Initially, the US did not want to supply main battle tanks to Ukraine. Now Kiev’s troops in Germany are being trained on US equipment. With a special focus.
For a long time it was said by the allies that the Abrams M1 main battle tank was not suitable for use in the Ukraine war. The weapon system is too heavy, hardly suitable for use in wintry temperatures, and it also consumes too much fuel. Then the USA suddenly declared itself ready to deliver the Abrams to Kiev – partly due to pressure from the German government.
Now the training of Ukrainian soldiers on the weapon systems has started in Grafenwoehr, Bavaria. The US Department of Defense confirmed this on Sunday after US media had previously reported. Grafenwoehr is a small town in the Upper Palatinate, home to the most modern military training area in Europe. The site is under the administration of the US Army, but is also used by troops from other NATO countries and the German armed forces.
As the Pentagon has now confirmed, around 200 Ukrainian soldiers are being trained to fight with Abrams tanks in Grafenwoehr. They are trained in how to operate the tanks, in operational tactics and also in the area of medical training. The Americans pay particular attention to teaching the Ukrainians how to repair their tanks and to preparing them comprehensively for use in the war against the Russian invaders. The maintenance of the highly complex weapon systems is one of the greatest challenges for the Ukrainian troops in the war against Russia.
M1 just a ‘second choice’ tank?
However, the vehicles used in Grafenwoehr are not combat-ready systems. According to the Pentagon, the 31 tanks promised by the United States for use in the war zone will not be delivered to Ukraine until the end of this year because they still have to be repaired.
The Abrams M1 features special DU armor made from depleted uranium. This is exchanged before being exported to the Ukraine so that it cannot fall into the hands of the Russian troops if it is shot down. The special armor, which is characterized by its enormous strength, was developed in the 1980s as part of what was then a secret US military research program, the “Special Access Program” (SAP).
In the meantime, other armor has also been developed for the Abrams M1, which consists of high-strength ceramic coatings, for example. But this technology is also subject to strict safety regulations. The Abrams M1 is therefore also referred to by some experts as a “secret weapon”.
At the end of January, the US government announced after much back and forth and parallel to the German commitment of Leopard tanks for Kiev. Initially, US President Joe Biden resisted arms aid. “He originally decided against sending them because his military said they weren’t useful on the battlefield in this fight,” Biden’s national security adviser told ABC News at the time.
“But the Germans told the President that they were not prepared to send these ‘Leopards’ into battle (…) until the President agreed to also send ‘Abrams’,” said Jake Sullivan. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) had apparently linked the willingness to supply Leopard tanks from Bundeswehr stocks to the US government’s commitment to provide the Abrams M1.