US Abrams battle tanks to arrive in Ukraine 'soon'

Kyiv was promised 31 of the armoured vehicles by US President Joe Biden in January

Abrams tanks have not yet reached Ukraine because of the need to train soldiers and deliver fuel. EPA
Powered by automated translation

American battle tanks will soon arrive in Ukraine to aid its counter-offensive against Russia, US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin said on Tuesday.

The M1 Abrams tanks were pledged in January but have yet to take to the battlefield because of the need to train Ukrainian soldiers, deliver fuel and equipment and arrange complex maintenance.

Ukraine is more than 100 days into a counter-offensive aided by British, French and German vehicles and has made modest gains that Mr Austin described as “steady forward progress”.

He told a meeting of Ukrainian allies at a US airbase in Germany that the donated Abrams tanks “will be entering Ukraine soon”, without giving further details.

The US aid is meant to provide Ukraine with “the security assistance that it needs for the current counter-offensive” as well as “helping it to build the force that will ward off future aggression”, he said.

The M1 Abrams is considered one of the world's most advanced tanks but is described by the Pentagon as “extremely complex” to operate and maintain. It has a turbine engine like an aircraft that means Ukraine needs jet fuel to send it in to battle.

US President Joe Biden promised the tanks to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in January. EPA

US President Joe Biden announced in January that Kyiv would receive 31 of the tanks but officials briefed it would take “months rather than weeks”.

An original plan to buy brand-new tanks from manufacturers was scrapped in March, with existing US tanks refurbished instead to get them to Ukraine “sooner rather than later”. Training began at another US base in Germany in May.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said last week that “Abrams tanks under Ukrainian flags” were part of a drive to “constantly reinforce our warriors”.

Kyiv is also looking to strengthen its air defences before the cold season after Russian bombardments pounded the energy grid last winter. Mr Austin said attacks by Moscow's forces had also damaged port infrastructure and destroyed 280,000 tonnes of grain.

Germany is debating whether to send Taurus cruise missiles. Mr Austin called on the dozens of countries meeting at the Ramstein airbase on Tuesday to “dig deep on ground-based air defence for Ukraine”.

He told ministers to “keep pushing to get Ukraine the ammunition that it needs” as ministers look both to the counter-offensive and to Ukraine's long-term defence.

The Ramstein group has formed several “capability coalitions” to divide up the task of bolstering Ukraine's security in areas such as tank capability, pilot training and military technology. The US will be among the countries offering schooling for Ukrainian F-16 fighter jet pilots.

Updated: September 19, 2023, 11:29 AM