Explosives-laden Russian drones damaged two rare Strv 122 tanks belonging to the Ukrainian army’s 21st Mechanized Brigade, 10 miles west of Svatove in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region, on or before Friday.
The 69-ton Strv 122, a Swedish upgrade of the German-made Leopard 2A5 tank, arguably is Ukraine’s best tank—at least until American-made M-1s begin arriving later this month.
While the Strv 122 has a shorter and less powerful 44-caliber version of the 120-millimeter main gun that arms Ukraine’s slightly-less-rare Leopard 2A6, the Strv 122 has the benefit of extra armor—including additional armor on the turret roof.
That extra armor might make all the difference if and when Ukrainian engineers recover the two damaged Strv 122s and assess them for repair, or scrapping.
We don’t know what happened to expose the Strv 122s to aerial attack. Both vehicles were idle in open fields with their hatches open, no friendly forces visible nearby. The circumstances point to mines.
Russian TM-62 anti-tank mines are among the biggest immobilizers of Ukrainian tanks. What tends to happen is: a tank rolls over one of the 21-pound mines, throws a track and can’t move. The crew bails out. Hours or even days later, explosives-laden Russian drones swarm the tank, their operators hoping to destroy the vehicle for good.
If the tank survives the drone onslaught, engineers might eventually tow it away. The question is: whose engineers? If the Ukrainians recover the tank, they will try to repair it and return it to its unit. If the Russians recover it, it becomes a trophy.
To be sure, the 21st Mechanized Brigade will be highly motivated to recover and fix the two damaged Strv 122s. Sweden donated just 10 of the four-person tanks last winter as part of a larger arms package that also included CV90 infantry fighting vehicles and Archer howitzers.
The 21st Brigade is the main user of Ukraine’s ex-Swedish weaponry. For several months, now it’s been fighting a defensive action in northeastern Ukraine, trying to blunt a Russian countercounteroffensive that the Kremlin clearly hopes will spoil the much wider Ukrainian counteroffensive in the south. So far, the Russians have advanced just a few miles.
The 21st and adjacent brigades—increasingly equipped with new European-made weapons including Polish Rosomak fighting vehicles—in essence are fighting to preserve Kyiv’s counteroffensive.
It’s a vital supporting effort, if less newsworthy than the heavier fighting farther south. But while the Swedes may transfer additional Strv 122s without announcing it—much in the way they quietly sent the Ukrainians at least one Bgbv 90 armored recovery vehicle without making a public pledge—so far there’s no indication of replacement Strv 122s in the pipeline.
Indeed, Swedish army chief Jonny Lindfors seems inclined to keep the remaining hundred or so Strv 122s in Sweden until the army can buy new tanks. “It was absolutely the right decision to donate the tanks, in my opinion,” Lindfors said. “However, it obviously has had an effect on the capability of the army. So we need to procure new tanks as soon as possible, to increase the amount even more.”
All that is to say, the 21st Mechanized suddenly is down one fifth of its best Swedish tanks, and can’t easily source replacements.
Maybe the damaged Strv 122s are repairable. But even if they are, it will take time to fix them up and get them back into action. To complete deep repairs, the Ukrainians might even need to ship the tanks to a depot in Poland.