US to possibly send tanks to Ukrainian army but model remains in discussion

According to Joseph Trevithick in The War Zone, a senior U.S. defense official said on September 19 that there is a definite possibility that the U.S. government could transfer unspecified tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces in the future.
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M1A2 Abrams of 1st Bn, 68th Armor Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, at Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, on June 7, 2022

The remarks from the senior U.S. defense official about tanks for Ukraine were included in a routine Pentagon press briefing about the state of Russia's war on that country earlier on September 19. "Tanks are absolutely on the table", the senior U.S. defense official said, according to Voice Of America's Carla Babb. The senior U.S. defense official did say that Ukrainian forces would need to demonstrate their ability to maintain more modern Western tanks before American authorities would agree to provide them, according to Foreign Policy's Jack Detsch.

John Trevithick expresses the opinion according which the requirement that Ukrainian forces first prove themselves capable of keeping a fleet of Western tanks going seems unlikely to be a major dealbreaker. U.S officials said similar things in the past ahead of the initial deliveries of M142 HIMARS. Ukraine's military has shown itself very capable of getting contingents rapidly trained to maintain and employ HIMARS and other more complex Western weapon systems, such as the aforementioned AGM-88s and ground-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

Indeed, during Tankfest 2022 that took place on June 24-26 at the splendid Tank Museum in Bovington (UK), Army Recognition discussed with a British Army instructor who expressed his admiration for the rapidity with which Ukrainian military trainees were mastering the use of various systems, leading to reconsider the duration of some British Army programmes for itself. Basic 3D tools designed to mechanically immobilize Russian tanks or force the opening of turret hatches like a bottle opener woud do are now serial produced.

It is unclear what tanks the U.S. government might be prepared to transfer to the Ukrainians. The senior defense official's comments have already prompted speculation about the potential of M1 Abrams tanks hitting the battlefield in Ukraine, Joseph Trevithick reports. There are certainly a number of M1 configurations that are readily exportable, but that would still provide Ukrainian forces with newer and significantly more capable tanks than most, if not all of the Soviet-era designs and derivatives that they currently operate. It is possible that older Abrams in U.S. military inventory could be sufficiently downgraded, with any sensitive fire control, communications, and other systems removed, to allow them to be 'drawdown' and more quickly sent to Ukraine.

A 'drawdown' in this case refers to an authority that the President of the United States has, if certain stipulations are met, to transfer various kinds of materiel straight out of American stocks to allies and partners. In terms of available tanks, the U.S. Marine Corps notably decided a few years ago to divest its entire fleet of M1s, as well as M88 HERCULES armored recovery vehicles and M60 tank-based Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges (AVLB). The Army already has some 3,500 ‘old’ M1s in storage.

As John Trevithick underlines, M1s could present unique maintenance and logistical challenges for the Ukrainian armed forces, namely because of their fuel-hungry and complex gas turbine engine powerplant. The Soviet T-64 and T-80 series, which were produced in Ukraine, were also gas turbine powered. However, later variants and derivatives of the T-80, including Ukraine's modernized T-84 Oplot, nixed the turbines in favor of simpler and cheaper to maintain diesel engines.

Transferring wheeled 8x8 M1128 Stryker Mobile Gun System (MGS), which are armed with 105mm guns, but are not tanks, could be another potential option for the U.S. military to help bolster Ukraine's armored vehicle fleets. The U.S. Army announced its plans to divest all of its M1128s last year, meaning that they'd be readily available to send to the Ukrainian Armed Forces. These vehicles could be particularly well suited for Ukraine under the circumstances, being simpler and cheaper to operate and maintain than an Abrams, John Trevick comments. Sending the M1128s to Ukraine could be made part of a larger push by the U.S. government to facilitate or otherwise promote the transfer of older tanks with NATO-standard 105mm guns to Ukraine. For instance, there may still be some number of U.S.-made M60A3 Patton tanks, which either are or can be significantly upgraded with modern sensors and other capabilities, in storage in a number of NATO countries that American authorities could seek to help deliver to the Ukrainian military.

Germany under pressure to deliver Leopard 2 MBTS to ukraine

The possibility of Germany sending older Leopard 1 tanks to Ukraine, or approving the delivery of Leopard 1s from third parties, has been a topic of discussion for months now, as well. For now, however, German authorities continue to block any transfer of Leopard 1s, among other German-made armored vehicles, to Ukraine.

And Germany itself keeps refusing to directly deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine to avoid worsening the confrontation with Russia, Chancellor Olaf Scholz repeats again and again: Germany “will not go it alone on arms deliveries without coordination with the allies”, he stated. At least, Germany would not be the first Western country to deliver ‘modern’ MBTs currently in use in its army to Ukraine, as these tanks would be immediately used against Russian troops. The memory of German tanks confronting Russian enemies in World War 2 remains a trauma.

But Mr. Scholz is under pressure from partners in the government coalition he leads. "A foreign policy guided by human rights" must "constantly ask itself how we can help to liberate even more villages, and therefore save lives", in particular thanks to the deliveries of Leopard 2 tanks, thus recently argued Annalena Baerbock , the ecologist head of German diplomacy.

How about France?

Laurent Lagneau, in Opex360, reports that the idea of delivering some 50 Leclerc tanks to Ukraine was put forward by Pierre Haroche, a researcher in European security at the Institute for Strategic Research at the Military School [IRSEM], in a tribune published by the daily Le Monde, this September 20.