The first of the long-awaited US-supplied M1 Abrams main battle tanks has arrived in Ukraine, the US Department of Defense has confirmed. While it is not known how many tanks have been delivered to Ukraine at this time, Washington has committed to sending up to 31 tanks of the M1A1 version, and they will surely soon be ready to participate in Kyiv’s ongoing counter-offensive.

The Pentagon has provided the following statement:

“As President Zelensky announced yesterday, the first batch of 31 Abrams tanks has arrived in Ukraine. The mere presence of Abrams tanks serves as a powerful deterrent. With these tanks in its arsenal, the Ukrainian army can deter aggressive actions more effectively.

 Providing the Abrams tanks means a tangible commitment to the defense and stability of Ukraine, underscoring the United States support for its partners facing external pressures. “We will continue to focus on what we can do to help Ukraine succeed on the battlefield and protect its people.”

M1 Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine.
A U.S. M1A1 Abrams tank assigned to train Ukrainian Armed Forces troops awaits unloading in Grafenwoehr, Germany.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to post the following statement as part of his daily update:

“Good news from the Minister of Defense. The Abrams is already in Ukraine and is preparing to reinforce our brigades. I thank our allies for fulfilling the agreements! “We are looking for new contracts and expanding the geography of supply.”

Meanwhile, a report published by the  New York Times  cited two unnamed US defense officials as saying that the tanks arrived in Ukraine yesterday and that more will be sent in “the coming months.”

As for the likely number of Abrams now in Ukraine, the European newspaper Politico had  previously reported that the first 10 of these tanks would arrive in Ukraine in mid-September and that the remaining 21 would also arrive in the country “during the fall.”.

Last week, President Joe Biden and US Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III had said that Abrams tanks would be sent to Ukraine “within days.”

Earlier this month, it was reported that a group of Ukrainian crews had completed their training on the M1 at different US Army installations in Germany. That training, with an initial course lasting 12 weeks, included what was described as a “combined arms battalion force-on-force exercise” conducted at the Hohenfels Training Area in Bavaria. Due to a slight delay in the delivery of the tanks, Kyiv also requested a “proficiency training” block, keeping the crews up to date with their new mounts until they arrived in Ukraine.

At that time, the first batch of tanks was still being renovated and prepared for delivery.

In August, US military acquisition chief Doug Bush told reporters that the shipment of Abrams tanks was scheduled to arrive in Ukraine in “early fall.”

Meanwhile, there were reports in July that tanks could arrive on the battlefield sometime in September.

The United States has tried to accelerate the delivery of Abrams to Ukraine. At an early stage, for example, it was decided that Kyiv would receive refurbished M1A1 variants rather than newer M1A2 types.

M1 Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine.A mine roller on a US Army M1A1 Abrams tank supplied to Ukraine, seen in Grafenwoehr, Germany, prior to delivery, in July 2023

While Ukraine has long coveted the Abrams and other modern Western tanks, President Biden did not initially approve the delivery of M1s to Ukraine until January of this year. This had previously been ruled out as being too provocative and risking further escalation that would likely see NATO become more involved in the conflict.

There is no doubt that Ukraine has high hopes for what the Abrams will be able to contribute to the counteroffensive. It has previously been discussed in detail what exactly the M1 can contribute to the battlefield in Ukraine.

Simply put, the Abrams is superior to the primarily Soviet-era tanks that make up the majority of the Ukrainian Armed Forces fleet, with much better night combat potential and superior levels of crew protection, to name a few—only two advantages. 

The Abrams also receive armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding ammunition (APFSDS). These bullets fire dart-like penetrators, which are made of depleted uranium (DU) or other dense metals rather than containing an explosive warhead of any type. 

These high-velocity darts literally tear through enemy armor with such force that the penetrator becomes a semi-molten projectile that burns its way, throwing fragments in its wake and causing extreme damage to the interior and its occupants.

At the same time, it is clear that the Abrams alone will not be a silver bullet in Ukraine’s slow counteroffensive. After all, examples of the M1 have been lost in various conflicts in the Middle East over the years.

The task at hand is immense, with Russian troops deeply entrenched in extensive defensive positions along a front line measuring approximately 600 miles. These soldiers are protected by extensive minefields, anti-tank obstacles and trenches. 

Cover, meanwhile, is provided by abundant artillery, loitering munitions, anti-tank guided missiles, and helicopter gunships. Russian helicopters appear to have inflicted a heavy toll on Ukrainian armor. Moscow will exploit the almost inevitable first loss of a Ukrainian Abrams as if it had propaganda value.

Thomas Newdick