How U.S. M1 Abrams Compare to Russia's T-72 Tanks

The U.S.-made M1 Abrams will soon be heading for Ukraine's front lines, hailed by President Joe Biden as the "most capable tanks in the world."

On January 25, Biden announced that the U.S. would deliver 31 M1 Abrams tanks to Ukraine, which the president said was enough to equip a Ukrainian tank battalion.

Kyiv's forces need to "counter Russia's evolving tactics and strategy on the battlefield in the very near term," Biden added.

 Abrams and T-72 Tanks
In this combination image, a M1A2 Abrams main battle tank from the Minnesota National Guard, and (inset) a photo of a T-72 Soviet tank. Ukrainian and Russian forces have long used T-72s, but Ukraine will receive U.S.-supplied M1 Abrams in coming months. DVIDS

It has not yet been confirmed when the M1 Abrams will roll out to Ukraine's front lines, but a senior White House official said the deliveries will take "months, as opposed to weeks."

In November, the White House had committed to financing the refurbishing of 45 Soviet-era T-72B tanks with advanced capabilities for Ukraine via the Czech Republic.

The T-72 is the most widely used main battle tank, and has been sent into action in all major wars of the last two decades, according to the U.K.-based Tank Museum. They are used extensively by Russian forces in Ukraine, alongside the upgraded T-90 tank.

"Purely as a weapon, the M1A2 is superior to the various T-72 models that Russia is using in Ukraine," military and defense expert Michael Peck told Newsweek. "Not just in armament and armor protection, but also in sensors needed to detect the enemy and fire that crucial first shot," he added.

"There is no comparison between an M1 and a T-72" in any of the major metrics, Professor Michael Clarke, of the War Studies department, King's College London, told Newsweek.

Looking at the weight, speed, armored protection, sighting technology and accuracy, to name just a few, the M1 Abrams outclasses the T-72 variants, Clarke added.

There are several iterations of the M1 Abrams, which can be fitted with 105 mm or 120 mm armaments, plus .50-caliber M2 and 7.62 mm machine guns. The T-72s are fitted with a 2A46 125 mm smoothbore and, like the U.S. Abrams, a 7.62 mm machine gun.

Depending on the model, an Abrams can weigh between 67.6 and 73.6 tons, but the T-72s are considerably lighter at around 45 tons. The M1 Abrams tanks have a maximum speed of 42 to 45 mph, with a top speed of 25 to 30 mph in cross-country terrain. The Soviet-era tank has a has a top on-road speed of 37 mph and a cross-country maximum speed of 27 mph.

M1 Abrams run on jet fuel, which could pose problems for refueling in combat zones in Ukraine, experts previously told Newsweek. The T-72 variants run on more easily accessible diesel. Ukraine will need to field special fuel trucks, Peck said, as well as contending with training and extensive maintenance.

The M1A2 is a fourth-generation tank, rather than the T-72's status as "a third-generation tank, at best," Clarke said. The glaring drawback is this fuel economy, he added, with the Abrams covering as little as 400 yards to the gallon over rough terrain in battle.

It is a "very thirsty tank and therefore needs more stuff closely following it than a T-72," Clarke said.

Stressing the importance of electronics, Russian security expert and political scientist, Dr. Mark Galeotti, also told Newsweek said the Abrams has superior fire control, improving its accuracy over a longer range.

However, some areas of comparison are difficult because there are just so many factors to consider, Peck said. The Abrams and the T-72 are "different vehicles for different armies," he added.

"The T-72 began as a Soviet tank designed for conscripts with limited skills. The Abrams is a more-sophisticated vehicle that requires better-trained crews and more maintenance," Peck said.

The T-72 is a "classic product of Soviet-era tank philosophy," Galeotti said, arguing you "sacrifice a degree of survivability for a tank that is fast and hard-hitting" with the T-72. It does, however, come with a far less hefty price tag than the M1 Abrams. This also complicates direct comparisons of the main battle tanks.

However, "I would take an M1 against a T-72, without any question," Galeotti said. "But, on the other hand, if the T-72 can hit first, and is lucky enough to hit accurately, then it's certainly in with a chance."