American-made Abrams battle tanks will arrive in Ukraine soon, the U.S. defense secretary, Lloyd J. Austin III, said on Tuesday, finally bringing a powerful new weapon to the battlefield in a bid to help Ukraine advance in its slow-moving counteroffensive against Russia.
Speaking to 50 defense ministers and other top officials assembled in Ramstein, Germany, for the 15th meeting of what is known as the Ukraine Defense Contract Group, Mr. Austin also reiterated that the United States would train Ukraine’s pilots on F-16 warplanes, and urged allies to move faster to provide air defense and produce ammunition that Kyiv’s forces desperately needed on the battlefield.
Ukraine’s key needs right now are air defense, ammunition, 155-millimeter artillery rounds and mechanized armor, Mr. Austin said, and he asked the contact group to “dig deep.”
He repeated British estimates that Russian attacks on Ukraine’s ports and storage facilities have so far destroyed 280,000 tons of grain, which he said was enough to feed 10.5 million people for one year.
Ukraine has been eagerly anticipating the arrival of the M1 Abrams tanks since the Biden administration agreed in January to donate 31 of them, especially as Ukraine’s forces begin to penetrate minefields and other obstacles.
On the timing of, Mr. Austin said only that they would “be entering Ukraine soon,” comporting with Pentagon estimates that they would arrive by the fall. American troops have been training Ukrainian crews on the sophisticated tanks in 12-week stints since spring, but the tanks had not yet been delivered as of Monday, a senior U.S. military official said.
The official said that some of the tanks would reach Ukraine within days. The rest would be delivered in the coming weeks, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been formally announced.
They will be a much-welcomed but small addition to a ground war that so far has chewed up at least 648 of Ukraine’s tanks — including at least 17 manufactured in the West, according to Oryx, a military analysis site that counts only losses it has visually confirmed.
Over the last six months, several European countries have sent dozens of German-made Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, and Britain delivered at least 14 of its Challenger 2 tanks in the spring.
Ukraine had previously said it needed at least 300 tanks from Western benefactors, but it has so far received only about half of that number, said Col. Markus Reisner, who is closely monitoring the war at Austria’s main military training academy.
By comparison, officials have estimated that Russia is manufacturing about 200 tanks each year.
“That is the problem,” Colonel Reisner said this week. “Either the West delivers or it will be tricky.”
Mr. Austin said allies had so far sent Ukraine about $76 billion in weapons and other security assistance since the start of Russia’s full-fledged invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. He urged nations to continue delivering support to Ukraine beyond the current counteroffensive.
His message may fail to resonate inside his own country, as a growing number of Republican officials in the United States have vowed to cut military aid to Ukraine if a Republican wins next year’s presidential election.
Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that Washington believed that “there’s about a couple of hundred thousand Russian troops that remain in Russian-occupied Ukraine,” though later he spoke of “two or three hundred thousand Russian troops who are still there.”
The bulk of those troops were mobilized last fall and are poorly trained and poorly led, he said. “But they’re there.”
He agreed with Mr. Austin’s assessment that “Ukraine’s counteroffensive continues to make steady, forward progress, and brave Ukrainian troops are breaking through the heavily fortified lines of Russia’s army of aggression,” adding: “But Ukraine’s recent gains also hinge on the crucial capabilities provided by the members of this contact group,. And our shared commitment will be vital during the current battles, and for the long road ahead.”
It was the last such meeting for General Milley, who is retiring. He gave an impassioned response at the concluding news conference about the importance of Ukraine to the free world and the willingness of Ukrainians to fight until their entire territory is liberated.
“The Ukrainian people are gonna fight,” he said. “I think that Russia has made one of the greatest strategic errors Russia has ever made. They’ve invaded a country that’s been free and independent, and that country is not going to quit until they too are free and independent once again.”