Thursday, 2 Feb 2023

Army chief warns helping out Ukraine could make our troops vulnerable

‘This will leave us temporarily weaker as an Army’: Forces chief writes letter to soldiers warning that helping out Ukraine by sending tanks and other military equipment could make our troops more vulnerable

  • General Sir Patrick Sanders spells out realities of donating military equipment
  • His message to soldiers came moments after latest provision of aid announced
  • Army sources said the intervention was a bid to ‘hold ministers’ feet to the fire’
  • Latest package of aid is intended to break deadlock on battlefields of Ukraine

The head of the British Army warned yesterday that the UK’s support for Ukraine is leaving this country ‘weaker’.

In a letter obtained by the Daily Mail, General Sir Patrick Sanders spelled out the realities for Britain of donating so much of its military equipment.

The Chief of the General Staff’s message to soldiers was released just moments after the Defence Secretary announced the latest provision of aid.

Army sources said Gen Sir Patrick’s intervention was a bid to ‘hold ministers’ feet to the fire’ over promises the British Army will get back what it is giving away.

General Sir Patrick Sanders has spelled out the realities for Britain of donating so much of its military equipment

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace updating MPs in the House of Commons on the latest situation in Ukraine on Monday

As Ben Wallace told the House of Commons yesterday, the UK is sending 14 Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks.

These will be accompanied by recovery vehicles, vast quantities of spare parts, hundreds of armoured vehicles, AS-90 artillery heavy guns, high-velocity rockets and drones.

The latest package of aid, alongside contributions from Nato allies, is intended to break the deadlock on the battlefields of Ukraine.

After months of stalemate, Ukraine and Russia are planning spring offensives – the success or failure of which could determine the outcome of the war.

But the UK’s tank stocks have dwindled dramatically in recent years, hence the growing concern among senior Army officers and soldiers.

In an unprecedented intervention, Gen Sir Patrick told troops: ‘Giving away these capabilities will leave us temporarily weaker as an Army, there is no denying it.

‘There is no doubt our choice will impact on our ability to mobilise the Army against the acute and enduring threat Russia presents and meet our Nato obligations.

‘Our tank crews and gunners will feel the impact the most. But the decision also brings the opportunity to accelerate the modernisation and transformation of the Army ahead of Russia. Ukraine needs our tanks and guns now. I know they will put them to good use.

‘And there can be no better cause. And this package will encourage our allies to give battle-winning capabilities in greater numbers.’

Gen Sir Patrick’s words were posted on the Ministry of Defence’s private internet server Defence Connect.

The UK is sending 14 Challenger 2 Main Battle Tanks. Pictured: Challenger 2 main battle tank is displayed for the families watching The Royal Tank Regiment Regimental Parade in September last year

A damaged building while the members of the Ministry of Emergency Situations conduct rescue work at Kalininsky district in Donetsk, Ukraine, on Monday

His contribution to the debate over provision of military support was welcomed by troops who are anxious about the size of Britain’s Armed Forces and the MoD’s appalling record on procurement.

The Ajax armoured vehicle is a case in point. It has already cost £3.5billion yet is six years late being delivered into service. 

The ‘light tank’ was so badly designed it could not fire accurately at high speed and was so noisy it rendered its crews deaf.

Moments before Gen Sir Patrick’s letter was released, Mr Wallace told the House: ‘Today I can announce the most significant package of combat power to date to accelerate Ukrainian success.

‘Mr Speaker, we will be the first country to donate Western main battle tanks. 

‘And, we will be bringing a further squadron of our own Challenger tanks to higher readiness in place of the squadron sent.’

Mr Wallace confirmed the tanks and AS90s would come from existing stocks.

But in an attempt to quell concerns from inside the Army, he said he would bring forward the timetable for a programme to modernise artillery weapons.

A challenger 2 Main Battle Tank pictured during a Land Combat demonstration in October 2018

He also announced a review, based on the lessons of the conflict in Ukraine, of whether the UK requires a larger tank fleet.

The Challenger 2 tank is due to be replaced by the Challenger 3. But there are expected to be far fewer of the upgraded version.

Many of the UK’s 227 Challenger 2s are not in a condition to be used in combat. The tank, introduced in 1994, weighs 62.5 tons and is armed with a 120mm rifled gun and a 7.62mm chain gun.

German defence minister Christine Lambrecht resigned yesterday as her government came under criticism for its dithering in sending Ukraine heavy tanks.

Miss Lambrecht said ‘months of media focus on my person’ had stood in the way of a factual debate about the military and Germany’s security policy. 

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