Ukrainian soldiers work on the tank gun of a Leopard 1 A5 main battle tank.
Klaus-Dietmar Gabbert/picture alliance via Getty Images
Ukraine’s armor arsenal was bolstered by Western tanks like the German-made Leopard ahead of the counteroffensive.
A gunner with the 47th Mechanized Brigade says these vehicles are vastly superior to Soviet tanks.
The main advantage Vladyslav said is “crew survivability.”
A Ukrainian tank gunner said in a video interview that he likes the new German-made Leopard tanks more than old Soviet ones because he and his crew are less likely to die horribly if the vehicle takes a hit.
Vladyslav, a member of the 47th Mechanized Brigade that has been pushing through Russian defenses on the front lines near Robotyne in the Zaporizhzhia region, started off fighting in a T-64.
Vladyslav, a tank gunner with the 47th Mechanized Brigade
Screenshot/Ukrainian Strategic Communications Directorate
The T-64 was an advanced tank when it first entered service in the 1960s, but it is now vastly inferior to modern main battle tanks. Though they started out on old Soviet equipment, Vladyslav and his fellow tankers have since upgraded to a Leopard 2A6, a much more capable tank from this century with protection, speed, and a stabilized cannon.
“We switched to the Leopard, and the difference is huge,” he said in the video, which was released by Ukraine’s armed forces. “The main advantage of this machine is crew survivability,” Vladyslav said, explaining that “when you go out in it, you are more at ease about your life and the lives of your fellows.”
“There’s no such effect as in Soviet equipment — no detonation of the ammo rack and no turret flying off, so to speak,” he said.
The situation the gunner is describing is known as the “jack-in-the-box effect,” and it’s something that has ended the lives of many operators of Soviet-era tanks, including crews on both sides of the ongoing fight in Ukraine.
In photos from the war, it’s not uncommon to see destroyed tanks with the turret laying nearby.
Ukrainian serviceman walks past the turret of a Russian tank next to a destroyed petrol station in the village of Skybyn, northeast of Kyiv on May 2, 2022.
SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images
With Soviet-era tanks like the T-64 or later T-72 and T-80, crew survivability wasn’t the highest priority. As a result, a weakness in the design, specifically ammunition storage, increases the likeliness that a penetrating strike will set off the ammo, ending the lives of the vehicle’s crew as the pressure build-up blows the turret off.
Western tanks like the German-made Leopard, even if they are knocked out in the fighting, don’t have this particular problem, and the crew is more likely to survive.
A destroyed Russian tank is seen in a damaged field in the village of Peremoha at Ukrainian held territory outside of Brovary, Ukraine on May 19, 2022.
Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Beyond tanks, Ukrainian service members also speak very highly of Western-made protected mobility platforms, such as armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles.
Ukrainian soldiers, for example, credited US-made Bradleys with saving their lives early in the counteroffensive when their vehicle took multiple hits, telling ABC News in an interview that “if we were using some Soviet armored personnel carrier,” then “we would all probably be dead after the first hit.”
Other Western vehicles, like the American-made Humvee, have also received praise from Ukrainian forces.
A soldier from Ukraine’s 47th Mechanized Brigade runs past a US made Bradley Fighting Vehicle as the engine is started at a secret workshop in a wooded area in Zaporizhzhia Region, Ukraine
Ed Ram/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jack Watling and Nick Reynolds, land-warfare experts at Britain’s Royal United Services Institute, compared Western and Soviet systems in a recent report.
They wrote that “for a Soviet mechanised section, its BMP was its primary weapons system, and so Soviet planners treated as synonymous the loss of the BMP with the loss of the section,” but Western armies “treat mechanisation as an addition to basic infanteering.”
This important “difference in mindset, combined with a different approach to losses, means that there is a heavy emphasis in Western platforms on the survivability of dismounts even if the vehicle is mission killed,” they said.
The Soviets built their systems in such a way that if the vehicle’s exterior armor was penetrated, the end result was “usually catastrophic for those inside it,” they said, adding that “life support systems are a secondary consideration.”