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US to buy 31 new Abrams tanks to fill order for Ukraine

M1 Abrams tanks from the 1st Cavalry Division of Fort Hood, Texas, are staged and ready to be loaded onto ships bound for Europe Thursday at the Blount Island Marine Terminal in Jacksonville. [Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union]
January 30, 2023

On Wednesday, President Joe Biden announced that the U.S. would supply Ukraine with 31 M1A2 Abrams tanks; however, the Pentagon cautioned on Thursday that filling this order will take time because the U.S. doesn’t have the specified tanks available in military stockpiles and will have to buy new ones.

The Abrams tank purchase for Ukraine will see the U.S. draw from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI). While about $26 billion worth of weapons the U.S. has supplied to Ukraine have come directly from U.S. military stockpiles through the president’s drawdown authority, the U.S. has also purchased about $18 billion in weapons with USAI.

During a Thursday press conference, a reporter asked why it is expected to take months for the U.S. to supply the 31 tanks and why the U.S. can’t simply pull them from existing U.S. stockpiles. In response, Deputy Pentagon Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said, “We are using the USAI because that’s exactly it, we just don’t have these tanks available in excess in our U.S. stocks, which is why it is going to take months to transfer these M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine.”

One reason that could explain why the U.S. has to purchase new Abrams tanks for Ukraine is that the ones used by the U.S. have specialized depleted uranium armor. Depleted uranium is a byproduct of the nuclear energy industry and its export is regulated under U.S. law.

The U.S. sells export variants of the M1 tank to Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Taiwan and Poland. According to Forbes, these export variants have their depleted uranium armor substituted for tungsten.

The process to modify the Abrams’ armor takes time and the tank’s manufacturer, General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), holds the exclusive rights to complete the task.

In addition to the lengthy process to procure the new tanks, it will also take time for the U.S. to train Ukrainian tank crews in their operations.

“These tanks are going to require training, maintenance, sustainment that is going to take a very long time to also train the Ukrainians on,” Singh said. “And so, because of that — and we took that into account — that’s why we are using the USAI capability in order to procure these tanks for the Ukrainians.”