(CNN) — The US will begin training Ukrainian forces next month on how to operate Abrams tanks on the battlefield against Russia before the end of the summer.
A U.S. official said 31 US M1A1 Abrams tanks, the size of a Ukrainian tank battalion, will be sent to Grafenwoehr, Germany, in mid-May, where about 250 Ukrainians will undergo a 10-week training course with U.S. troops. Journalists traveling with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.
The tanks are a long-awaited military capability for Ukraine, which has been at war with Russia for more than a year.
Although the U.S. initially said it would send new versions of the M1A2 tanks, officials indicated in March that the Ukrainians would receive the M1A1, drastically accelerating the schedule for delivering the tanks.
A group of allies and partners has provided more than $55 billion in security assistance to Ukraine, including “more than 230 tanks and more than 1,550 armored vehicles and other equipment and munitions,” Austin said Friday at the Ukraine Security Liaison Group in Ramstein, Germany.
“It’s a lot of progress,” Austin said with Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley. “I am confident that this equipment and the accompanying training will position Ukrainian forces to continue to accumulate victories on the battlefield.”
In addition to the US-supplied tanks, Ukraine will also receive German Panther 2 tanks and British Challengers.
On Friday, Ukraine’s Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said Poland would host a maintenance center for the Leopard 2 tanks.
“Modern Western technology will defeat Moscow. The sooner that happens, the sooner peace will come,” Reznikov added.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said the tank center would cost about 150-200 million euros (about $164-219 million) a year and could be ready by the end of May.
The armor capability adds a powerful ground component to Ukrainian troops who have already been fighting for more than a year. But tanks may not have an immediate battlefield impact given the length of training with Western armor and the significant logistical demands required to keep complex systems operational.
“Give him the damn tanks!’ They’ve never seen the choreography of doing this job on the battlefield,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling, former commander of the U.S. Army in Europe, previously told CNN. “In war, if you mess something up, you cause disaster and failure. Dangerous tanks become pillboxes that don’t move or fire.”
About 8,800 Ukrainian soldiers have already returned to Ukraine after training in Germany, Col. Martin O’Donnell, a spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa, said in a statement Friday. Currently, approximately 2,250 Ukrainians are in combined arms training in Germany.
“Putin thought he could easily overthrow the democratically elected government of Kyiv. He thought that the whole world would free him. He thought our alliance would not last,” Austin said of the Russian leader. “But I was wrong on every count.”
In Germany on Friday, Milley said the tanks arriving for training in May are “not completely combat ready” and will be used “to train personnel on how to fire, maneuver and maintain.”
While Milley said he believed the tanks would be “very effective” on the battlefield against Russia, he emphasized that they would be the most effective part of the equation.
“Wars are the result of wars, and wars are a function of many, many variables,” Milley said. “And in this case, you have to make sure that your tanks are used in combination with mechanized infantry, artillery, all of that combined. So there’s no silver bullet to winning this war, although I’m sure the M1 tank will be very useful on the battlefield when it’s delivered and operational.”
At a meeting on Friday, Reznikov said his country had been given the “green light” for “closer cooperation” with the NATO procurement agency.
“Ukraine has achieved unprecedented interoperability with NATO. In fact, we are already part of the alliance’s defense sector,” Reznikov said. “I believe this will speed up political decisions regarding our country’s integration into NATO.”
Milli said Friday that Ukraine’s military “continues to perform well” in its fight against Russia.
“Russia is paying dearly for its choice to support the war,” he opined. “Unlike the Ukrainian forces, who are highly motivated to fight for their country, their freedom, their democracy and their way of life, the Russians have no leadership, lack of will, low morale and crumbling morale.”
This story has been updated with additional reports.
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