In what would be a reversal, the Biden administration is poised to approve sending M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, US officials said Tuesday (local time), as international reluctance to send tanks to the battlefront against the Russians begins to erode.
A decision to send a bit more than 30 tanks could be announced as soon as Wednesday, though it could take months for the tanks to be delivered.
US officials said details are still being worked out. One official said the tanks would be bought under an upcoming Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative package, which provides longer-range funding for weapons and equipment to be purchased from commercial vendors.
The US announcement is expected in coordination with an announcement by Germany that it will approve Poland's request to transfer German-made Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine, according to one official. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision has not yet been made public.
By agreeing to send the Abrams at an as-yet unspecified time under the assistance initiative, the administration is able to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz's demand for an American commitment without having to send the tanks immediately.
Much of the aid sent so far in the 11-month-old war has been through a separate program drawing on Pentagon stocks to get weapons more quickly to Ukraine. But even under that program, it would take months to get tanks to Ukraine and to get Ukrainian forces trained on them.
It wasn't clear Tuesday how soon the US will start training Ukrainian troops on the Abrams and roughly how soon they can get to the battlefront.
Until now, the US has resisted providing its own M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, citing extensive and complex maintenance and logistical challenges with the high-tech vehicles.
Washington believes it would be more productive to send German Leopards since many allies have them and Ukrainian troops would need less training than on the more difficult Abrams.
Just last week, Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Colin Kahl told reporters that the Abrams is a complicated, expensive, difficult to maintain and hard to train on piece of equipment.
One thing Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin has been very focused on, he said, "is that we should not be providing the Ukrainians systems they can't repair, they can’t sustain, and that they, over the long term, can't afford, because it’s not helpful."
A US official familiar with White House thinking said the administration's initial hesitancy was based on concerns about the requisite training and the sustainment of the tanks. The official added that the administration believes that such plans are now in place, but it could take time to implement them.
At the Pentagon, spokesman Brigadier General Pat Ryder said he had nothing to announce on any US decision regarding Abrams tanks. But he said, "anytime that we've provided Ukraine with a type of system, we've provided the training and sustainment capabilities with that."