President Zelensky on Monday said his army had taken delivery of US Abrams battle tanks, boosting Kyiv's forces in their ongoing counteroffensive against Russian troops.

Kyiv announced the push to claw back ground from Russian forces in June after building up assault battalions and receiving some weapons promised by Western countries.

"Good news from (Defence) Minister (Rustem) Umerov. Abrams are already in Ukraine and are preparing to reinforce our brigades," Zelensky said in a statement on social media.

Zelensky did not elaborate on how many tanks had arrived in the country, nor on how long it would take for them to be deployed to the front line.

Washington had promised to provide 31 Abrams tanks to Kyiv at the start of the year, part of more than $43 billion in security assistance pledged by the United States over the past 18 months.

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Here's a guide to the newly-arrived weapons...

The US Department of Defense has decided to send an older model of the M1A1 from the Army reserves, which can be prepared for sending more quickly instead of the previously promised M1A2s.

The main difference between the basic versions of the M1A2 and the M1A1 is a more powerful armor protection package and modern electronics. However, the FEP [Firepower Enhancement Program, increasing all weather, day and night target acquisition and engagement range] and AIM-SA [Abrams Integrated Management – Situational Awareness] versions of the M1A1, which are currently in service with the U.S. Army, have undergone significant modernization, which partially brought them to the M1A2 level.

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Kallas said that training Ukraine’s forces on their territory would not be escalatory, adding that “Russia’s propaganda is about being at war with NATO; they don’t need an excuse.”

The tanks received a new main gunner’s sight with an improved Block I 2nd generation thermal imager (FLIR, forward looking infrared). 

The fire control system has been updated to use the new M829A3 [heavy armor-piercing] and M1028 [tungsten fragment anti-personnel] 120mm tank rounds. The tank commander also received a new Stabilized Commander’s Weapon Station (SCWS).

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The A1 and A2 are actually different versions of the same tank that have undergone parallel modernizations. In practice, the M1A1 SA and M1A1 FEP versions could be compared to the M1A2 SEPv2 which was produced in the 2010s.

Regular US Army Abrams modifications received the Blue Force Tracking (BFT) tracking systems providing unit commanders with current information on the location of tanks on the battlefield relative to friendly forces via data link. 

Most likely, it will be dismantled before being sent to Ukraine, as was the case with the digital units for the M777 howitzers. 

The armor containing depleted uranium will also most likely be dismantled because this type of armor is a secret which the U.S. does not disclose even to its closest allies.

One of the most notable peculiarities of the Abrams is its massive multilayer armor. The tank is protected from cumulative or subcaliber armor piercing projectiles with combined armor – special ceramic tiles sandwiched between two thick metal sheets. 

It’s not known yet which version of the M1A1 will be sent to Ukraine. The Pentagon press secretary, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said that 31 used “bodies” of M1A1s would be repaired and modernized with the support of USAI [Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative], for which General Dynamics would be paid $400 million.

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This means the M1A1s are likely to be substantially upgraded and different from the M1A1SA/FEP versions. There might even be a separate “Ukrainian” version as the U.S. is known to often practice developing customized modifications, not just for tanks but for other weapons systems, including fighter aircraft such as the F-16.

Power plant and transmission

The excellent mobility of the Abrams is ensured by the Honeywell AGT 1500 gas-turbine engine and the Allison X-1100-3B automatic gearbox with four forward and two reverse gears. 

Its power to mass ratio of 24.4 hp/ton impressively surpasses that of the Т-72B3 tank which is a mere 18 hp/ton. It’s advertised top speeds are 72 km/h on-road and 48 km/h off-road.

The battlefield experience of the Ukrainian forces using NATO-standard tanks in their counteroffensive has undeniably proven their high combat efficiency and crew safety. 

 

According to Forbes, Ukraine has thus far lost only five of 71 Leopard 2 tanks it received. About 10 have been damaged and are being repaired in EU countries. These figures testify to the high reliability and repairability of Western tanks.

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Importantly, Leopard 2s have been used to break through Russian defenses, and such operations are known to be very challenging to any armored vehicles, with heavily mined fields and roads within Russian artillery’s range hampering and often completely obstructing the movement of Western tanks. 

Now, 31 Abrams tanks will likely give the Ukrainian forces some advantage in chosen sectors of the offensive. 

A US Abrams tank is seen in Poland on May 19, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Armament and munitions

The United States has also announced supplies of shells with depleted uranium to Ukraine. So far, Ukraine has received shells of this type from the UK. 

Depleted uranium is purified to contain only the U-238 isotope (half-life 4.5 billion years), removing the more radioactive U-235 used in nuclear weapons (half-life 700 million years). Uranium has the highest atomic weight of the primordially occurring elements, with a density about 70 percent higher than that of lead and slightly lower than tungsten.

Thanks to extreme density of depleted uranium, such shells have a much higher armor piercing capacity, enabling them to destroy any armored vehicles.

The Abrams M1A1 and the German Leopard 2A4 have the same 120mm guns and subsequently nearly the same firepower. The Abrams fires M829A3 armor piercing rounds with a depleted uranium core which can pierce 700-mm-thick armor at ranges up to 2,000 m. 

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Such impressive characteristics threaten even Russia’s most advanced tanks, such as Т-72B3 protected by Kontakt-5 and Relikt dynamic armor.

Besides the main gun, the Abrams is armed with three machineguns two of which are mounted on the turret: a 12.7mm machinegun by the commander’s hatch and a 7.62mm machinegun by the gunner’s. 

The third machinegun, called “coaxial,” is synchronized with the main gun. At short ranges, the trajectory of its rounds is almost identical to that of the projectile fired from the main gun, which makes it a perfect instrument for quick and accurate aiming.

The Armed Forces of Ukraine (AFU) are looking forward to using Abrams tanks in offensive operations against Russia's Т-90Мs and Т-72B3s, relying on their strong armor and high firepower. 

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article stated the half-life of U-235 is 159,000 years. It is in fact around 700m years.

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