Months before the expected arrival of the revered M1 Abrams Tanks in Ukraine, the United States took precautionary measures to protect its sensitive technologies against prying adversaries.
The US reportedly stripped its most advanced technology from refitted, less-sophisticated main battle tanks to prevent Russian forces from exploiting the Abrams for intelligence if it fell into their hands. Besides, US officials sought to reserve its highest-end capabilities exclusive to its own troops.
Since the onset of the invasion, Ukraine has requested the US to send them Abrams main battle tanks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy personally pleaded for the tanks, arguing that they would significantly help their troops defend their motherland.
Despite being initially resisted due to concerns about the tanks complexity and the logistical challenges, the Biden administration eventually agreed to send 31 Abrams earlier this year. However, the US decided to send its older M1A1 tanks instead of its earlier pledge of M1A2—a newer, more sophisticated tank. Apart from citing the same concerns on the security of its technology, officials also said that expediting the older version of the Abrams will be much faster.
The retrofitting of the M1A1 Abrams tanks was completed last week, and they are expected to arrive in Ukraine in the coming weeks. However, it will still take several weeks for Ukrainian troops to be trained on their use, so they are unlikely to be used in the spring counteroffensive or campaigns that will take place throughout the summer. Is this a case of too little, too late? Time will tell.
More or Less, Remains Powerful
The M1 Abrams is a powerful tank in its own right. Even without its high-tech components, this third-generation American main battle tank can absolutely annihilate anything that comes on its way.
By default, it features a 120mm smoothbore cannon capable of firing various ammunition, including armor-piercing, high-explosive, and canister rounds. It also has a coaxial 7.62mm machine gun and a remote-controlled .50 caliber machine gun.
Moreover, it is well-protected on all sides, thanks to its composite armor that can withstand hits from most anti-tank weapons. Mobility and durability are two of the M1 Abrams’ top qualities. That, even if the US removes all of its sophisticated technologies, it would remain a highly survivable and capable armored tank that would be a valuable asset to the Ukrainian military.
Like all other machinery out there, the M1 Abrams is likewise vulnerable, and chances of getting captured by the Russian Army are never zero. Thus, the precautionary measure of removing some of the advanced technologies equipped in these tanks, which probably include high-tech weapon systems, radar and communication, and electronic systems such as fire control and navigation systems.
The US will likely remove these high-tech components to prevent the Russian military from obtaining these technologies and use them to improve its own or develop new weapons systems against it.
Undoubtedly, the M1 Abrams tanks will provide an edge to the Ukrainian troops in their continued fight against the Russian invasion. However, some—if not most in the military said that its arrival will not be the nail-in-the-coffin in this nearly 15-month-long war.
Speaking at a meeting last month, US Army General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stressed that the Abrams tank will definitely make a difference on the battlefield but will not offer a decisive one. He cautioned that “there is no silver bullet in war.”
Ukrainian Troops to Train Soon in Germany
In preparation for the arrival of the pledged M1 Abrams tanks, the first batch of Ukrainian troops assigned to operate them has already flown and arrived in Germany to begin a 10-week training course later this month.
Around 250 Ukrainians will participate in the tailor-made training to learn how to operate and maintain the refurbished tanks to be conducted by US Army Abrams experts personnel held at Grafenwoehr Training Area.
The tanks needed for the course also arrived ahead of schedule last week, giving the attending Ukrainian soldiers the hands-on training opportunity.
Following this, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee on Thursday that by the time the Ukrainian troops complete the course, the Abrams tanks currently being refitted will be ready.
“We are doing everything possible to accelerate the delivery of these tanks, and early fall is a projection,” said Austin, cited via Anadolu Agency. “In the meantime, we have moved a number of tanks over into theater so that the Ukrainians can begin training on this capability.”
Since the onset of the Russian invasion, the US has provided Ukraine with over $35.1 billion in military aid, including a wide range of weapons and equipment. Washington also approved other security assistance to Kyiv, such as equipment training and intelligence support.
The M1 Abrams tank is the backbone of the US Army. Learn more about its history, capabilities, and future, and check out “Facing Uncertainty: The Role of the M1 Abrams Tank in the US Army of 2015-2025” here!