M1 Abrams tanks have led American battle assaults for decades.
What are the M1 Abrams tank?
Carrying a crew of four, the Abrams was first deployed to war in 1991.
It has thick armor, a 120 mm main gun, armor piercing capabilities, advanced targeting systems, thick tracked wheels and a 1,500-horsepower turbine engine with a top speed of about 42 miles per hour (68 kilometers per hour).
The Abrams’ powerful jet engine can propel the tank through almost any terrain, whether heavy snow or heavy mud, said Kevin Butler, a former Army lieutenant who served as an Abrams tank platoon leader.
For months, U.S. officials balked at sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, insisting they were too complicated and too hard to maintain and repair. But, that abruptly changed.
Ukraine’s desperate pleas for tanks were answered with a sweeping, trans-Atlantic yes.
The dramatic reversal was the culmination of intense international pressure and diplomatic arm-twisting that played out early January this year.
And it resulted in in a quick succession of announcements: The U.S. said it will send 31 of the 70-ton Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine, and Germany announced it will send 14 Leopard 2 tanks and allow other countries to do the same.
WHY the U.S. said no
The Abrams’ jet engine needs hundreds of gallons of fuel to operate.
It will burn through fuel at a rate of at least two gallons per mile (4.7 liters per kilometer), whether the tank is moving or idling, Butler said, which means a constant supply convoy of fuel trucks must stay within reach so it can keep moving forward.
The U.S. worried that the fuel demands would create a logistical nightmare for Ukrainian forces.
While an Abrams can storm through the snow and mud, fuel trucks can’t. In addition, like any jet engine, the Abrams’ turbine needs air to breathe, which it sucks in through filtered rear vents.
When those vent filters get clogged — whether by sand, as soldiers reported to GAO in 1992, or by debris they might encounter in Ukraine — they can’t perform.
‘The Abrams tank is a very complicated piece of equipment. It’s expensive, it’s hard to train on. … It is not the easiest system to maintain. It may or may not be the right system,’ the under secretary of defense for policy, Colin Kahl, told reporters last week at the Pentagon, according to AP News.
The Abrams also will require months of training. Ukrainian forces will have to learn how to operate its more complex systems, and how to keep it running and fueled.