LONDON — The British government is to provide Challenger 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine, according to officials in Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s office.
A spokesperson for Sunak briefed reporters Jan. 11 that the prime minister had asked Defence Secretary Ben Wallace to go “further and faster with our support for the Ukraine, including provision of tanks.”
A formal announcement of the move to send up to 12 main battle tanks to Kyiv is expected to be made at a Jan. 20 meeting of Ukraine donor countries in Ramstein, Germany, said Ministry of Defence officials.
Britain has supplied Ukraine with over 200 armored vehicles since the Russian invasion, but this would be the first time heavy armor is donated by the British.
Discussions regarding the possible donation of Challenger 2 tanks have been underway for weeks against a background of increasing consideration by several nations to upgrade their arms deliveries.
Poland and Finland have both offered to send German-built Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, subject to approval by Berlin.
German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told reporters on Jan. 12 that there was no decision by her government to send such weapons, and that no countries with Leopard 2s in their inventory had requested an export license on their own.
Britain’s announcement last night came just hours after members of the Parliamentary Defence Select Committee had called the British plans a “public relations story.”
The MoD and the Army have long faced criticism for failing to upgrade the decades-old Challenger 2. Lawmakers questioned defense procurement minister Alex Chalk in testimony on Jan. 11, asking about the availability of training, spare parts and ammunition for just 12 tanks.
Chalk told the committee that donating the tanks would not just be a political gesture but add actual firepower for Ukraine’s defense.
“It doesn’t just have a symbolic value but also an additional capability,” said Chalk.
Unique among NATO members, the British tank uses a rifled 120 mm cannon and is incompatible with standard weapons on tanks like the Leopard 2, which has a smoothbore gun.
Britain has 227 Challenger 2 tanks and is in the early stages of a £1.4 billion ($1.7 billion) upgrade of 148 vehicles. The first of those though won’t be available until 2027.
Andrew Chuter is the United Kingdom correspondent for Defense News.