Time to send the old M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine? Production of the M1A1 Abrams tank ended in 1992, by which point some 4,800 were produced – and most of those vehicles remain in service with the United States military. However, the U.S. Army currently maintains more than 2,300 original M1 Abrams that was never upgraded to the later standards.
Instead, those tanks remain in reserve storage – and unless the U.S. were to end up in a very serious conflict, it is unlikely any of those will ever be returned to service. A question has been asked why couldn’t those aging main battle tanks (MBTs) be sent to Ukraine?
Such a scenario would seem like the best use of old equipment that the Department of Defense has little use for – and likely spends a considerable amount to maintain. Even a few hundred could significantly bolster Ukraine’s tank force, while a thousand would give Ukraine a major advantage on the battlefield, especially as Moscow has been forced to deploy antiquated T-62s to reinforce its military following the significant losses in armored vehicles in recent months.
Biden Has Said No
The debate over what the M1 could actually do is largely a moot point, as the Biden administration has made it clear that no Abrams could be headed to Ukraine. At best, it appears that Poland will be equipped with more advanced Abrams while it sends it Cold War-era T-72s to Ukraine. That’s still a win for Ukraine but falls short of what could be a significant game changer – or at least what would appear as such.
There is more at play than how Moscow might react to facing American-made tanks in Ukraine, and that’s a serious consideration in its own right. Vladimir Putin has already made it very clear that he sees the conflict as a NATO proxy war against Russia, even as it was on his orders that the conflict began. U.S. tanks would likely only escalate the conflict.
Then there are the logistical challenges.
As previously reported, the United States military won’t even send its surplus M60 tanks. It isn’t just a matter of how Russia will react, but just getting the tanks to Ukraine would present serious issues. Ukraine operates the T-72 and has plenty of spare parts and the know-how to cannibalize damaged/destroyed tanks as needed, including those once operated by Russia. Maintaining the M60 would present a challenge while operating the tanks would require that American soldiers train the Ukrainians.
Where could such training of the M60s take place? There is little chance that the Pentagon would risk sending instructors to Ukraine, and even if the training could take place in Poland or Romania, it would require that Kyiv take some of its best crews out of action – something it can’t afford to do.
Such issues become even more complex with the Abrams. One only needs to consider how Russia might respond if 2,000 M1s even arrived in Poland or Romania – such movements couldn’t be easy to conceal and it could appear to Moscow that NATO was planning an invasion, even if it was publicly announced that the tanks were on the way. Wars have been started for less.
M1 Abrams: Pictures
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.