WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to send more than 30 of its frontline battle tanks to Ukraine, a move meant to unblock Germany’s reluctance to provide its own main battle tank to bolster Ukrainian forces fighting Russia, according to a US official.
Modern, capable tanks are seen as essential to Ukraine’s ability to withstand a planned spring offensive by Russian forces and help Ukrainians reclaim parts of their country seized in the President’s invasion Russian Vladimir Putin. Ukrainians operate Russian and Soviet tanks. Western tanks would provide them with more powerful, more mobile and more armored vehicles.
The Pentagon resisted sending the tanks, citing the heavy maintenance they require as well as their need for jet fuel for its engine. The German Leopard tank, used by several European allies, runs on more readily available diesel fuel.
However, Germany had wanted the Pentagon to commit its own tanks before sending its Leopard 2 tanks, and to allow other countries that operate the tank to supply them to Ukraine.
The Pentagon’s current plan is to send 31 M-1 Abrams tanks and eight vehicles to recover those damaged in combat, said the official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan. The Biden administration’s decision to send in the tanks was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
On Tuesday afternoon, Pentagon officials declined to confirm the decision.
“I have no announcements to make at this time,” the Air Force brigadier said. Pentagon press secretary Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters on Tuesday. He described the Abrams tank as very capable but very complex.
Last week, the US-led coalition supporting Ukraine could not reach an agreement with Germany to supply its Leopard tanks. Also last week, the Pentagon announced its latest military aid package, $2.5 billion worth of armored personnel carriers, munitions and other aid.
The Abrams is deadly, fast and heavily armored. Weighing around 70 tons, the Abrams is equipped with a 120 mm cannon and a .50 caliber machine gun. The Abrams was developed during the Cold War and the first tanks delivered to the army in 1980. They saw combat for the first time in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.
The tank, according to a Congressional Research Service report, “was deadly, as crews said its 120mm gun was accurate and its ammunition deadly against all forms of Iraqi armor. Army observers attribute the high degree of gun accuracy at superior sights, tank readiness levels and soldier training, the Abrams also survived well on the battlefield.
An Army report cited by the Research Service noted that Abrams tank crews said they received “direct frontal hits from Iraqi T-72 (tanks) with minimal damage. In fact, the enemy n ‘destroyed no Abrams tanks during the Persian Gulf War’.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Pentagon to send Ukrainian battle tanks to aid in war with Russia