(CNN Spanish) — It seems that Ukraine will receive finally what you have asked for so much. The United States, Germany and the United Kingdom have promised to send tanks to help defend against the Russian invasion, and other European countries such asPoland, Norway and Spain They could also join.
Soon the main tanks of the West, andl German Leopard 2, American M1 Abrams and British Challenger 2 they could be operating in the battlefields of Ukraine, facing theT-72, T-80 y T-90 From Russia.
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While the M1 Abrams and Challenger 2s have already successfully engaged Russian-made tanks in theiraq War, in 2003, these were older models(T-55, T-62 and early versions of T-72) and operated by insufficiently trained crews. In the case of the Leopard 2, there are no known clashes with other tanks in its operational history.
This means that these three front-line Western tanks will for the first time (manned by Ukrainians) face off against Russia’s most modern armor, operated by Russian crews.
US M1A2 Abrams tanks of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division (Raider Brigade) stand in Grafenwoehr, Bavaria, Germany, on July 13. (Daniel Karmann/picture-alliance/dpa/AP)
But what are the main differences between Western and Russian tanks?
Although they are combat tanks developed by three different countries, the Leopard 2, M1 Abrams and Challenger 2 share a lot in terms of design, armor and weapons, largely due to thestandardizations within NATO.
The Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams even emerged from thejoint development program between Germany and the United States MBT-70 which ultimately did not prosper, but which laid the foundations for both projects.
Russian tanks respond to a completely different conception and can be grouped, meanwhile, into two large families: the T-64 and its modern version T-80, and the T-72 and its current heir T-90.
Both the Western and Russian tanks are developments dating back to the Cold War, with major modernizations in the 1990s and 2000s.
A Russian T-90M tank, one of the most modern versions, parades through Red Square during the Victory Day military parade in central Moscow on May 9, 2022. (Credit: ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP via Getty Images )
Americans, Germans, British and Russians have based their tank designs on learnings from World War II, but chose to emphasize different issues.
The three Western tanks due to arrive in Ukraine are operated by four crew members, three of whom are housed in the turret, the upper section of the tank armed with the main gun. The fourth, the driver, is in the hull.
The turret in western tanks is usually, thus, large, to house the crew members and also a large part of the cannon ammunition, placed in special chambers designed to explode out of the tank in the event of being hit, improving the chances of survival of the crew.
In general, Western tanks are heavier and taller than their Russian counterparts. The weight ofM1 Abrams and of the Challenger 2 reaches 62 tons in its basic versions, and that of theLeopard 2 a 72.
A German Leopard 2 tank during a demonstration in Munster, near Hannover, Germany, on September 28, 2011. (Michael Sohn/AP)
The Russians, on the other hand, have tried to make their tanks as small as possible, to reduce their silhouette on the battlefield and improve their survivability.
Thus, they only have three crew members, two of them in the small turret that does not store any ammunition (except in some models of the T-90). To achieve this feature, they use automatic loaders for the main gun, rather than a dedicated loading crewman, and store the ammunition in the hull.
The result is that these tanks are lighter, a quality that also allows them to navigate terrain with poor road infrastructure and cross less capable bridges. TheT-72 have a weight of 46 tons, while theT-90 reach 48 tons.
The tradeoff to this design decision is the propensity of Russian tanks to suffer catastrophic explosions when hit in the hull, where the ammunition is stored. Iss explosions often blow the turret into the air, as seen in the Ukrainian war.
A picture taken on September 12, 2015 shows Russian T-80 tanks during training. (Credit: OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)
Western tanks are not immune to these explosions, but are designed to carry the explosion outward in an attempt to save the crew.
The Leopard 2 and the M1 Abrams they use the same 120-millimeter smoothbore gun (the barrel of the gun has no serrations to direct the direction of rotation of the projectile) developed by the German company Rheinmetall and produced in the United States under license.
The Challenger 2 is armed with acannon of the same caliber but with a rifled bore and British design, with similar features.
These tanks are also armed with at least two 7.62-caliber machine guns, usually one coaxial to the barrel (ie firing in the same direction) and another on the turret roof.
The Russian tanks are all armed with versions of the same cannon from 125 mm smoothbore, which fire a slightly larger ammunition.
A British Challenger 2 tank on September 25, 2001 north of Thumbrait, Oman. (Credit: Pete Bristo/British Army/Getty Images)
The larger size of the ammunition requires that it be loaded in two parts, the projectile and the explosive charge separately, another reason why the Russians use automatic loaders.
In addition, they usually carry a machine gun7.62 mm coaxial and another heavy 12.7 mm on the turret roof.
In general, the capabilities of Western and Russian guns are similar, and in both cases they are capable of destroying each other, so the outcome of a confrontation usually depends on the level of training of the crew, the quality of sensors, the shooting and optics —which are generally more advanced in the West—, and the particular situation on the battlefield.
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