U.S. Delays Deliveries of M1A1 Abrams Tanks to Ukraine: Vehicles Needed Urgently Amid High Armour Attrition Rates

The United States Army has extended a training program for Ukrainian personnel to operate M1A1 Abrams tanks in Germany, according to a report from U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command, with a previously expected delivery date in mid September now expected to be pushed back by several weeks. The report emerged less than a week after it was initially revealed that the first Ukrainian personnel had completed their training, raising speculation that training levels have subsequently been found to be insufficient. The delay comes as Ukraine’s long anticipated offensives against Russian positions, which began in early June, have failed to gain significant ground with Ukrainian forces and their new Western supplied armoured vehicles taking heavy losses. Footage has confirmed the destruction of large numbers of German supplied Leopard 1 and Leopard 2 tanks, over 60 American supplied Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, and most recently the first of 14 British supplied Challenger 2 tanks, among a wide range of other vehicle classes lost in the conflict.

The attrition rate suffered by Western vehicles has increased calls for deliveries of more Western armour to Ukraine, although also raising questions regarding its effectiveness. Some of the vehicle classes which have already taken losses, most notably the Leopard 2A6 and Challenger 2, are considerably more survivable than the M1A1 Abrams tanks which Ukraine will receive, with the American vehicles being downgraded and lacking depleted uranium armour. Leopard 2s and Abrams tanks have in the past proven highly vulnerable to even older anti tank missiles during operations in the Middle East. Delaying deliveries of Abrams tanks could ensure that it enters service after the current period of intensified hostilities has ended, after which the vehicles will be less likely to suffer losses which could affect the class’ reputation – or that of the American defence sector. 

The United States was initially seen to be hesitant in its willingness to provide Abrams tanks to Ukraine, with the expectation of heavy losses potentially seriously damaging the class’ reputation at a time when no more capable tank classes have been developed in the Western world. With German officials also indicating that Berlin would supply Leopard 2 tanks only if the Abrams was also supplied, Washington’s pledge in January to eventually supply the vehicles provided an effective means of applying pressure on Berlin over the issue. Leopard 2s have since been sent both from German stocks and from operators across Europe from Poland to Spain. Russian forces have proven capable of penetrating top end Western armour even with lower end anti tank assets such as handheld Kornet missiles, which in early September destroyed a Challenger 2 tank that had been taken straight out of British Army stockpiles. Vikhr-1 air launched anti tank missiles fired from Ka-52 attack helicopters have a significantly greater penetrative capacity still and have been filmed destroying considerable numbers of Western supplied vehicles. The Russian Defence Ministry has notably responded to the attritional nature of the ground war in Ukraine and the mass deliveries of Western vehicles to the Ukrainian Army by significantly expanding the scale of production of T-90M tanks, Mi-28 attack helicopters and a wide range of other assets, as well as by pulling older vehicle classes such as T-62Ms out of storage and modernising them for use primarily in infantry support roles.