breach enemy lines, rendering defenses useless and rerouted.
Today, tanks remain an integral part of military efforts as both Ukraine and Russia use their tanks inherited from the Soviet Union against each other. Tanks remain vulnerable to special anti-tank weapons such as Javelin missiles, as well as attacks from the air, such as from airplanes or helicopters. And tanks are also vulnerable to other tanks. In other words, to stop a tank attack requires special anti-tank weapons, which may include other tanks. Meanwhile, weapons useful for stopping other armored vehicles, like rocket-propelled grenades useful against Bradleys and Strykers, are more common but will fight against heavy armor.
The heavy and powerful M1 Abrams runs on jet fuel, which American logistics can regularly supply, but might be more difficult for a military without a supply system as robust as the United States. Meanwhile, the Leopard 2, manufactured by and exported from Germany, is a diesel-powered tank used by the militaries of many NATO countries. Should Ukraine receive the tanks, they will allow the Ukrainian military to launch a combined arms attack, with the mobility of tanks and armored transport shifting the fight.
In short, the Stryker is a vehicle capable of protecting passengers from machine gun fire. The Bradley is a heavy armored transport with some weapons useful against other vehicles, and a tank like the M1 Abrams is built to destroy other heavy vehicles while being protected from them.
The mission: Armored columns choose their battlefields
Since Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, 2022, the United States and other countries have increased aid to that attacked country. This assistance, in some cases, built on programs already implemented after Russia’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the Russian occupation of Donbass from 2014 to the present. But while the Donbass war was long-fought, it was geographically limited, spanning a fraction of the country and involving somewhat static defense lines for both sides. The current war began with a three-pronged invasion of Ukraine, with Russia once threatening the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv and the eastern metropolis of Kharkiv, and occupying the city of Kherson at the mouth of the Dnipro River.
Today, much of Russia’s effort is aimed at capturing the Ukrainian city of Bakhmut in the Donbass. The nature of the war is such that the two sides can engage in grueling, ferocious combat for static positions, and then dramatically shift due to a collapse elsewhere in a front line. When Ukraine launched a counteroffensive in the fall of 2022, its forces did so with new weapons such as the US-supplied HIMAR missile artillery that destroyed Russian supplies at long range.
With an army in armored transports of the kind provided by the US, Ukraine would be able to exploit any new gaps in Russia’s defences, move behind established defenses and potentially cause a major shift in the war, as happened in the Fall of the USA was the fall of 2022.