Ukraine is getting a new heavy-duty armored vehicle to haul its damaged tanks off the battlefield, US officials say
- US officials announced on Wednesday that US-made Abrams tanks would be sent to Ukraine.
- Those tanks won't arrive in Ukraine for months, at the earliest.
US officials announced on Wednesday that they would send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the latest and most sophisticated piece of weaponry that the US has committed to Ukraine and one of several armored vehicles that Western countries have said they would provide to Kyiv in recent weeks.
Along with the Abrams, the US will send another armored vehicle designed to haul tanks and other vehicles off the battlefield.
Senior Biden administration officials said that the 31 tanks — a number selected because it is the equivalent of a Ukrainian tank battalion — will be procured through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative rather than taken out of existing US stockpiles, meaning that it will take months or longer to acquire the tanks and deliver them to Ukraine.
In the meantime, an official told reporters on Wednesday, the US "is currently working through the mechanisms to deliver the fuel and equipment Ukraine will need to operate and to maintain the Abrams" and will "begin now to work to establish a comprehensive training program" for Ukrainian troops.
Abrams tanks "require a good deal of assistance" to operate and maintain, an official said, speaking anonymously in a press briefing on the security package before it was officially announced.
"In addition to the Abrams, we're also procuring eight M88 recovery vehicles as part of this package," the official added. "These are the vehicles that go with the Abrams to be able to provide ... recovery operations to make sure that the Ukrainians will be able to keep these Abrams up and running."
US officials declined to specify which variants of the Abrams tank or the M88 would be provided, but the M88A2, developed in the 1990s, is "is focused on the Abrams tank," according to the US Army.
The M88A2 "recovers tanks mired to different depths, removes and replaces tank turrets and power packs, and uprights overturned heavy combat vehicles," the Army said. The vehicle's main winch enables it "to provide recovery of the 70-ton M1A2 Abrams tank."
The M88A2, which itself weighs 70 tons, has a crew of three and room for four passengers. It can hit 26 mph while hauling a 70-ton load and is armed with a .50-caliber M2 machine gun. In addition to refueling and defueling other vehicles, including Abrams tanks, it has a spade that can be used for "light earth moving to prepare a recovery area," according to the Army.
The US Army received its first M88A2 in July 1997, and the vehicle has seen action around the world, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. On April 9, 2003, just a few weeks after US troops invaded Iraq, an M88A2 was used to pull down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad.
The US announcement that it would send Abrams tanks to Ukraine comes after the US and other European partners announced that they would be sending other armored vehicles to Ukraine in the near future.
Earlier this month, France became the first country to agree to send Western-made armored vehicles to Ukraine by approving the transfer of the French-made AMX-10 RC, a 16-ton armored combat and reconnaissance vehicle. This opened the door for other countries to send armored combat vehicles to Kyiv.
Sweden moved to send Combat Vehicle 90 infantry fighting vehicles, which weigh roughly 30 tons, and Germany said it would provide Marder infantry fighting vehicles, which weigh between 30 and 40 tons. The US has said that it intends to send scores of Stryker armored personnel carriers, which weigh 18 to 20 tons, and Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, which weigh nearly 30 tons.
All those vehicles can travel at least 40 mph, have decades of combat experience, and are equipped with a variety of armaments like cannons, machine guns, and anti-tank missiles.
While these armored fighting vehicles give Ukraine a significant boost in firepower and ground combat capability, Ukrainian leaders have continuously pressed for the delivery of Western tanks.
Now, along with the US pledge to deliver a battalion of Abrams tanks, "a European consortium is committing to provide two battalions of Leopard tanks to Ukraine in the near term," the US Defense Department said Wednesday.
This comes after Germany finally agreed earlier on Wednesday to approve the transfer of its Leopard main battle tank to Ukraine after weeks of pressure from NATO members and other European partners.
German-made Leopards can travel up to 44 mph and have protection against projectiles and mines. They also have a 120 mm cannon, a 7.62 mm machine gun, and automatic grenade launchers and have been used in Syria, Afghanistan, and Kosovo.
The highly mobile Leopards will join a squadron of heavily armed British Challenger 2 tanks, which together will give Ukraine modern armor capability beyond that afforded by the Soviet-era tanks that have been dominant on the battlefield so far.
Depending on the variant, Leopards and Challenger tanks weigh between 60 and 80 tons.
Though no single weapon alone will likely change the outcome of the war, these powerful heavy armor assets have the potential to support new offensives at a critical time in Ukraine, where the front lines have become static, with both sides suffering heavy losses for few gains.
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