US battle tanks not expected to arrive in Ukraine for months


JThe Biden administration has changed course on its policy stance on whether to send M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine after publicly arguing for weeks that such a move would hinder Ukrainian forces more than help them.

President Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that the United States will provide 31 American-made battle tanks as part of a long-term plan to bolster Ukraine’s military with advanced weapons to fight invading Russian forces, which occupy large areas of eastern and southern Ukraine. The political shift is the latest sign that the White House expects the conflict in Ukraine to last months or years, and signals that Washington is ready to support Ukraine in the fight for its duration.

The influx of armor “will enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives,” Biden said, calling Abrams “the most capable tanks in the world.”

“That’s what it’s all about,” he said, “to help Ukraine defend and protect Ukrainian land.”

The $400 million package includes funding for 31 Abrams tanks – the size of a Ukrainian tank battalion – rounds of ammunition, support vehicles and other equipment. Everything will be purchased through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which is a US funding program to buy weapons from contractors. Ukraine received much of its current US arsenal through another lighter program that draws from existing US military stockpiles so that equipment can get to Ukrainian frontlines quickly.

“We’re talking months, as opposed to weeks,” a senior administration official told reporters ahead of Biden’s announcement. “If we don’t have it readily in US inventory, we’re going down the supply route to make sure we can source the right capacity for Ukraine.”

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Within this longer time frame, the new Abrams tanks are not expected to arrive before a planned spring offensive by Russian forces. Ukraine has been pleading with the United States and its Western partners for new armor since the early stages of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion last February. The Ukrainian army currently operates a fleet of Soviet-era tanks, which are expected to be overwhelmed in the coming months as Russia mobilizes its offensive in the east.

The Abrams tank weighs over 60 tons with a 120 millimeter gun that can hit targets a mile away. At around 45 miles per hour, it is faster than older tanks with specialized armor designed to withstand direct hits with anti-tank weapons. Administration officials said the Abrams training of Ukrainian troops would take place “outside” Ukraine, but did not say whether it would take place in the United States, like the training in course on the Patriot system. “Delivering these tanks to the field is going to take time,” Biden said in his White House speech. “Time that we will use to make sure the Ukrainians are fully prepared.”

Just last week, the Biden administration insisted that the Abrams tank was too complicated, too expensive and too difficult for Ukrainian forces to train. A major problem they cited is that the turbine engine consumes jet fuel rather than diesel like the German-made Leopard tank. The Pentagon claimed the Leopards are more fuel efficient, easier to maintain and, perhaps most importantly, are already widely available across Europe as more than a dozen European countries operate them and many are ready. send them to Ukraine.

Ultimately, however, the White House determined that maintenance and logistical issues were not significant enough hurdles to prevent the Abrams from being dispatched, senior administration officials said. “We are helping Ukrainians to be able to synchronize all their different capabilities…in a unified way that will allow them to take back territory,” the senior official said.

Ben Hodges, a retired lieutenant general who once commanded all US Army forces in Europe, says the decision to send Abrams is good news but should have come sooner. “Unfortunately, the time it took to arrive at this decision – and how it will be implemented – does not reflect a sense of urgency on the part of the administration or the Pentagon to help Ukraine win,” he said. “It looks more like the way to help Ukraine avoid losing.”

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Only in recent weeks have Western countries pledged to send tanks and armored vehicles to Ukraine. Earlier this month, the United States, France and Germany agreed to send a delivery of armored fighting vehicles, which can help transport infantry into combat zones while firing on forces. enemies. The hope is that the influx of heavy weapons will tip the fighting in Kyiv’s favor and allow Ukrainian forces to retake occupied territory.

By providing Abrams, Biden has opened the door for other allied nations to send their own additional firepower to Kyiv. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has announced that his country will provide 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks after intense negotiations with the United States and other North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) partners. Scholz had privately insisted that Washington first supply American tanks, according to American officials, before giving the go-ahead to send German-made tanks. “It took our time to come to a coordinated approach,” Scholz told German lawmakers in the Bundestag on Wednesday. “We are not alone.”

Berlin’s decision will also ease a weeks-long standoff with other European nations waiting for Scholz’s approval to send their German-made Leopards to Ukraine. Germany must first train Ukrainian soldiers in the operation and maintenance of tanks before sending them on the Eastern Front, which Germany says will take about three months.

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Write to WJ Hennigan at william.hennigan@time.com.


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