Why is the U.S. sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine, and why is it signifcant?

The U.S. plans to send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, marking another step up in American efforts to support the Eastern European country after Russia’s invasion 11 months ago.

The decision to send these particular armored fighting vehicles, manufactured by a unit of defense giant General Dynamics Corp.
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is a reversal for top U.S. officials, and it is tied to Germany agreeing to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine.

Ukrainian officials have been asking Western allies to provide significant numbers of higher-end tanks, after having already used Soviet-era tanks in the war against Russia.

Below are a few key questions around the development and answers to them.

President Joe Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. would send the Abrams tanks to Ukraine, but warned that it would take time to deliver the equipment.

Other U.S. moves to aid Ukraine that have been viewed as notable steps up include a December decision to send a Patriot antimissile system. One Ukrainian defense adviser reportedly said his country next will look to get fourth-generation fighter jets such as the F-16.

Weren’t U.S. officials just arguing against sending Abrams tanks to Ukraine?

Yes.

The U.S. undersecretary of defense for policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters a week ago that the Abrams might not work well for Ukraine’s military, noting challenges like the fact that it uses jet fuel.

“I just don’t think we’re they’re yet,” Kahl said at that time. “The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on, it has a jet engine.”

But then the U.S. positioned changed, in large part due to a key negotiation with Germany.


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What does Germany’s Leopard 2 tank have to do with this?

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Wednesday that his country would provide Ukraine with Leopard 2 battle tanks, sending 14 from its own stocks and also coordinating with allies to provide a total of 88 tanks.

That long-sought move came after the U.S. revealed a preliminary deal to send the Abrams tanks. Germany hopes the American commitment will spread the risk of any backlash from Russia, an Associated Press report said.

Meanwhile, the U.K. has said it will send 14 of its Challenger 2s to Ukraine.

The Leopard 2, Abrams and the U.K.’s Challenger 2 are viewed as the three most advanced “main battle tanks” that NATO countries possess, according to a Voice of America report citing military experts. Supplying and maintaining Leopard 2, which uses a diesel engine, might be the simplest, the report added.

When asked by a reporter if the American decision on the Abrams tanks aimed to give Germany “cover” to send its Leopards, a spokesman for the White House’s National Security Council, John Kirby, said he “wouldn’t use the word cover.”

“What this decision does do is show how unified we are with our allies and partners,” Kirby said during a briefing on Wednesday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky thanked Scholz in a tweet on Wednesday:

How long will it be before Ukrainian soldiers drive the Abrams tanks into battle?

It’s expected to take “many months” for the U.S. to deliver the Abrams tanks, the White House’s Kirby told reporters on Wednesday.

“But those Leopards won’t take quite as long to get there as the Abrams,” Kirby added.

Some U.S. officials said it might take 12 months before the first Abrams is delivered, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

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