WASHINGTON — Ukraine must wait months to receive the 31 M1 Abrams tanks promised by the US because the Pentagon does not have enough of the critical vehicles in its own stockpile to send now, spokeswoman Sabrina Singh confirmed Thursday.
While the White House has said Ukrainians need the more advanced capabilities to gear up for a fresh Russian offensive expected this spring, the US tanks won’t roll into eastern Europe until the predicted push is a distant memory.
“We just don’t have these tanks available in excess in our US stocks, which is why it is going to take months to transfer these M1A2 Abrams to Ukraine,” Singh said, referencing the specific newer version of the tank the US will send.
White House officials warned Wednesday it could take up to a year before Kyiv receives the tanks that President Biden publicly pledged because they would be purchased new with Congressionally approved funds as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
While the Pentagon typically takes about four days to prepare and deliver weapons that come from US stocks to Ukraine, those sourced through the USAI program can take months to deliver — or even years — as the government identifies and hires defense contractors who then build the weapons from scratch.
The US announcement came the same day German Chancellor Olaf Scholz confirmed his government would send Ukraine 14 Leopard 2 battle tanks following weeks of hesitation and rumors that Berlin would not pledge its tanks unless the US followed suit.
The Pentagon earlier expressed reluctance to send the M1, which is now arguably the most aggressive weapon Washington has pledged Kyiv since Russia invaded Ukraine 11 months ago.
On Jan. 19, Singh had said, “it just doesn’t make sense to provide [M1s] to the Ukrainians at this moment” when asked about the prospective package. The spokesperson pointed at the time to the US tank’s logistical challenges, as its gas turbine engine requires jet fuel — unlike the diesel engine used by the Leopard and Challenger.
On Thursday, Singh said she stood by her prior comments, but denied that the Biden administration opted to use the USAI program to slow-walk the tanks’ delivery.
“We are using the USAI to show a long-term commitment,” Singh said. “It’s not about delay; we just do not have these Abrams available in our stocks to give the Ukrainians at this time.”
While the logistical challenges remain, Singh said Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin suggested sending the Abrams anyway after seeing partners and allies commit to sending “immediate capabilities that could be rushed to the battlefield” at the US-led Ukraine Defense Contact Group meeting in Germany on Friday.
Defense officials have declined to say how many tanks designed for heavy combat the US currently has. The military has been in peacetime operations since it completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan on Aug. 30, 2021.
A senior White House official on Wednesday could not say precisely when the tanks will be ready to send, saying, “we’re talking months as opposed to weeks.”
“If we do not have [them] readily within US stocks, then we go the procurement route to make sure that we can procure the right capability for Ukraine and that is what we’re doing here with the Abrams in terms of sustainment maintenance, training, these are all really important considerations,” the official added.
The Pentagon did not provide an exact timeline for how long it would take the defense industry to produce the 31 US tanks, which highly complex and weigh about 45 tons each.
Singh said the DOD would use the wait time to develop a training course to teach Ukrainian troops how to use the M1s.
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