President Volodymyr Zelensky announced on September 25 that Ukraine had successfully received the first lot of American-manufactured Abrams tanks.
The tanks arrived months earlier than initially projected, ensuring their availability for deployment in Kyiv’s ongoing counter-offensive against Russian forces.
“Good news… ‘Abrams’ are already in Ukraine and are preparing to reinforce our brigades. I am grateful to the allies for fulfilling the agreements! We are looking for new contracts, expanding the geography of supply M,” Zelenskyy said on Telegram.
The number of units delivered remained uncertain, but US defense officials confirmed that these were the initial tanks out of the 31 Washington had committed to providing.
In January, the Pentagon revealed its plan to deliver 31 Abrams M1A2 tanks to Ukraine. However, officials had estimated that this commitment would require roughly a year.
At the time, the USA’s decision to donate Abrams tanks paved the way for transferring German Leopard tanks from European nations. Additionally, Britain delivered a minimum of 14 Challenger 2 tanks in the spring.
In March, the United States changed its approach and sent M1A1 Abrams tanks, utilizing refurbished hulls already in the US inventory. This revised plan allowed for a faster delivery timeline, with the tanks expected to arrive in the fall earlier than originally anticipated.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin recently announced that Ukraine would ‘soon’ receive American M1 Abrams tanks to support Kyiv’s counter-offensive against Russia.
The newly delivered Abrams tanks will be integrated into Ukraine’s existing tank arsenal, allowing them to advance into and potentially retake control of areas in Ukraine’s eastern and southern regions currently occupied by Russian forces.
Nonetheless, US officials have said more M1 Abrams tanks will be sent to Ukraine in the coming months.
Abrams In Ukraine
Kyrylo Budanov, the head of Ukraine’s military intelligence, said last week in an interview with a US-based military news site that the Abrams tanks should be employed in a highly specialized manner reserved for planned operations.
He cautioned that using them on the frontline in a typical combined arms battle would likely result in a short lifespan on the battlefield.
He further noted that these tanks should be reserved for breakthrough operations, but only when those operations are meticulously prepared and executed.
Defense experts have suggested that the deployment of Abrams tanks to the battlefield may not occur immediately. Ukrainian troops prioritize establishing necessary support elements and carefully planning when and where to deploy these vehicles for maximum effectiveness.
Consequently, the specific locations of the tanks are likely to remain undisclosed for the time being, as Ukraine wants to prevent them from becoming vulnerable to precision strikes before they are engaged in battle, said Ben Hodges, a retired general who formerly commanded the US Army in Europe.
Despite President Joe Biden and Lloyd Austin recently announcing that the tanks would be shipped within days, their arrival marks a notable achievement by Western allies, driven by persistent appeals from Ukraine, to expedite the delivery of these formidable weapons.
The US military personnel began training Ukrainian forces in late spring. This comprehensive training program spanned 12 weeks and was specifically designed to acquaint Ukrainian troops with the operation and handling of Abrams tanks.
This training took place at American military facilities in Germany, where Ukrainian forces received in-depth instruction to ensure their proficiency in operating these advanced armored vehicles.
According to Colonel Markus Reisner of Austria, who closely monitors the ongoing conflict from Austria’s primary military training academy, Ukraine has articulated its requirement for a minimum of 300 Western tanks to bolster its counter-offensive capabilities.
However, the number of Western tanks received by Ukraine thus far falls significantly short of this target, with only approximately half that number delivered.
In stark contrast, US official estimates indicate that Russia maintains a robust tank production capability, with an annual output of around 200 tanks.
The big gap in the number of tanks between Ukraine and Russia highlights Ukraine’s need for additional Western tanks to bolster its capabilities in counter-offensive operations against Russia.
Battle-Proven Main Battle Tank
The US developed the Abrams M1 main battle tank to replacer the outdated M60 to enhance reliability, repairability, durability, and, most importantly, combat capabilities.
The Abrams has seen action in various military operations, including Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, and Iraqi Freedom in Iraq.
During Desert Storm, it proved its effectiveness by taking out Soviet-made Т-72 tanks. A 1992 report from the US Government Accountability Office revealed that out of nearly 2,000 Abrams tanks deployed in the operation, only 23 were lost, with seven falling victim to friendly fire and two deliberately destroyed to prevent them from falling into enemy hands.
During this operation, the US forces utilized the M1A1, and since then, the tank has undergone multiple modernizations.
The Abrams is equipped with the M256 120mm smoothbore gun, initially developed by Germany’s Rheinmetall and subsequently produced in the US under license.
This gun is capable of firing both subcaliber armor-piercing and cumulative projectiles. Armor-piercing projectiles typically feature tungsten alloy heads, although some incorporate depleted uranium, which offers exceptionally high penetration capabilities and causes substantial damage.
The tank boasted an outstanding fire control system, achieving 90 percent precision in accurately hitting moving targets from 2,000 meters.
Retired US Army General Mark Hertling, who commanded the 1st Armored Division during the Iraq troop surge from 2007 to 2008, believes it is the world’s best tank. Still, he stressed the importance of comprehensive training, especially for turret operations, as the M1 requires the most training compared to other tanks like T-72s, Chieftains, Challengers, and Leopard IIs.
The cost of a single Abrams tank can vary significantly and exceed $10 million per tank when you factor in training and maintenance.
According to defense industry expert Sydney Freedberg, Abrams tanks are described as “large, heavily armored” vehicles, offering superior protection compared to any the Soviets or current Russians have.
However, Freedberg also pointed out that they haven’t seen as much European use as tanks like the Leopard. This could pose challenges for Ukraine if they decide to use Abrams tanks, as they would need additional training, spare parts, warehousing, and careful maintenance.
Jack Watling, a senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, emphasized that Abrams tanks consume a lot of fuel and have complex engine maintenance and repair requirements.