The Biden administration is finalizing plans to send US-made Abrams tanks to Ukraine and could make an announcement as early as this week, according to three US officials familiar with the deliberations.
The timeline for the actual delivery of the tanks is still unclear and it normally takes several months to train troops to use the tanks effectively, officials said.
An announcement about the tanks could be part of a bid to break a diplomatic deadlock with Germany, which told the United States last week that it would not send its Leopard tanks to Ukraine unless the United States also did not agree to send their M1 Abrams tanks.
The administration’s top national security officials actively considered what steps they could take to convince Germany to send in the Leopards.
At a meeting of Western defense leaders in Germany on Friday, the United States and its allies failed to convince German officials to send the Leopards as part of Berlin’s next round of military assistance. to Ukraine. But on Tuesday, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said “We are preparing our decision, which will come very soon” on the tanks.
Sky News Arabia was the first to report that the United States was considering sending the tanks.
The administration has never ruled out the possibility of shipping American tanks, but US officials said publicly last week that now was not the right time to send the 70-ton M1 Abrams tanks because they are expensive. and require significant training. operate.
Instead, tanks have been repeatedly touted as a long-term option – although critics say the right time has come, as Ukraine prepares for the possibility of Russia mobilizing more troops and launching a new offensive .
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has consistently asked Western allies for modern tanks as his country prepares for a major Russian counteroffensive expected in the spring.
The UK has already announced that it will send 12 of its Challenger 2 tanks to Ukraine, crossing what previously seemed like a red line for the US and its European allies. A US announcement to send tanks would increase pressure on Germany as it decides whether or not to allow a transfer of Leopards. There are thought to be around 2,000 in Europe and Poland formally asked Berlin on Tuesday to approve the transfer of some of its Leopards to Ukraine.
Any announcement would be a long-term contribution from Abrams, which means the Ukrainians won’t have them on the pitch anytime soon due to the training and support cadre being in place, a former official told CNN. of the defense aware of the deliberations. For now, the pending US announcement is more about getting Germany to feel more comfortable supplying their own tanks.
“These won’t be tanks that will be in the field next week, next month or even in the next two months,” the former official said.
Given the announcement last week of a $2.5 billion drawdown on US stocks to be sent to Ukraine, an announcement is unlikely to be another drawdown. Instead, the supply of tanks to Ukraine could come from a new contract under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) or a refurbishment of M-1 Abrams tanks from another countries like Poland, which recently struck a deal to buy more Abrams and has expressed its insistence on sending tanks to Ukraine.
Either scenario gives the United States more time and space to acquire, train, and equip Ukraine with complex-to-operate tanks. Ukrainian forces are already training on a number of new and advanced systems. This list includes Patriot missile training, UK-made Challenger 2 tanks, M109 howitzers and more, as well as combined arms training that recently began in Germany.
Tanks represent the most powerful direct offensive weapon supplied to Ukraine so far, a heavily armed system designed to engage the enemy head-on instead of firing from a distance. If used correctly with the necessary training, they could allow Ukraine to regain territory against Russian forces that have had time to dig in defensive lines. The United States has begun supplying refurbished Soviet-era T-72 tanks, but modern Western tanks are a generation ahead in their ability to target enemy positions.
Pentagon and White House officials denied that the risk of escalation with Russia had anything to do with the US decision to delay a decision on sending the tanks. Rather, the concern was how difficult it would be for Ukrainian forces to operate and maintain the Abrams tank and whether it would be effective on the battlefield in Ukraine.