Ukrainian Tank Crews, Maintainers to Begin Training on U.S. M1 Abrams in Germany Soon

Ukrainian Tank Crews, Maintainers to Begin Training on U.S. M1 Abrams in Germany Soon

The Defense Department has announced the arrival of 31 M1 Abrams training tanks to Grafenwoehr, Germany, in preparation for U.S.-led training of Ukrainian tank crews and maintainers before the tanks are sent to the front lines to arm Ukrainian forces against Russia’s unprovoked war of aggression.
A tank maneuvers in a field.
  Ukrainian crews are expected to arrive in Germany and begin training in the upcoming weeks, Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder said during a briefing today. “As we’ve discussed previously, this extensive training program for Ukrainian crews and maintainers is intended to prepare them for their critical roles ahead and effectively operating the M1 tank and defending Ukrainian people,” Ryder said. The U.S. announced that it would deliver the tanks, armed with advanced armor and weapons, in January. Originally the U.S. planned on procuring new M1A2 Abrams tanks to send to Ukraine, using funds from the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative. However, the Defense Department decided in March to refurbish M1A1 Abrams tanks already in U.S. inventory to shorten the timeline. The M1A1 variant will have “a very similar capability” to the M1A2, Ryder said in March.  
A man in uniform speaks behind a lectern.
  The U.S. is on track to deliver those 31 combat-ready tanks to Ukraine in the fall and will be preparing crews on training versions concurrent with the refurbishment process in preparation for the delivery. The training will not only prepare crews for operating the tanks in battle, Ryder said, but will also prepare maintenance personnel to keep the them operational. “Certainly a key aspect of the training will be maintenance and sustainment of that capability,” he said. “You’ve heard us talk about the fact that the M1 is a complex machine that requires a lot of maintenance to sustain it and keep it operating. So that will be crucial, which is why we’re doing the training in stride with the actual refurbishment of the tanks.” The M1 Abrams training adds to a broader U.S.-led effort to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia’s invading forces. Approximately 500 Ukrainian soldiers are currently conducting combined arms training at the Grafenwoehr and Hohenfels training areas in Germany. That training includes instruction marksmanship and rendering medical aid, in addition to other basic soldiering tasks.  
A large plane is parked with its ramp down on a tarmac as cargo is loaded.
  Approximately 10,700 Ukrainian soldiers have completed training and returned to the front lines, including 6,100 who have completed small arms training, 4,000 who have completed specific platform training and 600 who have completed staff training. The U.S. has also continued to support Ukrainian forces by providing weapons packages crucial to defending their homeland. Last week, the U.S. announced its latest $1.2 billion package as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative aimed at bolstering Ukraine’s air defense and artillery needs. That package includes more 155 mm artillery rounds and additional air defense systems and equipment to integrate Western air-defense platforms.

Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder Briefs the News Media at the Pentagon

BRIGADIER GENERAL PAT RYDER: Good afternoon, everyone. Just a few things at the top, and then we’ll get to your questions.

So just to recap, as you know, Secretary Austin traveled to Fort Bragg, North Carolina on Friday to visit with servicemembers, DOD civilians and their families and to thank them for what they do for our country and to learn about what’s on their minds. As the home of the Airborne and Special Operations forces, the base is one of our nation’s foremost power projection platforms, and the Joint Force at Fort Bragg and the families and community who support them represent a critical national security asset and an important warfighting capability.

During his visit, Secretary Austin met with soldiers and families from the 82nd Airborne Division, visited Hampton Primary School, which is part
of the — the Department of Defense school system, spoke with troops in the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 82nd Airborne Division, where he previously served as brigade commander and met with Army and Air Force ROTC students at Fayetteville State University. During his discussions, the secretary emphasized how proud he is of our servicemembers, DOD civilians and their families for all they’re doing to defend our nation and highlighted his continuing commitment to supporting our troops through the department’s Taking Care Of People initiatives.

On Saturday, Secretary Austin then delivered the keynote address during Fayetteville State University’s commencement, where he discussed the value of service to the nation and the impact that public service can have both inside and outside the military. The speech is posted to the DOD website.

On a related note, I can announce today that Secretary Austin will deliver the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy’s 2023 commencement ceremony in Annapolis scheduled for May 26th.

Separately, Secretary Austin will brief the Senate Committee on Appropriations tomorrow on the President’s Fiscal Year ’24 Budget Request as it pertains to investing in U.S. security, competitiveness and the path ahead for the U.S.-China relationship. Secretary Austin will join Secretary Blinken and Secretary Raimondo to speak on the department’s efforts to address the PRC pacing challenge in lockstep with our partners across the administration and in Congress, as well as in cooperation with our international allies and partners. The secretary looks forward to briefing congressional members on this critically-important topic.

Switching gears, the Department of Defense and National Telecommunications and Information Administration have jointly expressed our support for a State Department proposal delivered last week to the Inter-American Telecommunications Commission, or CITEL, which calls for opening the 3300-to-3400 MHz band for 5G mobile services within the Americas region. By State Department submitting this proposal, the U.S. government is seeking to protect critical operations and capabilities while also use of the 3300-to-3400 megaband — or megahertz band for 5G mobile services by countries that wish to do so. The proposal will be discussed during CITEL’s upcoming meeting in Mexico City on May 22. Electromagnetic spectrum access in all bands remains essential to DOD operations as we conduct our national security mission worldwide. And additional information will be posted to later today.

And finally, to update you on U.S. training efforts of Ukrainian Armed Forces, I can confirm that the 31 M1 Abrams training tanks have arrived at Grafenwoehr, Germany in preparation for subsequent training of Ukrainian tank crews. Those crews are expected to arrive and begin training within the next couple of weeks. As we’ve discussed previously, this extensive training program for Ukrainian crews and maintainers is intended to prepare them for their critical roles ahead in effectively operating the M1 tank and defending Ukrainian people.

And with that, we’ll take your questions. We’ll start with Associated Press, Lita Baldor.

Q: Thank you. Two things, if you could, Pat. One, can you just update us on the troops’ arrival at the border, at the southern border? How many are there? Where do you believe they are? And any other details about that that you may have at this point.

And secondly, on the Middle East Persian Gulf, can you tell us whether or not there are going to be an additional DOD military assets sent to the Gulf/Strait of Hormuz region? Are we talking about ships, aircraft? Can you give us any — anything to put a little meat on the bones of what the White House said Friday about either additional assets? Or is it just additional rotations or additional patrolling? Can you just help us out on that? Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Absolutely.

So on your first question, in terms of the southwest border, as of today, we have approximately 550 active duty troops that have arrived at the border. We do anticipate that another 950 will be arriving no later than 5 June. And so the predominant number of — of those troops, as I understand it, are in El Paso, although CBP ultimately will be the ones to determine their disposition, since they’re there to support CBP.

In terms of the Strait of Hormuz and the — the White House statement on Friday, really, Lita, what it comes down to is that the U.S. will increase the rotation of in-theater assets patrolling the Strait of Hormuz, with the intent of bolstering our vigilance and our presence at this — at this location and this — this maritime chokepoint.

These assets will include manned and unmanned aerial platforms, as well as surface naval vessels from the Navy, the Coast Guard, to help enhance our maritime surveillance. In fact, as I understand it, the Fifth Fleet over the weekend, on Sunday, posted some imagery from a P-8 Poseidon patrolling over the Strait of Hormuz with personnel from the U.S. and various regional allies and partners.

And then we continue to very actively coordinate with our regional partners. For example, Fifth Fleet Commander spoke to his French counterpart on Saturday to discuss opportunities for the U.S. and the — and France to collaborate in increasing our patrols.

Q: … I’m sorry. Quickly, on the P-8s, do you expect the U.S. would be able to send additional P-8s there? That was one thing that I thought might have been an option.

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, so no — no announcements to make right now in terms of additional assets moving into theater. Again, the — the focus right now will be on increasing the rotation of the in-theater assets, but certainly if and when we have anything new to announce, we’ll — we’ll do that. Thank you.

Let me go to next question. Quiet group today. OK, let me go to Chris.

Q: Thanks, Pat. On May 11, NORAD intercepted six Russian aircraft off the coast of Alaska. While NORAD noted they did not see that as a threat, they did note that there were large-scale U.S. military exercises occurring in Alaska. Does the Pentagon view this as a provocative action on behalf of the Russians?

GEN. RYDER: Just to make sure I understand, you’re asking — you’re asking about a Russian exercise?

Q: The — they — the Russian flights in the Alaska Air Defense Identification Zone that NORAD announced over the weekend that had occurred last week, that they intercepted…

Q: While there were U.S. exercises.

GEN. RYDER: Right. So — so we conduct exercises all of the time obviously, and so no, we don’t view our exercises as…

Q: A Russian flight occurring near a U.S. exercise…

GEN. RYDER: No, I think the NORTHCOM statement speaks for itself. Again, it’s not the — the first Russian flight, probably won’t be the last. NORTHCOM responded appropriately.

Q: If I could just ask a second question, Secretary Austin sent the letter to Senator Warren on the nomination hold, warning this could become a — a — a critical issue. Has the Secretary spoken to Senator Tuberville about this since then?

GEN. RYDER: I don’t — I don’t have any specifics to provide, other than to say that the DOD does remain in contact with the Senator’s office. Thank you very much.

Yes, ma’am?

Q: To go off Chris though, is it not the first Russians to go right on ADZI during one of our military exercises? You — it’s not the first for them to fly by but during a — a large military exercise, I believe, around 10,000.

GEN. RYDER: I — I don’t have an answer to that. We’ll have to look into that and come back to you. Thank you.

Let me come over here to Will.

Q: Thank you. Does — first on — does Britain’s promise of cruise missiles and — and long range UAVs affect or — or change U.S. calculations regarding providing longer range fires to Ukraine?

GEN. RYDER: Thanks, Will. No, it doesn’t. You know, as we’ve said all along, we’re going to continue to stay in active discussions with Ukraine, with our allies and our partners on what their most urgent security assistance needs are.

As you know, we have provided a wide variety of capabilities, to include things like artillery, air defense, armor, ammunition, and — and we’ll continue to do that going forward.

Q: And then kind of building off that, Ukraine has — has kind of made a renewed push for — for Western war planes again. Is — is there any change in — in the U.S. view that that’s not the right — that’s not the right equipment to provide at this point or — or is that basically the same as it’s been?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, again, I don’t have anything to announce today in regards to any type of fighter aircraft. Again, we’re going to stay in very close contact with Ukraine and with our allies and partners to look at both their near term and longer term security needs. Thank you.


Q: Thank you. What is the — does it look more likely or less likely that China would supply weapons to Russia?

GEN. RYDER: So as of right now, we don’t have any indications that China has provided lethal assistance to Russia.

Q: And what is the U.S. — what is the Department of Defense doing specifically in the region to — to stop China or deter China from potentially sending weapons?

GEN. RYDER: So you’ve — you’ve heard us talk that — both publicly and privately, we have communicated with China about the negative consequences of providing lethal aid to Russia. Not only would it extend the duration of this — of Russia’s illegal occupation of Ukraine and result in thousands of innocent killed in Ukraine, it would also squarely put them in the camp of countries that are looking to eliminate Ukraine as a nation.

Q: Thank you. And last question — looking ahead to the G7 Summit later this week, is the U.S. doing anything to bolster its posture in the region? Is the U.S. tracking that China might react militarily to the summit?

 GEN. RYDER: I don’t have anything specific to provide, other than we of course do maintain a robust presence in the Indo-Pacific region. We’ll continue to work closely with our allies and partners to promote peace, security and stability. Thank you.

Let me go to Tony and then I’ll come back here to Oren.

Q: Yeah, a couple on the different regions of the world.

What’s the status of the Pentagon’s preparation for this Taiwan presidential drawdown authority package that the Taiwan Defense Minister said was going to be about $500 million? Is it in the end game, in terms of identifying the items? And is it possible Secretary Austin or Blinken will announce it tomorrow at the hearing?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Tony. So I don’t have anything to announce right now. As you highlight, last year, Congress did authorize up to $1 billion — or $1 billion in presidential drawdown authority for Taiwan, and Secretary Austin, in February, during the testimony before the Senate Armed Service — Services Committee, did say that we intend to make use of that authority, but in terms of the specific details or the timing, I don’t have anything to provide today.

Q: Can you give me a sense of whether they’re in the end game of pulling together a list though of systems?

GEN. RYDER: I — I don’t, not from the podium.

Q: OK. Other part of the world — Grafenwoehr, 31 tanks. Why won’t you — why doesn’t the U.S. just keep those tanks there for Ukraine to use in their spring offensive rather than reconfigure 31 in the United States and ship over there?


So as I understand it, a couple things. First of all, these tanks are intended specifically for training and don’t necessarily have the capabilities that they would need to go into combat. So the tanks that we will be providing to Ukraine are going through the refurbishment process right now. They will be up — updated, upgraded and prepared for exportability to Ukraine and they — and because we’re doing this concurrently, we will be able to provide those tanks to them in the fall timeframe to get them into Ukraine before the end of the year.

Q: Persian Gulf: In laymen’s language, in — increasing rotations — does that mean rotating ships in on less than maybe six- — or five- or six-month schedules?

GEN. RYDER: What it means, Tony, is that we are going to use — the United States along with our regional partners, we’re going to continue to use the capabilities that we have to step up our presence and — and ensure that — that we are seen and that we are actively communicating, that we will work together to deter any type of aggressive behavior.

Q: What about the use of unmanned vessels over there? The Navy declared full — full operational capability for this famous Task Force 59. Will any of those under — manned (drones ?), water drones be used past maybe the Strait of Hormuz to help patrol?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, as I mentioned, we’ll be — we’ll be using both manned and unmanned assets. And so U.S. Central Command will use the full complement and capability that we have resident in theater to support this effort.

Q: Thanks.

GEN. RYDER: Thank you.


Q: So I understand, increased rotations means increased presence. Are you really — what are you talking about? Just a — an increased OPTEMPO?

GEN. RYDER: Increased operations tempo. You know, think of it about, we’re going to increase the patrols in the neighborhood to ensure that we are seen and that — that Iran clearly gets the message that we will not stand for this type of aggressive behavior. And again, it’s not the unite — United States by itself. We’re working closely with our regional partners. Thank you.

Q: So it’ll — it will all be done by the forces currently there?

GEN. RYDER: Correct.

OK, let me go to Oren.

Q: Just a very quick Q: Is there an update to the possibility of Secretary Austin meeting Minister Lee while the two are at Shangri-La?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Oren. So I don’t have any announcements to make today. As you’ve heard, Secretary Austin emphasized many times — we believe that it’s very important to keep the channels of communication open, so that is something that we will continue — continue to seek to do. But I, again, don’t have anything to announce from the podium today. Thank you.

OK. Take — take a couple more here. Go to Mike, then I’ll go to Ryo.

Q: The ambassador to South Africa said he was willing to bet his life that South Africa loaded weapons onto a Russian-flagged cargo ship at a base off — near Cape Town. He’s subsequently sort of walked back those comments. I just wondered, does the U.S. believe South Africa has provided weapons and ammunition to Russia in their — in — in this conflict?

GEN. RYDER: Yeah, thanks, Mike. So I — I won’t get into any specifics in terms of what other countries may be doing from an intelligence standpoint, other than to say this is something we’re taking seriously. It is something that the U.S. government has raised and discussed with the South African government, but I’m not going to get into the details of those particular diplomatic discussions.

From our perspective, as you know, Russia is waging a brutal and in — indiscriminate campaign against the Ukrainian people, so the U.S. has strongly urged countries not to provide support to Russia’s war machine.

OK, let me go to Ryo.

Q: Thank you, General. I have a follow-up question on potential meeting with Chinese counterpart. So according to some media reports, China said that there is little chance of meeting with Secretary Austin because of U.S. sanction on the minister. So how do you respond to Chinese claim that U.S. sanction affects a potential meeting with them?

GEN. RYDER: So Secretary Austin can meet with his Chinese counterparts. There is — there is no restrictions in that regard. But again, I don’t have anything to announce right now in terms of a — a potential meeting. Thank you very much.

Time for a couple more. Yes, ma’am?

Q: Hi, thank you so much. Megan Eckstein with Defense News. Just a quick follow-up on the tanks that you mentioned going to Germany. Do you have any additional details on personnel, spare parts, other infrastructure that will be accompanying the tanks to help with the training?

GEN. RYDER: So I — no spare parts, per se, right, cause that’s a separate effort, in terms of the presidential drawdown authority and the USAI, for these particular tanks. Certainly, a key aspect of the training will be maintenance and sustainment of that capability.

You’ve heard us talk about the fact that the M1 is a complex machine that requires a lot of maintenance to — to sustain it, keep it operating. So that will be crucial, which is why we’re doing the training in stride with the actual refurbishment of the — the tanks. So — so that’ll be an essential element of what they learn. OK?

Last question, Mike?

Q: Yeah, can you tell me about — if — could you talk about these reports that a Russian cruise missile landed in Poland a few days ago, I think?

GEN. RYDER: I — I don’t have anything on that. Yep, I’d have to refer you to Poland.

OK, thanks very much, everybody. Appreciate it.