Why was Europe so slow to provide heavy weapons, particularly tanks to Ukraine particularly against Russia the biggest military threat to the EU, and what about America?
For Europe, you need to recall that Germans are a bit reluctant to get involved in any war considering they started WWI and WWII.
Britain is not the military power it was a century ago and has a lot of economic problems but they would benefit from extra work, the problem for UK politicians is that they would have to pay for the work out of their own taxes.
As for the U.S., we have supplied a lot of military support to Ukraine but the U.S. military knows that the Abrams is simply the wrong weapon for the Ukraine battle.
United States Stand
For those of you without military and government experience, it may seem strange that the U.S. was pushing Germany to provide tanks to Ukraine when the U.S. was refusing to send Abrams M1 tanks.
Some of the reluctance on the U.S. part was money, in U.S. dollars Leopard tanks cost about half as much as an Abrams but that was a very minor consideration if it mattered at all in the decision.
The Abrams tank is unquestionably the best heavy tank in the world today. Pentagon reports show that possibly 3 Abrams tanks have been destroyed but none in combat.
But there is a major downside to deploying the Abrams without the massive integrated support of the entire U.S. military.
The Case Against Sending the Abrams M1 Battle Tank to Ukraine
First, all other tanks in the world use diesel fuel. The Abrams uses aviation-grade fuel. It shouldn’t require me to explain how big a difference that makes. But there is a misconception about what fuel the Abrams requires. Although the “owner’s manual” says Aviation Fuel, it actually uses almost anything that burns well. Still, it is a gas hog, and while many mechanics can fix a diesel of any make, not so with gas turbines.
The Abrams uses a version of a helicopter engine, the Honeywell AGT1500 gas turbine which the Army runs on JP-8 aviation gas. But think of it like this, my old C-class Mercedes runs on the top premium gasoline I can get, but it will get me to the store on regular gas, it just won’t have the same top performance.
Second, the Abrams is so sophisticated that it requires a special tow vehicle just to move a disabled Abrams.
Third, the Abrams, while seemingly rugged in battle is surprisingly delicate requiring massive efforts to keep all the electronics and systems in working order. Probably no other Army in the world could justify and make proper use of the Abrams platform since it is “rugged” only in the sense that it can survive because it is so powerful.
Fourth, the Abrams is not an individual or independent fighting vehicle as a WWII tank was, and as both the Leopard and Challenger tanks are, rather the Abrams is part of a highly sophisticated integrated team. The time required to train even sophisticated fighters such as many in the Ukraine military to operate and maintain an Abrams is considerable.
Fifth, Abrams will have to be partially demilitarized before delivery, that is, they have top secret components which the U.S. doesn’t share with anyone, let alone putting them in a position where they could possibly be captured by Russia. That doesn’t make them less capable for this sort of war environment because the most classified equipment only works with the entire U.S. Army.
Why the British and German Tanks
All of that said, while the Leopard and Challenger 2 are certainly formidable weapons, they probably couldn’t survive a full-scale battle against the Abrams. However, both the Leopard and Challenger 2 are nearly perfect for the kind of battle occurring in Ukraine.
They are easier to maintain, easier to train on, with some Ukrainians reportedly already being trained on both. The British and German tanks also run on diesel, their maintenance is simpler but also parts are easier to obtain because they already exist within driving range.
The Vickers-designed Challenger (BAE Systems and Land Armaments) has a 340-mile range.
The Leopardenpanzer (Leopard Krauss-Maffei Wegmann AG) has a 280 mile range, with a top speed about the same as the Abrams.
Both will run at peak performance on fuel many farmers have in their barns.
The Abrams (General Dynamics) has a 490 gallons (1,850 L) fuel tank and a range of 260 miles, that is less than 2 mpg. Any lesser grade fuel than Aviation will diminish their performance.
The following is my analysis/comment on these weapons.
Essentially while the Germans have a Mercedes quality tank and the British have a Rolls Royce grade tank, the U.S. feels able to maintain a Lamborghini or older Formula 1 level tank in battle conditions.
When thinking about the speed of tanks bear in mind that they usually have governor-limited top speeds which can sometimes be disabled by the crews but the top speed isn’t so much limited by the horsepower but by the fact that these monsters weigh 30 times more than some heavier cars.
(My old 200 HP diesel Mercedes weighs 2 tons, and a governor-limited top speed of 130 mph but that is the difference between wheels and tracks, tank tracks would literally explode at 100 mph and would quickly wear out at even 60 mph. This is the author’s analysis – so why should I know anything about tank tracks? I used to be a bulldozer and dragline mechanic – both have very similar tracks to tanks.)