Following much speculation the US government has confirmed that Ukraine will receive two companies worth of M1 Abrams main battle tanks. The Biden administration has approved the transfer of 31 M1 Abrams to Ukraine – which was described as “the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion”. The exact variant of the tanks to be transferred has not yet been announced.
The tide appears to be turning as international indecision around the supply of highly capable modern Western main battle tanks ebbs. Yesterday, Germany confirmed that they would allow the transfer of Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and also supply 14 of its own Leopard 2A6 tanks. It is expected that in the near term European nations will muster enough Leopards to form two tank battalions.
The US decision comes at the request of the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, for an American mutual commitment to supply main battle tanks. A senior Whitehouse official is quoted as saying:
“Today’s announcement shows the United States and Europe continuing to work hand in hand to support Ukraine, united in our common values and our ongoing support to Ukraine, which the President and other leaders, including in the G7 format, have reiterated will continue for as long as it takes”.
The US government had argued that the M1 Abrams, arguably the world’s most capable main battle tank (MBT), would be too difficult for Ukraine’s armed forces to maintain. Instead, they pressured Germany to provide Leopard 2s. The reasoning being that these were plentiful and less complex to operate and maintain. Ironically, it could be said that Scholz’s much criticised reluctance to provide Ukraine with Leopards has in fact led to the transfer of an even greater number of highly capable MBTs.
In a press conference held at the White House, alongside Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, President Joe Biden said the transfer of tanks “will enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives… These tanks are a sign of our unflagging support for Ukraine and our confidence in the Ukrainian armed forces.”
He went on to again reiterate they are complex vehicles to maintain so announced that Ukraine would also be provided with the training and spares needed to keep the tanks operational. Training of Ukrainian troops to maintain and operate the Abrams wil begin “as soon as possible,” the President said. Biden warned that it would take time to deliver the tanks but gave no firm timeline, other than to say this time would be used to train Ukrainian tankers.
Concluding his remarks President Biden reiterated that none of the United States’ aid is intended as an offensive threat to Russia. It is unlikely, however, that the Kremlin will view the arrival of Abrams tanks in Ukraine lightly.