Soldiers in Dorset command British tanks during the Ukraine War

A soldier in full camouflage scans the horizon

The first nation to offer Ukraine modern Western battle tanks was Britain. The soldiers from Kiev are currently learning how to use them in the UK.

Some people have battle experience, like Sasha.

He has engaged in combat in eastern Ukraine. But he is switching from his outdated Russian T-80 tank to the Challenger 2 of the British Army.

Grisha, his friend, had only been operating tractors up until a few months ago.

They are both currently learning to operate a 60,000-ton tank, which is much heavier and more advanced than anything they have ever operated before.

Despite being more than 20 years old, Sasha and Grisha consider the British Army's Challenger 2 to be a vast improvement over Ukraine's older and lighter Soviet-era tanks.

Sasha gushes about the suspension, maneuverability, and simplicity of the engine access. The mechanic is also the driver.

But he particularly appreciates the British-style appliance inside that heats water for cups of tea. He claims that his previous tank lacked such creature comforts. Grisha is concentrated on their main objective.

According to him, Ukraine needs Western tanks like the Challenger 2 to win this conflict.

A man in army gear looks into the horizon
These are the weapons Ukraine needs, according to Sasha.

Ukraine will only receive 14 Challenger 2s from Britain. However, other countries are now providing Ukraine with Western main battle tanks as the UK did.

Overall, at least 11 nations have now made the same commitment, though it is still unknown how many will actually be delivered or when they will do so. Some countries have declined to discuss figures.

Over the past few weeks, soldiers like Sasha and Grisha have been stationed at a British Army base in Dorset, driving training vehicles rather than the ones that will eventually be sent to Ukraine.

Among the dignitaries who visited them to gauge their progress were the Defence Secretary Ben Wallace and the Army Chief of Staff General Sir Patrick Sanders.

Mr Wallace says it's not just about learning to drive and fire the Challenger, but how to "weave them together" with armoured vehicles and artillery to create "a combined arms effect".

A group of Ukrainian soldiers stand in front of a Ukrainian flag
Ben Wallace, the UK's defense secretary, is present with the Ukrainian troops' British instructors.

In other words, how to employ them in offensive operations to seize Russian territory.

On top of a Challenger, Mr. Wallace smiles for a picture with grateful Ukrainian soldiers and exclaims, "Crimea that way!".

He makes light of President Putin's most recent speech by joking that it provides more inspiration than "a two-hour speech.".

Along with the 14 Challenger tanks, Britain is also giving Ukraine 30 SA-90 self-propelled artillery guns and 20 Bulldog armored troop carriers.

When we visit, Ukrainian soldiers are already using tools and wrenches, demonstrating that they are picking up maintenance skills quickly.

They have demonstrated that the Ukrainians are "very bright, with technical skills that make it easy to instruct," according to Lance Corporal Zach Reid of the King's Royal Hussars, one of their British instructors.

Additionally, he thinks the Challenger 2's arrival, with its heavier armor, night sights, and thermal imaging, could be a "game changer.". Russian tanks with the same are rare.

Theoretically, the British Army possesses 227 Challenger 2 tanks. In actuality, less than half of those are combat-ready. Some vehicles from the late 1990s are probably the result of cannibalization for spare parts that are no longer produced.

Ben Wallace, however, suggests that he has more to send. General Sir Patrick Sanders, head of the Army, has acknowledged that sending just 14 tanks has "temporarily weakened" the British Army.

Mr. Wallace himself is requesting more money from the Treasury. He points out that, since Russia's invasion, 20 of the 30 members of NATO have pledged to increase their defense spending. Britain hasn't as of yet.

However, Mr. Wallace is currently focused on aiding Ukraine in winning this conflict, even if it means plundering his own supplies and stocks. If more British-made tanks are needed for Ukraine, he responds, "I'd be open to giving more if we think that's the right thing to do.".

A man hols ear muffs over his ears as he gets out of a tank
Before heading back to Ukraine, the soldiers will train for several weeks.

In the coming weeks, Sasha and Grisha will undergo additional training, including instruction on how to use the Challenger 2's 155-millimeter gun.

Their tanks are being equipped for battle elsewhere, including new communications systems.

Another logistical challenge will be getting them to Ukraine. They cannot be airlifted to Poland because they are too large and heavy. To get them to the front, however, in time for the anticipated Ukrainian spring offensive, there is a sense of urgency.

The first Western country to offer Ukraine main battle tanks was Britain. It wants to be the first to witness the entry of their tanks into combat.

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