UK confirms delivery of Challenger tanks, artillery to Ukraine in landmark new defense package
U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak confirmed late on Jan. 14 the delivery of 14 Challenger 2 tanks and around 30 AS90 self-propelled 155mm howitzers as part of a major new package of military aid Ukraine.
The tank squadron will be delivered to Ukraine in the coming weeks, with the self-propelled artillery following soon after, the U.K. Prime Minister's Office said.
Sunak stressed the need for an international strategy to break the stalemate in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“The prime minister is clear that a long and static war only serves Russia’s ends,” a Downing Street spokesperson said.
Equipped with state-of-the art targeting technology and advanced armor, the Challenger 2 is considered to be superior to the Soviet-era tanks currently operated by both sides in the war.
The U.K. will start training the Ukrainian forces to use the Challenger tanks and guns in the coming days. The nation has already provided basic training to Ukrainian soldiers as part of Operation Interflex, launched in July 2022 and involving instructors from eleven other nations.
Citing a “senior defense official”, British tabloid The Mirror reported on Jan. 15 that the U.K. will also send four Apache attack helicopters, armed with Hellfire missiles to Ukraine. The full details of the new U.K. military aid package will be released on Jan. 16.
As the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion approaches, the move, labelled the “start of a gear change in the UK’s support,” is part a significant change of wind among Ukraine’s partners, committing Western-built tanks for the first time to improve Ukraine’s capacity for offensive operations.
The announcement comes four days after Polish President Andrzej Duda announced the delivery of twelve German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.
Duda said that the tanks would be delivered as part of a growing “international coalition” to provide Ukraine with Western-built tanks, with several European nations including Finland signalling their willingness to contribute.
Any delivery of German-built Leopard tanks must still be approved by Berlin, which has yet to give an official all-clear. On Jan. 13, Bloomberg reported that Germany would announce its final decision ahead of the next round of the Rammstein defense summit on Jan. 20.
The U.K. will commit £2.3 billion ($2.77 billion) in aid to Ukraine in 2023, the UK’s Defense Secretary Ben Wallace announced on Dec. 29.
“Another £2.3 billion worth of support next year, and in that we make sure they have the weapon systems they need, and at the moment, the United Kingdom will go and help them buy itafrom elsewhere around the world,” Wallace said.
The Sunak government believes a window of opportunity has opened up in the where Russia is on the back foot due to resupply issues and plummeting morale, Downing Street said.
For this reason, the government is urgining its allies to deploy planned support for 2023 as soon as possible to have maximum impact.
This week, U.K.’s foreign and defense secretaries will meet counterparts to stimulate international action in a “flurry of diplomacy,” the press release said.
Wallace will travel to Estonia and Germany this week to work with NATO allies and other international partners. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will travel to the U.S. and Canada.
After months of negotiations, Germany announced on Jan. 5 that it would provide Ukraine with Marder infantry fighting vehicles. The U.S. jointly announced it would send 50 Bradley fighting vehicles on the same day, while France said it would provide AMX-10 RC wheeled tank destroyers.
As part of Lithuania's 40 million euro military aid commitment for Ukraine over 2023, President Gitanas Naseda also announced on Jan. 11 the delivery of more air defense systems.