A high-level British general has warned that sending 14 Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine could leave the British military “temporarily weaker,” The Times reported on Monday.
Gen. Patrick Sanders, Britain’s chief of the general staff, said sending the tanks would leave a “gap” in the British military inventory and would make it hard for London to meet its NATO commitments. According to numbers from early 2022, the UK has 227 Challenger 2 tanks, compared with over 6,000 main battle tanks that the US possesses.
“Ukraine needs our tanks and guns now. I know they will put them to good use. And there can be no better cause,” Sanders said in a video posted on the British Army’s intranet that was leaked to the media. “Giving away these capabilities will leave us temporarily weaker as an army, there is no denying it.”
The Times cited “defense insiders” who said Sanders’ comments were likely an effort to make sure the British Defense Ministry replaces what it sends to Ukraine. “There is no doubt that our choice will impact on our ability to mobilize the Army against the acute and enduring threat Russia presents and meet our Nato obligations,” Sanders said.
“It is vital that we restore and enhance the army’s warfighting capability at pace to reinforce our combat credibility and retain our position as the leading European ally in NATO,” he added.
The UK currently plans to upgrade 148 of its 227 Challenger 2s into Challenger 3s, which would cut the rest of the tanks that won’t be upgraded. But British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said he’s reconsidering the plan in light of the situation in Ukraine.
“Even as we gift Challenger 2 tanks, I shall at the same time be reviewing the number of Challenger 3 conversions to consider whether the lessons of Ukraine suggest that we need a larger tank fleet,” he said.
Britain’s pledge to send 14 tanks to Ukraine falls far short of the 300 the commander of Ukraine’s armed forces said he needs to have a chance of pushing Russia out of Ukrainian territory. Poland says it’s ready to send 14 German-made Leopard tanks, a plan that needs to be signed off by Berlin.
The Challenger 2s will be the first Western-made heavy tanks provided to Ukraine, marking a significant escalation of military aid to Kyiv. Russia has strongly warned against the move, but the Western powers no longer seem concerned about the possibility that sending the tanks could escalate the war. The Kremlin said Monday that any British tanks sent to Ukraine “will burn.”