U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III, in Germany for the 54-nation Ukraine allies meeting at Ramstein Air Base, said Abrams tanks will arrive in Germany to train Ukrainians on them within weeks. Photo by Ronald Wittek/EPA-EFE
April 21 (UPI) -- U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III told reporters Friday that U.S. M1 Abrams tanks that will be used to train Ukrainian forces will arrive in Germany for training Ukrainians within weeks.
Speaking during a press briefing following a meeting of the 54-nation Ukraine Defense Contact Group at Germany's Ramstein Air Base, Austin said tanks are on an expedited delivery schedule to get to Ukraine in the coming months.
In March, the Pentagon said the Abrams tanks and Patriot air defense systems will be shipped to Ukraine sooner than expected because Ukrainian soldiers have excelled in learning their operations.
Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Mark Milley said during the press briefing that the Abrams M1 tanks are the best in the world and will make a difference for Ukraine when they are deployed.
"The Abrams will be very effective, especially in combination with the Bradley fighting vehicle," Milley said. "You have to make sure the tanks are used in combined arms synchronized with artillery and infantry maneuvering."
Austin said the Ukraine allies in the Ramstein group have provided more than 230 tanks and 1550 armored vehicles supporting nine new Ukrainian armored brigades.
He said the Ramstein meeting Friday heard from the European Union on a proposal to speed up the production and delivery of ammunition for Ukraine and other nations are looking for ways to speed up ammunition production.
Milley said improving Ukraine's air defense is the most critical military task now for the allied nations meeting at Ramstein. He said that was the topic throughout the Ramstein meeting Friday.
He said more than $35 billion in U.S. military support has been pledged to Ukraine so far.
"The Ukrainian military continues to perform very well. Russia is expending significant manpower for very little gain," Milley said.
Milley expressed high confidence that the new Ukrainian armored brigades equipped with Western tanks and armored fighting vehicles can succeed on the battlefield.
Ahead of the meeting, Austin met with Ukraine Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov as he assured that NATO and the Ramstein group of nations are steadfast in their support for Ukraine.
"Putin's war of choice is not the result of NATO's enlargement, Putin's war is the cause of NATO enlargement," Austin said. "Ukrainians are still standing strong in the fight for their freedom. And we will have their backs for as long as it takes."
Austin told the group that their united efforts to provide help for Ukraine's defense against the Russian invasion have greatly enhanced Ukraine's ability to defend itself from the invasion.
"This is not just for the Ukrainian people. It's about a dictator not having the ability to trample a country at will," Austin told reporters.
On Wednesday another $325 million security assistance package was announced for Ukraine. It includes HIMARS artillery ammunition, 155 mm and 105 mm artillery rounds, anti-armor weapon systems and over 9 million rounds of small arms ammunition.
According to Austin, the UDCG nations continue to provide more air defense systems to Ukraine. Those systems include Patriot systems from the United States, Germany and the Netherlands, National/Norwegian Advanced Surface to Air Missile systems from Canada and Norway; and SAMP/T systems from Italy and France.
Fresh off of his meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg reaffirmed his declaration that Ukraine has a place in NATO.
"My message to him was that NATO has stood by Ukraine for a long time. We continue to stand by Ukraine as they continue to repel the Russian aggression against their country," Stoltenberg said in prepared remarks at Ramstein Air Base. "And we will stand by Ukraine in the future to help to build a better and brighter future for the Ukrainian people."
Stoltenberg said he expects NATO allies will recommit to supporting Ukraine for as long as it takes with substantial military support "to ensure that Ukraine prevails as a sovereign, independent nation in Europe."
He said he also expects NATO allies to sign on to a multi-year program to help Ukraine transition from Soviet-era equipment, standards and doctrines to NATO standards.
The goal is to improve Ukraine's battle equipment and military interoperability with NATO.
Stoltenberg said Ukraine's allies are delivering a significant number of advanced NATO battle tanks and are sending a lot of armored personnel carriers and infantry fighting vehicles with ammunition and support equipment.
Austin said the American people strongly support the effort in Ukraine and he's very hopeful that they will continue that support.