Espreso. Global

Abrams in Ukraine: how US tanks will affect combat operations, their advantages and technical features

25 September, 2023 Monday

The first Abrams tanks have arrived in Ukraine from the US. This means that the Ukrainian Armed Forces will fight the invading Russian troops with tanks that are often called the best in the world

Espreso will tell more about Abrams tanks, their features, technical characteristics, and how they are superior to Russian ones.

Supply of Abrams to Ukraine

As early as January 19, 2023, the Pentagon stated that the United States was not yet ready to provide Ukraine with Abrams tanks. But it was obviously a publicity stunt. Less than two weeks later, Joe Biden officially announced that Ukraine would receive the 31st Abrams.

"Today I am announcing that the United States is providing 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine. This will support Ukraine's ability to defend its territories and achieve its strategic goals. Abrams tanks are the most capable tanks in the world. It is also necessary that Ukraine effectively operates these tanks on the battlefield. We will start training as soon as possible," said US President Joe Biden.

This step by the United States had another positive effect for Ukraine: it pushed Germany to hand over Leopard tanks to Kyiv.

Photo: gettyimages

Initially, it was about giving Ukraine one of the best modifications of the Abrams tank, the M1A2. However, they are assembled in only one place – at the state-owned General Dynamics plant in Ohio. This plant can produce 12 tanks per month, but it currently has many orders for tanks for Taiwan and Poland. Therefore, in March media reported that the Pentagon would provide Ukraine with older models of Abrams tanks.

According to Pentagon spokesman General Patrick Ryder, the models are "very similar in capabilities," including a 50-caliber heavy machine gun and a 120-mm cannon. Valerii Riabykh, development director of the Defense Express information and consulting company, shared the same opinion.

"In the United States, these two versions of tanks exist in parallel, are being modernized in parallel, and the A1 designation does not mean that this is an old tank. They have been modernized, equipped with modern control systems, enemy detection and guidance, including night channels. In general, this is one of the modern versions that will become an additional trump card in the hands of the Armed Forces of Ukraine in the complete liberation of Ukrainian territories during a counteroffensive operation. This decision will accelerate the receipt of such a desirable tool to continue to destroy the Russian troops on our land," the military expert told Espreso.

In May, the first group of 400 Ukrainian soldiers began training in Germany on American Abrams tanks.

On September 25, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy confirmed the arrival of the first batch of American-made Abrams tanks in Ukraine.

"Good news from Defense Minister Umerov. "Abrams are already in Ukraine and are preparing to strengthen our brigades. I am grateful to our allies for fulfilling the agreements! We are looking for new contracts and expanding the geography of supply," he said.

The New York Times wrote about the transfer of American Abrams tanks, citing two US defense officials. They said that the first Abrams tanks arrived several months earlier than planned.

The US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that more Abrams tanks would be shipped in the coming months. They noted that the ones sent to Ukraine on Saturday (September 23) were the first of 31 that the Biden administration had promised to send.

However, officials did not say how many tanks have been delivered so far.

Abrams: the main US tank

The Abrams is a 3rd generation main battle tank manufactured in the United States. It is named in honor of General Creighton Abrams, the commander of the US Armed Forces in Vietnam in 1968-72.

The Abrams has been in service with the US Army since 1980, but is still used by the Americans in all military operations, undergoing constant modernization. The US plans to extend the service life of the tank until 2050.

The M1 Abrams is one of the heaviest tanks of our time, with a combat weight of over 60 tons. The tank is designed for a crew of four people – a commander, a gunner, a loader, and a driver. This tank is the first to use a computerized fire control system.

The tank is equipped with a 120-mm smoothbore gun with a 40-round ammunition capacity. The effective range of the gun with standard ammunition is 3 km. The ArmyInform article emphasized that the range of the Abrams is comparable to the capabilities of the much-hyped and repeatedly ‘demilitarized’ T-90M Breakthrough in Ukraine. While the corresponding figure for T-72B3 and T-80 tanks is worse (1.5-2.2 km.) Abrams also has a sub-caliber M829 ammunition capable of penetrating at least 700 mm of armor at a distance of 2 km.

On the M1A1, an improved laser rangefinder and thermal imaging camera are built into the gunner's main sight, and the sight is stabilized in two planes. The rangefinder is capable of accurately calculating ranges from 200 to 7990 meters, which is about 4 km for ballistic decision-making. The tank commander has a remote-controlled combat module that allows him to fire a large-caliber machine gun while on the move. The tank has a digital command and control system called Blue Force Tracking (it recognizes "friend or foe").

Photo: gettyimages

The large weight does not prevent the tank from reaching a speed of 72 km/h on the highway and 48 km/h off-road.

The tank is covered with composite armor made of steel, ceramic and Kevlar, and can be additionally covered with protection over the chassis, stern and fuel tanks. Starting in 1987, M1A1 tanks received improved armor packages composed of depleted uranium. Depleted uranium was also used in the A2 versions during the modernization. However, the United States keeps these technologies strictly secret, so the tanks are exported with different armor.

Since 2021, all Abrams have been equipped with the Israeli Trophy APS active protection system, which protects the tank from anti-tank guided and unguided missiles. The system creates a protective controlled hemisphere over the tank, tracking potential threats and destroying missiles fired at the vehicle on approach with a directed explosion.

Among the disadvantages of the Abrams is its high fuel consumption. The tank is powered by a gas turbine engine and has a six-speed automatic transmission. It takes 38 liters of fuel to run the turbine alone. Such requests can create logistical problems for the military. In the Middle East, the Americans sometimes did not advance quickly enough because the tanks needed frequent refueling, which was done by special vehicles.

Technical characteristics of the Abrams M1A2

  • Combat weight: 61,3 t
  • Length with gun: 9,83 m
  • Width: 3,65 m
  • Height: 2,89 m
  • Crew: 4 persons
  • Armor: multilayer anti-surface composite
  • Main armament: 120 mm smoothbore M256
  • Secondary armament: 1×12.7 mm M2HB heavy machine gun or 2×7.62 mm M240 machine guns (1 turreted, 1 twin)
  • Ammunition: 40 rounds (including 17 first rounds) / 900 rounds (12.7 mm) / 11,400 rounds (7.62 mm)
  • Engine: 1500 hp.
  • Fuel tank capacity: 1900 liters
  • Power reserve: 465 km.

In terms of overcoming obstacles, the Abrams M1A2 can overcome a 2.75-meter deep ditch, cross a 1.2-meter ford or overcome a vertical obstacle of similar height.

Abrams vs. T-72

Abrams is extremely effective against Russian tanks. Despite the fact that Russian propagandists extol the virtues of the Analog Network weapon over Western models, even Russian military analysts recognize the superiority of the Abrams. Voice of America quotes Ruslan Pukhov, director of a Russian think tank, as saying: "Abrams tanks are the best tanks in the world in terms of combat capability, surpassing Russia's T-90 tanks, which are the newest and most advanced version of the T-72."

The Abrams tank was designed specifically to counter the Soviet T-72. American tanks have a more advanced fire control system. It allows for faster target detection and a better chance of hitting the target on the first shot. Thanks to its more powerful engine, the Abrams has better acceleration and maneuverability than the T-72. Russian tanks also have worse optics and night vision systems. Even in terms of comfort, the Abrams has an advantage due to its larger combat compartment, which provides more space.

One of the defining flaws of the T-72 tanks is its design, according to The Washington Post. The shells are placed in a circle inside the tank's turret. Therefore, when an enemy shot hits the tank, there is a high probability of a chain reaction – the ammunition detonates and flies out of the tower, killing everyone inside. The force of such a detonation can "instantly vaporize" the crew of a T-72 tank, said Robert Hamilton, a professor at the US Army War College.

A good illustration with diagrams of the placement of troops and shells in T-72s, Abrams and Leopards:

Photo: gettyimages

"In terms of weight, speed, armor protection, targeting technology, accuracy, and many other aspects, the Abrams is far superior to the T-72," said Michael Clarke, a professor at the Faculty of War Studies at King's College London. 

In the end, the superiority of the Abrams over the T-72 is proved not only by theory, but also by practice. During the 1991 Gulf War, the Battle of Medina Ridge took place, during which an American brigade of Abrams tanks destroyed an Iraqi brigade of T-72s in less than an hour. Due to their longer range, Abrams tanks were able to engage Iraqi tanks before the enemy approached a threatening distance.

During this battle, Iraq suffered significant losses: 186 tanks, 127 armored personnel carriers, 72 artillery pieces, 118 trucks and 5 air defense systems were destroyed. The Americans, on the other hand, lost only 2 helicopters, 4 tanks, and 2 armored personnel carriers.

How Abrams tanks will affect the war in Ukraine

M1 Abrams tanks will have an advantage over Russian tanks in counter-tank battles, according to military analysts. And the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, said that Abrams tanks will dramatically change the situation at the front.

"Maybe I'm not being too modest, but I think the Abrams tanks are the most advanced tanks available today. Of course, as soon as they are involved in combat, we will see a dramatic change in the situation," said General Milley.

The transfer of a batch of American tanks to Ukraine is another step in the deployment of defense against the Russian forces. This step will be followed by the United States, emphasized Serhiy Zgurets, director of the Defense Express information and consulting company.

"Abrams tanks should be seen as the first step to ensure a long-term supply. Abrams are different compared to Leopard. They require much more fuel, support, and are heavy. The first 30 Abrams tanks should provide logistics for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and then it will be possible to increase the number of tanks, which the Americans have enough of. The delivery of Abrams is a general trend of the US commitment to its promises," Zgurets emphasized.

The same position is voiced in Washington. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh said in the winter that the United States would supply Abrams tanks to Ukraine until Putin ends the war.

"The obligation to supply Abrams tanks may last until the end of the year, it may last for many years. Thus, the provision of Abrams tanks shows a long-term commitment to Ukraine. And it sends a message that our allies and partners are united in supporting Ukraine," Singh said.

Military experts do not predict how many Abrams Ukraine may receive in total. It is worth noting that, for example, Poland has ordered 250 M1A2 tanks. The total cost of this contract, including all related services and ammunition, amounted to USD 4.75 billion (19 million per tank). Warsaw will receive these tanks by the end of 2025. Along with the American contract, Poland signed a contract with Korea for 180 K2 tanks. And now the Poles have 245 Leopard tanks in service. Thus, in 2025, Poland will have 800 modern tanks. Such an arms upgrade will cost Warsaw USD 8.1 billion.

Defense Express analysts emphasize that even if Ukraine gets Abrams at a price half as cheap as Poland, for example, 300 tanks (as Zaluzhnyi mentioned in his interview) will absorb a significant portion of the funds allocated for military aid to Ukraine. At the same time, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, according to the commander-in-chief, need another 700 infantry fighting vehicles and 500 howitzers, as well as strengthening air defense and fighter aircraft.

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