WASHINGTON – Ukrainian troops will be armed with what White House officials call “the best tank in the world” after President Biden announced Wednesday that Washington will provide Kyiv with 31 M1 Abrams tanks.
Ukraine has relied on Soviet-era T-72 tanks since the Russian invasion began last Feb. 24. The Russians typically employ later T-72 iterations developed in the years since Ukraine gained its independence in 1991.
US officials have not said what iteration of the M1 it will send Ukraine, though the tanks will be procured from the defense industry rather than the current stockpile – meaning they are likely to include some of the latest upgrades.
Thousands of tanks on each side have been destroyed in the 11-month-old war, though it’s unclear how many remain in play. Ukraine claims to have destroyed 3,161 Russian tanks while Russia says it’s eliminated 7,617 Ukrainian “tanks and other armored fighting vehicles,” the countries’ respective defense ministries said Wednesday.
While it could take up to a year for America’s M1s to arrive in Ukraine, the addition is expected to give the war-torn country a leg up on Russia.
The M1’s superior maneuverability will play a valuable role in traversing the vast, flat open ranges in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine, where the majority of fighting has been occurring since the war’s early months. The US tanks also boast greater lethality and survivability and are equipped with superior cannons, guns and armor than the T-72.
The Army declined The Post’s request for an interview about the M1’s capabilities while “we await additional guidance from the Department of Defense,” but noted that the tanks outcompeted T-72s in prior conflicts, most notably the Gulf War and the 2003 US invasion of Iraq.
Here’s a deeper look at how the tanks compare:
With a range of 290 miles per hour, the T-72 can travel slightly further than the M1’s 265 miles before refueling – though it’s also 10 tons lighter than the American tank, which is outfitted with heavier armor for better survivability.
While the T-72’s top speed of 47 mph is slightly higher than the M1’s 42 mph, the system is far less agile than its American alternative. For example, it is incapable of driving in reverse at speed – a key capability the M1s and other Western systems such as the German Leopard 2 can provide.
The T-72’s diesel engine does offer a slight advantage over the M1’s gas turbine engine –that requires jet fuel, which is more difficult to find downrange. However, the US is also sending 8 AM-88 recovery vehicles with the tanks, which could help tow M1s that run out of gas.
The M1 boasts a 120mm XM256 smoothbore cannon, a high velocity – and highly accurate – weapon that can destroy enemy tanks and other hard targets. The cannon can effectively hit targets as much as 1.86 miles away.
It also includes a 7.62 mm M240, a belt-fed, gas operated, medium-sized coaxial machine gun. The M240 can fire up to 950 rounds per minute and has a firing range of more than 2.3 miles.
Additionally, the US tank is equipped with a .50-caliber M2 machine gun, which can shoot 850 rounds per minute and strike targets as far as 4.2 miles away.
By comparison, the T-72 is equipped with a 2A46 125mm smoothbore gun that has the same 1.86-mile firing range as the M1’s 120mm cannon, as well as an 7.62 mm machine gun similar to the American version.
However, its 12.8mm NSV secondary machine gun spits about 700-800 rounds per minute at at a range of less than a mile away, making it far inferior to the M1’s .50-caliber M2 machine gun.