US Army seeks to expedite deliveries of M1 Abrams tanks to Poland

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The U.S. military is evaluating options to expedite the delivery of M1 Abrams tanks to Poland to bolster the NATO nation’s armor capabilities and replace older tanks donated to Ukraine for use in the war against Russia. Thanks to new avenues opened up by Congress, including the recently revived Lend-Lease program, Poland could take possession of US-built armor years earlier than expected, the top arms buyer said yesterday. from the military to legislators.

Having already donated about 240 Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine, Poland needs American tanks before 2025 to “fill” its armor capabilities, said Rep. Mike Turner, a Republican from Ohio, during a May 17 hearing of the House Armed Services. Air and Ground Systems Subcommittee. The Polish government signed a foreign military sales agreement in April with the United States to purchase the 250 M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams tanks for $4.75 billion, but under the current schedule these tanks will only appear in Poland. until late 2024 or early 2025, Turner added. Its district includes the Army Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, also known as the Lima Army Tank Factory, where these tanks are manufactured.

US Army M1A2 Abrams tanks at Mielno Range in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland in May 2022. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Spc. Hedil Hernandez

“In terms of acceleration, there are options,” Doug Bush, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology, told Turner and other members of the House Armed Services Committee in response. “That could mean, for example, prioritizing them for deliveries a little before the US military or other allies. These are dials that we can turn. The army is normally not the one who decides this. It would normally [the Office of the Secretary of Defense]. But it is an option. »

Bush said the military could deliver the tanks and other vehicles through the recently passed Ukrainian Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act. This law explicitly authorizes US arms transfers to Ukraine, but also mentions assistance to other “Eastern European countries affected by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine”, including neighboring Poland. The stated purpose of such assistance would be “to help strengthen the defense capabilities of these countries and protect their civilian populations from potential invasion or ongoing aggression by the armed forces of the Government of the Russian Federation “, indicates the legislation. this new lend-lease program here.

A Polish Leopard tank provides security during its multinational field training exercise as part of Defender Europe 2022, Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, May 15, 2022. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andrew Greenwood

Using the new Lend-Lease law is one of many ways the military is trying to “think creatively about how we could provide them with tanks in the meantime,” Bush added. “These are very fledgling conversations, so I should get back to you with more details in classified space or to tell you the full story.”

In the meantime, US troops are preparing to train their Polish counterparts to operate and maintain the tanks before the vehicles arrive in Europe, Bush said. That should give Poland a head start in bringing the U1s onto the pitch when they do show up.

“Another thing we are doing to try to strengthen cooperation with Poland is, in the meantime, to establish a training activity with them to allow at least initial familiarization training with American soldiers on Abrams tanks in Poland” , Bush said. “These efforts are ongoing…to try to give them a leg up on the people side of operating an Abrams tank and the logistics.”

A Swedish soldier guides a U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams tank through a wet crossing in Dęblin, Poland, May 2022. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Agustin Montanez

Poland has sent at least 240 of its T-72s to Ukraine, enough to equip two brigades as the country fights off an open-field Russian attack in the east, The Wall Street Journal announced at the end of April. This transfer, however, did not completely exhaust its shielding capabilities. The Polish Army operates hundreds of several variants of the more modern Leopard 2 tanks it received from Germany beginning in 2002. It also has domestically modernized T-72 derivatives called PT-91 Twardy in service.

Poland sent artillery and multiple rocket launchers from its own stocks with the tanks to Ukraine, the the wall street journal reported. Driven in large part by concerns about Russian aggression, Poland has been working for years to modernize its military.

The purchases of the M1 Abrams are a component of this modernization. The US military first announced that the US State Department had approved plans to sell 250 of these tanks to Poland in February. These tanks would be part of a larger $6 billion approved package that also includes 250 AN/VLQ-12 CREW Duke anti-IED systems, 26 M88A2 HERCULES combat recovery vehicles, 17 M1110 Joint Assault Bridges, arms, ammunition, training and service support.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to enhance the security of a NATO ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” the statement said. US Defense and Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA). in an announcement of the tank deal with Poland in February. “The proposed sale will improve Poland’s ability to deal with current and future threats by providing a credible force capable of deterring adversaries and participating in NATO operations.”

DSCA also noted that “there will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.”

Both Bush and Turner said the Lima tank plant can handle orders for additional tanks beyond what the military is contracted to receive in current production timelines. The facility currently produces 15 Abrams tanks per month, Bush said. With its current workforce, the plant could ramp up production to meet U.S. and Polish demands for tanks, Bush said. He did not say how quickly the ramp-up could be achieved.

“This plant is a national treasure, one of a kind. It’s essential to everything the military does,” Bush said. In terms of the industrial base itself, it’s great to see the plant at 15 tanks per month. I remember when we were fighting to keep it at one tank per month. But I know it can do more, and I know the workforce can do more. If the military continues to invest…it will help the industrial base, basically. Simply put, the more reservoirs passing through it, the healthier the industrial base that feeds it. »

An overview of the M1 Abrams assembly line at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center-Lima, commonly referred to as the Army Tank Factory in Lima, Ohio. US Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command photo by Brian Hahn

The Army cut the number of tanks it would buy from 102 in fiscal year 2023 to just 22, in what Bush called one of the “toughest decisions” to balance its budget. After submitting its budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, the Army sent Congress a list of unfunded priorities that included, very near the top, an additional $524 million for Abrams tank upgrades.

“I think the prioritization reflects the military’s view of its importance,” Bush said. “If we can get help there, the military would be happy to take it. And we’re ready to run and run that production line even more than it already is.”

Replacing European military capabilities and capabilities through donations to Ukraine has already become a problem. Poland has specifically received stopgap aid from NATO allies to fill its capability gaps until replacement equipment arrives or is built. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has confirmed a UK plan to send an undisclosed number of Challenger 2 tanks to fill the capability gap opened up by Poland donating its military equipment to Ukraine. Unlike the US sale of M1s, British tanks will be deployed at short notice and operated by British crews.

NATO nations have rallied behind Ukraine and poured weapons into the fight, but now need an injection of military capability. Support for Ukraine’s fight against Russia has now had a ripple effect in stimulating, or at least accelerating, sales of military equipment to other countries in the region. Thanks to the new Lend-Lease law, it appears that nations supporting Ukraine now have a new avenue to purchase US military hardware.

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