At a key moment in the war, the US is rushing to get powerful Abrams tanks to Ukraine faster
The US is rushing to get Abrams main battle tanks to Ukraine ahead of schedule, US officials say.
A Pentagon spokesperson said the US is opting to send an older variant that can get to Kyiv faster.
Ukraine's forces are currently struggling with Soviet-era T-64s and say they need modern tanks.
At a critical moment in the war, the US is rushing to get powerful Abrams tanks to Ukraine ahead of schedule, a White House official said.
During an appearance on MSNBC, John Kirby, the coordinator for strategic communications for the National Security Council in the White House, said the US is "trying to prioritize on the kinds of systems that we know they're really going to need the most in the weeks and months ahead."
That includes artillery and air defense systems that Ukraine needs to counter a Russian offensive in the eastern Donetsk region. But Kirby also acknowledged that their troops need modern, powerful Abrams tanks as soon as possible — a weapon that can help them shatter Russian lines when they launch a counter-offensive.
"The Pentagon is working as fast as they can," Kirby said, "And I think they'll have more to say here soon about adjustments they're making to try to get Abrams tanks to Ukraine a little faster than previously expected."
Washington's original plan was to provide Ukraine with 31 of the M1A2 Abrams, a newer variant, which would have taken "over a year or so" to reach Ukraine, Pentagon Press Secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters later on Tuesday. Instead, the Pentagon will opt to fast-track the older M1A1 variants, Ryder said, with an expected delivery taking place by this fall.
Even with that sped-up timeline, it's likely that an anticipated Ukrainian counter-offensive this year will have to start without the formidable Abrams.
The M1 Abrams tanks have a history tracing back to the Gulf War. Steady upgrades to the systems, as well as use in the Iraq War and Afghanistan, have shown them to be a prime force on the battlefield. Modern M1A2s can reach speeds up to 42 mph and are armed with a 120 mm main gun that can hit targets over two miles away.
While Kirby didn't give a timeline for how quickly the US can get more Ukrainian soldiers trained on Abrams, he said there had to be "a supply chain" set up in order to help maintain and provide the tanks during combat. Kirby also mentioned that Ukrainian forces are just finishing training with the advanced Patriot missile defense systems at Fort Sill in Oklahoma.
Ryder told reporters during the Tuesday briefing that the US is trying to get Patriots to Ukraine on an "expedited timeline," as training went quicker than expected.
Meanwhile, US announcements on the Abrams tanks come at a critical time for Ukraine and its tank force. Soldiers say they're having problems with their old Soviet-era T-64 tanks, which need constant repairs and sometimes don't fire during combat. One commander reportedly said Ukraine was asking for Western tanks "because our machines are no longer pulling off what's being asked of them, they're no longer able to fulfill their assignments."
Abrams will eventually join a wave of tanks — like the German-made Leopard and Britain's Challenger — that are slated to arrive soon in Ukrainian hands, as Kyiv readies for a massive influx of heavy armor from NATO countries to push back against Russian advances.
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