Home » Quick Explainer: Ukraine’s strategy of mixed-force tank brigades

Quick Explainer: Ukraine’s strategy of mixed-force tank brigades

The Best Western Equipment

Some of the best tanks and IFVs received by Ukraine may represent some of its most potent offensive firepower, so how Ukraine is choosing to distribute its weapons is interesting to see. Among the weapons I’ve listed above, here are the numbers that are known to have been delivered, or imminent deliveries that are expected per Oryx.

Western Tanks

  • Leopard 2 x 74 (further 19 expected to be delivered by early 2024)
    • 2A4 x 40
    • 2A6 x 24
    • Strv 122 x 10 (Equivalent to 2A5)
  • Challenger 2 x 14

Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV)

  • M2 Bradley x 109
  • Marder x 40
  • CV90 x 50

So this is a fairly small number of “elite” equipment that Ukraine can distribute: roughly 88 modern Western tanks and just under 200 of the best IFVs.

The reason I set aside Bradleys, Marders, and CV90s as being “special” among IFVs is that these are the IFVs that can utterly dominate the BMP-2, Russia’s primary IFV. The Bradley has the TOW 2, the Marder has the MILAN anti-tank missiles, and their anti-armor ammunition for their main guns is stellar. While the CV90s Ukraine received lack an integrated anti-tank missile system, the 40mm autocannon is exceptionally powerful among IFVs and is even a threat to older Russian tanks. 

We have no information on where some other notable equipment is being assigned:

Furthermore, this is a small fraction of weapons Ukraine has received in the past four months that I am highlighting. Oryx indicates around 300 tanks, 400 IFVs, and 700 APCs (armored personnel carriers) were committed to Ukraine since November 2022, and NATO indicates 98% has already been delivered to Ukraine.

So Ukraine could do one of two things with this “elite” equipment: It could concentrate them into a pair of extremely powerful brigades, or it could break them up into several smaller units that make multiple brigades more powerful. Based on available information, it appears Ukraine has mostly chosen the latter approach.

1st/4th Tank Brigades

The 1st Tank Brigade was armed with highly upgraded T-64 Oblats, and fought effectively both at the Siege of Chernihiv north of Kyiv early in the war, as well as during the Battle of Kherson. 

The 4th Tank Brigade was armed with T-72 tanks, and spearheaded the breakthrough during the Kharkiv counteroffensive, throttling the 1st Tank Army north of Izium and participating in the victory at Lyman. Most people consider these two brigades the best tank units in the Ukrainian army, so when I heard they were receiving Leopard 2 training, I thought Ukraine might split all the Leopard 2s between them. I thought they might also be getting the Challenger 2s. However, we know that almost half the Leopard 2s (32 tanks) went to the newly formed 33rd Mechanized Brigade, so at most, Ukraine committed 42 Leopard 2s between the 1st and 4th Tank Brigades. That’s enough for three companies of 14 tanks each, so most likely, one brigade got two companies of Leopard 2s, the other got one company.  

A Ukrainian tank brigade generally has around 85 to 90 tanks in six companies, thus it’s likely that the 1st/4th Tank Brigades will continue to use their T-64s and T-72s mostly, but now supported by one to two elite Leopard 2 Companies (one of them being a super-elite Leopard 2A6 Company of 14 tanks).

33rd Mechanized Brigade

Other reports state the 33rd Mechanized Brigade was training on T-72 tanks, so it’s likely that the 33rd Mechanized will likely have at least one to two additional companies of T-72s, giving it somewhere around 50-60 tanks at a minimum. This is a very heavy tank contingent for a mechanized infantry brigade, making it somewhat more of a hybrid combined-arms brigade.

It is also not fully known what type of IFVs or APCs it will receive, but other reports of the 33rd Mechanized in training noted they were primarily training on former Soviet equipment with BMP2s. It doesn’t appear to have gotten Bradleys, CV90s, or Marders, which were noted to have been assigned to “veteran brigades” or other known units. 

They may have gotten some Stryker IFVs whose assignment is unknown, but it seems likely that the 33rd Mechanized is a pairing of Soviet-era mechanized infantry equipment with a powerful contingent of Western Tanks.

25th/80th Air Assault Brigades

What’s notable about this is that the 14 Challenger tanks aren’t going to be operated as a single company of 14 tanks, but two separate smaller units. I haven’t seen much information on what kind of equipment these two air assault brigades will receive otherwise.

Air assault brigades were traditionally highly mobile elite infantry units that had elements that could be rapidly inserted by helicopter or air drop. It’s unknown how the 70-ton Challenger tanks will be incorporated into the tactical usage of air assault brigades.

47th Assault Brigade

In another curious pairing, the newly formed 47th Assault Brigade pairs what is likely all of Ukraine’s 109 Bradleys with a very fragile but offensively powerful Slovenian M55S tank. The M55S tanks are highly upgraded T-55 tanks but even with reactive armor added, they are considered quite underprotected. They do have a modern western fire control system that lets them accurately hit targets up to the visual horizon (6,000 meters) but their 105 mm main guns are considered underpowered to take on Russian tanks.

On the other hand, the M2 Bradleys with their TOW2 missiles can engage and destroy virtually any tank in the Russian arsenal, although it might find itself disadvantaged from a lack of armor against the most modern T-90 tanks—the only tanks the M2 cannot simply outrange.

Thus, Ukraine may be banking that the Bradleys can take on any armored threat they are likely to encounter on their own, and do not need western tanks to support them. The M55s can provide heavy fire support on demand from long ranges, and also present an extreme threat to any IFVs or APCs that Russia can field. This unit would need to rely on speed, high ranges, and fire suppression to overwhelm Russian armored formations, and would be extremely dominant against enemy fixed positions defended by infantry.

There’s a lot we don’t know about how Ukraine plans to distribute its best equipment, but we’re already getting a bit of a picture. Ukraine isn’t concentrating all its best equipment into a handful of brigades, but trying to create as many “strong” brigades that can overwhelm Russian units as possible—for example, pairing Leopards with mostly Soviet IFVs, or pairing Bradley IFVs with some of the weaker Soviet era tanks.

This presents an interesting mix of units that will have definite mission-based strengths and weaknesses that Ukrainian general staff will have to be aware of as they determine who and where to commit to what type of mission. Intelligence on Russian unit locations will also be paramount. I have confidence Ukraine is up to this task, but they appear to be intent on maximizing the power of their best weapons in the largest number of units.

Special thanks to BarbeCul for his work on editing my diaries.

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Editor’s note: This Community story has been lightly edited by staff for clarity.