WASHINGTON ― U.S. President Joe Biden announced Wednesday he would send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, reversing course after Germany cleared the way for Europe to send scores of main battle tanks.
The moves, hailed by western officials as a potential turning point in Ukraine’s war to repel Russia’s invasion, are meant to strengthen Kyiv’s defenses against an expected Russian onslaught this spring and give it the tools to punch through Russia’s battle lines and retake territory.
Biden announced the move in a speech flanked by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who Biden said recommended the move, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Biden hailed Germany’s decision and other nations’ recent commitments of armored vehicles to Ukraine’s allies.
“Today I am announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine,” Biden said. “It will enhance Ukraine’s capacity to defend its territory and achieve its strategic objectives. The Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world.”
“They’re also extremely complex to operate and maintain. So we’re also giving Ukraine the parts and equipment necessary to effectively sustain these tanks on the battlefield,” he added.
The $400 million package includes 120mm rounds and other ammunition; eight tactical vehicles that can tow the 70-ton Abrams; support vehicles and equipment; and funding for training, maintenance, and sustainment.
U.S. officials said ahead of the announcement the Abrams tanks, which are enough to outfit a Ukrainian tank battalion, will come at the end of a monthslong contracting process.
Pentagon officials had balked at sending the Abrams over concerns it would be too difficult for Ukraine to operate and maintain, and the u-turn comes as Berlin dropped its opposition to sending Leopard tanks.
Asked by reporters whether Berlin had compelled the U.S. to alter its decision, Biden denied it was a reversal.
“Germany didn’t force me to change my mind. We wanted to make sure we were all together,” Biden said. “That’s what we were going to do all along, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
U.S. officials cast the new package as part of the ongoing evolution of Ukraine military aid and the result of recent high-level diplomacy.
U.S. officials told reporters it will take “months as opposed to weeks” before the U.S. can deliver the sophisticated yet powerful tanks. The Pentagon has complex issues to work out associated with supplying the Abrams, including how to deliver the jet fuel it runs on as well as other “equipment Ukraine will need to operate and maintain the Abrams,” one U.S. official said.
“We will have to put in place a very careful training program to be able to maintain and sustain these tanks, which do require a good deal of assistance,” the official said, adding that the training will include how to operate them and integrate them with maneuver operations.
The German government plans to send one company of Leopard 2 A6s, which comprise 14, while the plan is for allies to send nearly 90 ― or enough for two battalions.
The accord caps weeks of diplomacy that involved Biden, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and U.K. officials as well as Pentagon leaders and their counterparts.
Austin has led efforts to get Ukraine tanks and other armored vehicles in an effort to improve the ability of Ukrainian forces to conduct complex maneuver operations during intensified spring fighting.
Along these lines, Western officials have stepped up support in recent weeks to provide a new array of armored vehicles to Ukraine, to include the U.K.’s Challenger 2 tank.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.