RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, GERMANY — U.S.-made M1A1 Abrams tanks will arrive in Germany in May, and Ukrainians will start training on them soon after, according to senior military officials.
Thirty-one Abrams tanks will arrive at a base in Grafenwöhr, Germany, next month so that Ukrainians can start a 10-week course on how to operate the tanks. Additional force-on-force training and maintenance courses will be held at either Grafenwöhr or another base in Hohenfels, Germany, officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.
The U.S.-led training will involve about 250 Ukrainians, and officials say 31 Abrams tanks will be delivered to Ukraine by the fall, which is much earlier than initially expected.
The training tanks will not be the ones that will go to Ukraine as it fights against Russia’s invasion. Those are being refurbished in the United States and will go to the frontlines when they are ready, according to officials.
The news comes as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is hosting another meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Friday, where military leaders from more than 50 nations are focusing on the Ukrainian military’s armor, air defense and ammunition needs.
Austin is expected to announce that the Abrams will arrive in Germany in the coming weeks during a Friday press conference.
Speaking at Ramstein Air Base in Germany, where he first convened the group last April, Austin said the groups’ members had provided more than $55 billion in security assistance for Ukraine.
“More than a year later, Ukraine is still standing strong. Our support has not wavered, and I’m proud of the progress that we have made together,” he said.
In the past few months, members of the group have provided enough equipment and training to support nine additional armored brigades, according to Austin.
Abrams tanks, in particular, have been a long-awaited addition to the fight. The tank’s thick armor and 1,500-horsepower turbine engine make it much more advanced than the Soviet-era tanks Ukraine has been using since the war’s beginning.
The Biden administration announced in January that it would send a newer version of the Abrams tanks, known as M1A2, to Ukraine after they were procured and built, a process that could potentially take years.
In March, the administration pivoted to provide M1A1 Abrams tanks instead, in order to get the tanks “into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” Pentagon press secretary Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said at the time.
The U.K. was the first to promise Western-style tanks for Ukraine, sending its Challenger 2 tanks to aid in the fight. After the U.S. Abrams announcement in January, Germany announced it would provide Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine and allow other allies with German tanks, such as Poland, to do the same.
Ukrainian Minister of Defense Oleksii Reznikov spoke to members of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group Friday in order to update leaders on the state of the battlefield and Ukraine’s most urgent military needs. Moscow began a renewed offensive in Ukraine earlier this year that has stalled, and Kyiv is preparing for a massive counteroffensive that is expected to begin in the coming days or weeks.
The U.S. has now provided more than $35 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February 2022, which Austin called “an unprovoked and indefensible war of aggression.”
Some countries, including Estonia and Latvia, have donated more than 1% of their GDP to Ukraine’s defense.
Ahead of the meeting, Austin addressed the massive Pentagon leak of classified documents detailing sensitive intelligence on the war in Ukraine, Russian intelligence and intelligence gleaned from spying on allies.
Austin said he took the issue very seriously and would continue to work with “our deeply valued allies and partners.”
“I’ve been struck by your solidarity and your commitment to reject efforts to divide us. And we will not let anything fracture our unity,” he said.
The Ukraine Defense Contact Group has worked better than predicted in terms of maintaining supplies for Ukraine, showing Western resolve to face down Russian aggression and having “Ukraine’s back even without having forces on the battlefield,” according to Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
The U.S. and allies have vowed to support Ukraine in defending its sovereign territory for “as long as it takes,” which O’Hanlon says may extend through all of 2024.
“I’m afraid that’s a distinct possibility,” he said.
Source : VOA News