Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the significant role armored vehicles can play in modern warfare. Main battle tanks have been used on offense and defense throughout the conflict, helping to shape the outcome of battles. For many months, Russian and Ukrainian forces alike utilized aging Soviet-era tank platforms. While both sides have lost a considerable number of MBTs, Moscow’s tank fleet has reportedly been cut in half due to their destruction, capture, or failure to work adequately.
Despite their significant tank casualties, both Moscow and Kyiv continue to sport this platform to achieve their respective war objectives. In the upcoming months, various deliveries of Western MBTs shipped to Ukraine will hit the battlefield, including Challengers, Leopards, and even M1 Abrams armored vehicles.
U.S. Pledged Abrams MBTS to Support Ukraine’s Efforts
Back in January, the U.S., Britain, and Germany outlined plans to send dozens of advanced tanks to Ukraine. Initially, the White House revealed that it would deliver 31 of its new and sophisticated M1A2 Abrams tanks. However, due to production constraints, those Abrams vehicles would have taken roughly a year or two to construct and ship.
Ultimately, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin approved a revised plan to send over older M1A1 variants from the military’s existing stockpile. In addition to a quicker delivery timeframe, the defense secretary noted that the older model would be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn how to use and maintain.
The Pentagon most recently announced that it aims to have the first shipment of M1 Abrams sent to Ukraine by the fall. A Pentagon spokesperson expressed that these tank shipments are a priority: “You’ve heard us talk in the past about trying to work with Ukraine to meet not only their near-term needs, but their medium-term needs…Taking territory, retaking territory, you know, as part of any offensive will be important … as will sustaining those gains at some point in the future, as well as being able to deter future Russian aggression. This is all part of … our broader near-term and longer-term support to Ukraine and their defense requirements.”
M1A1 Abrams: Specs and Capabilities
Since the onset of Russia’s invasion, Ukraine has persistently requested the Abrams MBT. The third-generation American armored vehicle was originally designed by Chrysler Defense (now General Dynamics Land Systems) in the 1970s. At this time, the tank was derived from the failure of the proceeding MBT-70 project, which aimed to place the aging M60 Patton MBT.
The new and improved Abrams tank featured cutting-edge technologies, including a multi-fuel turbine engine, Chobham composite armor and a computer fire control system. Over the years, several modern variants emerged, all sporting critical enhancements that have helped make the Abrams a staple of the Army’s armored corps.
How Will M1 Abrams Tanks Affect Outcomes?
Ukraine will receive refurbished M1 hulls outfitted as the M1A1 SA variant. These hefty MBTs will be equipped with 120mm cannons and 50-caliber machine guns. The arrival of these formidable vehicles in Ukraine will undoubtedly impact the country’s defensive efforts.
Global Firepower’s 2022 Ukraine-Russia military comparison details that Moscow operates more than 12,000 tanks, way more than the 1,890 Ukraine currently possesses.
While Russia has a huge advantage in terms of sheer numbers, many of the tanks its armored corps operates are severely outdated, lacking maintenance and proper ordnance.
As outlined in an earlier 19fortyfive piece, “The exact technological capacity of the Abrams export variants marked for Ukraine may not be known. Yet, their ultimate success will likely depend upon the range and fidelity of their targeting sensors and thermal sights. Should Ukrainian Abrams operate with superior targeting sensors in terms of range and resolution, then a much smaller number of Ukrainian tanks could potentially destroy large amounts of Russian armor.”
The longest and bloodiest battle in the war has completely engulfed the eastern city of Bakhmut in recent months. Both Moscow and Kyiv have suffered staggering casualty rates, and very little progress on either side has been made. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is hoping that the incoming shipment of Abrams, in addition to Challengers and Leopards, will help the country thwart Moscow’s advancements in Bakhmut.
Ukraine certainly won’t outnumber their Russian enemies even with the Western tank shipments. However, the influx of modern tanks will give Ukrainian forces capabilities on the battlefield that Russia and its Wagner mercenaries could only hope to one day obtain.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.