This May Be The First Video Of A Ukrainian M1 Abrams In Combat

A video has emerged showing, apparently for the first time, a U.S.-supplied M1 Abrams tank in action on the front lines of Ukraine. While it’s been known that these tanks have been in the country since at least last September, the appearance of a Ukrainian Abrams reportedly close to Avdiivka in the eastern Donetsk region — as well as possible evidence of one having been put out of action — confirms that these capable combat vehicles are indeed in the fight.

The video in question began to circulate on social media today. Taken from a series of drones, it shows a single Ukrainian M1 moving along roads through a snowy landscape, full of shell holes and shattered trees. In several parts of the video, the tank is seen opening fire against Russian positions, with distinctive muzzle blasts and large explosions. These portions of the footage are of noticeably worse quality, but the background does seem to be the same as that where we also see the Abrams underway.

The video seems to have been produced by the Ukrainian Ground Forces’ 47th Separate Mechanized Brigade, a unit known to have seen plentiful action in the fierce fighting for Avdiivka and which had been previously known to operate Leopard 2A6 tanks. Specifically, it’s been said that the video shows an M1 engaging Russian positions in Stepove, but this cannot be confirmed.

Also unclear is when this footage was taken. After months of bloody fighting, Russian forces finally took Avdiivka on February 17, after the remaining Ukrainian forces defending it withdrew to avoid encirclement.

The Abrams in the video is clearly fitted with explosive reactive armor. These explosive-filled bricks applied to the tank’s hull provide it with extra protection against incoming anti-tank rounds and other weapons. You can read more about these modifications here.

Until last month, we had fairly limited visual evidence of the Abrams in Ukraine. In November, The War Zone examined an image that may have provided the first glimpse of an M1 in the country, although it was not conclusive, and the tank was not seen in action.

We see our first view of an M1A1 Abrams tank in Ukraine.
A Ukrainian soldier holding a belt buckle in front of an Abrams tank. This may have been the first photo to show one of the tanks in Ukraine. via X Via Twitter

Since then, there have been various other sightings of M1s in Ukraine, but none actually engaged in combat.

While there’s no doubt that the Abrams is among the best tanks in the world, if not the best, no such fighting vehicle is invulnerable on the battlefield.

Today also saw the appearance of a video, filmed from a passing car, which shows a Ukrainian M1 stopped alongside a road. Some observers have taken this to be evidence of that tank having been abandoned, but that’s by no means certain and it doesn’t appear to have any obvious battle damage.

Regardless, Ukrainian Abrams losses are bound to happen if they haven’t already.

Perhaps more troubling are questions around the in-service support of the fleet of 31 of the M1A1 versions that have been delivered to Ukraine.

Only yesterday, the U.S. Department of Defense confirmed that there was no comprehensive sustainment plan for the Ukrainian Abrams, as well as other key weapon systems.

“We’re certainly aware that we could be doing more, but we’ve been saying from the beginning that we need to make sure that the Ukrainians have every tool available to them to maintain these systems,” Pentagon Deputy Press Secretary Sabrina Singh said.

Singh was responding to the publishing of two new reports from the Department of Defense Inspector General that point out problems relating to the sustainment and training for different ground combat vehicles and air defense systems supplied to Ukraine by the United States. As well as the Abrams, issues relating to the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, Stryker wheeled armored fighting vehicle, and Patriot air defense system were addressed.

A U.S. Army tank mechanic works on the engine of an Abrams M1A2 System Enhanced Package (SEP) tank. U.S. Army photo by 1st Sgt. Kevin Hartman, 115 Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, Oregon Army National Guard

“Providing weapon systems to the [Ukrainian Armed Forces] UAF without a plan to ensure sustainment creates additional risks,” the DoD Inspector General wrote in one report. “Specifically, the UAF may not be able to independently sustain U.S.‑provided Bradleys, Strykers, and Abrams without a sustainment plan in the future.”

While the United States has delivered spares for the Abrams (and the other combat vehicles), these will only be good until the end of FY24. Compounding the problem, the FY24 spending bill has not yet been approved, and additional supplemental funding for Ukraine remains logjammed.

Unless action is taken, after 2024, the Ukrainian Armed Forces will run into serious difficulties in terms of spare parts, consumables, ammunition, and support equipment. Also at risk is depot‑level training for Ukrainians, personnel who can provide depot-level maintenance, and the facilities for that maintenance.

A U.S. M1A1 Abrams tank assigned for training Ukrainian Armed Forces troops awaits offloading at Grafenwoehr, Germany, on May 14, 2023. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Christian Carrillo

The situation is hardly a straightforward one, with the United States and other allies plowing considerable quantities of different types of advanced equipment into Ukraine, as that country’s armed forces attempt to modernize while also dealing with a full-scale war with Russia. All this equipment ends up in the hands of end-users who had no previous experience with it and, in some cases, little to no exposure to Western equipment of any kind.

There have also been efforts made in the past to address some of the problems, including the introduction of tele-support to help ease maintenance issues.

While the problems of future sustainment of the Abrams fleet, as well as other ground systems, still need to be addressed, the video from today does at least indicate that, for the time being, the M1 tank is being committed to combat by Ukraine, apparently in parts of the country that have seen some of the heaviest fighting.

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