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The United States will supply refurbished M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine rather than new-build M1A2s to get the tanks delivered to theatre more quickly, the US Department of Defense (DoD) stated on 21 March 2023.

The US DoD originally announced in January 2023 that 31 M1A2 MBTs would be delivered to Ukraine. These would have been newly built tanks delivered direct from manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems and paid for using funds from the US government’s Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. However, “officials had speculated it would take about a year to make that happen”, according to a US DoD press release.

Instead, excess hulls already in the US inventory will be refurbished and refitted to the M1A1 standard and can be delivered to Ukraine by this autumn.

“Since we’ve made this announcement [to deliver M1 MBTs to Ukraine], we’ve been committed to exploring options to deliver the armoured capability as quickly as possible,” said Pentagon Press Secretary US Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder during a press briefing on 21 March. “After further study and analysis on how best to do this, DoD, in close co-ordination with Ukraine, has made the decision to provide the M1A1 variant of the Abrams tank, which will enable us to significantly expedite delivery timelines, and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year.”

A US Army M1A1 Abrams MBT on exercise at Fort Irwin’s National Training Center in California in April 2016. Ukraine will now be given M1A1s, as they can be delivered to theatre sooner than new-build M1A2s. (Photo: US Army)

The general noted that the M1A1 has “a very similar capability” to the M1A2 and added, “This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later.”

The M1A1 Abrams has the same basic armament as the M1A2, including an M256A1 120 mm smoothbore main gun, an M240 7.62 mm coaxially mounted machine gun, and a .50 cal (12.7 mm) heavy machine gun and M240 7.62 mm machine gun mounted on the turret roof. The main changes in the M1A2 are certain ‘fightability’ improvements, including an improved commander’s weapon station, a commander’s independent thermal viewer, an inter-vehicular information system, a position/navigation system and a number of survivability upgrades.

Gen Ryder also said that a training plan for Ukrainian personnel was also underway. “We will ensure that the Ukrainians receive the necessary training on these tanks in time for them to be delivered,” he said.

On 20 March the Pentagon announced the latest round of security assistance for Ukraine, worth about USD 350 M (EUR 324 M). This includes, among other things, ammunition for already-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems; high-speed anti-radiation missiles; AT4 anti-armour weapon systems; grenade launchers, small arms and associated ammunition; and riverine patrol boats.

The US DoD stated on 21 March that, since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the US government has committed more than USD 32.5 Bn in security assistance to Kyiv.

Peter Felstead