U.S. forces are expected to start training Ukrainians on M1A1 Abrams tanks “in the next week or so,” Pentagon press secretary Brigadier General Pat Ryder told VOA on Tuesday.
About 250 Ukrainians are arriving in Germany this week for the training, a senior military official familiar with the training told VOA on the condition of anonymity to discuss security matters.
The Ukrainians will train on 31 Abrams tanks that arrived in Germany earlier this month. U.S. officials have said that a different set of 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks are being refurbished in the United States and will be delivered to Ukraine by the fall.
Training in Germany is expected to last about 10 weeks and will focus on how to operate the tanks, how to maneuver the tanks in a combined arms fight and tank maintenance, the official said.
The course structure will be similar to previous U.S.-led training on armored Bradley fighting vehicles and Stryker vehicles, which were provided to Ukraine earlier this year, according to the official.
Abrams tanks, in particular, have been a long-awaited addition to the fight. The tank’s thick armor and 1,500-horsepower turbine engine make it much more advanced than the Soviet-era tanks Ukraine has been using since the war’s beginning.
The Biden administration announced in January that it would send a newer version of the Abrams tanks, known as M1A2, to Ukraine after they were procured and built, a process that could potentially take years.
In March, the administration pivoted to provide M1A1 Abrams tanks instead, to get the tanks “into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later,” Ryder said at the time.
F-16s on agenda
The news of the Abrams tank training comes as U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is set to host another virtual meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group on Thursday.
Military and defense leaders from more than 50 nations are expected to focus on ground-based air defense, ammunition needs and F-16 training, Ryder told reporters at the Pentagon earlier Tuesday.
Ryder said F-16 training would be conducted outside of Ukraine at European sites, but it could be weeks or months before the training begins.
“F-16s for Ukraine are about the long term. These F-16s will not be relevant to the upcoming counteroffensive,” he added.
After months of Ukraine pleading for Western fighter jets, U.S. President Joe Biden on Friday said the U.S. would support a joint international effort to train Ukrainian pilots on modern fighter aircrafts, including F-16s.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko responded to the news on Saturday with a warning that Western countries would run "colossal risks" if they supplied Ukraine with F-16 fighter jets, according to the TASS news agency.