EXPLAINER: Why the US flipped on sending tanks to Ukraine

For months, U.S. officials balked at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair.

On Wednesday, that abruptly changed. Ukraine’s desperate pleas for tanks were answered with a sweeping, trans-Atlantic yes.

The dramatic reversal was the culmination of intense international pressure and diplomatic arm-twisting that played out over the last week. And it resulted in in a quick succession of announcements: The U.S. said it will send 31 of the 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany announced it will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to do the same.

A look at the massive battle weapon, why it is important to Ukraine’s war with Russia, and what drove the Biden administration’s tank turnabout.

WHAT ARE THE ABRAMS?

M1 Abrams tanks have led American battle assaults for decades.

Carrying a crew of four, the Abrams was first deployed to war in 1991. It has thick armor, a 120 mm main gun, armor piercing capabilities, advanced targeting systems, thick tracked wheels and a 1,500-horsepower turbine engine with a top speed of about 42 miles per hour (68 kilometers per hour).

Crews interviewed in a 1992 Government Accountability Office review after the Persian Gulf War praised its high survivability and said “several M1A1 crews reported receiving direct frontal hits from Iraqi T-72s with minimal damage.”

More recently, the battle titans led the charge to Baghdad during America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, as 3rd Infantry Division units conducted what was dubbed “Thunder Runs” to break through Iraqi defenses.

The Abrams’ powerful jet engine can propel the tank through almost any terrain, whether heavy snow or heavy mud, said Kevin Butler, a former Army lieutenant who served as an Abrams tank platoon leader. Butler recalled a muddy exercise in the late 1990s at Fort Stewart, Georgia, where he’d voiced concern about the tanks getting stuck because it had already stuck the Humvees.

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The Abrams, he said, “didn’t even notice” the mud.

WHY THE U.S. KEPT SAYING NO

The Abrams’ jet engine needs hundreds of gallons of fuel to operate.

It will burn through fuel at a rate of at least two gallons per mile (4.7 liters per kilometer), whether the tank is moving or idling, Butler said, which means a constant supply convoy of fuel trucks must stay within reach so it can keep moving forward.

The U.S. worried that the fuel demands would create a logistical nightmare for Ukrainian forces. While an Abrams can storm through the snow and mud, fuel trucks can’t. In addition, like any jet engine, the Abrams’ turbine needs air to breathe, which it sucks in through filtered rear vents. When those vent filters get clogged — whether by sand, as soldiers reported to GAO in 1992, or by debris they might encounter in Ukraine — they can’t perform.

“The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on. … It is not the easiest system to maintain. It may or may not be the …read more

Source:: Headlines News4jax

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