The U.S. is now poised to send its top-of-the-line battle tank, the M-1 Abrams, to Ukraine after insisting for months that the tanks were too complex to operate and maintain — becoming the latest country to agree to bring modern tanks to Ukraine as it fights off the Russian invasion.
However, U.S. officials said it would likely take months before Abrams tanks arrive in Ukraine. Once they arrive in force, the tanks would give Ukraine major new capabilities to launch offensives against dug-in Russian troops.
It’s unclear how many tanks are being sent, and Ukrainian tank crews must first be trained in both operations and maintenance.
The news comes on the heels of Germany’s expected announcement that it will be sending its own Leopard tanks, and Poland’s request to Berlin Monday for permission to export its own Leopard tanks, which were made in Germany. Other countries that operate the Leopard are expected to follow suit.
Ukraine has been asking for Abrams tanks from the U.S., but as recently as last week, the Pentagon remained reluctant.
“We’re not there yet,” Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl said last Thursday when asked about fulfilling the request for the tanks.
“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on…it is not the easiest system to maintain,” Kahl told reporters on Wednesday.
Last week in Germany, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said allies are focused on getting Ukraine what it needs before the spring.
“So we have a window of opportunity here, you know, between now and the spring when I — you know, when — whenever they commence their operation, their counteroffensive, and that’s not a long time, and we have to pull together the right capabilities,” Austin said.
In recent weeks, defense officials have emphasized the Abrams tank is not what Ukraine needs right now because of the significant maintenance it requires and the fact that it runs on jet fuel, not diesel like some other models of tanks. Despite its difficulty, the Abrams still would provide a significant capability for Ukraine to go on the offensive even if it’s in the medium to long-term.
It’s unclear what prompted the U.S. to reverse its position on providing M1 Abrams to Ukraine.
The U.S. has committed to training 500 Ukrainians per month on combined arms maneuvers – how to move in battalion sized groups and coordinate operations between air and ground. That large-scale training is in addition to specific training on complex weapons systems the U.S. has recently committed, like Bradley infantry fighting vehicles and Patriot air defense systems.
The U.S. has committed more than $26.7 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration.