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US to send M1 Abrams tanks despite being too complicated for Ukraine

Battle Tank (File Image)

The United States of America announced on January 25th that it will send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. The tanks may take months or even years to arrive and may never actually see the battlefield.

The M1 Abrams is the main battle tank of the US military and is one the most powerful and sophisticated tanks in the world, however, for Ukraine that is both an advantage and a problem.

In his comments announcing the decision, US President Joe Biden said that “delivering the tanks to Ukraine will take time” without further specification.

Today I am announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion.

Secretary Austin has recommended this step because it will enhance the Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives.

The Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world, they are also extremely complex to operate and maintain, and so, we are giving Ukraine the parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield.

US President, Joe Biden

Military analysts say it could take a year or more for all these Abrams tanks to make it to Ukraine so any expectation that these tanks will have an immediate impact on the fighting needs to be tempered.

The tanks will be purchased from General Dynamics, the manufacturer of the tanks.

National Security Council Spokesperson, John Kirby, said it will take many months for General Dynamics to build them. Kirby said the US doesn't have the extra tanks in its arsenal and even if there were excess tanks it would still take many months, suggesting that the un-built tanks will take even longer to arrive.

While the estimated timeline suggests that the tanks cannot have an immediate impact on the conflict, it seems that may never have been the intention.

The decision may have been more strategic and diplomatic than military; the Biden administration made the decision against the advice of the Pentagon.

The tank the US really wants on the battlefields of Ukraine is the German Leopard 2 but Germany was not going to send them.

On January 19 at the World Economic Forum, German Chancellor, Olaf Schulz, privately, but very directly, told the US delegation that Germany was not going to send German tanks until the US agreed to send American tanks.

The US may never have intended the Abrams tanks for the current war; they may not even be the right tanks for this war

US Defense Secretary, Lloyd Austin, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, had both recommended against sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

In addition to how long it takes to train personnel to operate the tanks, and how difficult the tanks are to maintain, they have also said that the Abrams tanks are not the right vehicles for the fight in Ukraine at this juncture.

By promising to send the tanks without specifying a delivery date the US may have succeeded in giving Germany and Europe cover to send their leopard tanks without ever actually sending US tanks onto the current battlefield.

Most NATO members in Europe have kept open the possibility of sending their F16 Fighter Jets to Ukraine even as US President Joe Biden said Washington would not do so.

Air defense experts say US built F16 fighter jets would give Ukraine an edge over the Russian Air Force but only if combined with powerful missiles and targeting information which the west would also have to provide, drawing it more actively into the war.

  1. ·Ukraine sets sights on F16 fighter jets

There are clear advantages to the F16, it is the most numerously produced fighter Jet, with many being decommissioned in Europe as NATO member states transitioned to the F35.

Lockheed Martin, which produces the F16, told the Financial Times it can increase production to replace any planes sent to the Ukraine.

However, there are practical and symbolic concerns.

Experts say training Ukrainian pilots on F16 jets might not be carried out in time to make a difference in the war this year. Also bringing in western pilots, even as privateers, could bring about political complications.

Ukraine has reportedly prepared a batch of 50 pilots who have flown in western military exercises and could be trained in 3 months.

The symbolic concern is over losses of aircraft. Russian development of hypersonic missiles could prove to be a match for the F16 ending the narrative of NATO superiority.

Perhaps, for such reasons, there are still opposing voices in the western alliance. Olaf Sholz, the German Chancellor, after bowing to pressure to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine, said he would not be sending any F16 jets.

The West, the US in particular, has supplied the Ukraine with armaments and munitions worth billions of dollars since the war began last year.

The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has recently doubled down on the need for new weapons from his western backers to counter military advances by Russia, urging the west to send long range missiles and fighter jets in addition to tanks.

We have to open the supply of long range missiles to Ukraine and it is important that we expand our cooperation in artillery, and we have to start supplying aircraft to Ukraine.

This is our dream and our task.

President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky

Russia has frequently warned that western supplied weapons to Ukraine will only serve to prolong war.

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