It has been well established that several NATO countries are donating armoured vehicles (and training crews) to Ukraine. Some of the more notable vehicles that are being delivered include the American M1 Abrams, German Leopard 2, and British Challenger 2.

All of the mentioned tanks have use some sort of secret/classified armour (Chobham Armour/Composite armour) that is meant to provide excellent protection for the crew (which can say much for Russian-manufactured tanks that seem have an inherent design flaw.)

Has there been any concern from any of the countries donating armoured vehicles with one of these secretive armour types, about whether one of their donated vehicles may be captured by Russian forces and reverse-engineered/researched for weaknesses?

  • The question should probably be regarding newer top-tech weapons, like javelin guided anti tank missiles.
    – Jacob3
    Mar 28, 2023 at 10:39
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    I think the premise is wrong. Just because tanks were donated didn't mean there were no concerns. You can still decide that the benefits of donating the tanks out weigh the drawback of having those tanks captured.
    – Abigail
    Mar 28, 2023 at 10:50
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    Comments deleted. Please don't use comments to answer the question. If you would like to answer, post a real answer. Or just upvote one that already says what you want to say.
    – Philipp
    Mar 29, 2023 at 10:13
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    Surely these weapons are intended to be used in a war somewhere, so to be useful at all, they have to fight someone who might capture one and reverse engineer it. Is this not just a necessary risk?
    – komodosp
    Mar 30, 2023 at 13:59
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    Voted not to close - it is a verifiable fact that those who sell weapons do care about their technology being reverse engineered or falling into the wrong hands, and there are established guidelines on how to deal with this.
    – sfxedit
    Apr 1, 2023 at 0:15

10 Answers 10


Has there been any concern from any of the countries donating armoured vehicles, with one of these secretive armour types, that one of their donated vehicles may be captured by Russian forces and reverse-engineered/researched for weaknesses?

I don't see why there should not have been such a concern. In particular you seem to conclude that a sending of such equipment is tantamount to not having such concerns. I think this does not follow. It's perfectly possible to have these concerns but after careful consideration come to the conclusion that the potential benefits (higher military strength of Ukraine) by far outweigh the potential risks as you mention them. This trade-off should be explored better.

If there have been such concerns (and military estimations of the pros and cons of sending tanks most likely would include them), they do not need to have been made public. Military assessments are often classified.

On the other hand, here is a reason why such concerns, have they been voiced, might not have been deemed as crucial. Reverse engineering and research of weaknesses takes a lot of time, months if not years. Reproduction of reverse engineered technology additionally requires a certain own expertise and takes even more time. It's not clear that the Russian military industry, even if capable of reverse engineering the technology of these tanks, is capable of manufacturing effective counter-equipment in large amounts. All this would very likely not influence the current war. Sending the tanks however will influence it.

To answer the question in the title: I think it's fairly self-evident that UK, Germany and the US are not overly concerned about that risk, given that they have professional military advisors and that they are sending these tanks.

By the way: British Challenger 2 tanks have been exported to Oman; German Leopard 2 tanks have been exported to Chile, Denmark, Finland, Greece, Indonesia, Canada, Qatar, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Poland, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Singapore, Spain, Turkey and Hungary; US Abrams M1 tanks to Australia, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Morocco, Poland and Saudi Arabia. It might be much easier to reverse engineer examples from one of these countries.

  • 33
    I wondered why your list of countries in the final paragraph was almost alphabetical, and then I realized that it is exactly alphabetical if you consider the German translations of the country names.
    – Heinzi
    Mar 28, 2023 at 18:43
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    @Heinzi Very well observed. But also without any further meaning, otherwise. :) Mar 28, 2023 at 19:36
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    As noted by other commenters, a key factor is that the version of the Abrams originally approved for Ukraine is the exportable version lacking some of the advanced technologies in the U.S. military M1A2s. It's essentially a different design that has to be made from scratch, which is why Ukraine won't be getting any until fall 2023, thought it is possible they will get refurbished M1A1s. thedrive.com/the-war-zone/… Mar 28, 2023 at 22:22
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    The actual tank technologies are relatively mundane. It's really the electronic ECM/ECCM/sensor/fire control packages that are heavily guarded, and you can just take out the new ones and put in older ones that you don't mind losing.
    – Nelson
    Mar 29, 2023 at 1:22
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    People get a very misleading idea of reverse engineering from shows like Star Trek, where capturing a new piece of completely alien technology allows them to produce their own copies in a week. It has happened once in a while (though of course while already having a suitable pre-existing industrial base), but it definitely isn't the norm. Magnetic Mountain brilliantly captures how tricky it can be to build a copy even with the original designers providing on-site support and while importing loads of foreign material and crew. Many of the same problems still exist in modern Russia.
    – Luaan
    Mar 29, 2023 at 7:15

There are some concerns, but also mitigating factors.

  • Challenger 2 is being replaced in service with Challenger 3.
  • The US also sold Abrams to a lot of Middle East countries. I think the armor package gets changed for them, and it might be for Ukraine too. Abrams has a modular armor package, which while looking the same from the outside...
  • Less sure about the situation with Leopards A6. But Germany is not giving them the A7. And Rheinmetall is now pushing for the 130mm-armed Panther etc.

It's also hardly the case the Russia doesn't know how to make better tanks. For them the T72B3 (their most numerous in Ukraine, IIRC) was a matter of scale economics, with the T90s etc. (to say nothing about the Armata), being a lot more expensive.

(There is a video on YouTube analyzing the T72B3 as a bit of "frankentank" with two gun sights because they didn't find it worthwhile to remove one sight simply because it had some switches on it while adding another of a newer generation. While the T90 was completely redesigned in that regard.)

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    Proxy wars are great for dumping old gear and getting ye olde military industrial complex fired up. Mar 28, 2023 at 20:35
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    Yes, Ukraine is getting the export version of the armor package; this has been covered in public press disclosures. Mar 29, 2023 at 17:42
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    Pretty clearly Russia can't make better tanks. They haven't been able to produce the Armata, the first requirement for a "better tank" being it exists, and the Armata's bad engine and other characteristics would make it a failure even if produced. youtube.com/watch?v=-opSlCGLGQ4 Mar 29, 2023 at 19:01
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    @SafeFastExpressive, what you're saying is Russia cannot produce better tanks (in any impactful number). Or any tanks, really, if reports of T55s being deployed are true. So even if a Western tank is captured and somehow fully reverse-engineered, this won't help Russia with producing modern tanks, given the sanctions and inherent problems with modern equipment. Mar 30, 2023 at 19:48
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    @TonyEnnis Lazerpig is an entertainer with a particular agenda, who often plays fast and loose with facts to appeal to their audience. I love their videos because they're so over-the-top, but in the same vein I wouldn't ever use those videos as any sort of evidence for anything.
    – Ian Kemp
    Mar 31, 2023 at 16:35

Abrams was designed in 1972–1975, Leopard 2 in 1970s. Only Challenger 2 is newer, designed in 1986–1993. Hence the basic models are not very new. Challenger 3 and Abrams X are coming.

Parts that have received significant upgrades later probably can be swapped for older versions even without talking too much. From that is known, Abrams will be without depleted uranium in the armor.

  • I'm not sure its fair to say the Abrams X is coming in the same manner of the Challenger 3 coming. The Challenger 3 is much further along in the process. And, I may be mistaken, but isn't the Abrams X more of a prototype technology demonstrator, making it more like a concept car than a production vehicle?
    – David S
    Mar 28, 2023 at 15:23
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    Importantly, even if spies in some countries haven't worked out the key classified details in all of this time, surely Russian spies have. Tens of millions of U.S. service members have been up close and personal to U.S. tanks in that time - most pertinent details could have been gleaned by now. These tanks have also been captured by opposing forces in, for example, Iraq, where information could be passed on about them to Russian spies.
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 28, 2023 at 21:41
  • @ohwilleke You seem to be under the impression that it is possible to understand how something like reactive armour is formed, and what it's composed of in what percentages, just by looking at it. You'd be very, very wrong.
    – Ian Kemp
    Mar 31, 2023 at 16:39
  • @IanKemp Not really. And, honestly, the Russians don't necessarily have to reverse engineer it as if they were making it themselves. If, for example, they could get some pristine scraps from an M1 captured by ISIS in Iraq or Syria (perhaps, e.g., from a side that wasn't damages in a disabling IED attack), they could, for example, use it to do destructive testing of anti-armor weapons they design to defeat it (informed by ample non-classified discussions at a fairly technical level, of the basic principles behind it).
    – ohwilleke
    Mar 31, 2023 at 17:35
  • @ohwilleke You have zero knowledge of what you're talking about. The M1 export version, which is the version used by everyone except the USA, entirely lacks the very special reactive armour that made the tank so unkillable in the Gulf Wars. The only way for Russia to get information about that armour is via spying, and there is no spy that can determine that information by simply looking at an M1 on US soil.
    – Ian Kemp
    Apr 1, 2023 at 18:32

I have followed the German debate on this issue, and the risk of secret technology being leaked was probably the third most common argument against providing Leopard IIs to Ukraine (after "escalation", and "it looks bad to have once more German tanks rolling east).

One the one hand, it makes sense that this risk is just seen as less important than all the reasons in favour of arming Ukraine properly. But it also would not suprise me if changed circumstances surrounding this risk are one of the reasons why the tanks were delivered now, not a year ago.

These days, Ukraine has tank crews whose professionalism and dedication have been proven on the battlefield. Given what some of them have been through, I'd be very much inclined to believe them if they tell me "This tank won't fall into Russian hands in anywhere remotely near intact condition".

  • "This tank won't fall into Russian hands in anywhere remotely near intact condition" - in particular it should be possible to minimise the risk of fire control electronics and sensor system being captured intact - though something could still be learnt from fragments of damaged systems. Armour is obviously rather tougher, but the amount that can be learnt from recovered components beyond what they'd know from intel would be pretty limited - considering how much is in the public domain, and that Russia will know far more than that
    – Chris H
    Mar 29, 2023 at 8:40
  • @ChrisH: meh, if you think sensors are that secret, Russia used French Catherine FC on their T72s modernization at one point. Now they are making their own. It's generally cost that's an issue, rather than knowhow. Mar 29, 2023 at 15:26
  • More on the Thales-VOMZ JV here stopwapenhandel.org/… And it's got decent range, 4+ clicks reddit.com/r/CombatFootage/comments/xhfbff/… Mar 29, 2023 at 15:31
  • @Fizz I've read a few times that they're trying and struggling to get Western electronics parts for such systems, suggesting that they know what to do with them if they can get them, but no point making things easier than they have to be. Making a decent IR or thermal camera, as a related example I know a little about, takes quite a technology stack.
    – Chris H
    Mar 29, 2023 at 15:35
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    Also these tanks were developed decades ago, Russian spies had plenty of time to obtain blueprints and many other relevant information. I bet that they already know the exact specifications.
    – vsz
    Mar 30, 2023 at 13:34

I think there's an underlying assumption here that the difference in tank quality between the US and Russia is in large part down to US military secrets that Russia does not know. There is in fact a little of that. For example the US does not ship Abrams' to anyone else, even its closest allies, with its best depleted Uranium matrix armor. So the M1's going to Ukraine are right now having their armor changed out prior to shipment.

However, the on-paper superiority of US tanks has more to do with them being designed with a "money is no object" philosophy. They are the Lexus or Alienware of tanks. The expense isn't a problem for the US Army, as they are sitting at the tail end of what's the closest thing the world has to an endless tap of money.

enter image description here

However, pretty much everyone else, including Russia, is on a budget. That's why most of the US's NATO partners, despite having the ability to purchase Abrams themselves, prefer to purchase cheaper options of their own design or from other NATO members, such as German Leopard 2's. According to Newsweek the cost difference is on the order of $10mil each for an M2, but only $6mil each for a Leopard 2. Russian T-72's on the other hand, well a decade ago they were said to be about $1mil new, or $50k used. So for the same outlay, your military can get almost twice as many Leopard 2's, or ten times (an order of magnitude) as many T-72's.

Leopards are designed to be much cheaper to operate as well, with standardized parts, and far cheaper fuel (diesel vs. jet fuel). So even if Russia could get good design ideas from a captured NATO tank, likely a captured Leopard 2 would be more useful to them.

Abrams' are also notorious for being very complex, and requiring a lot more training of operators than other tanks. Extensive training has not exactly proven to be in the Russian military's core competencies.

However, even these concerns are getting ahead of things. Russia is one of the more corrupt societies on earth. With their military this shows up as a severe problem with Russians looting their own military equipment, particularly of anything that's small and expensive. A prime such item is the range-finders that modern tanks use to be able to engage at ranges measured in miles. As such, Russian tanks in the current conflict have been largely forced to close to WWII distances to be effective, which really means they might as well be using WWII tanks, which is exactly what they are starting to do.

They also have well-documented issues with tank doctrine. You are supposed to keep a certain amount of infantry with tanks to protect them from other infantry, and gear your logistics train to make sure they don't run out of gas (preferably truck them places when not in combat). Russia ... isn't really doing that. Which is part of why there was a meme last year of Ukrainian farmers toting off Russian tanks with their tractors.

enter image description here

So no, there's rather a lot about the Russian military and their society that they would have to change before getting a detailed look at US tank designs would be of much use to them.

  • I think the first figure is the most striking one. Still it's not only the size of the budget that counts. Recently for example I read that the US military spent most of their money on big equipment and comparably much less on small equipment like rockets or shells. The current production capacity of ammunition is severely limited. Mar 30, 2023 at 19:46
  • @Trilarion - So you're saying its not the size of the budget that counts, its how you use it? :-)
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 30, 2023 at 19:54
  • @Trilarion - In all seriousness, there is something to that though. This very post shows that US main battle tanks go for like $10mil a pop, and are very expensive to maintain. And those things are downright cheap compared to an F-22 Raptor ($148 million) or an Arliegh Burke Guided Missile Destroyer ($1.8 Billion). A country can get by pretty darn well militarily just by doing "good enough" on equipment, particularly if your alliances are such that you won't have to grapple against USA equipment. For example, Leopard II specs seem quite competitive with M1A2's other than the US's secret armor.
    – T.E.D.
    Mar 30, 2023 at 20:38

Tactics vs. Tech

It has been said that the US could gift a supercarrier to any other country, but it would take them a decade or more to actually make it combat-ready. This is not for lack of fuel or munitions, but simply due to experience. Operating an aircraft carrier is a complex choreography rivalling the finest ballets. China has purchased 2 aircraft carriers themselves and built a third from scratch. And yet we do not see them projecting these carrier groups throughout the world's oceans. Clearly, they are going through this process of learning the operations, which Americans have been practicing since the 1940s (so almost 80 years).

In Ukraine, both sides started out with nearly the same armaments. If anything, RU started out with several technically superior models, and probably more of the advanced models than UA (T-80M vs. T-72, Ka-52 vs. Mi-11, etc.). However, a year of fighting has produced dramatically different results, with the "superior tech" side getting beat down viciously. We can argue about the contribution of morale, but there should be no dispute that one of the major advantages UA has enjoyed is superior training and tactics.


At this point, the Ukrainian army, at all levels, has proven that it can and will fight smarter than the Russians. Even when outgunned 5:1 or worse, they have held their ground, inflicted outsized losses, and protected the most advanced assets given to them by allies. Although RU has claimed to have destroyed more than 2x more HIMARs and M-270 than have actually been given to UA, there are no public admissions that a single HIMARs system has been lost, and plenty of reason to believe that they have not. On the other hand, numerous inflatable HIMARs-shaped balloons have, quite tragically, been obliterated with RU rockets.

Although UA has also lost tanks to capture, many of their armor stock at the start of the war was not exactly maintained in fresh-off-the-line condition, and in many cases was overmatched by RU armor. On the other hand, I have not seen any widespread reports of captured donated IFVs, APCs, MRAPs and armored cars circulating on RU telegram channels. This suggests that UA is mindful of how it protects its most valuable hardware and does not expend it in high-risk, low reward zones.

Offense vs. Defense

For months, UA has complained that they cannot launch a counteroffensive because they lack the armor to do so. Clearly, they have tanks, but most are being used defensively all along the 1500+ km lines. And as the lines ebb and flow, it is not surprising that some tanks would be lost to capture when a position gets overrun. On the other hand, it does not take a MacArthur level strategist to see that UA is not going to set their platoon of Challenger 2s on a static position to fire defensively at human wave tactics. The best use of advanced armor is obviously to go on the offensive, and this is where the tanks will be least vulnerable to capture, assuming UA can maintain forward momentum. That is not to say that the tanks will be invulnerable or won't get hit. Rather, even if a tank gets disabled or destroyed, it won't get captured if the enemy can't hold the ground long enough to get to it. When UA has gone on the offensive, they have largely succeeded, and captured huge swaths of territory in doing so.

Although the West has collectively promised more than 100+ tanks, it seems likely that many fewer than this will be available in the first wave of deployments. The only logical use for a few platoons of your best tanks is as the tip of the spear on an offensive push. By now, Western analysts have surely determined that UA can successfully make such a push and hold the territory it gains. But hey, don't take Western intelligences' word for it...just ask the Russians in Crimea, who are leaving in droves. Nobody is ordering them out. They are just voting on their confidence in the RU army with their feet.


As others have noted, technology is leaky. It is pretty much impossible to control every export instance of your weapons, even if they are watered down. RU probably gets more tech through hacking than via captured equipment. RU has probably seen more Abrams in America via spying than anywhere else. I would be very surprised if they don't already know the secret sauce. But the reason RU doesn't deploy comparable tanks isn't because it lacks the technology...it's because it lacks the industry and manufacturing capability. The T-14 Armata is already nearly a decade old design, and RU reportedly only has 6 of them, mostly used for parade purposes. It would almost certainly be comparable in capability to modern Western tanks, if only RU could build it in numbers to be relevant.

  • "technology...it's because it lacks the industry and manufacturing capability." Industry and manufacturing capability is part of "technology". Mar 28, 2023 at 21:46
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    Everything above the "conclusion" para is just unnecessary information that doesn't contribute anything to the answer.
    – sfxedit
    Mar 29, 2023 at 4:17
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    @Acccumulation there's a difference between having the schematics to ARM64 chip and being able to manufacture dies of such chips. What RU could gain by capturing a tank is the raw knowledge of its components. It may even be able to 100% reverse engineer them. But that still doesn't mean it can build them. So yeah, manufacturing requires technology too, but of a different sort than understanding the product itself. Mar 29, 2023 at 17:56
  • The point is not necessarily "to build them"; the point is often to find the weak points and generally know the capabilities in order to find effective counter-measures.
    – Zeus
    Mar 30, 2023 at 5:00
  • Americans have been practicing since the 1940s That started in 1920. The 1940s (~1943-Aug 1945) would be mass combat operations of entire fleets of aircraft carriers - with British participation.
    – Just Me
    Mar 30, 2023 at 15:19

There is little information on western armor that has not already been extensively published in open journals and news reports that Russia has access to.

  • I believe so too, but maybe there is still something left to be gain. Otherwise the whole World could simply copy Western armor. That or manufacturing this armor is extremely difficult or they suffer from "not made here" syndrome. Mar 28, 2023 at 13:08
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    @Trilarion Going from "we understand what it is made of and what properties it has" to "we can produce it economically and understand the design choices and how they fit within our armour designs and combat doctrine" is far more effort than fiction might make you think. Design choices do not exist in a vacuum, and these things take a lot of investment for very uncertain gains. Of course, the fact that Russian official lines need to constantly downplay the strength of its "enemies" doesn't help - they can hardly afford to be seen copying "inferior" western technology :)
    – Luaan
    Mar 29, 2023 at 7:23

In general, the DoD sells (and/or allows manufacturers to sell) variations of military vehicles to friendly nations. In other words, any tanks a country may provide to another nation are certainly NOT fully equipped with the same mechanics, electronics, etc. that the 'giving' nation keeps in their own arsenal. For instance, Lockheed Martin sells F16's to MANY friendly nations outside of the USA. The aircraft other nations receive are extremely stripped-down versions of what the U.S. military gets. The same thing would apply to warships, ground fighting vehicles, tanks, etc. So, to answer the OP's question; no-one should be worried about Russia reverse-engineering any tanks, because the Ukraine is NOT getting any of current, updated, fully-equipped tanks. Russia most certainly understands that to be the case as well...

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    I would like to see a reference for the claim that other nations get extremely stripped-down F-16s. The competition between the manufacturers here is very fierce and there or other places one can buy a fighter aircraft: Eurofighters, Gripens, Mirage,... Many armies can choose and would not choose some crap. The US are now trying to sell F35s to armies that are now flying Gripens and they cannot just offer some "extremely stripped-down" crap either because they would just buy new Gripens instead. Mar 29, 2023 at 8:15
  • The reference I have is personal experience. You will have to come to America and arrange a tour of the Lockheed-Martin plant in Ft. Worth, TX. You may need a security clearance to do so. On the production line, you will see monitors displaying which country / organization the plane is being built for. Talk to the supervisors there. They will tell you a plane built for the U.S. military is NOT the same plane the UEA is getting, or Taiwan, or... etc. This practice is extremely common! Armies choose the F35 because even stripped down, it far exceeds what they have now.
    – Ron
    Mar 30, 2023 at 14:35
  • It is not about what they have now. It is about what other competitors on the market offer. The planes are indeed not the same because UAE funded the development of a more advanced version. USAF does not buy any new F-16 due to them being due to being phased out, but other variants are being developed for other customers. Mar 30, 2023 at 15:50
  • @Vladimir, it is indeed normal to supply "reduced" export version of military equipment, although it's not necessarily "extremely" stripped down. (At times, it can be the reverse. In the 90s, MiGs and Su offered for export were more capable than what Russian Air Force could afford). But apart from protecting the military secrets, another reason is that sometimes the clients equip the aircraft themselves. Israeli F-16I, for example, is often considered the most capable F-16 version (of those deployed), and it has much of the local equipment and armament inventory.
    – Zeus
    Mar 30, 2023 at 23:53
  • @Zeus I know that it happens in general. But the bold claim here is not a general one. Mar 31, 2023 at 4:54

The tanks being donated by the US are the M1A1. The M1A1 Abrams tanks were produced from 1986 to 1992.

The M1A1 is a very old tank. The latest ones are the M1A2SEP (with work being done on the M1A3).

All of the M1A2 and M1A3 tanks being produced right now are made from refurbished hulls from old M1A1 tanks. So its not surprising that from the outside they superficially look the same.

But its public knowledge that when the army refurbishes an M1A1 into a newer model they literally strip the whole thing down to just a metal hull and sand blast of the rust. The electronics and other components that go into a new M1A2 or M1A3 have very little resemblance to those from the old M1A1.

Even if one of those old tanks were captured, and the technology were to be reverse engineered, it would be like 30 years behind the state of the art.


Broadly no, they're not, as simply evidenced by two facts: A) They don't seem to mind their tanks being captured and inspected in this particular conflict and B) If any power minded its tanks being captured and inspected in any conflict, that would be either a reason not to use tanks at all, or a calculated risk. Which seems to you more likely?

Analysing other powers' tanks is useful in peace-time, because there might be time to use the knowledge gained but how long do you think it takes to make a new tank - even a pure copy with no design work needed?

Both weapons and production technologies have improved since the Second World War yet why do you discount the many TV documentaries explaining how logistics and production, even more than technology, killed the Thousand Year Reich in less than a decade?

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