Months after announcing the decision to transfer the PAC-3 Patriot missile defense system and Abrams tanks to Kyiv, the United States is prepared to help the Ukrainian Armed Forces deploy these advanced systems far earlier than anticipated.
The Pentagon recently announced that it would hasten the delivery of M1 Abrams tanks and Patriot missiles to Ukraine. As per the revised plan, the US will deliver a refurbished older variant of the Abrams to Ukraine rather than a new one so that Ukrainian forces defending against a potential fresh Russian offensive can receive them by fall.
The original plan was to send 31 more contemporary M1A2 Abrams, which may have taken a year or more to produce and transport to Ukraine.
However, as per the new plan that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has approved, Washington will transfer the “older M1A1 type” from the Army supply. This will make it easier for the Ukrainian forces to learn how to use and maintain these tanks.
Pentagon’s press secretary, Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder said, “DoD, in close coordination with Ukraine, decided to buy the M1A1 variant, which will enable us to significantly expedite delivery timelines and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year.”
With the 70-ton behemoths armed with 120mm cannons and 50-caliber machine guns, the US will renovate extra M1 hulls and ship them as the M1A1 SA variant. The Pentagon has committed to training Ukrainian troops on operating and maintaining the tanks, but as of Tuesday, neither a schedule nor specifics had been provided.
Ryder said the M1A1 Abrams would have “a very similar capability” to the M1A2, including advanced armor and weapons systems, such as a 120mm cannon and 50-caliber heavy machine gun. “This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” the general said.
It is pertinent to note that shortly after the US announced it would transfer the M1A1 Abrams to Ukraine, Ukrainian President Zelensky said it would be “too late” if the delivery of the US main battle tank M1 Abrams were delayed until August.
“Overall, I am grateful to the world for their support of Ukraine. But if we are talking frankly and honestly with you, the number of tanks and delivery time is of crucial and critical importance, compared to the decision made,” Zelensky said in an interview with UK broadcaster Sky News.
It’s uncertain whether the tanks will arrive in sufficient numbers to make a difference, in addition to worries about how quickly they will arrive.
A retired Maj. Gen. Patrick Donahoe, the former head of the Army’s Maneuver Center of Excellence at Fort Benning, Georgia, said 31 tanks would likely be sufficient to equip three tank battalions.
The German-origin Leopard-class tanks have already started to arrive in Ukraine and are expected to be fielded on the battlefield soon. Not just that, the United States is also making arrangements to help Kyiv deploy the PAC-3 Patriot Missile defense battery to shoot down Russian projectiles.
Record-Breaking Training Time On Patriots
When the Pentagon announced in January that the Ukrainians would start training on PAC-3 Patriot Missile defense systems in Fort Sill, officials warned that the teaching might take months or a year. However, the Ukrainian soldiers have outperformed themselves and are already operating these systems skillfully.
According to American military sources, the Ukrainians, who were already skilled air defenders when they arrived in January and were specifically chosen by Kyiv to finish the training, mastered the American system far more quickly than anticipated. They are almost prepared to use it on the battlefield to defend Ukrainian cities and infrastructure from Russian attacks.
US defense officials told the media that about 65 Ukrainian soldiers would soon finish their system training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma.
According to the authorities who spoke to reporters at Fort Sill, the troops will next proceed to Europe for more training on the two Patriot systems—one American and one made by the Germans and Dutch—that will be deployed to Ukraine in the coming weeks.
“The Ukrainian soldiers are impressive and absolutely a quick study,” said Brig. Gen. Shane Morgan, Commanding General of the Army’s Fires Center of Excellence. “Due to their extensive air defense knowledge and experience in a combat zone, it was easier — though it’s never easy — for them to grasp the Patriot system.”
“They are the best of the best in what they do in air defense for Ukraine,” he said.
According to a senior Fort Sill official, the Ukrainians moved quickly through the assignments despite the course being designed as a 10-week basic program, Politico reported.
According to the official who spoke to the media, the crew easily met the skill criteria, which freed up additional time to focus on learning how to run the system as a team against simulated threats.
The Patriot is complicated to operate, and training for American soldiers can last up to a year. The US Army’s requirement for setting up and using the system against a simulated threat took less than 45 minutes for the Ukrainians to accomplish after only a few weeks.
According to one American trainer, they perform this “culminating event” twice or thrice daily to acquire as much practice as possible before leaving for Europe.
Army spokesperson Col. Martin O’Donnell highlighted that the Patriot is a “purely defensive weapon system” that will assist Ukraine in defending against Russian drones, aircraft, cruise missiles, and other ballistic missiles in cities and important infrastructure.
“The Patriot air defense system presents no, I say again no, threat to Russia,” he said.
Once the Ukrainian soldiers finish training on these Patriot systems and the Abrams are shipped to the embattled country, the Ukrainian military will receive a massive shot in the arm for both offensive and defensive combat operations.
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