US officials said details are still being worked out. An official said the tanks would be purchased under an upcoming package from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which provides longer-term funding for weapons and equipment that can be purchased from commercial vendors.
The US announcement is expected in coordination with an announcement by Germany that it will approve Poland’s request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, an official said. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.
By agreeing to send the Abrams at an unspecified date, the aid initiative will allow the government to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s demand for a US commitment without having to immediately send the tanks.
Much of the aid sent so far in the 11-month-old war has gone through a separate program, using Pentagon stockpiles to get weapons to Ukraine more quickly. But even under that program it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and train Ukrainian forces on them. It was not clear on Tuesday how soon the US will begin training Ukrainian troops on the Abrams and roughly how soon they can get to the front.
So far, the US has resisted supplying Ukraine with its own M1 Abrams tanks, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles. Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would require less training than on the more difficult Abrams.
Last week, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complicated, expensive, hard-to-maintain and difficult-to-train piece of equipment. One thing Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is very focused on, he said, “is that we shouldn’t provide the Ukrainians with systems that they can’t fix, can’t maintain, and can’t afford in the long run, because it helps not.”
A US official familiar with White House thinking said the administration’s initial hesitation was based on concerns about the required training and maintenance of the tanks. The official added that the administration believes such plans are now in place, but they may take time to implement.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said he had nothing to say about a US decision regarding Abrams tanks. But he said, “every time we’ve given Ukraine some sort of system, we’ve provided the training and support capabilities with it.”
The government reversal comes just days after a coalition of more than 50 senior defense officials from Europe and beyond met in Germany to discuss Ukraine’s war needs, and main battle tanks were a hot topic.
Ukrainian leaders have been asking for tanks urgently, but Germany resisted mounting pressure to either provide its own tanks or clear the way for other countries, such as Poland, to send the German-made tanks from their own supply. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the deployment of Western tanks would have “unequivocally negative” consequences.
Defense leaders from the countries that have Leopard 2 tanks met with the Germans at the Friday conference at Ramstein Air Base in an attempt to reach an agreement.
Berlin indicated on Sunday that it would not stand in the way of other countries sending the Leopard 2 tanks to Kiev. Germany must agree that the tanks be given to Ukraine, which is not a member of NATO.
U.S. and German officials have sent mixed signals about whether the U.S. and Germany’s decisions are linked and whether Berlin was hesitant to send its tanks unless the U.S. sent Abrams.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said on Tuesday that Poland has officially requested permission from Germany to transfer its Leopard 2 main battle tanks to Ukraine.
German officials confirmed to the dpa news agency that they had received the application and said it would be reviewed “with due urgency”. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday that Berlin will not try to stop Poland from supplying the high-tech armor to Kiev.
German officials declined to comment on reports of a tank deal. The newsweekly Der Spiegel reported on Tuesday, without citing a source, that Germany will supply Ukraine with at least one company of Leopard 2 tanks from its own army’s stockpile. A company consists of 15 tanks.
Scholz will address parliament on Wednesday and field questions from lawmakers, many of whom have urged the government to join allies in supplying the tanks to Ukraine.
Lawmakers in Congress have also urged the US to step up its aid to Ukraine.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday “it’s time, past time” for the Biden administration and allies to send more military aid to Ukraine, and that the U.S. needs to provide more tanks and weapons to help Ukraine to win this war.
“It is time, past, for the Biden administration and our allies to get serious about helping Ukraine get the job done and retake their land.”
The likely plans to send the Abrams were first reported by The Wall Street Journal.