President Biden on Wednesday announced that his administration will send 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, marking another major escalation of US military support for Kyiv.
The pledge came just days after Pentagon officials said they didn’t plan to send the Abrams citing the fact that it would be difficult to maintain. But the US decided to send the tanks anyway as part of a deal to persuade Germany to provide its own Leopard 2 tanks.
The German government confirmed on Wednesday that it would send 14 Leopard 2s and that it would allow the export of the German-made tank from other countries. Poland has said it’s ready to send Leopard 2s, and according to German media reports, Spain, Finland, and the Netherlands will do so as well.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz previously resisted sending tanks, citing his desire to prevent a clash between Russia and NATO. But the US and other NATO countries aren’t concerned about the risk of escalation and put pressure on Scholz, resulting in him agreeing to provide the Leopard 2 if the US sends the Abrams.
On top of sending the Abrams, the US will provide Ukraine with training, spare parts, and other related equipment. The US recently launched new training programs for Ukrainian soldiers in Germany and at a military base in Oklahoma, where Ukrainians are learning how to use Patriot missile defense systems.
Administration officials told POLITICO that the Abrams tanks are being provided through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI), meaning they could take months or years to be delivered. “There are technical aspects to the Abrams, which makes it a little bit more challenging than some systems that we have provided,” one administration official said.
Under the USAI, the US purchases arms for Ukraine, making it a longer process than just sending the equipment from Pentagon stockpiles. The Leopard 2 tanks will probably be delivered much more quickly as they are being pulled from German military stocks.
Another official said that the US had to provide the tanks through the USAI because it doesn’t have enough in its own stockpiles. “As with other capabilities, you’ve seen us do this before if we do not have readily within US stocks, then we go the procurement route to make sure that we can procure the right capability for Ukraine,” the official said.
The US has depleted its own stockpiles of artillery ammunition by shipping over one million shells to Ukraine. As a result, the Pentagon is working to increase shell production by 500%, as the policy of flooding Ukraine with weapons is a boon for US arms makers.