What You Need to Know About the M1 Abrams Tank Headed to Ukraine

The M1 Abrams tank first saw combat in 1990 during the Persian Gulf War. Now, 31 of them will be sent to aid in the Ukrainian war effort.

M1A2 Abrams tanks
M1A2 Abrams tanks stand on the grounds of the 1st Brigade of the 3rd Infantry Division. dpa/picture alliance via Getty Images

Following weeks of debate with allies and ongoing pressure from Kyiv, the Biden administration has authorized the delivery of 31 M1 Abrams battle tanks to Ukraine on January 25. The White House had previously been hesitant to deliver the tanks, citing the machines’ hefty maintenance requirements. Washington’s pledge, alongside the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s concurrent decision to send 14 Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, resolves a diplomatic gridlock and aids Kyiv’s offensive efforts in its efforts to repulse Russia’s invasion.

The news also marks the addition of the M1 Abrams tank, which serves as the U.S. army’s chief battle vehicle, into yet another foreign military’s arsenal.

What is an M1 Abrams tank?

Named after General Creighton Abrams, a World War II hero, the M1 Abrams first saw combat in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. The M1 Abrams is now deployed by the Saudi Arabian Army, the Australian Army, and other major militaries across the world.

The M1 Abrams, weighing 72 tons, boasts a 1,500 horsepower gas turbine engine and can reach a speed of 42 miles per hour. The tank’s engine differs from those in European tanks, which typically rely on diesel-powered engines. While the German Leopard 2 is an effective military vehicle, with a speed of 45 miles per hour and a maximum range of 310 miles, the M1 Abrams tank engine is quieter, more powerful, more durable.

The M1 tank is armed with a 120 millimeter caliber cannon that can fire a shell between two and three miles, as well as machine guns. Along with the battalion of tanks, the U.S. plans to send approximately 500 armored recovery vehicles to repair tanks on the battlefield, should the machines or their artillery need assistance. The entire effort is valued at around $400 million, with each tank priced at around $10 million.

The history of the M1 Abrams tank

The M1 Abrams began as a collaborative project between the U.S. and West Germany armies in 1960s to replace their obsolete tanks. The program led to a bidding war between formerly Chrysler Defense, which was later bought by General Dynamics, and General Motors, each vying for the lucrative federal contract to build the new standard for tanks.

The companies unveiled their initial designs to the defense department in 1976. General Motors’s diesel design was cheaper, more conventional, and consumed far less fuel than Chrysler’s system, which possessed the gas turbine design, an unproven design for military vehicles. Still, defense officials favored the radical turbine engine and rewarded Chrysler’s dedication to military development (General Motors was more focused on its cars than military sales). In 1976, Chrysler was awarded the $20 billion contract and began building the M1 Abrams in 1978.

General Dynamics, based in Virginia, is one of the U.S. biggest defense contractors and makes Naval ships and submarines, as well as tanks and armored vehicles

U.S. defense officials held back on sending Ukraine the Abrams tanks because of the extensive training required to operate and maintain them. Because of its gas propulsion system, the Ukrainian army will need significant training to operate the tank’s engine. The four soldiers operating the tank—a driver, commander, gunner, and loader—will also need to learn how to operate the equipment. Because the tanks will take several months to be delivered to Ukraine, Pentagon officials say that the training for Ukrainian soldiers will occur outside of the war-torn country. What You Need to Know About the M1 Abrams Tank Headed to Ukraine