National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Wednesday discussed the recent decision by the United States to provide 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine.
Among the topics Kirby talked about during a press conference were certain issues Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky‘s military forces may experience with the tanks, including the potentially large problem of fueling the battle vehicles.
Abrams tanks run on a “gas turbine engine which needs jet fuel,” Kirby said. “So there’s a specific type of fuel that powers the Abrams, and we’ve got to make sure that pipeline—literally and figuratively—is available to Ukraine.”
John Spencer, a retired U.S. Army major and chair of Urban Warfare Studies at the Madison Policy Forum, told Newsweek that he agrees fuel is a major consideration with the Abrams.
“Fueling will be a hurdle for Ukraine. The M1 engine can actually work with a variety of fuels, but I only remember running them with jet fuel,” Spencer said.
Spencer added that even if Ukraine has other tanks that can run on diesel, Zelensky’s military might still experience problems.
“Fuel in general in Ukraine is an issue, even if it’s just diesel. There were long lines and stations without gas when I was there in July, and the Russian attacks on the infrastructure have been nonstop,” he said.
William Reno, a professor and chair of the political science department at Northwestern University, told Newsweek that the Abrams can run on JP-8, a type of kerosene that’s commonly used by the U.S. military and NATO. Therefore, accessing the fuel may not be “insurmountable.”
However, Reno added that the Abrams is known as a “fuel hog.” He said being a fuel burner is “the tradeoff for faster acceleration and faster ‘cruising’ speed. But there is no idle, as the vehicle’s turbine runs continuously after ignition.”
David Silbey, associate professor of history at Cornell University and director of teaching and learning at Cornell in Washington, also brought up how much fuel is used by Abrams tanks.
“The main thing is that the engine gulps fuel voraciously,” Silbey told Newsweek.
Silbey noted that mileage on the Abrams is estimated as between 1.5 to 3 gallons per mile, emphasizing that the measurement is in “gallons per mile” and not the more familiar “miles per gallon” used for most vehicles.
“That means the Abrams needs an enormous logistics chain to supply it with fuel continuously. In this, it’s worse than other Western tanks, but not immensely so. All tank engines are driving enormously heavy vehicles over rough terrain,” he said.
Matthew Hoh, a former U.S. Marine Corps captain and State Department officer, told Newsweek that the “Abrams—with its firepower, with its speed, with its armor—is a ‘king of the battlefield.’”
That king requires a lot of logistical work beyond fuel, though, he said.
“They weigh 70 tons. There’s only a certain amount—and certain types—of equipment out there that can transport these things,” Hoh said, adding Russian tanks weigh about 25 to 30 tons less than the Abrams.
In addition to the substantial weight, Hoh cited that training Ukrainian personnel on how to maintain and operate Abrams tanks will also take significant time. And that’s in addition to determining whether Ukraine has “the ability to get the fuel to the tanks as they need it, plus all the other vehicles that require it.”
Spencer said he remains confident that Ukraine—with the support of its allies—will overcome any such obstacles.
“Ukraine has surprised the world since day one, not just in their fighting but in their innovation to solve problems,” he said. “Despite all these hurdles, I am sure there are plans to overcome them.”
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