The US Abrams tanks needed for training Ukrainian forces have arrived in Germany slightly ahead of schedule and are on their way to the Grafenwoehr army base where the training will begin in two to three weeks, US officials said on Thursday.
Defence secretary Lloyd Austin told the senate appropriations defence subcommittee that the US had moved “a number of tanks over into theatre” so the Ukrainians could begin training on them.
By the time they complete the training, expected to last about 10 weeks, the Abrams tanks currently being built for the Ukrainian forces will be ready, he said.
A US official said the 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks needed for the training arrived at the port in Bremerhaven, Germany, last weekend and they will get to the base by early this coming week.
The tanks the US is providing Ukraine are being built to its military’s specifications and will get to Ukraine by early fall, just as the troops are finished with their instruction.
The official spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details of the delivery not publicly released.
The tank training will be the latest and most lethal new layer of combat instruction the US is providing Ukraine’s troops to give them the best chance to overwhelm and punch through Russia’s battle lines.
Over the past few months, US troops have trained more than 8,800 Ukrainians, including on how to use Stryker and Bradley fighting vehicles and M109 Paladins together on the battlefield.
The Bradleys and Strykers are armoured, armed vehicles used to ferry troops on the battlefield, and the Paladin is a self-propelled howitzer gun.
During Thursday’s hearing, Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, pressed Austin to move quickly to get the tanks into Ukrainian troops’ hands and into action.
“We are doing everything possible to accelerate the delivery of these tanks, and early fall is a projection,” Mr Austin said.
Ms Collins and others noted the urgency of the fight in Ukraine, and she told Mr Austin and army general Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to be blunt about Ukraine’s needs.
Defence leaders should not let budget concerns dissuade them from seeking more weapons if that’s what Kyiv needs to be successful in a counteroffensive, said Ms Collins, the ranking Republican on the panel.
“It is critical that the administration provide Ukraine with what it needs in time to defend and take back its sovereign territory,” she said. “We expect the administration not to wait until the 11th hour if the Ukrainians seek more before the end of the fiscal year.”