Ukraine Update: The Ukrainian Army is expanding—they need American surplus armor

The Ukrainian Army has formally acknowledged something rumored for months: they are forming five new brigades—the 150th, 151st, 152nd, 153rd, and 154th Mechanized Infantry brigades. Five additional mechanized brigades are rumored to be within months of activation.

Even five brigades represent approximately a 5% expansion of the Ukrainian Army, thus 5-10 new brigades  represent a significant increase in combat strength for Ukraine—provided sufficient trained soldiers, officers, and equipment can be provided.

Building off the successful model used to form the 82nd Air Assault Brigade, Ukraine is drawing experienced junior officers and non-commissioned officers for the new brigades. Meanwhile, the rank-and-file soldiers forming the bulk of the brigade are primarily conscripts who have undergone a 4-6 month training program.

The effort to replace and grow the Ukrainian army amidst thousands of casualties has been a joint effort by many of its allies. The European Union joint training program is on pace to deliver its 35,000th trained soldier by the end of 2023. The United Kingdom’s Operation Interflex is on pace to have trained over 37,000 in 2023, and the United States has trained 19,000 soldiers and 3,100 officers. In total, 94,000 Ukrainians were trained by its allies. And of course, Ukraine is churning out thousands of its own soldiers from domestic training programs.

Allied training efforts are not without their critiques. Many Ukrainian soldiers are frustrated that some basic knowledge required for survival on the front lines has been missing from their training, such as how to best survive drones.  Others complain that the tactics they learn assume air superiority that does not exist for Ukraine, including how to call for mass air strikes or plentiful precision munitions.

151st Brigade soldiers training in Eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine seemingly intends to mitigate some of those challenges by assigning battle-hardened junior and non-commissioned officers to lead the recruits. Any training deficiencies and unrealistic expectations among fresh lieutenants and privates new to the battlefield can be corrected by veteran sergeants, senior lieutenants, and captains.

Keeping these precious soldiers safe, secure, and alive while combat-effective is massively important.

Unfortunately, Pro-Russian Republican efforts to block aid to Ukraine, whose success Russia celebrated with a salvo of missiles aimed at Ukrainian civilian infrastructure, is making that task that much harder.

Last week, I discussed how armored vehicles capable of delivering assault infantry to their assembly points were a crucial asset in modern warfare.

Armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles can carry soldiers directly to the front line, protecting them from artillery shrapnel and machine gun fire, without physically and mentally exhausting them before the assault even begins. 

Related Article: Why a lack of armored vehicles is stalling Russia’s infantry assault

There are two types of armored vehicles infantry rely on, which separates modern heavy infantry from modern light infantry units.

Light infantry go into battle either on foot (like many Russian units around Avdiivka), or riding on Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) like the ubiquitous Cold War era American M113 APC.

M113 APC

Armored against only shrapnel, and equipped only with a heavy machine gun, these armored vehicles are often referred to as “battle taxis.” They are primarily for transport, not front-line fighting. The infantry will advance on foot for the final 1.5~2 kilometers to attack their objective.

Ukraine frequently also uses Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles like the MaxxPro armored truck in this role.

UA MaxxPro of a Jaeger brigade CC4.0 per
MaxxPro MRAP vehicle

Heavy infantry units use Infantry fighting vehicles (IFVs). Unlike the lightly armored APCs, IFVs like the American-made M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle feature heavy armor and a powerful 25mm autocannon.

M2 Bradley IFV

For example, a Bradley can do this.

The Bradley’s 25mm autocannon fires up to 500 rounds of anti-armor or anti-personnel incendiary high explosive shells per minute. This autocannon can quickly tear up anything less armored than a main battle tank, as well as decimate an exposed platoon of Russian infantry within seconds from over a mile away.

But just as importantly, if not more so, the Bradley’s heavy armor protects its crew and passengers from enemy attacks, including direct hits from enemy auto cannons, landmines, and anti-tank missiles. In one case, Ukrainian soldiers marveled that they came out unharmed after their Bradley was first struck an anti-tank mine, then struck by an anti-tank missile. They would’ve been dead had they been riding in a Soviet IFV like the BMP1.

Ukrainian BMP1 IFV

Nearly 60 years after its introduction, the once innovative Soviet BMP1 remains in ubiquitous service in the Ukrainian and (increasingly) the Russian armies, as the latter runs out of more modern variants.  

Upgraded BMP1s dominated Ukraine’s army at the start of the Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022, and it received nearly 300 more primarily from its Eastern European allies early in the war. Since then, Ukraine has received nearly 700 more modern Western IFVs like German Marders, American Strykers and Bradleys, Polish Rosomak Wolverines, as well as the Swedish CV90.

The BMP1 is inferior to more modern Western IFVs in almost every way. For example, while the Bradley’s autocannon can spit 500 rounds per minute up to 2,200 meters away with deadly accuracy, the original BMP1’s main gun can fire 8 rounds per minute at a maximum range of 800m-1,000 meters. Upgraded cannons can fire a bit farther, but that doesn’t solve the vehicle’s biggest problem—simply put, if the BMP1 gets hit “everyone dies.” Even a .50-caliber heavy machine gun can penetrate the frontal armor of the BMP1

While many Ukrainians continue riding in those death traps, the tragedy is that this need not be so. The United States has over 4,500 Bradley fighting vehicles in storage, most of them kept in a near combat-ready state. The contracts for prototypes for testing and operation of the replacement for the Bradley, the XM30, have already been awarded and should be in service within 5-6 years, with an aim towards replacing the Bradley completely by 2030.

What’s more, the US Army has already designated all but a few hundred Bradleys in storage to be incapable of being used in a frontline combat role because of factors that don’t apply to Ukraine’s army. For example, the Army requires its front-line IFV’s to be quipped with the Israeli Trophy APS system, designed to shoot down incoming anti-tank missiles. Only the newest Bradley M2A4 variants have the power components necessary to operate the Trophy APS. Most of the Bradleys currently in storage are the M2A2 or older models with insufficient power supply.

Ukraine will happily take those non-compliant Bradleys, saving them from fire sales or the scrap heap.

A Ukrainian mechanized infantry brigade generally operates around 100 IFVs and 30 tanks. However, additional spare vehicles are necessary to account for combat losses, damaged vehicles, and simple mechanical repairs. Ukraine received around 180 Bradleys, which has proved enough to operate the 47th Mechanized Brigade for an extended period.

Assuming that Ukraine needs around 180 Bradleys per Mechanized Brigade, The US could theoretically equip all five new Ukrainian Mechanized Brigades with just 900 Bradleys. Ten mechanized brigades would require 1,800 Bradleys, just half the Bradleys in US storage.

A new M2A2 Bradley costs around $3.1M. Nine-hundred Bradleys would be just over $2.7B. Even 1,800 Bradleys would cost under $5.6B—only a fraction of the $61B aid package proposed by President Biden, and that’s not accounting for depreciation. 

This is what’s at stake with the fight over Ukraine aid. Ukrainian troops can ride into battle “protected” by the  soda-can-thin armor of BMP1 IFVs, or they can storm Russian positions better protected in hundreds, if not thousands of Bradleys that the US Army doesn’t even want.

American surplus armored vehicles stored at the Sierra Army Depot (SIAD) site.


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