Game-changing Abrams tanks pose a glaring problem for Ukraine

National Security Council spokesman John Kirby spoke on Wednesday about the United States’ recent decision to supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.

Among the issues Kirby spoke about during a press conference were certain problems that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s forces may have with the tanks, including the potentially huge problem of refueling the combat vehicles.

Abrams tanks run on a “gas turbine engine that requires jet fuel,” Kirby said. “So there’s a certain type of fuel that powers the Abrams, and we need to make sure that pipeline — literally and figuratively — is available to Ukraine.”

John Spencer, a retired US Army major and chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Madison Policy Forum, recounted news week that he agrees that fuel is an important consideration at the Abrams.

“Refueling will be a hurdle for Ukraine. The M1 engine can actually run on a variety of fuels, but I only remember running it on jet fuel,” Spencer said.

M1 Abrams tank during a NATO exercise
In the main photo, U.S. Marines drive an M1 Abrams tank during a NATO-led military exercise November 1, 2018 near the town of Oppdal, Norway. The smaller picture shows Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference January 11 in Lviv, Ukraine. The United States said it would send 31 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, but Zelenskyy’s troops may have trouble getting fuel for the machines.
Photos by JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Stanislav Ivanov/Global Images Ukraine/Getty Images

Spencer added that even if Ukraine had other tanks that could run on diesel, Zelenskyy’s military could still have problems.

“Fuel in general is a problem in Ukraine, even if it’s only diesel. When I was there in July, there were long lines and gas stations without gas, and Russian attacks on infrastructure were nonstop,” he said.

William Reno, professor and chair of the political science department at Northwestern University, said news week that the Abrams can run on JP-8, a type of kerosene commonly used by the US military and NATO. Therefore, access to the fuel must not be “insurmountable”.

However, Reno added that the Abrams is known to be a “fuel guzzler.” He said being a fuel burner is “the trade-off between faster acceleration and faster cruising speed. But there’s no idling as the vehicle’s turbine runs continuously after ignition.”

David Silbey, associate professor of history at Cornell University and director of teaching and learning at Cornell in Washington, also spoke about how much fuel Abrams tanks use.

“The main thing is that the engine greedily swallows fuel,” says Silbey news week.

Silbey noted that mileage on the Abrams is estimated to be between 1.5 and 3 gallons per mile, stressing that the measurement is in “gallons per mile” rather than the more familiar “miles per gallon” used for most vehicles are used.

“This means that the Abrams requires an enormous logistics chain to keep it continuously fueled. In this it is worse than other Western tanks, but not immensely. All tank engines propel extremely heavy vehicles over rough terrain,” he said.

Matthew Hoh, a former US Marine Corps captain and State Department official, recounted news week that the “Abrams — with its firepower, with its speed, with its armor — is a ‘king of the battlefield.'”

However, this king requires a lot of logistical work beyond fuel, he said.

“They weigh 70 tons. There’s only a certain amount – and certain types – of equipment that can carry these things,” Hoh said, adding that Russian tanks weigh about 25 to 30 tons less than the Abrams.

In addition to the significant weight, Hoh said, training Ukrainian personnel in the maintenance and operation of Abrams tanks will also take a long time. And that’s in addition to determining whether Ukraine’s “ability to get the fuel into the tanks as needed, plus any other vehicles that need it.”

Spencer said he remains confident that Ukraine – with the support of its allies – will overcome such obstacles.

“Ukraine surprised the world from day one, not only with its struggles, but also with its innovation in solving problems,” he said. “Despite all these hurdles, I’m sure there are plans to overcome them.” Game-changing Abrams tanks pose a glaring problem for Ukraine

Rick Schindler

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