According to Joseph Trevithick in The War Zone, a senior U.S. defense official said on September 19 that there is a definite possibility that the U.S. government could transfer unspecified tanks to the Ukrainian armed forces in the future.
The remarks from the senior U.S. defense official about tanks for Ukraine were included in a routine Pentagon press briefing about the state of Russia’s war on that country earlier on September 19. “Tanks are absolutely on the table”, the senior U.S. defense official said, according to Voice Of America’s Carla Babb. The senior U.S. defense official did say that Ukrainian forces would need to demonstrate their ability to maintain more modern Western tanks before American authorities would agree to provide them, according to Foreign Policy’s Jack Detsch.
John Trevithick expresses the opinion according which the requirement that Ukrainian forces first prove themselves capable of keeping a fleet of Western tanks going seems unlikely to be a major dealbreaker. U.S officials said similar things in the past ahead of the initial deliveries of M142 HIMARS. Ukraine’s military has shown itself very capable of getting contingents rapidly trained to maintain and employ HIMARS and other more complex Western weapon systems, such as the aforementioned AGM-88s and ground-launched Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
It is unclear what tanks the U.S. government might be prepared to transfer to the Ukrainians. The senior defense official’s comments have already prompted speculation about the potential of M1 Abrams tanks hitting the battlefield in Ukraine, Joseph Trevithick reports. There are certainly a number of M1 configurations that are readily exportable, but that would still provide Ukrainian forces with newer and significantly more capable tanks than most, if not all of the Soviet-era designs and derivatives that they currently operate. It is possible that older Abrams in U.S. military inventory could be sufficiently downgraded, with any sensitive fire control, communications, and other systems removed, to allow them to be ‘drawdown’ and more quickly sent to Ukraine.
A ‘drawdown’ in this case refers to an authority that the President of the United States has, if certain stipulations are met, to transfer various kinds of materiel straight out of American stocks to allies and partners. In terms of available tanks, the U.S. Marine Corps notably decided a few years ago to divest its entire fleet of M1s, as well as M88 HERCULES armored recovery vehicles and M60 tank-based Armored Vehicle Launched Bridges (AVLB). The Army already has some 3,500 ‘old’ M1s in storage.