Ukraine will get American Abrams tanks this fall, much sooner than expected, after the Pentagon decided to refurbish existing hulls in its inventory instead of building new ones from scratch.
Meanwhile. the Patriot air defense missile training for Ukrainian troops that has been taking place in Oklahoma will wrap up "in coming days" and the missile systems will be in Ukraine "in coming weeks" on an expedited basis, according to a U.S. Army spokesman.
In January, the Pentagon would be sending Ukraine 31 M1A2 Abrams tanks that would be built from scratch, a process that could take at least a year, if not longer.
On Tuesday, the Pentagon's top spokesman told reporters that the switch to sending refurbished hulls equipped with modern weapons systems would get to the battlefield quicker.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters that, since the initial announcement in January, the U.S. has been committed "to exploring options to deliver the armored capability as quickly as possible."
He added that after further analysis the Pentagon, in consultation with Ukraine, decided that choosing the M1A1 version will "enable us to significantly expedite delivery timelines and deliver this important capability to Ukraine by the fall of this year."
"This is about getting this important combat capability into the hands of the Ukrainians sooner rather than later," said Ryder.
The Pentagon had never given a timeline for when the 31 Abrams tanks would arrive in Ukraine, but Ryder acknowledged that "we were projecting it would be probably over a year or so before we would have been able to deliver" the more modern M1A2 variant.
Ryder said the M1A1 Abrams will have "a very similar capability" to the M1A2 that includes advanced armor, a 120 mm cannon, and a 50-caliber heavy machine gun.
The U.S. commitment to send Abrams tanks to Ukraine was the linchpin of a plan to get Germany to go along with the transfer of Leopard tanks in its own inventory or that of other nations.
The understanding was that the slower manufacturing pace of newly Abrams would meet Ukraine's longer range military needs while the Leopards would have a more immediate impact on the battlefield as Ukraine prepares for an anticipated counteroffensive.
Some of those German-made Leopard tanks have already begun arriving in Ukraine where they will be paired up with Ukrainian tank crews that have been receiving training outside of Ukraine.
Ryder did not have any details on when Ukrainian troops might begin to train on the Abrams tank and where such training could take place.
"We will ensure that the Ukrainians receive the necessary training on these tanks in time for them to be delivered," said Ryder.
On Tuesday, senior Russian officials expressed environmental concerns about the armor piercing shells used by British Challenger 2 tanks being given to Ukraine that contain depleted uranium. The Abrams tank also fires depleted uranium rounds, but when asked by reporters if the U.S. was going to provide similar rounds to Ukraine Ryder said "not to my knowledge."
At Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Army officials confirmed that the training of 65 Ukrainian troops on how to operate the Patriot air defense system is nearing its conclusion and that the system could soon be in Ukraine.
The Patriot missile training of Ukrainian troops at Fort Sill, Oklahoma is going to wrap up in coming days according to an Army spokesman who adds that the American Patriot battery being sent to Ukraine will arrive "in coming weeks".
The Ukrainians will depart here in the coming days, go to Europe, and depart for Ukraine in the coming weeks," Col. Marty O'Donnell, the spokesman for U.S. Army Europe and Africa told ABC News.
The Ukrainian troops have trained at Fort Sill since mid-January in an expedited training cycle for how to use the Patriots, a training cycle that can normally last a year.
"In Europe, the Ukrainians training here will meet up with Ukrainians training in Europe, and with U.S., German, and Dutch equipment donations to validate the systems and ensure interoperability," said O'Donnell.
The United States and Germany have each committed to providing a Patriot missile battery to Ukraine to assist with that country's pressing air defense needs to counter Russian barrages aimed at its cities and infrastructure. The Netherlands has also committed to providing additional missiles and launch systems that will be incorporated into the German Patriot system.
The training for Ukrainian troops to use the Germany Patriot battery has been taking place in Poland.