(CNN Spanish) — It seems that Ukraine will finally receive what it has been asking 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 as Poland, Norway and Spain could also join.
Soon the main tanks of the West, the German Leopard 2, the American M1 Abrams and the British Challenger 2 could be operating on the battlefields of the Ukraine, facing the T-72, T-80 and T-90 From Russia.
While the M1 Abrams and Challenger 2s have already successfully engaged Russian-made tanks in the iraq 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 frontline Western tanks will for the first time face off against Russia’s most modern armor, operated by Russian crews.
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 the standardizations within NATO.
The Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams even emerged from the joint 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 T-80 version, 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.
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 than their Russian counterparts. The weight of M1 Abrams and of the challenger 2 reaches 62 tons in its basic versions, and that of the Leopard 2 to 72.
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. The T-72 have a weight of 46 tonswhile the T-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.
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 a cannon of the same caliber but with a rifled bore and British design, with similar features.
The tanks are also armed with at least two 7.62-caliber machine guns, usually one next to the gun and one on the turret roof.
The Russian tanks are all armed with versions of the same cannon from 125 mm smoothborewhich fire a slightly larger ammunition.
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 gun 7.62 mm next to the gun and another heavy 12.7 mm on the roof of the turret.
In general, the capabilities of Western and Russian guns are similar, and in both cases they are in a position to destroy 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.
engines and speed
The M1 Abrams uses an advanced and complex gas Turbine Engine, the only one currently in its class, with a maximum power of 1,500 horsepower. These engines are lighter than conventional engines and offer greater relative power, at the cost of enormous fuel consumption.
The Leopard 2 and Challenger 2 use, instead, conventional diesel engines, at greater weight and lower consumption. That of the Leopard 2 with a power of 1,500 horses, and the one of Challenger with 1,200 horses.
The M1 Abrams and the Leopard 2 They can reach a speed of more than 70 kilometers per hour with autonomies of 400 Y 450 kilometers, respectively, while the challenger 2 It can reach speeds of 60 kilometers per hour with 550 kilometers of autonomy.
In their first versions, the Russian T-80s also used gas turbines, but nowadays they are usually produced with diesel engines of about 1,000 horsepower, like the T-72 and T-90.
The T-72 thus achieves a maximum speed of 65 kilometers per hour with a range of 550 kilometerswhile the T-90 reaches the 60 kilometers per hour with the same autonomy.
Shielding and protection
The three western tanks are equipped with an advanced composite armor (steel is often added with layers of ceramics and other components that more efficiently degrade the impacting projectile), initially developed in the United Kingdom and known as Chobham/Dorchester.
The exact composition of the armor Chobham/Dorchester it’s a secret.
In addition, this armor is often sloped at angles to further enhance its protection, and is especially concentrated on the front of the hull and turret.
Russian tanks mostly use steel armoralthough some models, such as the T-90, have a proprietary version of composite armor. They also ride it at steep angles.
In general, they are usually reinforced with reactive armorsmall ceramic plates attached to the hull and turret, which explode when hit by a projectile.
Source: CNN Espanol