Heavy tanks will 'expel' Russia, vows UK defence secretary

Ben Wallace announces a major British armoured, artillery and missile supply package for Ukraine

A British Challenger II tank training area in Estonia. A squadron is being sent to Ukraine along with a range of other weaponry. PA
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Britain’s defence secretary has announced the “most significant package of combat power” to be sent to Ukraine to expel Russian forces.

Ben Wallace revealed a broad array of modern arms, from Challenger II tanks, explosive minefield clearance, drones, ammunition and infantry fighting vehicles.

Combined with armoured support from France, the US and Germany, the advanced western equipment will provide a significant advantage to Ukraine in its fight to drive back Russian forces.

“Today I can announce the most significant package of combat power to date to accelerate Ukrainian success,” Mr Wallace told the House of Commons on Monday.

In addition to a squadron of 15 Challengers and 24 AS90 155mm guns, Britain will send “hundreds more armoured and protective vehicles”.

This will include Bulldog armoured personnel carriers, minefield breaching equipment, bridging capabilities, drones, 100,000 artillery rounds, precision missiles, Starstreak air defence missiles along with tank spares.

The package was an “important increase to Ukraine's capabilities” allowing Kiev's forces to go from merely “existing to expelling Russian forces from Ukrainian soil”.

“President Putin cannot win,” said Mr Wallace, a former soldier.

“But he's equally certain he can continue inflicting this wanton violence and human suffering until his forces are ejected from their defensive positions and expelled from the country.”

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace announcing in parliament the major package of combat power Britain is sending Ukraine. PA

That therefore required a “new level of support in combat power only achieved by combinations of main battle tank squadrons” operating alongside divisional artillery and deep missile strike systems such as Himars.

Britain will be the first country to donate western main battle tanks, Mr Wallace added, hoping that other Nato countries would follow suit.

He then urged Berlin to allow those countries that hold German-made Leopard 2 tanks to grant export licences so they can be sent to Ukraine.

There are 2,000 Leopards held by 13 European countries, with Poland and Finland both eager to send large numbers.

In response to Germany’s hesitancy on sending tanks, which many there regard as an offensive weapon, Mr Wallace urged the government to grant the licences.

He added that if a tank was being used “to defend your country, I would wager that it is a defensive weapon system”.

In response to Britain’s tank announcement, the Kremlin said that the Challenger would “burn” on the battlefield.

“The special military operation will continue. These tanks are burning and will burn," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.

But Mr Wallace claimed that “none of the international support is an attack on Russia or Nato aggression, let alone a proxy war,” it was about helping Ukraine restore its sovereignty.

While Britain’s 2021 defence Integrated Review stated that its fleet of Challenger IIs should be reduced from about 230 to 138, Mr Wallace suggested that this cut could be reversed.

“The lessons of Ukraine suggest that we need a larger tank fleet,” he said.

Updated: January 16, 2023, 6:29 PM