The United States may provide “NATO compatible” tanks to the Ukrainian military to replace aging Soviet-era gear, a senior Pentagon official has said, as Kiev continues to urge for a steady stream of Western arms amid fierce fighting with Russian troops.
Speaking to reporters at an anonymous briefing on Monday, the defense staffer was asked whether the White House was considering heavy armor in future aid packages to Ukraine, noting that Ukrainian lawmakers recently visited the US capital to specifically push for tanks.
“Tanks are absolutely on the table along with other areas,” the official said, noting that while Ukrainian troops are more familiar with “Soviet type tanks,” the Pentagon recognizes “that there will be a day when they may want to transition and may need to transition to NATO compatible models.”
Pressed on whether Western tanks might be included in upcoming arms deliveries, the official said that would depend on how quickly Ukrainian forces could be trained to use and maintain the vehicles, but added the administration of US President Joe Biden is “certainly open” to the idea.
The White House’s latest security package to Kiev was announced last week, worth some $600 million, marking Biden’s 21st presidential weapons drawdown for Ukraine. The aid included additional rounds for US-provided High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS), 36,000 artillery shells, 1,000 precision-guided munitions, a number of transport vehicles and small arms
Washington has stepped up its arms shipments throughout the conflict, eventually agreeing to provide multi-launch rocket systems such as the HIMARS, as well as long-range artillery platforms, months into the conflict. However, the Pentagon has so far refrained from sending some of the US military’s most sophisticated weapons, such as heavy armor or fighter jets, instead agreeing to facilitate transfers of Soviet-era gear from third countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
Though Biden has approved more than $15 billion in direct military assistance to Ukraine since Russia sent troops into the country in late February, Ukrainian officials continue to push for heavier arms. In addition to American armor, Kiev has also requested Leopard battle tanks, Marder infantry fighting vehicles and Gepard anti-aircraft tanks from Germany in recent weeks, but Berlin has been reluctant to meet most of those demands.
“No country has delivered Western-built infantry fighting vehicles or main battle tanks so far,” German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said in an event last week, adding “We have agreed with our partners that Germany will not take such action unilaterally.”
The US defense official did not specify what kind of tanks the Pentagon was considering for Ukraine, referring only to “NATO compatible models.” The M1 Abrams is currently Washington’s main battle tank, several configurations of which are ready for export, according to the Drive.