Along with 250 U.S.-made M1 Abrams tanks, Poland is receiving another gift: an “Abrams academy” to learn how to operate U.S. tanks that are different than the Soviet models that predominate in the former Warsaw Pact country – and which Poland is now sending to Ukraine.
On August 10th, the Abrams Tank Training Academy was formally opened in Poznan, Poland. The school will train tank crews from the Polish 18th Mechanized Division on the use of M1A2SEPv3 Abrams tanks. This version is the latest upgrade of the venerable Abrams, which was first introduced in 1980. The 74-ton SEPv3 features improved crew display, an auxiliary power unit (APU) to silently provide electricity without running the main engine, and defensive aids such as counter-IED systems.
Poland first expressed interest in acquiring the M1 in July 2021, as tensions escalated between Russia and Ukraine. Not surprisingly, Poles worried that if Russia could attack Ukraine, then Poland might be next. Poland spent nearly 50 years under Soviet domination during the Cold War. It joined NATO in 1999.
Poland’s tank fleet is largely comprised of older T-72 main battle tanks and PT-91 light tanks, although it now operates some German Leopard 2 tanks.
In April 2022, Poland signed a $4.8 billion deal to buy the M1A2SEPv3. As part of the U.S.-Polish Abrams Partnership Program, the U.S. Army agreed to a Polish request to provide instructors. The Abrams is a different beast than Soviet and Russian tanks which tend to be smaller, lighter vehicles that are less technologically complex.
Learning tactics and technology
The Abrams Partnership Program consists of two parts. First, of the Abrams Summit Program which “is a series of focused-leader engagements designed to introduce critical concepts of combined arms tactics, sustainment, organization, and master-gunner activities to Polish soldiers,” according to a U.S. Army press release.
This will be followed by the Abrams Apprentice Program, which the U.S. Army describes as “a series of small scale, subject matter experts’ engagements that embeds future Polish master gunners, operations and training officers, and sustainment officers into the planning process of a U.S. Army armor battalion operations.”
The Poles requested a specific American unit to provide the training. “The Polish General Command specifically selected U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division to help familiarize future Polish Abrams personnel with systems and procedures unique to Abrams formations,” according to the U.S. Army.
Tellingly, an emphasis will be placed on training the Polish Army in tactics and not only in technology.
While the former Soviet satellite states broke away from Russian rule after the Cold War, their armies had spent nearly 50 years being commanded, trained, and equipped to Soviet standards.
The lingering effects of the Soviet influence can be seen in the war in Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces – though increasingly equipped with Western technology – have struggled to unlearn the top-down, centralized Soviet command style that still hampers today’s Russian military.
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