The Defense Department is fast-tracking the delivery of M-1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, drawing on older, refurbished models that can be delivered to the battlefield by the fall, Pentagon officials confirmed Tuesday.
In January, President Biden said the U.S. would send Kyiv a total of 31 top-of-the-line M1A2 Abrams main battle tanks, enough to outfit a Ukrainian armored battalion. But there was a hitch: They would be coming from the assembly line at General Dynamics and could take a year or more to arrive in the country.
The tanks now destined for Ukraine will be the older, but still formidable, M1A1 Abrams model.
“These will be excess hulls in our inventory that we will refurbish and refit,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters on Tuesday. “It’s a very similar capability to the M1A2.”
Defense Department officials said they have worked closely with Ukraine to find a way to expedite the process to get the 70-ton armored behemoths into combat. The Pentagon had earlier expressed concern that Kyiv’s forces would not be able to meet the logistical and training standards to operate the tanks efficiently in the war with Russia.
“Based on that study and analysis, this was the approach that we landed on,” Gen. Ryder said.
Other countries such as Poland have previous orders in the system for Abrams tanks. General Ryder said that to his knowledge, the delivery of the M1A1s will not impact any previous foreign military sales.
The initial plan called for the Abrams tanks to be procured by funding through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), an authority under which the U.S. procures capabilities from industry rather than delivering military equipment drawn from Defense Department stocks.
The price for the refurbished M1A1 tanks will likely be similar to the $400 million earmarked for the earlier USAI plan, Gen. Ryder said.
With Ukraine‘s government repeatedly pressing for more Western military aid, the Abrams tanks got caught up in the diplomatic dance with NATO ally Germany, whose Leopard armored tanks were coveted by Ukraine and more immediately available. But Berlin was reluctant to authorize the German-built tanks for Ukraine — a move that would anger Russia — without the cover of the U.S. offering the Abrams tanks at the same time.
• Mike Glenn can be reached at email@example.com.
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