Ukraine Situation Report: M1 Abrams Tank Training Extended
The training extension request means it will be additional weeks before the M1s arrive in Ukraine and the rainy season is fast approaching.
Earlier hopes that U.S. M1 Abrams tanks would soon arrive on the battlefield in Ukraine have been tempered by news that Kyiv has requested an extension in training its troops until the full contingent of 31 refurbished Abrams tanks arrive in country.
Nearly 200 Ukrainian troops will continue honing their skills in operating and repairing the tanks for several more weeks at U.S. bases in Germany even after their main training exercises ended last month, VOA is reporting. The outlet cites U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command's spokesperson Col. Martin O'Donnell.
As we reported last week, the first of the Abrams appeared to be on track to go into combat starting around mid-September after the initial set of Ukrainian troops had completed the training. Quoting an unnamed Pentagon official and “another person familiar with the discussions,” Politico at the time reported that the first 10 of these tanks would arrive in Ukraine in mid-September. Meanwhile, as we also have reported in the past, the 31 Abrams tanks destined for Ukraine — all older M1A1 variants — have been undergoing refurbishment and preparation for delivery.
Now this timeline appears to be sliding to the right.
"At Ukraine's request, the military will maintain its handling and repair skills until the 31 tanks that the U.S. has pledged to convert and provide to Ukraine in the fall are ready," O'Donnell said. "These skills training is expected to take several weeks."
The plan is to add the Abrams to the mix of other Western tanks like the Challenger 2s donated by the U.K. and Leopard 2s donated by several nations to the armor Ukraine is using in its counteroffensive. You can read more about what the Abrams brings to the battlefield in our story here.
The Leopards and Challengers have proven effective and resilient. Compared to other armor Ukraine has lost so far during this three-month-old effort to regain ground, there have been relatively few Challengers and Leopards taken off the battlefield, according to the Oryx open-source tracking group. Their latest assessment shows that three Leopard 2s have been destroyed and four damaged, while one Challenger was destroyed. You can read more about that in our story here. Still, the Oryx numbers represent just the visually confirmed losses. The actual number could be greater.
A delay of even a few weeks could have a deleterious effect on what Ukraine can accomplish with the Abrams, however. Rainy season, with its oozing mud that bogs down heavy equipment like tanks, will be setting-in in the coming weeks.
Of course how much difference just 31 of even the most advanced tanks in the fight can make is debatable.
Before we head into the latest news from Ukraine, The War Zone readers can catch up on our previous rolling coverage here.
Ukraine is continuing to make incremental advances in both Zaporizhzhiz and Donetsk oblasts while the Russians continue to gain ground near Kupiansk in Kharkiv Oblast. However, given they have to cross the Oskil River, advances there will be difficult, as would any effort to retreat if needed.
Here are some key takeaways from the latest Institute for the Study of War assessment:
- Ukrainian forces continued offensive operations near Bakhmut and in western Zaporizhia Oblast on Sept. 7 and made further gains on both sectors of the front.
- Ukrainian forces are making tactical gains and successfully attriting defending Russian forces and ISW continues to assess Ukraine’s counteroffensive may achieve operational successes in 2023, but subsequent series of Russian defensive positions still pose significant challenges for Ukrainian forces and may in sections be strongly held.
- Russian forces continued offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line, in the Bakhmut direction, along the Avdiivka-Donetsk City line, and in the Donetsk-Zaporizhia Oblast border area but did not make any confirmed advances on September 7.
The report, however, offers two somewhat different takes on when those munitions might be approved for delivery.
"They are coming," one official who had access to security assistance plans. The official noted that, as always, such plans are subject to change until officially announced.
A second official told the outlet that the missiles are "on the table" and likely to be included in an upcoming security assistance package, adding that a final decision has not been made.
That source said it could be months before Ukraine, which has long requested the ATACMs, receives the missiles.
Meanwhile, Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone on Friday that "no decision has been made to give Ukraine ATACMS at this time."
With a range of about 200 miles, the ATACMS can hit targets about four times as far as the Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) munitions fired by the M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, or HIMARS and the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) provided to Ukraine. It can also hit those target far harder.
The ABC News report comes days after Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dymtro Kuleba said he discussed ATACMS with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken this week during the U.S. official’s visit to Kyiv.
"We had a thorough discussion today on the issue of providing Ukraine with long-range ATACMS missiles. We had a highly substantive conversation," Kuleba said at a joint press conference Wednesday. "We hope that discussions within the administration will lead to a positive decision.”
At least one person was killed and more than 50 injured by a Russian missile strike on Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky's home town of Kyrvyi Rih, local authorities say.
Amid increasing tensions in and around the Black Sea, the U.S. Navy will take part in an international exercise there next week.
Called Sea Breeze 23.3, the exercise will occur in Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta from Sept. 11-15, Marine Lt. Col. Garron Garn, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone Friday. It will be “focused on maritime security and stability operations with an emphasis on mine countermeasure and dive operation mission areas,” he said.
In addition to the U.S. and Romanian navies, military personnel from Bulgaria, France, the U.K., Türkiye, and Ukraine will also take part, according to the Ukrainian Pravda news outlet.
While taking place as Russia continues to pound Ukraine’s Danube River ports 80 miles to the north with drone attacks after Russia enacted a de-facto Black Sea blockade, Sea Breeze is a long-standing exercise.
Next week’s activities are the third iteration of this year’s Sea Breeze, an exercise held annually since 1997, except for five separate years in which operational commitments or world events prevented it, Garn told us.
No U.S. Navy surface combatants or other large ships will attend, but a P-8 Poseidon will take part in the drills, as will divers and small boat teams.
Romania will commit sea dredger Sublocotenent Alexandru Axente, a fast dive ship, an armored personnel carrier, three amphibious armored personnel carriers, assault boats and other vessels, as well as explosive ordnance disposal specialists, marines and staff officers, Ukrainian Pravda reported. Other participating countries will send divers, explosive ordnance disposal specialists and staff officers.
The Pentagon on Friday declined to talk about the specifics of a controversy involving Elon Musk and his SpaceX company’s Starlink satellite communications system, which now receives an undisclosed amount of U.S. taxpayer funds to provide that service to Ukraine.
The issue focuses on a planned Ukrainian attack last year by sea drones on Russian warships at Sevastopol in Crimea.
A new book by Walter Isaacson claims that Musk, fearing a nuclear response by Russia, turned off that service, according to an excerpt published Thursday by CNN. That caused the drone boats to lose communications and wash harmlessly on the shore. As we noted yesterday, while the CNN article does not offer a specific timeline, Isaacson’s account lines up with our reporting from Sept. 21, 2022 about a mysterious drone boat, likely laden with explosives, washed up on the shore near Sevastopol, home of the Russian Black Sea fleet.
On Thursday, Musk took to Twitter to say there never was any service near Crimea at the time and that he denied an emergency request to provide it.
The Pentagon is continuing to refuse to say how much it is paying SpaceX to provide satellite service to Ukraine and declined to comment on whether it's concerned about this situation.
“The Department has successfully leveraged commercial space and satellite comms capabilities in the past – and we expect to continue to do that in the future,” Jeff Jurgensen, a Pentagon spokesman, told The War Zone in an email Friday when asked if it is worried if Musk’s determination on when his Starlink service should and shouldn’t be provided is a concern.
Maxim Kuzminov’s decision to flee Russia in a helicopter, after his family was safely transported to Ukraine, is an example for others, said newly promoted Ukrainian Lt. Gen. Kyrylo Budanov, commander of the Defense Intelligence Directorate (GUR)
"We have had such communication with a few more people, and it continues,” said Budanov, according to the GUR’s website. “And what happened will simply give confidence to those people who are still hesitating.”
Budanov added that the operation, dubbed “Synystia” (Ukrainian for titmouse) has irked Russian officials and caused the FSB security service to “significantly” intensify its efforts to prevent defections, but that his announcement will “not give them anything.”
Budanov told us he was promoted yesterday.
More intense drone video has emerged, this time showing Ukrainian forces repelling an attack by Russians near Bakhmut. After an intense firefight, the Russian are seen withdrawing from the area, dragging a wounded comrade. The video ends with what appear to be drone strikes on other Russian troops there.
Video of a battery of U.S. donated M777 towed 155mm howitzers firing in a field at Russian positions has emerged on social media. The howitzers are protected by a 9K33 Osa short-range air defense system.
That's it for now. We'll update this story when there's more news to report about Ukraine.
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