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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Joe Biden Needs to Send M1 Abrams Tanks to Ukraine to Fight Russia

M1 Abrams
The Abrams Main Battle Tank closes with and destroys the enemy using mobility, firepower, and shock effect.

The Biden Administration is Wrong: Ukraine Needs M1 Abrams Tanks. As Ukraine continues to battle to push Russian invaders out of its territory, Ukraine’s military leadership has requested that the United States provide M1 Abrams tanks, a platform the Biden administration has been reluctant to provide. 

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On January 6, 2023, Laura K. Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of Defense, explained at a Pentagon press conference, “We absolutely agree that Ukraine does need tanks,” she said, but argued that the Ukrainians were wrong to seek the Abrams. “We have to be cognizant of maintenance and sustainment considerations with tanks, and certainly we know that the Abrams tank in addition to being a gas guzzler is quite — quite challenging to maintain,” she said to explain why the administration thought Ukraine should focus instead on Dutch-refurbished Soviet or Russian T-72 tanks.

Ukrainians are grateful for American and Western assistance. Speaking before a Joint Session of Congress, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was effusive. “I want to thank you, all of you. I thank every American family, which cherish the warmth of its home and wishes the same warmth to other people,” he said. “I thank President Biden and both parties at the Senate, and the House, for your invaluable assistance. I thank your citizens and your citizens who supported Ukraine this year, who hosted our Ukrainians, our people. Who waved our national flags, who acted to help us.”

While U.S. support to Ukraine is both welcome and wise, constant White House and Pentagon efforts to second guess and micromanage Ukrainian decision-making is counterproductive. No one knows both the battlefield and the enemy better than the Ukrainians.  Ukrainians remember that just a year ago, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, based on the intelligence assessments the best and the brightest in the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Intelligence Agency produced, recommended that Zelensky evacuate his country against the backdrop of inevitable Russian victory.

Retired generals acting as talking head analysts on cable television spoke about the power and capabilities of the Russian army. They amplified the errors they heard from peers still in uniform or serving in the intelligence community. In hindsight, it is clear they were wrong, and Zelensky was right. Under such circumstances it might behoove the White House to transfer of several dozen or hundreds of Abrams will not decrease the military power of the United States. With humility and treat Ukraine’s own assessments with greater regard.

This is not to say Ukraine cannot use T-72s. Ukraine’s tank cadre is already well-trained and capable of operating not only the T-72, but all major East bloc tank models—T-62s, T-64s, T-80s, T-84s, and T-90s—built upon not only old Soviet stocks, but also more recent Polish, Czech, Ukrainian and Slovene variants. The problem is the numbers of tanks and the ammunition available for them are in increasingly short supply. There is no such shortage of the Abrams and its ammunition. The transfer of even a couple hundred M1 Abrams will not decrease the military power or combat readiness of the United States meaningfully.

The M1 Abrams serve a looming military role. As Ukrainian forces continue to fight in Donetsk and Luhansk, Ukrainian forces must once again prepare for urban combat in the cities and towns of Donetsk, Luhansk and, eventually, Crimea. When Russia invaded in 2022, for example, Mariupol was Ukraine’s tenth largest city, approximately the size of Minneapolis. While Russia’s siege and occupation left Mariupol a shell of its former self, Ukraine will need tanks to retake the city and minimize its own casualties.

Certainly, the Abrams have disadvantages and fuel consumption is one of them but Ukraine takes the long view. I asked Yuriy Sak, an advisor to Ukraine’s ministry of defense about Pentagon concerns that the Abrams are gas guzzlers. He acknowledged the issue but commented, “The lives of our soldiers, the suffering of people from the war and in the occupied territories cost more than fuel. The more tanks we get, the fast we win the war and [win] a just peace.”

A quicker Ukrainian victory should be an American national interest. Not only will a speedier victory save lives and restore stability, but a Ukrainian victory will also have more far reaching ramifications. The best way for the United States, European states, and NATO to end Türkiye’s ability to blackmail the defensive alliance will be to end the conflict from which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seeks to profit. Ending the war will also reduce the opportunity for other dictators to take advantage of U.S. and European distraction to settle unrelated scores. This is the case, for example, with Azerbaijan’s ongoing assault on Armenians.

There are other advantages to providing M1 Abrams to Ukraine. Between June 5 and June 12, 1982, against the backdrop of the Lebanon War, the Israeli Air Force shot down 88 Soviet-made MiGs. Not only did the Pentagon get to see its equipment in combat against an adversaries, but Israel also provided U.S. military and intelligence analysts access to recovered Soviet-made aircraft. Sak told me that Ukrainian tank operators are ready and want to learn from the Abrams. The use of the Abrams on Ukraine’s eastern front will be a great test for the platform. American designers and military analysts can assess operations under combat conditions and augment their own readiness should the United States ever find itself in a land war. The Pentagon’s ability to observe Israeli F-15s and their Soviet-built adversaries ultimately saved American lives in subsequent conflicts.

The Biden administration has agreed to deliver Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles to Ukraine. These are both important and welcome. They have a landing bay that can transport infantry to the line of fire, but they are no substitute for the M1 Abrams’ greater firepower. The White House should not force a compromise upon the Ukrainians.

It is unfair to Ukrainians who are making tremendous sacrifices not only for their own liberty but for freedom much more broadly for the United States to dither. It is time to train Ukrainians on F-16s that can take out bridges and buildings, provide other aircraft for close air support of infantry in combat, and expedite the delivery of Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

Washington should share Kyiv’s goal: unconditional victory.

About the Author: Michael Rubin is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, where he specializes in Iran, Turkey, and the broader Middle East. A former Pentagon official, Dr. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, and both pre- and postwar Iraq. He also spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. For more than a decade, he taught classes at sea about the Horn of Africa and Middle East conflicts, culture, and terrorism, to deployed US Navy and Marine units. Rubin is a 19FortyFive Contributing Editor. 

Written By

Now a 1945 Contributing Editor, Dr. Michael Rubin is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). Dr. Rubin is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of several books exploring diplomacy, Iranian history, Arab culture, Kurdish studies, and Shi’ite politics, including “Seven Pillars: What Really Causes Instability in the Middle East?” (AEI Press, 2019); “Kurdistan Rising” (AEI Press, 2016); “Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engaging Rogue Regimes” (Encounter Books, 2014); and “Eternal Iran: Continuity and Chaos” (Palgrave, 2005).

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. Cheburator

    January 15, 2023 at 5:24 pm

    Ukraine’s problem is that the only way to create a victorious alignment of forces in this war is NATO’s direct entry into the war with Russia. This raises a problem for NATO – according to Russian military doctrine, NATO’s entry into the war will mean a nuclear strike on the United States, NATO members in Europe, US bases in Japan and South Korea, and all objects potentially dangerous for Russia. Do other members agree to such a deal?
    Ukraine has already lost Soledar, a significant group of troops has been encircled in Bakhmut.
    So, not supplying Ukraine with bradley, tanks, or several air defense batteries will not change the situation for Ukraine, but will only increase the number of victims, but can also lead to a dangerous escalation of the conflict.

    And yes – the hypothetical victory of Ukraine is not able to correct the state of the economy either in Europe or in the United States, the collapse of the economy, if you haven’t noticed, began even before the Covid pandemic – in the fall of 2020, when the systemic growth of commodity positions on the stock exchanges and the depreciation of the dollar and euro began, in some ways, covid even slowed down the collapse of the economy.

    So you’re delirious again

  2. 403Forbidden

    January 15, 2023 at 6:13 pm

    Biden (& deep state) sending abrams to ukraine would be a most brilliant move after the decision on fomenting war at russia’s front doorstep.

    What could go missing after that. B61s ???

    After deciding to hold a truly grand celebration, there’s no need to hold anything back.

    Hand over, or send over everything you got, from the family’s cutlery to the kitchen sink.

    HOPEFULLY, that action will kick putin out of his present stupor and spur him into action and thus put a complete halt to the US-NATO proxy war in donbass.

    Right now, putin is in his own la-la land, thinking his soldiers and their vintage or soviet-era weaponry can defeat the great US-NATO-ukro military force trying to impose their undisguised neo-nazist policies on the russian-speaking donbass natives.

    IT IS TIME FOR RUSSIA to employ tactical nukes (via kt range nukes) against the neo-nazis in ukraine.

    There’s no need to fear the US-NATO strategic arsenal. Because biden has to use it against the nuke powers in east asia first before daring to retaliate in any form or kind in europe.

    Biden wil be able to do nothing at all except hold his todger or dick and bang his balls on hearing news of nukes being used in ukraine.

  3. John

    January 15, 2023 at 7:58 pm

    No need for battle tanks or F-16.
    More switchblade 600 drones, lots of Bradleys, 1000 GLSDB rockets, JLTVs w Hellfire and AKPWS missiles plus more Excalibur shells plus 50 A-10 will turn the tide for Ukraine

  4. Jim

    January 15, 2023 at 8:03 pm

    The Abrams is a solid main battle tank, but requires a massive logistics support train behind it.

    The U. S. has refrained from sending Abrams because it doesn’t want escalation… which a main battle tank represents. But there is a second reason.

    The U. S. Military doesn’t think the Ukraine military has the capacity for the necessary logistics train of support to keep Abrams working in the field.

    Without the train of support… the Abrams is likely to end up a whale on the beach… it might even be embarrassing to the U. S. military.

    Abrams are also very heavy, some 78 tons, it needs firm ground to run on… Ukraine’s terrain tends to go to extremes, frozen solid… to pure mud… and for several months during Summer, hard & dry.

    It could also be the U. S. Military doesn’t want Russia having an opportunity to test various tactics to destroy the Abrams tank… they are not invincible.

    The Abrams is not a wonder weapon that will win the war for Ukraine… what its introduction will do is make this war even more than it already is… a direct conflict between the U. S. and Russia.

    I understand many warhawks want a new Cold War against Russia… but it’s not in America’s Vital National Security Interest to generate a new Cold War.

    Some would say it’s too late, we already are in a new Cold War… seems so… but let us not make it any worse than it already is.

    Perhaps, the Abrams tank is a parting gift to Ukraine… after it fails to change the outcome of the war… our government can say, “We did all we could.”

    Meanwhile, Ukraine will be broken… wrecked… and the Ukrainian People left holding the bag… on the wind swept Eurasian Steppe.

  5. Walker

    January 15, 2023 at 9:55 pm

    It’s nice to see the Russian trolls hyperventilating over the Abrams. The longer Russia continues to terrorize the people of Ukraine, the more the West will be forced to help Ukraine. It won’t be too much longer before even Biden is forced to give tanks, and eventually fighter planes. Russia really is pretty stupid. They should have ditched Putin years ago when they had the chance.

  6. Gary Jacobs

    January 16, 2023 at 9:46 am

    Jim,

    Wow. you actually said something with an accurate fact in it. Abrams is quite a logistical challenge, and it is very heavy. You also finally acknowledged how tricky the fluctuation of the ground in Ukraine is. I guess there is a first time for everything. Of course you cherry picked it to point to the negative when it suits your faux narrative about escalation, but hey…you still did finally get a few facts right so that at least a bit of progress.

    Except that Abrams is something of a wonder weapon. See the Battle of 73 Easting when 36 Abrams and 50 ish Bradleys obliterated 160 Russian made tanks and hundreds of other vehicles with ZERO Abrams lost, and less than 5 Bradleys lost. 2-3 of those were to friendly fire.

    As well, a US Marine I know in San Diego who has operated Abrams put the kibosh on a lot of the talk about logistical problems. While it prefers jet fuel…Abrams turbine engine can actually burn a variety of fuels including diesel, jet fuel, gasoline, and marine diesel. Another advantage of a turbine engine versus a diesel engine is that it requires no warm up period, has less moving parts, and needs no cooling system.

    That said, while it may be less complicated than some make it out to be, M1 logistics starting from zero is still worse than Leopard having a dozen+ countries around Ukraine that have 1000+ total and all have some ability to contribute to Ukraine keeping Leopards in the fight against Russia’s naked aggression.

    However, if it takes a handful of US Abrams to Ukraine for Germany to unleash the Leopards, it’s more than worth it. And those Abrams can be put to good use. Especially with frozen ground, or when the mud dries for the summer in the south on the way to Melitopol where there are far less water obstacles that need to be crossed. As noted above, even 36 Abrams can be devastating to far inferior Russian tanks.

    Have a liberating day.

  7. Jim

    January 16, 2023 at 11:14 am

    Gary, according to you, the M1 Abrams is best in this situation as a symbolic rabbit… send some Abrams and that’s the “green light” for Leopard 2 tanks.

    It’s the Leopards that might make an impact… the Abrams question is a sideshow, Leopards are where the ‘rubber meets the road’…

    And, hundreds might make a difference.

    Could be… except for one thing:

    Russia has destroyed hundreds of Ukraine tanks… thus, the desperate demand for more tanks. Ukraine had hundreds of tanks at the start of the war… you don’t hear much about Ukraine tank regiments making an impact.

    Why? Because most of those tanks were destroyed before Ukraine’s offensives into Kharkov & Kherson.

    Gary, seems Ukraine is getting the Leopards.

    How many? Who knows.

    Will it make a difference? I don’t think so.

  8. Cheburator

    January 16, 2023 at 11:26 am

    Gary Jacobs
    Russian artillery and aviation say hello to Abrams tanks and Bradley armorede vehicles.
    In Iraq, Abrams and Bradley fought against the earliest modifications of Soviet tanks, having complete information superiority and air control, i.e. shot blind kittens.
    Not only do the Russians now have parity in the technical equipment of vehicles (thermal imagers, night vision devices) are the basic equipment. So also air superiority, artillery and information control. So in this scenario, the Abrams and Bradleys will not give Ukraine any advantage, for the reason that they will be nothing more than expensive targets for russian artillerymen.
    In addition, the Abrams have complex logistics, and it’s not even about the fuel. Problem in the type of soil and landscapes of Ukraine, the technical component of the Ukrainian army.
    If the fuel can be drained at the nearest gas station, then there may be problems with soils – Ukraine is wet black soil, and even pulling out an Abrams tank will be difficult, given that the Abrams is 25 tons heavier than a standard Ukrainian tank.

  9. Jim

    January 16, 2023 at 12:12 pm

    Gary, I wanted to say something about the Battle of 73 Easting:

    It was good reading to see the U. S. Military dominate the battlefield and destroy the enemy.

    That was a top of the line U. S. operational force.

    I want the U. S. Military to be as effective & lethal to the enemy as possible.

    But this needs to be noted: The Iraq army was not a near-peer force… the U. S. Military was superior and I’m glad for that capability and generally support efforts to always improve our military to the technological/operational cutting edge… for the effectiveness & survivability of our soldiers… there is no substitute for victory.

    In Ukraine, it won’t be a coherent army regiment, but rather, a hodgepodge, patchwork, put together from what remains of a mauled Ukrainian army.

    Ukraine forces won’t be operational units equal to the U. S. Military… you know that.

    So, again, it goes back to the Russians… how effective & lethal will they be in response to some small number of Abrams (if they make it to the battlefield) and a significantly larger number of Leopard 2’s and other military hardware?

    Soledar…

    I suggest the hand writing is on the wall.

    The Ukrainian Army has already been too mauled & destroyed for an infusion of weapons @ the 11th hour to make a strategic difference.

    The organizational flow chart, the command & control structure, if you will, has been degraded… the Ukraine army is not what it was at the start of the war.

    A short training course will not substitute for professional advanced training over time and experience in the field… green troops are not as effective as veterans.

    Ukraine treated their soldiers as expendable and now they are suffering the consequences of their callus disregard for life.

    Disregard for human life has its results… willingly feeding troops into a meat grinder has downstream effects that will come to bear in the coming months.

    That has always been the downfall of the Kiev regime.

    One of the most brutal on Earth, no surprise, given their ideology.

  10. Gary Jacobs

    January 16, 2023 at 12:52 pm

    Cheburator,

    LoL HIMARS, SAMs, and HARMS say hello to Russians all over the place. Russians havent had air dominance at all, and with more mobile SHORAD systems following Ukrainian units there hasnt been much in the way of air support to Russian units on the ground.

    As well, the Iraqis were using many of the same Russian T72s the Russians are using now. As well, Russia has famously had to take T62s out of storage because of how many other tanks of theirs Ukraine has destroyed.

    And now because of the lack of armored vehicles, Russia has been reduced to sending human waves at places like Soledar, not to mention using thermobaric weapons to destroy everything…and then claim they have ‘liberated’ those areas.

    It’s quite a pathetic strategy actually. And even more so for those who go out of their way to defend it.

  11. Gary Jacobs

    January 16, 2023 at 1:02 pm

    Jim,

    Russia has destroyed a lot of Ukrainian tanks, and Ukraine has destroyed a lot more Russian tanks. Ironically, the Ukrainian tanks that Russia has destroyed were made by Russia.

    Western tanks far outclass Russian tanks. The ATGMs that have been obliterating Russian tanks bounce right off a UK Challenger, and are not much more effective against Abrams or even Bradleys.

    As noted above, a Challenger can take a hit from a tank round and keep going.

    As for the Abrams, in his 1994 *non-fiction* book, Armored Cav, Tom Clancy recounted how an M1A1 Abrams got stuck in the mud during the ground war of Desert Storm. It was then set upon by three tanks, Russian made Iraqi T-72s specifically.

    A round fired from roughly a thousand yards away bounced off, and the Abrams responded by blowing to bits the T-72 that fired it.

    A second round fired from 700 yards bounced off the Abrams and the offending T-72 was blasted.

    The third T-72, at a range of roughly 400 yards, fired a round which left a groove in the armor of the Abrams. It too was destroyed by a shot fired through a sand berm.

    As mentioned, Russia is using a lot of T72s in Ukraine, and has had to take older T62s out of storage because of how many tanks they have lost in Ukraine.

    You should stew on all that for a bit before you pretend that few Abrams wont make a difference for Ukraine.

    Have a liberating day.

  12. TheDon

    January 16, 2023 at 2:45 pm

    Nope.
    Put together plan to decimate wagner forces now while above ground.
    End of game.

  13. Leidsegracht

    January 16, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    Jim / Gary (and others),

    All the talk about German Leopards coming to the rescue don’t meet the track-hits-road test as our good friends the hapless Germans are once again demonstrating that may Trump’s message (and I’m NOT a Trumper) wasn’t far off. Numerous sources reported over the weekend that German arms manufacturer Rheinmetall, has stated that even *if* Olaf Scholz were to approve sending Leopards to Ukraine the company couldn’t possibly deliver any early 2024!!!!

    The Germans (and French) are really taking the term “freeloaders” to a new level.

  14. Cheburator

    January 16, 2023 at 6:49 pm

    Gary Jacobs
    In two months, one successful launch on the barracks with conscripts who foolishly used mobile communications? – There are no other successful launches – because if there were, then the talking heads of Ukraine would tell about the victory in full.

    To influence the course of the war, Ukraine needs hundreds of launchers and tens of thousands of missiles – even the US Army does not have such a reserve of ammunition.

    As for the Iraqi army, it was equipped with the earliest export versions of the T72 equipped with early shells with a penetration of 10 inches and without the possibility of using rocket weapons, while Russia, in addition to shells with a penetration of 30-35 inches, also uses missiles, and behind each the tank unit is an artillery battery, or even more than one. So hide the memoirs of the war with the shepherds – by the way, there is an entertaining moment in these memoirs – Abrams is stuck in Iraq – the territory of Iraq is dry rocky deserts, if Abrams managed to get stuck there, then what will happen in Ukraine – where the soils are soft black soil and high humidity – most importantly, along with the abrams, do not forget to put evacuation vehicles in the kit for each tank, the abrams will have to be pulled out of the mud every mile

    The Russians reopened the T62 not as a replacement for the T72 / T80, but as a means of infantry fire reinforcement. T62 is not regarded as a full-fledged tank, but as a tractor with a cannon – the T62 can fire high-explosive shells equipped with 3 pounds of explosives, so the Russians use it not as a tank, but as mobile artillery with armor to suppress enemy firing points – it doesn’t matter to a ukrainian soldier which tank fired at him a fragmentation projectile – a brand new T90, or an old T62. So Russia did not replace T72 with T62, but added 1500 T62 to 1500 T72 – i.e. now against ukraine not 1500 tanks but 3000 tank. Even if half of the 3000 are obsolete, they can still shoot.
    As for the T62, here you need to understand the difference between the tactics of using US tanks and Russia.

  15. Johnny Ray

    January 16, 2023 at 7:40 pm

    I suppose Ukraine could use the entire range of US military weaponry from handguns to block buster bombs to stealth bombers. Maybe. But, like with the Abrahms they all need intensive training, high tech maintenance and repair, special ammo and the right situation to use them.

    Anyway, I am fairly confident Ukraine could turn the corner victory with a very large supply of precision guided missiles, rockets, bombs and artillery along with first class NATO intelligence and a complete set of electronic comms and gizmos from night vision gear to armed back pack drones. That’s the ingredients for the war of the future which Russia simply does not have and therefore cannot win.

    As someone here mentioned, the Russians have shot up a LOT AFU tanks and other vehicles if only with lucky shots from carpet bomb artillery.

  16. Cheburator

    January 17, 2023 at 1:15 pm

    Johnny Ray

    And then it makes sense for Russia to fight with Ukraine? This will mean that the United States has entered the war, and it no longer makes sense to adhere to any treaties, it is easier for Russia to attack the territory of the United States and NATO allies with nuclear weapons.
    Are you ready to get thousands of nuclear missiles on your heads?
    You can argue that the destruction will be mutual – and for Russia in this case, what’s the difference? – The United States has already supplied weapons that endangered the existence of Russia.

    For some reason, many in the United States do not understand that overcoming even one missile defense system means the death of millions of people, and not a single missile defense system provides 100% protection, and even if 1% of nuclear missiles overcome missile defense, it will burn both US coasts and go to the continental parts.

  17. Manuel

    January 24, 2023 at 12:08 am

    M1 Abrams Tanks? Didn’t we already give him enough? That Zelensky guy is completely unhinged. Heck, he even demanded that we should preemptively launch nukes at Russia. That’s a surefire way to end all life on Earth. If anything someone should lob a few dozen bunker buster missiles at his palace when he’s sitting at home stuffing his safe with billions of dollars in cash without a care in the world while the Ukranian people are the ones living in the rubble and dying over this one guy’s ego-trip.

    I’m so done with Zelensky. Now Putin is no saint either but Zelensky is completely corrupt and completely insane. Heck, when peace talks were offered some Ukranian diplomat told people to shut up. Ukraine doesn’t want peace; they just want an endless war so they can get free stuff and want everybody else to pay for it all indefinitely.

    I say cut all ties with Ukraine right now, take all our military aid back, and let them deal with it themselves. This whole mess started when nato was cozying up to Zelensky in violation of the treaty that was signed stating that Ukraine would remain neutral. Because of that Putin had no choice but to invade. Also those US-funded Obama biolabs in Ukraine didn’t help matters either. Would you want foreign biolabs creating deadly pathogens on your porch?

    Nato and Ukraine aren’t the good guys in this scenario here.

    Also those ‘Russian’ missiles that killed 2 people in Poland? Yeah, those were Ukranian missiles! Yet still that lie is being perpetuated and nato was the first to cry “wolf”.

    The only thing I see Zelensky doing is going on a publicity tour demanding more money. Also that Where does all the money go?

    Allegedly Joe Biden also laundered Billions in Ukraine Aid via FTX. Guess he and Hunter were still hard at work, just back in the ‘good old days’ with Burisma where he was abusing his position as VP for quid-pro-quo scams. If anyone deserves to be impeached it’s Biden.

    It all comes down to two regions in Ukraine who apparently want to rejoin Russia but Ukraine won’t allow it. Why now? Give those Russian areas back to Russia and the rest can remain a neutral Ukraine (without US-funded bioweapon labs).

    Also prosecute Fauci. He’s our modern-day Dr.Mengele funding labs where dogs get eaten alive by sandflies. That guy deserves the chair imo!

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