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First Ukrainian M1A1 Abrams tank appears in service

On November 6, 2023, a picture emerged on social media, potentially showcasing the presence of the first M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank within Ukraine's Armed Forces. This picture, allegedly shared by a member of the Ukrainian tank forces, follows closely the confirmation by US officials that all 31 Abrams tanks donated to Ukraine have successfully reached their intended destination.
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M1A1 Abrams in brand new U.S. Woodland camouflage with a Ukrainian soldier brandishing a belt buckle adorned with a "steel fist" chevron, a symbol associated with the Ukrainian tank forces (Picture source: Twitter)

The picture offers a close-up view of the tank's front hull and rear turret bustle rack, typically utilized for the storage of equipment and supplies. Notably, the M1A1 Abrams tank's 120mm main gun is seen oriented to the rear, suggesting that it is not in a combat-ready posture. The tank appears to be in a dug-in position, surrounded by mud walls and a cut-out for the tracks. This suggests a concerted effort to conceal the tank from potential reconnaissance and adversaries, implying its probable presence in close proximity to the front lines.

In the image, a Ukrainian soldier is depicted, brandishing a belt buckle adorned with a "steel fist" chevron, a symbol associated with Ukrainian tank forces. It is worth noting that there are no images circulating on social media that depict these tanks in active combat or display any signs of damage, indicating that they have not yet been publicly deployed in battle.

The exact date and location of the picture remain unknown, but the presence of mud on the tank suggests that it may be recent, possibly due to the impending wet winter conditions. Additionally, the tank appears to feature the Woodland Green camouflage pattern used by the US Army in recent NATO exercises in Europe.

Colonel Martin O’Donnell, a spokesperson for the US Army Europe and Africa, confirmed in an interview with Voice of America on October 16, 2023, that all 31 M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks, as promised by the Biden administration, have been delivered to Ukraine, along with ammunition and spare tank parts. This follows a previous report from August 8, 2023, indicating that these deliveries were anticipated. Ukrainian personnel, who received training alongside US forces in Germany, have also returned to Ukraine, prepared to operate the newly acquired tanks.

The introduction of the Abrams tanks into Ukraine's arsenal is part of a broader strategy to enhance its military capabilities, which also includes a reinforced production on Ukrainian soil. These tanks will join other Western-manufactured tanks that have already been supplied to Ukraine, including the Swedish Stridsvagn 122, German Leopard 2A4 and 2A6, and British Challenger 2.

The responsibility of deciding when and where to deploy this new capability now rests with the Ukrainian authorities. However, this decision-making process may take some time as Ukrainian military strategists assess their support infrastructure and develop effective deployment strategies against Russian forces. It is imperative to recognize that Ukraine's strategic choices will be pivotal in determining the outcome of the conflict, and the successful operation of the tanks will depend on their coordination with infantry and other military assets for maximum effectiveness.

The timely delivery of the 31 American-made Abrams tanks, which began to emerge as early as September 25, 2023, provides Ukraine with the potential to employ these tanks in its counteroffensive against Russian forces before the onset of winter.

Ukraine M1A1 Abrams 925 002

Russian Armed Forces have already started sharing guides to countering American-made Abrams tanks, including this one recently. (Picture source: Russian social media)

Presently, Ukrainian forces are confronted with well-fortified Russian positions along a substantial frontline. The introduction of Abrams tanks is expected to bolster their firepower and assist in navigating these fortified positions. Nonetheless, uncertainties persist due to the refurbishment process, which involves the removal of sensitive technologies, including classified depleted uranium armor, from the older vehicles. Recent events have demonstrated that Russian forces have effectively destroyed Western-supplied tanks like the Challenger 2 and Leopard 2A4.

As reported on September 25, 2023, the Russians have already begun sharing guidelines and strategies for countering the US-made Abrams tanks with anti-tank-guided missiles (ATGMs). While it is anticipated that an Abrams tank may eventually be targeted during the conflict, its crew is expected to have a higher chance of survival compared to crew members of older Soviet tanks.

The M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank represents a significant advancement from its predecessor, the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT). Produced from August 1985 to early 1993 under the supervision of General Dynamics Land Systems, this version boasts numerous improvements, including enhancements to its suspension system, augmented armor protection, and a redesigned turret gun mount. With over 4,796 units manufactured for the US Army and an additional 221 for the US Marines, it has become a standard main battle tank for the US armed forces. Several other nations, including Egypt, Australia, Iraq, Poland, and now Ukraine, have also integrated this armored vehicle into their tank fleets.

From a technical perspective, the M1A1 Abrams offers formidable firepower, with its 120mm M256 smoothbore gun serving as its primary armament, capable of deploying various types of ammunition, including depleted uranium armor-piercing rounds. The tank is also equipped with auxiliary weaponry, including a coaxial machine gun and an anti-aircraft machine gun. Its armor protection features Chobham composite armor with integrated depleted uranium plates, offering defense against both kinetic energy and chemical energy threats.

Powered by a Honeywell AGT 1500 gas turbine engine, the M1A1 can reach speeds of up to 68 km/h, facilitating movement across diverse terrains, including steep gradients, water obstacles, and trenches. Additionally, the tank is outfitted with various accessories, such as a fire control system, laser range finder, night vision equipment, thermal sight, NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) protection, and an automatic fire extinguishing system.


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