WASHINGTON ― The Pentagon is speeding up its delivery of M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, opting to send a refurbished older model that can be ready faster and reach Ukrainian troops in eight to 10 months, U.S. officials confirmed.

The news was first reported by The Associated Press.

The original plan was to send Ukraine 31 of the newer M1A2 Abrams, which could have taken a year or two to build and ship. But officials said the decision was made to send the older M1A1 version, which can be taken from Army stocks and will be easier for Ukrainian forces to learn to use and maintain as they fight Russia’s invasion.

Ahead of the Pentagon’s announcement expected later Tuesday, John Kirby, the National Security Council’s strategic communications coordinator, said the U.S. is working to speed up the delivery of tanks to Ukraine.

“The Pentagon is working as fast as they can, and they’ll have more to say on adjustments they’re making,” Kirby said on MSNBC. “We’re working on that. There’s some changes that you can make to the process, to sort of speed that up.”

U.S. President Joe Biden announced in January he would send 31 General Dynamics Land Systems-made tanks to Ukraine, reversing course after Germany cleared the way for Europe to send its own main battle tanks.

While the capability was thought to strengthen Ukraine’s defenses against Russian invaders for an anticipated onslaught this spring, U.S. military officials had said the Abrams tanks would likely not reach the country before then.

Ukrainian leaders have pressed for the 70-ton Abrams, and earlier this year Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said that August would be “too late” for the weapons to make a difference.

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Questions remain about which version the U.S. would send, how capable it would be, where the tanks would come from and how they would be backfilled. It was also unclear what the plans are to train Ukrainian troops on the tanks and how they would be maintained.

“A tank by itself is not a military capability. You have to send the whole package, and that includes ammunition, vehicles to maintain it, fuel, and you have to do the training on the system so that it can be sustained in combat,” Army acquisition chief Doug Bush said at a Defense News webinar earlier this month.

“Efforts are underway to do it as quickly as possible,” Bush added.

Another consideration is sending equipment so that it doesn’t impact Army readiness or deliveries of equipment to allies. Poland in January signed a contract for 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 tanks, following a $1.4 billion order for used M1A1s.

Rather than build Abrams tanks from scratch, the U.S. strips down and upgrades M1 hulls to the M2 standard, which would take too long, said retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, former commander of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia. M1A1s for Ukraine could come from the Marine Corps, which is shedding its tanks, or from Army training units.

Beyond concerns about how quickly Ukrainian troops can learn to operate and maintain the sophisticated Abrams, it’s unclear whether they will arrive in large enough numbers to make a difference. Thirty-one tanks is enough to outfit three tank battalions.

“They need brigades, not companies. Right now we’re seeing this kind of ‘drip, drip’ with platoons and companies,” Donahoe said. “If you only give them one battalion, you don’t give them the capability to overmatch the Russians, which a number of Western-style armored brigades would give them.”

Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville told reporters last week the Army was “working through an option that should be quicker,” and that the plan was to send exportable models that would require modifications before they could be sent to Ukraine.

“There’s different ways of getting them tanks,” McConville said.

Joe Gould is the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He served previously as Congress reporter.

Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.



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