Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said Thursday that more than 30 American-made M1 Abrams tanks for training Ukrainians have arrived in Europe, so they are prepared for when the battle-ready versions arrive later in the year.
The United States is still working on sending nearly three dozen battle-ready M1 Abrams tanks in the coming months, which are being refurbished with defense contractors.
“Earlier this month, 31 M1 Abrams training tanks from the United States arrived at Grafenwöhr in Germany,” Austin said at the start of a virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group, a collection of about 50 nations that convenes regularly to decide what equipment Ukrainian forces need to fend off invading Russian forces.
The meeting of the Ukraine group is expected to cover some new issues, such as the recent international agreement to train Ukrainian pilots on fourth-generation fighter jets, including the U.S.-made F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Last week, President Joe Biden announced the United States will support a joint effort with allies to train the Ukrainian pilots. Austin said Thursday that the Pentagon hopes that training will begin in “the coming weeks.” The U.S. has not yet announced any specific plans, however, to send any fighter jets for use in Ukraine.
"F-16s for Ukraine is about the long-term commitment to Ukraine," Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the top Pentagon spokesman, told reporters this week. "These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming [Ukraine] counteroffensive."
Earlier this year, the Pentagon committed 31 battle-ready Abrams tanks to Ukraine after contending for weeks that they were too sophisticated and too difficult to maintain to be used in its war with Russia. The tanks require regular field maintenance and typically run on jet fuel.
When Austin and Biden chose to send the M1A2 version of the tank, the most sophisticated version, it was decided to build them through the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — a program that procures from industry rather than pulling them from Pentagon stocks. By going through that program, it takes equipment months longer to reach Ukraine.
Defense officials originally said the final battle-ready tanks would arrive in Ukraine in late 2023 or early 2024, but the Pentagon later shaved a few months off that estimate by changing the plan and going instead with the slightly older M1A1 Abrams.
“This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” Ryder said when the change was announced a few weeks ago.
Roughly 250 Ukrainian troops will arrive in Germany this week to begin training on the tanks, according to a report by Voice of America.
The State Department also announced it has approved a possible sale of weapons and equipment including a National Advanced Surface-to-Air Missile System, or NASAMS, to Ukraine for $285 million.
“Ukraine has an urgent need to increase its capabilities to defend against Russian missile strikes and aircraft,” the State Department said late Wednesday in a statement. “Acquiring and effectively deploying this capability will enhance Ukraine’s ability to defend its people and protect critical national infrastructure.”
The sale of the missile system to Ukraine includes one 3D radar system, canister launchers, GPS receivers, code launchers and other elements of logistics and program support.
The principal contractor will be Raytheon Missiles and Defense and Congress has been informed of the sale by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency.
The U.S. has given nearly $37 billion in military aid to Ukraine since the Russian invasion in February 2022. The aid packages have included various weapons, air defenses, millions of munitions and ammunition rounds, armored vehicles, drone systems and field equipment.