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Biden administration plans to send Ukraine battle tanks to help in its war with Russia

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 1/25/2023 Tom Vanden Brook and Kim Hjelmgaard, USA TODAY
Ukraine tank © AP / Sky News Ukraine tank

WASHINGTON – The Biden administration plans to send more than 30 of its frontline battle tanks to Ukraine, a move intended to unlock Germany’s reluctance to supply its own main battle tank to bolster Ukrainian forces battling Russia, according to a U.S. official.

Modern, capable tanks are seen as critical to Ukraine’s ability to resist an expected springtime offensive by Russian forces and to help the Ukrainians claw back parts of their country seized during the invasion ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Ukrainians operate Russian and Soviet-era tanks. Western tanks would provide them with vehicles that have more firepower, mobility and armor.

Early Wednesday, Germany announced it would provide, as a first step, 14 Leopard 2 A6 tanks for Ukraine's military. “This decision follows our well-known line of supporting Ukraine to the best of our ability," German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said at a Cabinet meeting in Berlin, adding that the decision had been coordinated with international partners.

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The Pentagon has resisted sending the tanks, citing the heavy  maintenance they require as well as their need for jet fuel for its engine. Germany’s Leopard tank, which several European allies use, runs on easier-to-source diesel fuel.

However, Germany had wanted the Pentagon to commit its own tanks before sending its Leopard 2 tanks, and allowing other countries that operate the tank to provide them to Ukraine. The German move follows months of pressure from Ukraine, which hopes the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams tanks will be a game-changer for its military on the battlefield ahead of an expected new Russian offensive this spring.

The White House is expected to officially announce its plans for the tanks today.

Scholz said other European partners would also be handing over Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. He didn't say how many. In addition to training, Germany's package of support will also include logistics, ammunition and system maintenance, he said.

The Biden administration has already sent Ukraine $27 billion in military aid since Russia's invasion in Feb. 2022. The arms sent have grown increasingly sophisticated and lethal. The tanks and armored personnel carriers now being given to Ukraine are the same ones operated by the U.S. Army's frontline soldiers.

The current Pentagon plan is to send 31 M-1 Abrams tanks and eight vehicles to recover those damaged in battle, said the official who was not authorized to speak publicly about the plan. The Biden administration's decision to send the tanks was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

On Tuesday afternoon, Pentagon officials declined to confirm the decision.

“I have no announcements to make at this time,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters Tuesday. He described the Abrams tank as very capable but very complex.

Last week, the U.S.-led coalition supporting Ukraine could not reach an agreement with Germany to provide its Leopard tanks.  Also last week, the Pentagon announced its latest military aid package, $2.5 billion worth of armored personnel carriers, ammunition and other aid.

The Abrams is lethal, fast and heavily armored. Weighing about 70 tons, the Abrams has a 120 mm canon and .50-caliber machine gun. The Abrams was developed during the Cold War and the first tanks delivered to the Army in 1980. They saw combat in 1991 for the first time during Operation Desert Storm in Iraq.

The tank, according to a Congressional Research Service report, "was lethal, as crews said its 120-mm gun was accurate and its ammunition deadly against all forms of Iraqi armor. Army observers attribute the gun’s high degree of accuracy to superior sights, high levels of tank readiness, and soldier training. The Abrams also survived well on the battlefield."

An Army report cited by the research service noted that Abrams tank crews said they had received "direct frontal hits from Iraqi T-72s (tanks) with minimal damage. In fact, the enemy destroyed no Abrams tanks during the Persian Gulf War."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Biden administration plans to send Ukraine battle tanks to help in its war with Russia

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