Why the US flipped on sending tanks to Ukraine

WASHINGTON (AP) — For months, U.S. officers balked at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they had been too sophisticated and too exhausting to keep up and restore.

On Wednesday, that abruptly modified. Ukraine’s determined pleas for tanks had been answered with a sweeping, trans-Atlantic sure.

The dramatic reversal was the fruits of intense worldwide strain and diplomatic arm-twisting that performed out during the last week. And it resulted in in a fast succession of bulletins: The U.S. mentioned it should ship 31 of the 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany introduced it should ship 14 Leopard 2 tanks and permit different nations to do the identical.

A have a look at the large battle weapon, why you will need to Ukraine’s struggle with Russia, and what drove the Biden administration’s tank turnabout.


M1 Abrams tanks have led American battle assaults for many years.

Carrying a crew of 4, the Abrams was first deployed to struggle in 1991. It has thick armor, a 120 mm important gun, armor piercing capabilities, superior focusing on programs, thick tracked wheels and a 1,500-horsepower turbine engine with a high pace of about 42 miles per hour (68 kilometers per hour).

Crews interviewed in a 1992 Authorities Accountability Workplace evaluate after the Persian Gulf Battle praised its excessive survivability and mentioned “a number of M1A1 crews reported receiving direct frontal hits from Iraqi T-72s with minimal harm.”

Extra just lately, the battle titans led the cost to Baghdad throughout America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, as third Infantry Division items carried out what was dubbed “Thunder Runs” to interrupt via Iraqi defenses.

The Abrams’ highly effective jet engine can propel the tank via virtually any terrain, whether or not heavy snow or heavy mud, mentioned Kevin Butler, a former Military lieutenant who served as an Abrams tank platoon chief. Butler recalled a muddy train within the late Nineteen Nineties at Fort Stewart, Georgia, the place he’d voiced concern concerning the tanks getting caught as a result of it had already caught the Humvees.

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The Abrams, he mentioned, “didn’t even discover” the mud.


The Abrams’ jet engine wants lots of of gallons of gas to function.

It’s going to burn via gas at a charge of a minimum of two gallons per mile (4.7 liters per kilometer), whether or not the tank is shifting or idling, Butler mentioned, which implies a continuing provide convoy of gas vans should keep inside attain so it may hold shifting ahead.

The U.S. nervous that the gas calls for would create a logistical nightmare for Ukrainian forces. Whereas an Abrams can storm via the snow and dirt, gas vans cannot. As well as, like every jet engine, the Abrams’ turbine wants air to breathe, which it sucks in via filtered rear vents. When these vent filters get clogged — whether or not by sand, as troopers reported to GAO in 1992, or by particles they may encounter in Ukraine — they cannot carry out.

“The Abrams tank is a really sophisticated piece of kit. It’s costly, it’s exhausting to coach on. … It isn’t the simplest system to keep up. It might or will not be the appropriate system,” The beneath secretary of protection for coverage, Colin Kahl, instructed reporters final week on the Pentagon.

The Abrams additionally would require months of coaching. Ukrainian forces should discover ways to function its extra advanced programs, and tips on how to hold it working and fueled.


Regardless of all of the drawbacks expressed by the U.S., when all was mentioned and executed, it got here all the way down to political realities and a diplomatic dance.

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Germany had been reluctant to ship the Leopards, or enable allies to ship them, until the U.S. put its Abrams on the desk, on account of issues that supplying the tanks would incur Russia’s wrath. The U.S., in the meantime, argued that the German-made Leopards had been a greater match as a result of Ukrainian troops might get them and get skilled on them much more rapidly and simply.

The deadlock annoyed European allies, equivalent to Poland, who needed to ship Leopards however couldn’t with out Germany’s OK. Thus started the extra fierce negotiations.

U.S. and German officers each used the phrase “intensive” to explain the talks that in the end led to the tank turnabout by each nations.

“That is the results of intensive consultations, as soon as once more, with our allies and worldwide companions,” Chancellor Olaf Scholz mentioned in an handle to German lawmakers on Wednesday.

Echoing Scholz, a senior U.S. administration official mentioned talks had been occurring for a while however “in a way more intensified method during the last variety of weeks.” The official spoke on situation of anonymity to supply particulars on the choice.

From President Joe Biden on down, calls had been made, together with to Scholz. Protection Secretary Lloyd Austin and Military Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Employees, spoke and met with their German counterparts and different allies.

Final Friday, the strain was palpable. Prime protection leaders from greater than 50 nations met at Ramstein Air Base in Germany to debate Ukraine’s ongoing weapons and tools wants. Tanks had been a key topic. Leaders from nations which have Leopard tanks met with the brand new German protection minister.

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Regularly, the German stance started to publicly soften, resulting in Wednesday’s bulletins. Requested repeatedly what modified, Biden administration officers sidestepped. Requested instantly about German strain, Biden instructed reporters, “Germany didn’t drive me to alter our thoughts.”


Timing for each supply of the tanks to Ukraine and the coaching of Ukrainian troops is fuzzy. U.S. officers would solely say that it’ll take “many months” to ship the Abrams tanks, however that the Leopards will arrive quicker.

Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Military for acquisition, mentioned the U.S. not buys new Abrams, however makes use of older ones as “seed autos” and refurbishes them. Doing that, nevertheless, is not fast or simple, he mentioned.

The coaching can start extra rapidly, and the Pentagon is growing a program.

“We wish to ensure that they (the tanks) fall on prepared palms, and that the Ukrainians know tips on how to use them, they know tips on how to hold them working, and so they’ve received the availability chain in place for spare elements and provides,” mentioned Nationwide Safety Council spokesman John Kirby.

Bush mentioned the Ukrainians have proven they’ve the information and capabilities to be taught new programs rapidly.

“We will usually abbreviate and speed up what we are able to do by way of coaching for Ukrainian military troopers,” he instructed reporters Wednesday. “With sufficient motivation and devoted 24/7 entry to them, we are able to practice folks actually rapidly,” he mentioned. “The U.S. Military is aware of how to try this.”


Related Press author Aamer Madhani contributed to this report.