U.S. Army Could Use New Lend-Lease Act To Speed M1 Abrams Tanks to Poland

Poland wants modern replacements for the 240 older tanks it has donated to Ukraine, but won’t currently get U.S. M1s until 2025.

byDan Parsons| PUBLISHED May 18, 2022 5:42 PM
U.S. Army Could Use New Lend-Lease Act To Speed M1 Abrams Tanks to Poland
A U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams tank assigned to the 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, moves to their fighting positions during a multinational field exercise during Defender Europe 2022, Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland, May 15, 2022. Defender Europe 22 is a series of U.S. Army Europe and Africa multinational training exercises in Eastern Europe. The exercise demonstrates U.S. Army Europe and Africa’s ability to conduct large-scale ground combat operations across multiple theaters supporting NATO. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Andrew Greenwood).

The U.S. Army is weighing options for fast-tracking the delivery of M1 Abrams tanks to Poland to boost the NATO nation’s armor capabilities and replace old tanks donated to Ukraine for use in the war against Russia. Through new pathways opened by Congress, including the recently revived Lend-Lease program, Poland could take possession of U.S.-built armor years ahead of current schedules, the Army’s chief weapon buyer told lawmakers yesterday.

Having already donated about 240 Soviet-era T-72 tanks to Ukraine, Poland needs U.S. tanks sooner than 2025 to “backfill” its armor capabilities, Rep. Mike Turner, an Ohio Republican, said during a May 17 hearing of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Air and Land Systems. The Polish government signed a foreign military sales deal in April with the U.S. to buy the 250 M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams tanks for $4.75 billion, but under the current schedule those tanks won’t show up in Poland until late 2024 or early 2025, Turner added. His district includes the Army's Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, also known as the Lima Army Tank Plant, where these tanks are made.

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

“In terms of acceleration, there are options,” Assistant Secretary of the Army for Acquisitions, Logistics, and Technology Doug Bush told Turner and other members of the House Armed Services Committee in response. “It could involve, for example, prioritizing deliveries to them a little bit ahead of the U.S. Army or other allies. Those are dials we can turn. The Army is normally not the one to decide that. That would normally be [the Office of the Secretary of Defense]. But that is one option.”

Bush said the Army could deliver the tanks and other vehicles through the recently-passed Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act. That law provides explicit authority for transfers of U.S. arms to Ukraine, but also mentions helping other "Eastern European countries impacted by the Russian Federation’s invasion of Ukraine," which would include neighboring Poland. The stated goal of that assistance would be “to help bolster those countries' defense capabilities and protect their civilian populations from potential invasion or ongoing aggression by the armed forces of the Government of the Russian Federation," the legislation states. You can read all about this new Lend-Lease program here.

A Polish Leopard tank pulls security during their 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 act is one of several ways the Army is trying to “think creatively about how we could provide them with tanks in the interim,” Bush added. “Those are very nascent conversations, though, so I would have to come back to you with more detail in the classified space or to give you the whole story.”

In the meantime, U.S. 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 leg up on getting the M1s into the field when they do show up. 

“Another thing we're doing to try to enhance cooperation with Poland is, in the meantime, establishing a training activity with them to allow for at least initial familiarization training with U.S. soldiers on Abrams tanks in Poland,” Bush said. “Those efforts are underway … to try to get them a head start on the people-side of operating an Abrams tank and doing logistics.”

A Swedish soldier guides a U.S. Army M1A2 Abrams tank during a wet-gap crossing at Dęblin, Poland, in May 2022. U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Agustín Montañez

Poland sent at least 240 of its T-72s to Ukraine, enough to equip two brigades as the country battles an ongoing open-field Russian onslaught in the east, The Wall Street Journal reported in late April. That transfer did not totally deplete its armor capabilities, however. 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 the PT-91 Twardy in service.

Poland has sent artillery and multiple-launch rocket systems from its own stocks along with the tanks to Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal reported. Driven largely by concerns about Russian aggression, Poland has been working to modernize its military for years now.

The M1 Abrams purchases are one component of that modernization. The U.S. military had first announced that the U.S. State Department had signed off on the proposed sale of 250 of these tanks to Poland in February. Those tanks would be part of a larger approved $6 billion package that also includes 250 AN/VLQ-12 CREW Duke counter-IED systems, 26 M88A2 HERCULES Combat Recovery vehicles, 17 M1110 Joint Assault Bridges, weapons, ammunition, training and service support.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a NATO ally that is a force for political stability and economic progress in Europe,” the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in an announcement of the tank deal with Poland in February. “The proposed sale will improve Poland’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing a credible force that is 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 additional orders of tanks above what the Army is on contract to receive on current production timelines. The facility is currently churning out 15 Abrams tanks per month, Bush said. With its current workforce, the plant could ramp production to satisfy both U.S. and Polish demands for tanks, Bush said. He did not say how quickly the ramp-up could be achieved.

“That plant is a national treasure, one of a kind. It’s critical to everything the Army does,” Bush said. In terms of the industrial base itself, it's great to see the plant at 15 tanks a month. I remember when we were fighting to keep it at one tank a month. But I know it can do more, and I know that the workforce can do more. If the army continues to invest … that'll help the industrial base, broadly. Simply put, the more tanks going through there, the healthier the industrial base that feeds it.”

A look down the M1 Abrams assembly line at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center-Lima, commonly called the Lima Army Tank Plant, in Ohio. U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command photo by Brian Hahn

The Army cut how many tanks it would buy from 102 in fiscal 2023 to just 22, in what Bush called one of the "more difficult decisions" of balancing its budget. After it submitted its budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, the Army sent Congress an unfunded priorities list that included, very near the top, another $524 million for Abrams tank modernization.

"I think that prioritization reflects the Army's view of how important it is," Bush said. "if we can get help there, the Army would be glad to accept it. And we are ready to execute and to crank that production line up even more than it already is."

Backfilling European military capabilities and capacity as a result of donations to Ukraine has already become an issue. Poland specifically has received stopgap assistance from NATO allies to close its capability gaps until replacement equipment arrives or is built. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki confirmed a plan by the U.K. to send an undisclosed number of Challenger 2 tanks to fill the capability gap opened by Poland donating its military equipment to Ukraine. Unlike the U.S. sale of M1, the British tanks will deploy on a short-term basis and be operated by British crews.

NATO nations have rallied behind Ukraine and poured weapons into the fight but now find themselves needing an infusion of military capacity. Propping up Ukraine's fight against Russia now has had a spillover effect of boosting, or at least accelerating, sales of military equipment to other countries in the region. Through the new Lend-Lease Act, it appears nations backing Ukraine now have a new pathway to purchasing U.S. military kit.

Contact the author: Dan@thewarzone.com