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Diva on the battlefield: Abrams tanks are getting the dirty job in the Ukraine war

2023-12-04T12:58:05.094Z

Highlights: The U.S. Abrams M-1, declared by some to be the best main battle tank in the world, is plagued by aches and pains in the Ukraine war. The biggest weak point of the almost 70-ton rolling fortress are the filtersin the intake openings of the engines. The comparable German Leopard 2, on the other hand, has such a modular design that a complete engine change in the field can be carried out within two hours. If the four-man crew of an Abrams fails to clean the filters of their tank every twelve hours or so, this can severely damage the engine.



Status: 04.12.2023, 13:45 PM

By: Karsten Hinzmann

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High-tech behemoths versus disposable tanks: Western military equipment marches to the front in Ukraine – but is proving unsuitable in details.

Kiev – The colossus is a diva. U.S. practitioners had long warned against the deployment, and now Ukraine knows why. The U.S. Abrams M-1, declared by some to be the best main battle tank in the world, is plagued by aches and pains in the counteroffensive against Russia's invading army – it is simply running out of steam in the middle of the Ukraine war. There are two reasons for this, as reported by the US portal Forbes.

The biggest weak point of the almost 70-ton rolling fortress are the filtersin the intake openings of the engines. They prevent dirt and debris from soiling and destroying the M-1's delicate but powerful engine. They require regular cleaning, and that means: cleaning against Putin.

"Since the end of the 20th century, the single tank has become an increasingly blatant beast," says Ralf Raths, director of the German Tank Museum in Münster. This applies to the Abrams just as much as to the German Leopard or the English or French models, the expert told the Tagesschau: "They can shoot and hit at full speed - and over several kilometers, even when reversing." As a rule, the main battle tanks would also have the more powerful scopes. This makes them sledgehammers on the battlefield, but they alone do not bring victory. Despite everything, the development of Western countries in terms of tank construction has clearly overtaken that in Russia.

M1A2 Abrams tanks in service with the US Army are now also fighting in the Ukraine war. (Archive photo) © Daniel Karmann/dpa

The fault – also of the Abrams – lies in the system or in the different ways of thinking that underlie Eastern and Western tank construction. Russian tanks, which are also used by Ukraine, are small, light, and their loss is easy to bear. In the Soviet Union, this sometimes even applied to the crews. The Eastern Bloc tanks are disposable, disposable tanks. This distinguishes them from the models used in NATO, says Raths.

Abrams tanks need regular cleaning in Ukraine war

"The Soviet tank doctrine never had the individual vehicle in mind, but the Western tank doctrine did," the expert explains. "For Western tank builders, it has always been of the utmost importance that the individual vehicle survives on the battlefield for as long as possible; if it is switched off, that it can be made operational again as soon as possible; and that inside the crew also remains efficient."

This, however, has inflated the Western tanks almost to the point of immobility - and paralyzes the Abrams more often in the current war in Ukraine, writes Forbes: If the four-man crew of an Abrams fails to clean the filters of their tank every twelve hours or so, this can severely damage the engine. Then sometimes there is no choice but to remove the engine and gearbox and send them away for a while for a lengthy overhaul. The nearest Abrams workshop would be at least 1,000 kilometres away, possibly from the heavily contested Avdiyivka. In Poland.

If the crew ever makes a mistake – and they will – a million-dollar engine will break down that can't be repaired on site.

Mark Hertling, former U.S. Army lieutenant general

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Negligence on the part of one's own crew is just as deadly to the steel reinforcements from the West as a Russian missile or mine. The comparable German Leopard 2, on the other hand, has such a modular design that a complete engine change in the field can be carried out within two hours. The images from the early days of the Ukraine war with many wrecks of T-tanks, on the other hand, resulted from the Russian tank doctrine: T-tanks are not built for quick repairs. If the front is advanced, as the Russians had planned before the invasion of Ukraine, damaged T-tanks would be successively collected and then repaired at their leisure.

The on-site supply of the Abrams M-1, which Ukraine uses, also pushes its logistics companies to the edge of their capabilities. What was known in the run-up to the delivery, as Forbes writes: the 68-ton M-1A1SA that Ukraine operates are thirsty machines. In the weeks before US President Joe Biden's administration promised Ukraine the M-1 earlier this year, many experts and even some officials were loudly worried about the tank's fuel needs. The U.S. tank runs on a turbine, similar to the one used by an airplane. This also makes him fast on the battlefield.

Against Putin, the Abrams tank needs capable mechanics in the Ukraine war

But the pace takes its toll. The M-1 consumes up to 500,1 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres off-road under full load. This is one reason why the successor AbramsX will run on a hybrid engine of electricity and diesel – this is supposed to halve thirst, and with electric drive, the tank, which will then weigh no more than 50 tons, can sneak up on its opponent like a submarine.

Military repeatedly emphasize the need not only for the superior weapon system, but also for blind understanding of the systems. The crews of the Abrams tanks currently fighting in Ukraine have been trained in Germany. The U.S. Department of Defense had already announced in May, in anticipation of the delivery of the tanks this fall, to train 500 Ukrainian soldiers at the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels military training areas in Germany – training on the German self-propelled howitzer 2000 was already intensive. For example, the displays and the manuals had to be rewritten in Cyrillic. However, the training was not only aimed at preparing the crews for the use of the tanks in battle, but also at training the maintenance personnel to get the tank up and running again. Even under fire.

Abrams tank turns out to be a diva in the Ukraine war

At the same time, the spokesman for the US Department of Defense, Air Force Brigadier General Pat Ryder, had warned early on of possible difficulties: "A key aspect of the training will certainly be the maintenance of combat capability," he said. "You have heard, as we ourselves have also discussed, that the M-1 is a complex machine that requires a lot of maintenance to maintain it and make it combat-ready."

The Abrams M-1 has been a diva since it entered service in the early 1980s. The element of surprise of all Western tanks is the fact that no model has yet had to prove what it was designed for: performance in battle. However, Abrams is a small exception: In the early 1990s, the Americans sent him into the desert – against Iraq, which had invaded Kuwait at the time. An American 100-hour lightning victory, which was largely achieved by the Abrams M-1, according to military observers. The terrain conditions in the Iraqi desert allowed for tank attacks on a broad front with maximum weapon deployment. The success of the ground offensive showed that, in addition to armour-strong units supported by modern helicopters, precision artillery fire was of central importance and made it practically impossible to fight back.

For its victory over Russia, Ukraine needs more leopards

At the same time, the tank advances unfolded a force unusual even for American operations. In the duel between the M-1A1 Abrams and the Iraqi T-72 Urals, the American tanks proved to be superior in terms of accuracy and first-hit probability, especially at distances above 1800 meters. However, the U.S. diva already made it clear in the desert that she hated dirt – and that now leads to headaches for the crews again – as Forbes writes: "Twice a day, an M-1 crew must rev up their tank's engine to high revolutions per minute to trigger a pulse jet system that blows air out of the tank instead of into it, shooting dust and dirt from the rear grille." As a result, the filters remain clean even during prolonged use.

Before the Americans installed the Pulse-Jet system in the M-2000 in the early 1s, tank crews – especially those fighting in the desert – openly complained about the reliability of their vehicles. Criticism of the car quickly flared up again within the leadership before delivery to Ukraine - as the Kiev Independent reports. First of all, because Ukraine got older Abrams models.

"If you compare the Abrams to other Western tanks, it's just a very difficult task — not for the crew, but for those who support it," says Mark Hertling, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general and former commander of the U.S. 1st Armored Division. Hertling is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and the Iraq War, and rants to the Kiev Independent: "Would it surprise you if I told you that the most important unit I had as commander of an armored division was not a combat weapons unit, but the support brigade?"

He would have preferred to see more of the Leopards, which are widespread in Europe, on the Ukrainian front. "If you don't have the support infrastructure, the mechanics, the repair shops, the parts supply system, the ammunition and fuel redistribution, the long line of communication – then all these great five-million-dollar-a-piece tanks are not combat-capable at all." The crew could be taught to treat the diva with care, "but if they ever make a mistake – and they will – a million-dollar engine will break down that can't be repaired on site."

Source: merkur

All news articles on 2023-12-04

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