Britain is taking idle Challenger 2 tanks out of storage to take part in NATO’s largest military exercise since the Cold War, as the threat of all-out conflict with Russia continues to loom.
More than 50 British tanks are heading to Eastern Europe to take part in NATO’s biggest war games in a generation, which will see 90,000 troops from across the alliance carry out exercises over four months.
Most of the tanks will be transported through the Channel Tunnel by rail from the UK, while a dozen of the aging Challenger 2s will be taken out of storage in Germany to join the exercise.
They will join hundreds of armored vehicles that were loaded onto cargo ships and sent to the mainland to take part in exercise Steadfast Defender earlier this week.
This comes as Estonia has warned that Vladimir Putin’s forces are preparing for a military confrontation with the West that could last a decade, with European states eager to strengthen their forces to deter the Russian threat.
Britain has already sent 14 of its Challenger 2s to Ukraine. In the photo: One of the tanks at an undisclosed location near the front line in the Zaporizhzhia region, February 12.
Military vehicles, including trucks and support vehicles, are loaded onto cargo ships bound for Europe.
The Baltic state’s foreign intelligence service said in its annual report on Tuesday that NATO could face “a massive Soviet-style army that, although technologically inferior to the allies, represents a significant threat due to its size, firepower and Bookings”.
“Although Russia’s enormous human resources, reduced to cannon fodder, have been unable to carry out large-scale offensive operations in Ukraine, the Kremlin’s war machine still has enough fuel,” the report warns.
While Russia has not been explicitly named in reference to the ongoing exercises, NATO considers them the most significant direct threat to the security and peace of its members in Europe.
Captain Greg Jardine, 32, operations officer at Marchwood, where armored vehicles were loaded to head to Germany and then Poland this week, said the changing situation in Europe means Steadfast Defender is necessary.
Captain Jardine said: ‘It’s an incomparable size compared to our usual exercises… It’s an escalation in the pace of our training and that comes down to exercise.
“We are not in a situation where we expect to go to war soon, but the situation in Europe has changed.”
The Challenger 2 tanks being taken out of storage for the exercises will not require a lot of maintenance to get them ready for the exercises, a military source said. The times.
The mothballed tanks are stored in Germany, where 20,000 British troops were based until they were withdrawn in 2020, and a fleet of equipment is maintained to allow UK forces to train in Europe.
The Spearhead Battalion practices short-notice deployment exercises in its role as the infantry core of NATO’s Spearhead Battle Group in January.
Britain has already sent 14 of its Challenger 2s to Ukraine, where the tanks have proven invaluable in helping Kiev defeat invading Russian forces.
The £5 million war machine, with a 120mm rifled gun and 7.62mm machine gun, is a battle tank designed to attack other tanks.
It is the UK’s only mobile tank guaranteed 24-hour, all-weather, with protected precision direct fire and anti-tank maneuver capability, says the British Army.
The tank entered service in the 1990s, and many of them are now being upgraded to extend their serviceability until 2040.
British military commanders have described it as a modern tank that is “much better protected, more reliable and faster” than Soviet-era Russian tanks.
Britain has 213 tanks, while Russia has 1,750, although Putin’s war chest has been badly hit by his long war in Ukraine.
This week it emerged that Kremlin forces have lost more than 3,000 tanks during their illegal war in Ukraine, more than their entire pre-war inventory.
Russia has relied primarily on its Soviet-era T-72 tanks, which have been destroyed by the hundreds over the two-year war.
Moscow has also deployed hundreds of its advanced T-90 tanks in Ukraine, which are supposed to be some of the best tanks in the world, although in much smaller numbers than the T-72.
While Russia has suffered heavy losses on the battlefield, Putin’s top adviser to the UK this week claimed it “cannot be defeated” due to the massive country’s significant resources.
Moscow has also called up more recruits and resupplied its forces on the battlefield, and has new armored vehicles and a steady supply of artillery from its allies North Korea and Iran. Drones are also being used extensively.
There is concern among Western military leaders that Putin could set his sights on NATO’s eastern flank and on countries that, like Ukraine, were once behind the Soviet Union’s Iron Curtain.
The “unparalleled” operation comes as it emerged that Vladimir Putin’s forces have lost more than 3,000 tanks during their illegal war in Ukraine.
UK Defense Secretary Grant Shapps warned last month that the world is “moving from a post-war world to a pre-war world” and that the UK must ensure “its entire defense ecosystem is prepared”.
Germany’s Chancellor warned this week that Europe has to “urgently” increase “mass weapons production.”
“This is urgently needed because the painful reality is that we do not live in times of peace,” he said.
The diplomatic push across the continent comes after Donald Trump, who is leading the race for the Republican nomination for the 2024 election, said earlier this week that he did not believe European nations were paying enough money to NATO.
At a campaign rally in South Carolina, the former president said Saturday that he had told the leader of a “great” European power that he would not intervene if Russia attacked an ally that failed to meet its financial obligations.
‘No, I wouldn’t protect you. In fact, I would encourage you to do whatever you want,” Trump told his supporters.
President Joe Biden, who has pledged strong support for the alliance, criticized his likely opponent’s comments in November’s presidential election as “appalling and dangerous.”
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg strongly rebutted Trump, saying that “any suggestion that allies will not defend each other undermines all of our security, including that of the United States.”
A senior NATO diplomat, speaking like others on condition of anonymity, called the comment an “attack on the soul of the alliance” for casting doubt on its Article 5 promise to protect an ally if attacked.
Moscow’s annexation of Crimea to Ukraine in 2014 already pushed European nations to increase their defense budgets.
The full-scale invasion of 2022 saw NATO turn the two percent spending commitment into a floor rather than a ceiling.
The commitment was made in 2014 and currently only 11 of the 31 member states meet the objective.