Kyiv is now also getting US tanks. Few tanks can match the M1 Abrams for firepower and crew protection. But the M1 is also a sophisticated diva that wants to be entertained.
Ukraine will receive 31 M1 Abrams tanks from the US – in a first batch, I might add. The west has four types of heavy battle tanks. The Challenger 2 from Great Britain and the Leclerc from France were produced in small quantities and so Ukraine will only be able to get a few of them. Over 3,000 Leopard 2s were built, and over 9,000 Abrams – should the war continue and Kyiv need more than the 300 tanks now under discussion, only the Leopard 2 and M1 Abrams can meet that need.
namesake from the Second World War
The US tank is often corrupted in Germany as “Abraham”, presumably because the speakers are thinking of President Abraham Lincoln and the actual namesake Creighton Abrams says nothing to them. The general was the US Army Chief of Staff in the early 1970s. He earned the honor of naming the battle tank as a young man. During World War II, Abrams served in the 4th Armored Division. His unit was the battering ram of the US Third Army. Abrams was considered the boldest and most aggressive commander in US forces. Among other things, his unit broke the German ring around the besieged Bastogne during the Ardennes offensive.
So the M1 Abrams was named after him. Conceptually, the Abrams is pretty much the opposite of the Shermans that were available to Creighton Abrams during World War II. Like the Leopard 2, the Abrams is still a product of the Cold War and was intended to replace the outdated M60. The current US Army tanks have little in common with the models that were delivered from 1980 onwards.
The M1 Abrams has been extensively modernized several times. Even the main gun was replaced. The old 105mm gun was replaced with a license-made replica of the Rheinmetall 120mm smoothbore gun that was also used in the Leopard 2. As a special feature, the M1028 cartridge grenade was developed for the tank, which is used against infantry. She unleashes a type of giant buckshot with over 1000 tungsten bullets. As a secondary armament, the M1 has a coaxial light machine gun, a heavy machine gun for the commander and another light machine gun for the gunner.
The Survival Tank
The real strength of the M1 is crew protection. Your survival should be secured in the event of hits. The M1 is a tank that can take a beating. It is protected by composite armor, and ammunition is stored separately from the crew. An automatic bulkhead separates the magazine. When designing, predetermined breaking points were planned so that the force of explosions in the interior is deflected away from the crew. Her combat compartment is lined with Kevlar, which is designed to contain splinters inside. The latest generations are said to be equipped with Dorchester armor with components made of uranium dioxide. However, this armor is not supposed to be delivered to Ukraine.
In addition, the M1 has reactive armor and a soft kill system to mislead guided missiles. It is doubtful that tanks will be supplied to Ukraine with the Israeli Trophy system.
Protection comes at a price: the M1 weighs well over 60 tons, as do all modern western tanks. The Soviet models always prioritized mobility over armor. The protection of the crew counted for little, that only changed in the latest waves of modernization of the station wagons.
Controversial turbine drive
The greatest feature of the M1 is its drive. It does not have a diesel engine like (almost) all other tanks after the Second World War, but a gas turbine. Your advantage: It can burn different fuels, is much lighter than a diesel unit and provides a lot of power and torque even when idling. So far so good, but the consumption is enormous. During a test in Sweden, the turbine swallowed 1480 liters over 100 kilometers off-road. This value is due to the specific conditions of the mission, but the Abrams is also extremely thirsty under other conditions. The turbine can still be removed and replaced relatively easily. However, working on the engine itself should be very demanding. Along with the weight, keeping the M1 operational will always be a challenge.
The main gun, crew protection and fire control system are state of the art and far superior to the Russian tanks in Ukraine, especially the T72. In particular, the acquisition of targets, the exchange of data between commanders and gunners and between several tanks mark what is possible today.
When it comes to mobility, maintenance and replenishment needs, the performance balance of the M1 looks different. The fact is: In the battles of the Iraq war, the T-72 and T-64 of the time were largely helpless against the M1. During the entire war, the USA hardly lost a tank to direct enemy action.
Ukraine not comparable to Iraq
The M1 has always proven itself in previous missions, but it has always encountered opponents who were far inferior in terms of technology and training. The Iraqi troops fought without coordination, communication and isolated on their own. In later street fighting in Iraq, the M1 was mainly attacked by machine guns, old RPGs and mortar shells. While the Russians can fight it with equal guns, modern guided missiles and artillery, some of which are guided by drones. Heavy tracked vehicles encounter a new, challenging situation in the Ukraine war. One problem is that a tank doesn’t have to be destroyed on the first hit. As a rule, it is sufficient to immobilize him and then destroy the lame colossus with drones and artillery strikes.
Significant clout is possible
It’s also a fact that you shouldn’t expect miracles from 31 Abrams tanks and a few Leopard 2s. But if more allies deliver battle tanks, Ukraine could have 200 to 300 new battle tanks in the spring and thus reach a dimension that would make larger offensives possible. Battle tanks alone, however, do nothing. Deploying them requires appropriate amounts of armored personnel carriers and artillery, and all the services needed to keep these armored troops operational in the field.
The spectacular large-scale systems are in the public eye, but towing vehicles, transporters and tankers are just as important. So far, Kiev’s troops have been far better at handling combined arms in their limited offensives than their Russian counterparts. If Kyiv manages to maintain this lead in training, and if 200 to 300 western main battle tanks plus the necessary support equipment actually come to Ukraine, Putin will have to prepare for an energetic fight in the spring or early summer.