Zelensky ‘Unhappy’ With Abrams MBTs; Seeks Dozens Of F-16 Fighting Falcons To Challenge Russia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has voiced his dissatisfaction with the effectiveness of the Abrams tanks supplied by the United States, asserting that the small number of these tanks is insufficient to alter the battlefield dynamics in Ukraine’s favor. 

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Speaking on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Washington, Zelensky reportedly expressed his concern about the limited impact of the tanks amid the ongoing war with Russia. 

“I’m not sure that such a (small) number of tanks can change the situation in the battle,” Zelensky stated, reflecting on the strategic impact of the military aid provided by the US.

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In September 2023, the United States delivered 31 Abrams M1A1 tanks to Ukraine, a move initially seen as a potential game-changer in the ongoing war against Russian forces. However, many of these tanks have since been destroyed, raising doubts about their effectiveness in the conflict.

In May, the EurAsian Times highlighted major issues with the Abrams tanks on the battlefield. Ukrainian crews responsible for maintaining these tanks reported several problems, including insufficient armor to withstand modern weaponry such as drones, which left personnel vulnerable to attacks. One crew member noted that the tanks had become prime targets for Russian forces.

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Also, technical issues have plagued the tanks, with condensation affecting electronic components. The crews also pointed out that the tanks were not well-suited for Ukraine’s operational environment, where air power and artillery — assets Ukrainian forces lack — are crucial for clearing the battlefield before tanks and troops advance.

However, retired US Army General Mark Hertling responded to these criticisms, dismissing the concerns raised by Ukrainian soldiers.

“That’s BS,” Hertling said, countering the claim that the Abrams’ armor was inadequate for the current conflict, as threats such as exploding drones become more prevalent.

Hertling, who has extensive experience with the Abrams tanks in Europe, suggested that the Ukrainian soldiers’ complaints were exaggerated. “Some of the indicators they talked about like condensation on the instruments — that’s BS,” he stated.

Hertling emphasized that the Abrams tank was designed for European warfare, specifically with the Soviet threat in mind. He acknowledged, however, that the Abrams requires a highly trained crew to operate and maintain, a factor that complicates its use in Ukraine.

Hertling admitted that the Abrams might not have been the best choice for Ukraine, given the maintenance challenges and the need for specialized training.

Nonetheless, he noted that Kyiv had persistently requested these tanks, fully aware of the high maintenance standards required to keep them operational.

Throughout the war, Ukrainian troops have had to adapt to a variety of military systems, some more complex than others. The Abrams, particularly its engine, is known for its complexity, making maintenance a longstanding concern.

The Russians showcased a damaged M1A1 Abrams tank, which they transported from the Avdiivka region in Ukraine, at the Western military equipment exhibition in Moscow.

Ukraine Needs More Than 100 F-16 Jets

Zelenskyy underscored the urgent need for a substantial increase in the number of F-16 fighter jets provided by Western allies to counter the overwhelming air superiority of Russian forces.

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Zelenskyy emphasized that Ukraine required at least 128 F-16 jets to effectively defend its skies against Russia’s daily deployment of 300 aircraft.

“Russia uses 300 aircraft against Ukraine every day. We had a decision about 10-20. Even if it’s 50, it’s nothing. We’re defending ourselves, we need 128. That’s a fleet,” Zelenskyy declared, highlighting the critical importance of both the quantity and timing of the F-16 deliveries.

The Ukrainian Air Force previously stated that 128 fighter jets were essential to replacing Ukraine’s aging air fleet and matching Russia’s air capabilities.

So far, Ukraine’s Western allies have committed to providing approximately 85 F-16 fighter jets, but the delivery timeline for many of these jets remains uncertain.

In June, a report citing US and NATO officials indicated that Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, and Belgium planned to deliver more than 60 US-made F-16 fighter jets to Ukraine over the summer.

However, the Ukrainian Air Force will not have a full squadron of trained pilots until the end of 2025. Only 20 Ukrainian F-16 pilots are expected to complete their training by the end of 2024, which is only half the personnel required to operate a squadron of 20 aircraft.

These commitments apart, there are logistical and training challenges that hinder immediate deployment. Ukraine called on the United States to train more of its pilots on the F-16 jets, but US officials have indicated that there was currently no capacity to accept additional pilots into the training program.

Zelenskyy stressed that without the immediate provision of 128 F-16 fighter jets, it would be challenging for Ukraine to effectively counter Russian air dominance. He pointed out that Ukraine’s allies were aware of these requirements and the strategic necessity of matching Russian air power.