On January 25, 2023, following the UK's announcement that it will provide its Challenger 2 main battle tank to Ukraine, the US approved the transfer of 31 M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine. The M1A2 represents the latest base model of the Abrams, having entered production in 1992. However, the tanks going to Ukraine are now older M1A1 variants.
On March 21, 2023, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder held a press briefing announcing the downgrade of the tanks, saying that the DOD "has made the decision to provide the M1A1 variant of the Abrams tank" to Ukraine. The decision was made in close coordination with Ukraine in order to accelerate the delivery of American tanks. Based on current timelines, Brig. Gen. Ryder noted that the tanks would arrive "by the fall of this year."
Both the M1A1 and M1A2 variants of the Abrams feature the 120mm smoothbore cannon, upgraded from the 105mm rifled gun of the original M1 Abrams. The M1A2 saw the addition of an independent thermal sight for the tank commander. This allows the Abrams to rapidly engage two targets without having to acquire each one sequentially. Second-generation depleted uranium and improved Chobham armor components were also added to the M1A2 to improve its survivability.
Although Ukraine is not receiving the latest and greatest version of the Abrams, the M1A1 variant still packs a punch. In addition to having the same main gun as the M1A2, the M1A1 still features a .50 caliber coaxial heavy machine gun. Brig. Gen. Ryder emphasized that "this is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later."
The M1A1s going to Ukraine will be refurbished from excess hulls in the DoD inventory. Using approximately $400 million of Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and security assistance package funds, the tanks will be refit to operational capability and sent to Ukraine as quickly as possible. Brig. Gen. Ryder did not provide specifics on where the tanks will be refurbished
While Ukrainian tankers are already receiving training in Europe on British Challenger 2 and German Leopard 2 tanks, the Pentagon has not announced any concrete plans on training Ukrainians on the M1 Abrams. "We will ensure that the Ukrainians receive the necessary training on these tanks in time for them to be delivered," Brig. Gen. Ryder said. "We'll have more details to provide on that training in the future."
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