Urgent mission needed to recover UK tanks in Ukraine to stop Putin getting top secret tech

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The Ukrainian military must recover damaged British tanks to prevent Russian intelligence from stealing key UK tech, military experts have warned. Britain’s decision to become the first NATO ally to supply Ukraine with modern Western battle tanks helped pave the way for Germany’s crucial announcement that it is finally to follow suit with its Leopard 2s.

Rishi Sunak told President Volodymyr Zelensky earlier this month that the UK is to send 14 Challenger 2s as part of its latest support package for the Ukrainian military.

It also includes around two dozen AS90 self-propelled guns, hundreds more armoured vehicles and precision-guided missiles, and 100,000 artillery rounds on top of the 100,000 already sent.

It keeps the UK at the forefront of Kyiv’s military backers with £2.3 billion of support provided during the course of 2022, with ministers promising a similar amount this year.

But military experts are now worrying advanced technology could be stolen if damaged British tanks are not recovered by Ukrainians.

One expert told The Sun: “The British armour is the best in the world.

“In the history of Challenger 2s only one has been destroyed in battle and that was by friendly fire in Iraq.

“The Russians will be desperate to try and kill and capture a Challenger 2, partly for their propaganda but also to get their hands on its secrets.”

A defence source added: “If a tank is destroyed or disabled the first option is always to try and self-recover. You tow it with another tank or use a specialist armoured repair and recovery vehicle — which looks like a tank with a crane.

“But the worst case scenario is that a tank is destroyed when the lines are collapsing and friendly forces are in retreat.

“Step one is the training and working with mission planners to try and ensure the Challengers are not used in scenarios where they think that collapse a realistic possibility.

“Step two is making sure, at the tactical level, the Ukrainians are trained to recover a tank under fire. They certainly don’t lack the courage.”

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A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “We conduct a rigorous assessment of the risks associated with providing weapons for the defence of Ukraine.

“The tanks we are providing to Ukraine will be drawn from the Army’s high readiness fleet to ensure they reach Ukrainian Armed Forces as quickly as possible. The platforms are already being prepared and will be ready to move in the coming months.”

Even before the fighting began, as Russian forces massed on the border, Britain was sending the first of thousands of modern Nlaw anti-tank missiles.

The shoulder-launched weapon proved highly effective as Ukrainian troops halted a huge Russian column advancing on Kyiv in a reverse which stunned the Kremlin.

Since then Britain has steadily been stepping up its supply of military materiel in terms of both volume and sophistication as fears the West could be drawn into a direct conflict with Russia eased.

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It includes powerful multi-launch rocket systems (MLRS), which are crucial in the artillery battle which has come to dominate the conflict, as well as 28 M109 155mm self-propelled guns and L119 105mm artillery guns.

There has been a formidable array of missiles – including Brimstone, AMRAAM and Javelin systems – and hundreds of armoured vehicles, with six Stormers fitted with Starstreak missile launchers and 2,000 aerial drones.

Other equipment includes nearly three million rounds of small arms ammunition, more than 82,000 helmets, 8,450 sets of body armour, medical supplies and more than 5,000 night-vision devices.

The UK has also provided a significant military training programme based in the UK which has already put through 9,900 Ukrainian troops with an ambition to train 23,000 this year.

In addition, Britain has also gifted Sea King search and rescue helicopters while training dozens of Ukrainian sailors to use unmanned underwater drones to clear mines laid by the Russians.