Washington — President Biden announced Wednesday that the U.S. will send 31 top-of-the-lineto Ukraine, delivering on a key request from Kyiv that will provide a major boost to Ukrainian firepower over the coming months.
“Today, I’m announcing that the United States will be sending 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, the equivalent of one Ukrainian battalion,” Mr. Biden said at the White House, flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The security package is worth roughly $400 million, the Pentagon said.
The move comes after Germany said it would14 of its own Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow Western partners to re-export their own, a move that Mr. Biden praised. France, the U.K., Finland, the Netherlands and other nations are also sending key security assistance, Mr. Biden noted, emphasizing that the United States’ move is part of a concerted effort by Western allies.
According to a recent analysis by International Institute for Strategic Studies, around 100 tanks would be required to have any significant effect on the fighting. A growing coalition of donating countries would make that target achievable: “The more that countries donate tanks, the easier it will be to share the burden of giving them away,” the European Council of Foreign relations stated.
Here’s what allies are sending.
As Germany’s main battle tank, the third-generation Leopard 2 is one of the most widely commissioned tanks across the world, used in more than a dozen other European countries and deployed to conflict zones like Kosovo, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Syria. First developed in 1979, the state-manufactured vehicle reaches speeds of 42 mph and is equipped with a 120mm smooth bore gun as its main armament, as well as two coaxial light machine guns. Touted as having optimal maneuverability by its manufacturer Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, it also provides all-around protection from improvised explosive devices, mines or anti-tank fire.
“These are the Mercedes BMW supertanks of the world,” Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, the former commanding officer of the British Military CBRN Regiment, told CBS News. “I would want at least 10 or 15 T-72 survivors up against one of them,” he said, referring to the Soviet/Russian models.
Aside from the Leopard 2’s widespread availability, which extends to neighboring Poland, the tank’s minimal training requirements could be of further appeal to Ukraine.
“These tanks are that the tank was designed for conscripts to be very easy to use,” de Bretton-Gordon said, likening the tank’s controls to a 90s PlayStation video game console, “You’ve got a sort of controller in your hand, basically got three buttons — just need to press them in the right order, point the gun on your target and the tank does everything else.”
So far, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz has approved a deployment of 14 Leopard 2 tanks and related ammunition from its national stocks, as well as the necessary training to operate them on the battlefield.
Known for its stabilized gun and accuracy, the U.S.’ main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, also boasts an array of crew protection capabilities designed to defend against chemical, biological and nuclear attacks. The third-generation tank, which has been exported to armies including Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Iraq, carries a 120 mm gun and lighter-weight turbine engine. Entering service in 1980, the tank “continues to meet the new and emerging threats associated with the next generation of warfare,” according to its manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems.
Last week, U.S. officials said the tank’s complexity could pose a problem in Ukraine, with Undersecretary of Defence Colin Kahl“It’s expensive. It’s hard to train on … It is not the easiest system to maintain.”
However, de Bretton-Gordon said the Abrams is similar in ease of use and efficiency to its Western counterparts, with a marginal increase in required fuel. Lots of people talk about the Abrams being a big tank, he said, “But it’s marginally bigger than the Leopard and it’s about the same size as the Challenger 2.”
In service with the U.K. and Oman’s armies, the British Challenger 2 is a third-generation tank designed and built by BAE Systems, officially entering service in 1994 and deploying to military operations including Eastern Europe and Iraq, as well as NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States. Reaching top speeds of 37 mph and equipped with a 55-caliber long tank gun, a chain gun and a machine gun, its primary role is “to destroy or neutralise armour,” according to its manufacturer.
The UK’s own Ministry of Defence has described the tanks as “unrivalled in their ability to place extreme pressure on the enemy,” claiming they have repelled rapid and fully committed advances. An even earlier version, the Challenger 1, is believed to hold the record for longest-range tank-to-tank kill in history, with the vehicle destroying an Iraqi tank at a range of three miles during the first Gulf War.
Earlier this month, the U.K. became the first Western country to agree to send its tanks to Ukraine, with Downing Street announcing the shipment of 14 Challenger 2s alongside other military equipment after a meeting between Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.