Drone strikes challenge Abrams tanks' role in Ukraine's modern warfare

American Abrams tanks
American Abrams tanks

Over the past two months, the Ukrainian Armed Forces have lost 5 of the 31 Abrams tanks that the United States sent to Ukraine last fall. At least three more were damaged, The New York Times reported on April 20.

"The drone combat in Ukraine that is transforming modern warfare has begun taking a deadly toll on one of the most powerful symbols of American military might — the tank — and threatening to rewrite how it will be used in future conflicts," NYT writes.

Russian forces have taken out five of the 31 U.S.-made M1 Abrams that the Pentagon sent to Ukraine last fall over the past two months, a senior U.S. official told NYT.

Read also: Armored speed and firepower – American Abrams tanks could be a game-changer on Ukrainian frontlines

At least three more tanks were “moderately damaged” earlier this year, according to Colonel Markus Reisner, an Austrian military instructor who monitors the use of Western weapons in Ukraine.

According to military analysis website Oryx, which calculates losses based on visual evidence, Ukraine has lost a total of 796 tanks since February 2022. The vast majority of them are Soviet models, but 140 of the lost tanks are those donated by NATO countries.

Meanwhile, Russia has already lost more than 2,900 tanks, Oryx reported. The Ukrainian General Staff believes that the number of tanks lost by Russia exceeds 7,000.

The journalists add that Ukraine has also lost German Leopard tanks: at least 30 of them were destroyed, according to Oryx. However, the Abrams is often called one of the best tanks in the world. And the fact that it was easier to destroy it with the help of kamikaze drones than some officials and experts had assumed shows that "the conflict in Ukraine is changing the very nature of modern warfare in yet another way," said Can Kasapoğlu, a defense analyst at the Washington-based Hudson Institute.

The use of FPV drones has become a significant factor on the battlefield, with both sides employing them to exploit the vulnerabilities of enemy tanks. The ease and low cost of drones, around $500 each, starkly contrasts the $10 million price tag of an Abrams tank, highlighting a significant shift in warfare economics.

"Welcome to the twenty-first century – it's actually incredible," says Colonel Reisner, commenting on the video of tanks being destroyed by drones on the frontline in Ukraine.

Read also: Ukraine receives all promised Abrams tanks from US

There is no easy or only way to protect tanks from drones, NYT reports. FPV drones can be stopped by jamming the signal to cut off communication with the person operating the drone. Guns and even simple fishing nets are also used to destroy drones.

"The most effective means so far is still electronic warfare and various types of passive defense," says military analyst Michael Kofman. He adds that defeating FPV drones requires "an individualized approach on the battlefield" and that Ukrainian forces are becoming more adept at it.

As for the use of air defense to protect tanks on the front line, the military and analysts interviewed say that Ukraine's scarce air defense systems are more needed to protect cities and infrastructure and to shoot down Russian planes and helicopters.

Some experts also doubt that conventional air defense systems will be effective against drones on the front lines, as they are too small and fast to be hit or detected by radar.

Another expert said that some militaries are testing laser weapons to combat drones. However, he warns that it is only a matter of time before countermeasures are invented to neutralize even lasers.

Asked whether tanks are becoming obsolete, Colonel Reisner says military engineers have always been looking for new ways to destroy them, but FPV drones have not made Abrams or other advanced tanks, such as Germany's Leopard, obsolete.

"If you want to capture terrain, you need a tank," the colonel said.

However, he adds, FPV drones are a key part of what some analysts believe will lead to an underground war in the future, with soldiers in bunkers fighting on the surface with various remote-controlled weapons.

"They will fight each other like in the Terminator," the colonel predicts.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine