TechUkraine's M1 Abrams Tanks Face Drone Threat: A Shift in Modern Warfare

Ukraine's M1 Abrams Tanks Face Drone Threat: A Shift in Modern Warfare

M1A1 Abrams tanks during training in Germany, before transfer to Ukraine.
M1A1 Abrams tanks during training in Germany, before transfer to Ukraine.
Images source: © 7th Army Training Command

2:11 PM EDT, April 22, 2024

The M1 Abrams tanks sent to the Ukrainian front have greatly enhanced the Ukrainian army's capability. However, in recent weeks, Russian forces have increasingly succeeded in targeting these units. From a Western perspective, the alarming issue is the loss of valuable tanks to very cost-effective methods - specifically, drones.

Historically, the power of an army was partly measured by its fleet of tanks. Yet, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine demonstrates that tanks, in the age of modern warfare, are not as pivotal and invulnerable as previously thought. As part of U.S. aid, 31 M1 Abrams tanks were dispatched to Ukraine. The first confirmed loss of such a tank was reported in late February this year. Footage revealed an ammunition storage detonating. The Russians have since replicated this success, leading to a total of five American tanks being destroyed so far.

How many Abrams has Ukraine lost?

"Over the last two months, Russian forces have taken out five of the 31 American-made M1 Abrams tanks that the Pentagon sent to Ukraine last fall," "The New York Times" reported, citing a high-ranking American official.

Additionally, at least three more Abrams tanks were damaged and have been temporarily pulled from combat.

"The New York Times" highlighted that the M1 Abrams tanks turned out to be more vulnerable to Russian FPV (first person view) drones than anticipated. These drones, equipped with explosives, cost mere hundreds of dollars, juxtaposed with the M1 Abrams tank's price tag of around 10 million dollars. FPV drones provide real-time imagery, enabling operators to target vulnerable tank spots, and are particularly effective against tanks left abandoned on the battlefield when access hatches are open.

M1 Abrams remain among the best tanks in Ukraine

We note that instead of the M1A2 Abrams variants initially considered, Ukraine received older, refurbished M1A1 versions. This decision shortened the delivery timeframe, which was crucial for Ukraine.

Experts rate the M1A1 Abrams among the top tanks in the Ukrainian conflict. They are equipped with a 120 mm M256 cannon and supplementary armament, including 12.7 mm and 7.62 mm caliber machine guns. Despite their massive size—nearly 32.8 feet in length and weighing almost 66 tons—these tanks can reach speeds of up to about 42 mph, powered by a 1500 HP engine.

In the context of resilience, the tanks’ armor modules were modified for the front lines. Instead of the standard depleted uranium panels, the U.S. used tungsten inserts. This modification reportedly did not significantly compromise the armor's durability while preventing sensitive American technology from potentially falling into Russian hands.

"That it is being more easily taken out by exploding drones than some officials and experts had initially assumed shows "yet another way the conflict in Ukraine is reshaping the very nature of modern warfare," observed Can Kasapoglu, a defense analyst cited by "The New York Times."

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