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Tanks on the counter-offensive: Ukraine one year on

Interview with Colonel Oleg Hrudsevych, Tank Commander Ukrainian Army,
holder of the title 'Hero of Ukraine'

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Since the beginning of a large-scale phase of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Col. Hrudsevych headed the tank battalion of the 17th Tank Brigade. The sub-subunit led by him succeeded in making a breakthrough from the encircled city of Mariupol in mid-April, where Col. Hrudsevych was defending the city and surrounding area from Russian forces during the previous months.

Q: It has been a year since our last interview, what were some of the major developments since then?

A: First, it must be said that the Ukrainian Armed Forces did not allow the Russians to launch an offensive as quickly as they had planned. Also, among the important events, I should mention the fierce battle for Bakhmut. I am sure it will go down in history books. It is also necessary to mention the offensive actions of our troops in the Zaporizhzhia direction. An important event now is the enemy's stubborn offensive to capture Ukrainian Avdiivka.

Q: Ukraine seems to currently be on the offensive, how important has the tank been in the offensive?

A: Yes, Ukraine is now conducting offensive operations. The role of tanks in the summer and fall counter-offensive is quite significant. Tanks, along with artillery units, inflict damage on the enemy from closed firing positions. Also, tanks are used during assault operations as a means of supporting the advancing infantry. Most importantly, when using tanks, weather conditions should be considered. For example, the weather is currently favourable for tanks. After the autumn rain falls, tanks will be used less in direct assault operations and more for firing from closed firing positions. That is, tanks work like artillery.

Q: How big of an impact has the adoption of Western tanks on the battlefield been in terms of tactics and doctrine?

A: The tactics of using tanks may not have changed, but the impact on the battlefield from the psychological point of view was quite significant. Both on our troops and the enemy's troops. After all, our units were waiting for the Western tanks with joy and enthusiasm, while the enemy was waiting with fear. However, they proved to perform differently. For example, the 120 mm Rheinmetall gun allows firing at a greater distance and with greater accuracy than the 125 mm 2A46 gun, which is used by the Ukrainian and Russian tanks. Tankers feel more confident because Western tanks offer a much better chance of crew survival than Soviet and post-Soviet T-72 and T-64 tanks. As for tactics and doctrine, it has not changed significantly: tanks are used to support infantry and strike fortifications without much difference.

Q: How is Ukraine coping with the use of so many different types of tanks logistically?

A: Even before the delivery of Western tanks, the Ukrainian Armed Forces had many modifications of Soviet-made tanks in service - T-64, T-72, and T-80 with two types of engines, T-84. In other words, nothing much has changed in terms of logistics - only the range of spare parts and shells of a different calibre has been added. The only thing that has changed is that tank repair and refurbishment plants are located outside of Ukraine.

Q: In your opinion, of the tanks in the front line, what are their relative strengths and weaknesses?

A: Their strengths, of course, include the ability to inflict heavy fire damage on the enemy. This has been and will be their advantage on the battlefield. According to the stories of my comrades, a tank is the most fearsome weapon on the battlefield, even more fearsome than aircraft. The disadvantages include the fact that you can hear the rumble of tanks from far away, and the enemy can already be waiting in one direction or another with anti-tank weapons, as well as the fact that the advance of tanks can be seen from afar with the help of UAVs.

Q: In the past you mentioned the importance of firing rapidly, how have Western tanks performed in this respect?

A: I still think that whoever fired first, and hit will survive. Western tanks have shown themselves to be quite good in this regard, as the first few shells are loaded by a human faster than the enemy's automatic weapons. So, in this respect, we have an advantage over the enemy. But it should also be said that when fighting with a large number of ammunitions, a person can get tired, and the time for loading increases. And the automatic charging mechanism still works at the same speed as during the first shot. Therefore, it is necessary to hit the target from the first shot.

Q: Would you say the Western tanks have given Ukraine any advantage in night fighting?

A: Yes, definitely. Western tanks have a head start on Russian tanks in terms of night vision. Western models of night vision devices allow us to confidently distinguish and hit targets at distances of up to 2.5 km, and an accurate gun helps us to do this.

Q: Has there generally been any changes in the typical engagement ranges?

A: There have been no changes as such, as the area of hostilities is densely populated, and the terrain is medium rugged. The range of direct vision does not exceed 3-4 km. Therefore, I can say that the ranges were up to 4 km, and they remained so.

Q: The Russians have also been fighting for over a year, what lessons do you believe they have learnt?

A: Yes, we are not the only one's learning. The Russians are also learning, including from our military. I must say for the same drones, FPV (First Person View) drones, which they have also begun to use on a large scale. Although sometimes it seems that they have not learnt anything. Just as their columns were decimated by the Ukrainian military at the start of the war, they are now recklessly advancing in columns near Vuhledar and Avdiivka demonstrating disregard for casualties. The saturation of drones, especially kamikaze drones, has increased significantly, and this is a factor that makes life much more difficult for our military.

Q: Would you say that the survivability of Russian crews remained relatively the same throughout the conflict?

A: I think this statement is true, although I believe that their lethality has increased somewhat due to the use of the same FPV drones and Western tanks. Another factor in the increase in mortality among Russian crews is that we have significantly “thinned out” the most trained crews.

Q: According to some news sources the Russians have invested more in counter drone technology, how effective are they now at deterring tanks working with drones?

A: Our units have been quite successful in countering Russian tanks with the help of FPV drones. That is why the Russians will continue to invest in protection against such drones, including the so-called braziers over tank turrets and electronic warfare equipment. How effective is it? Somewhat efficient.

Q: What would you say were the greatest lessons learnt in using the tank in urban conflict?

A: The biggest lesson learnt was that a tank in a city should always be under infantry cover. Always. We have repeatedly seen how tanks left without infantry cover very quickly turn into a crematorium for the crew. The best thing would be for tanks not to enter the city at all, but this is impossible. That is why the tactics of using tanks in cities remain the same: cover by infantry units, use of reconnaissance drones, and work in twos.

Q: If you could give one message to everyone reading this interview, what would it be?

A: Remember that Ukraine is fighting for the entire democratic world and your support is extremely important for every Ukrainian. At the moment, Ukraine is the wall that does not allow Russian fascism, which brings only death and grief, to enter European countries.

Interview by Oleksandr Schulman, special correspondent of the informational agency ArmyInform. Special thanks to Think Tank ADASTRA for helping in the organisation of the interview and Defence iQ for letting Military Vehicle Systems share it.

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