In the decades following the end of the Cold War, NATO nations have dramatically reduced the size and combat power of their respective militaries, especially when it comes to armor.
The age of the tank was said to be over following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, but in reality, the opposite is true. Russia fields some 2,800 modern main battle tanks in front-line units with about 12,000 in reserve. In addition, the Red Army fields thousands of towed and self-propelled artillery pieces along with armored fighting vehicles. Most of this combat power is stationed in Russia’s west, opposite NATO alliance nations.
Meanwhile, NATO countries have dramatically reduced their armored forces. Once upon a time during the Cold War, Germany — arguably the nation that perfected tank warfare formations — fielded about 2,100 excellent Leopard 2 MBT’s, but today that fleet has been winnowed to 225. France has reduced its tank fleet to 406, but only slightly more than 200 are stationed with front-line units. Britain, meanwhile, has reduced its tank force from more than 800 during the Cold War to 156, and all of them are stationed with one regiment.
Those figures combined are fewer in number than the 700 or so tanks separatists in Ukraine are reportedly operating.
The U.S. military, meanwhile, possesses some 6,000 Abrams MBTs, but only a small contingent of armor is stationed in Europe. Most American armor is stored in the continental U.S.
These startling numbers make a compelling case for NATO nations to bolster their inventories of front-line MBTs, in order to meet and defeat any Russian push. If sheer numbers aren’t compelling enough, then Russian military strategy should be. The Russian Army has reaffirmed its commitment to tank warfare (which may be one principal reason why many in Congress and the Pentagon have resisted retiring the A-10 Warthog, which was built to blunt massed armor attacks in Europe). It has reformed the multi-division 1st Guards Tank Army (1st GTA), and that unit consists of some 500 to 600 tanks, 600 to 800 infantry fighting vehicles and 300 to 400 artillery pieces.
What’s more, Russian military doctrine emphasizes “preemption, escalation dominance, surprise (suddenness and deception), shock, strike power, and speed of action [which] are classic features of Russian military operations… The entirety of the armed forces and its supporting military system are poised for quick, early action in a crisis, conflict, or war to preempt their opponent’s ability to surprise them.” [source]
NATO armor isn’t up to the task of repelling such an assault.
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