U.S. to provide Ukraine upgraded Abrams tanks but no secret armor; according to three sources familiar with the discussions, the United States plans to ship the Ukrainian capital Kyiv the Abrams main battle tank in its more sophisticated M1A2 configuration than the older A1 version, the military has in storage.
However, the 31 tanks destined for Ukraine will not have the secret armor composition that makes the Army’s newest version so dangerous, according to the people who spoke anonymously to share sensitive conversations.
The A2 model’s upgraded optics and controls will allow the Army to phase out the A1 model within the next three years. While superficially similar to the A1, the A2’s commander’s weapon station has been updated to include superior optics for targeting and a separate thermal viewer that gives the commander the freedom to independently scan for targets in any weather or on any battlefield.
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The inside has been rethought extensively to accommodate cutting-edge equipment. Most importantly, a new inter-vehicle information system enables cars to exchange information continuously and automatically through digitally implemented control mechanisms. This advanced equipment allows superiors to monitor the whereabouts of allied vehicles swiftly, pinpoint the whereabouts of hostile forces, and handle artillery requests.
According to a fourth source familiar with the strategy, it is against federal law to export Abrams tanks equipped with the classified armor packages employed by the United States military. Before selling vehicles to other countries, the United States removes this secret armor “recipe.” The United States offers additional protection packages for its overseas military clients.
According to one defense official and two other persons with knowledge of the discussions, the Pentagon intends to offer Ukraine the A2 version in this “exportable” form.
Delivering the Abrams tanks to Ukraine is still up in the air. Only at a plant in Lima, Ohio, run by General Dynamics and owned by the government, the tanks get put together. There is a capacity of 12 tanks per month at that plant, but the line is currently backed up with fresh tank orders for Taiwan and Poland.
Army procurement chief Doug Bush told reporters on Wednesday that the service gave various options from which senior officials could choose.
Poland has bought 250 A2 tanks, with deliveries beginning in 2025, and in the meanwhile, is receiving an emergency infusion of 116 M1A1 tanks that were just decommissioned from Marine Corps service. Since the Marine Corps tank regiments were disbanded, hundreds of well-maintained tanks became immediately available to fulfill Warsaw’s request to replace the 250 Soviet-era T-72 tanks it handed Ukraine last year.
To defend its territory, Taiwan bought 108 M1A2 tanks in 2019. The first of these tanks won’t arrive until 2024.
General Dynamics no longer manufactures the M1, but they have many “M1 seed vehicles,” essentially just shells. General Dynamics updates the seed cars it uses for new orders with cutting-edge equipment based on the desired variety.
Such improvements, however, are neither “simple nor rapid,” as Bush put it.
The U.S. has indicated it is buying the Abrams from industry, which means they will only get on the battlefield for several months, if not years, due to industrial limits in upgrading them. To help Ukrainian forces incorporate the tanks into their overall operations, the United States will train them in “combined arms maneuver” techniques and the maintenance and operation of the tanks themselves.
The Soviet-era tanks that Ukraine currently uses need to be revised compared to the firepower, accuracy, and armor of either Abrams variant. However, experts warn that it will be difficult for Ukrainian forces to maintain them operationally if they arrive.
In light of these difficulties, the Biden administration advocated for delivering Leopard tanks built in Germany because they are simpler to maintain and train with. This spring should see the first Leopards from Germany and elsewhere in Europe making their way to Ukraine.
The Abrams tank uses a jet turbine engine, which is more expensive and requires more maintenance than diesel tanks. They are challenging to maintain, and an accidental mistake by the crew could result in an explosion.
Still, they can only function with a vast support system that includes M88 recovery vehicles for fixing damaged components in the field.
We’ve discussed how difficult it is to maintain the M1’s complicated armament system and Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed as much on Tuesday. That was correct yesteryear, is accurate today, and will be exact tomorrow.