Ukraine will have to wait months to receive the 31 M1 Abrams tanks promised by the US since the Pentagon does not have enough of the crucial vehicles in its own arsenal to dispatch immediately, according to Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh.
While the White House has stated that Ukraine requires more advanced capabilities to prepare for a new Russian onslaught expected this spring, US tanks will not arrive in eastern Europe until the anticipated assault has passed.
“We just don’t have these tanks available in excess in our US stocks, which is why it is going to take months to transfer these M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine,” Singh said, referencing the specific newer version of the tank the US will send.
The tanks that President Biden publicly offered could take up to a year to arrive in Kyiv, according to White House officials, because they would be acquired new with Congressionally approved funding as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
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While the Pentagon generally takes four days to prepare and deploy weapons from US stocks to Ukraine, those procured through the USAI program might take months — or even years — to deliver as the government chooses and employs defense contractors who then develop the weapons from the ground up.
Following weeks of reluctance and reports that Berlin would not guarantee its tanks until the US followed suit, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stated his government will supply Ukraine with 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks on the same day.
The Pentagon has previously indicated reservations about sending the M1, which is now possibly the most aggressive weapon Washington has promised Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine 11 months ago.
On Jan. 19, Singh had said, “it just doesn’t make sense to deliver [M1s] to the Ukrainians at this juncture” when asked about the proposed shipment. The US tank’s logistical issues were highlighted at the time, as its gas turbine engine needed jet fuel, as opposed to the diesel engine used by the Leopard and Challenger.
On Thursday, Singh reiterated her previous views but denied that the Biden administration chose to exploit the USAI program to delay the delivery of the tanks.
“We are using the USAI to show a long-term commitment,” Singh said. “It’s not about delay; we just do not have these Abrams available in our stocks to give the Ukrainians at this time.”
While logistical challenges remain, Singh said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested sending the Abrams anyway after seeing partners and allies commit to sending “immediate capabilities that could be rushed to the battlefield” at a meeting of the US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Germany on Friday.
Defense officials have refused to specify how many heavy battle tanks the US currently owns. Since its withdrawal from Afghanistan on August 30, 2021, the military has been engaged in peacetime activities.
A senior White House official said on Wednesday that “we’re talking months as opposed to weeks” for the tanks to be ready for deployment.
“If we do not have [them] readily within US stocks, then we go the procurement route to make sure that we can procure the right capability for Ukraine and that is what we’re doing here with the Abrams in terms of sustainment maintenance, training, these are all really important considerations,” the official added.
The Pentagon did not specify how long it would take the military sector to manufacture the 31 US tanks, which are exceedingly sophisticated and weigh approximately 45 tons each.
Singh stated that the DOD would utilize the waiting period to create a training course to teach Ukrainian forces how to operate M1s.