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Abrams tank for Ukraine: How tanks for Ukrainian military differ from modern models

Abrams tank for Ukraine: How tanks for Ukrainian military differ from modern models American tank Abrams M1A1 (Photo: Getty Images)
Author: Daria Shekina

The main American-made Abrams battle tanks will soon appear along the front lines in Ukraine. However, they will not be the models initially promised by Washington, according to Newsweek.

On Thursday, Politico reported that the provided U.S. Abrams tanks will arrive at the Ukrainian front line in September, citing six individuals familiar with the tank delivery plans. According to the report, the Abrams tanks will first be sent to Germany in August for repairs before being dispatched to Ukraine.

In late January, the U.S. promised a total of 31 Abrams tanks. However, on March 21, the Pentagon announced that they would not send the next-generation Abrams M1A2 tanks to Ukraine, as the delivery would take around a year.

Later, the U.S. Department of Defense stated that Ukraine would receive refurbished M1A1 tanks "sooner than originally expected" in the autumn.

Pentagon Press Secretary General Pete Ryder stated that the aim was to get this crucial combat capability into the hands of Ukrainians as quickly as possible. The older M1A1 tanks were said to have "very similar capabilities" to the more modern M1A2. The tanks were reported to have a 120-millimeter main gun and a .50 caliber machine gun.

"I just know that when the Abrams arrive, they'll be able to make a difference with Ukrainians," said Lieutenant General Douglas Sims to journalists.

How the latest Abrams tanks differ from previous generations

According to Marina Miron, a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of War Studies, King's College London, the simpler variant, M1A1 SA, would be a better fit for Ukraine considering time constraints.

The U.S. Army also mentioned that M1A1 SA was as survivable and maneuverable as the more modern versions.

Miron explained that while the electronics of M1A2 are usually more advanced, providing certain advantages to the tank crew, such as the gunner and the commander, the systems are more complex and require more training and support. This makes the M1A1 a better choice for tanks to be used in Ukraine.

Politico reported that "the older vehicles are being stripped of their most sensitive technology, including in some cases secret depleted uranium armor before they can be sent to Ukraine.'

Tristan Sauer, an analyst at GlobalData specializing in ground-based systems, stated that the M1A2 is equipped with additional thermal optics for both the driver and commander, which would provide improved situational awareness for the entire crew during engagements with other tanks of its era, including the T-72. He further added that this enhancement would improve nighttime tank battle operations.

Overall, the U.S. Army describes the M1A2 SEPv3 as the "most reliable Abrams tank ever built," and the currently under development M1A2 SEPv4 as the "most lethal Abrams tank," which, among other upgrades, will have a third-generation FLIR sight.

Abrams supply in Ukraine

The U.S. promised to transfer 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. Initially, Washington announced the delivery of the M1A2 version, but due to long delivery timelines, they decided to provide the M1A1 version.

In March, Pentagon representatives reported that they aimed to complete the tank transfer by the autumn of 2023. However, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov later stated that the American Abrams tanks would not be involved in the counteroffensive of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

In July, it was known that, according to sources in the Pentagon, Ukrainian military personnel who are undergoing training on the operation of American Abrams tanks at a base in Germany might be ready for combat in a few weeks.