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The U.S. Army Has Big Plans for Its Next Big Weapon of War: A Super Tank

“The vehicle needs to have physical adaptability and change and growth ability for alterations as one of its premises - so it can learn things about energy and power and armor. The Army really needs to think about growth as an operational need,” a senior Army official told Scout Warrior in an interview.

The Army is now performing concept modeling and early design work for a new mobile, lethal, high-tech future lightweight tank platform able to detect and destroy a wider range of targets from farther distances, cross bridges, incinerate drones with lasers and destroy incoming enemy artillery fire –  all for the 2030s and beyond.

The new vehicle, now emerging purely in the concept phase, is based upon the reality that the current M1A2 SEP Abrams main battle tank can only be upgraded to a certain limited extent, senior Army officials explained.

The Army’s Tank Automotive Research, Development and Engineering Center, or TARDEC, is now immersed in the development of design concepts for various super high-tech tank platforms, Army and industry developers said.

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The extensive conceptual work, simulation and design modeling will be needed before there is any opportunity to “bend metal” and produce a new tank.

“We’ve used concept modeling," a senior Army official told Warrior.

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The new tank will emerge after the Army first fields its M1A2 SEP v4 upgraded Abrams tank in the 2020s, a more lethal Abrams variant with 3rd Generation Forward Looking Infrared Sensors for greater targeting range and resolution and more lethal Advanced Multi-Purpose, or AMP ammunition combining many rounds into a single 120mm round.   

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The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.

The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will also include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links and laser warning receivers.

However, although Army developers often maintain that while the latest, upgraded high-tech v4 Abrams is much more advanced than the first Abrams tanks produced decades ago, there are limits to how much the existing Abrams platform can be upgraded.

A lighter weight, more high-tech tank will allow for greater mobility in the future, including an ability to deploy more quickly, handle extremely rigorous terrain, integrate new weapons, cross bridges inaccessible to current Abrams tanks and maximize on-board networking along with new size-weight-and-power configurations.

Although initial requirements for the future tank have yet to emerge, Bassett explained that the next-generation platform will use advanced sensors and light-weight composite armor materials able to achieve equal or greater protection at much lighter weight

Developers plan to build in side and underbody protection from the ground up for the new platform.  

Army developers said certain immediate changes and manufacturing techniques could easily save at least 20-percent of the weight of a current 72-ton Abrams.

The idea is to engineer a tank that is not only much more advanced than the Abrams in terms of sensors, networking technology, force tracking systems, an ability to control nearby drones and vastly increased fire-power – but to build a vehicle with open-architecture such that it can quickly accommodate new technologies as they emerge.

The Abrams was first fielded with a 105mm cannon – yet built with a mind to potential future upgrades such that it could be configured to fire a 120mm gun.

“The vehicle needs to have physical adaptability and change and growth ability for alterations as one of its premises - so it can learn things about energy and power and armor. The Army really needs to think about growth as an operational need,” a senior Army official told Scout Warrior in an interview.

The official said that, for example, Humvees were not built for the growth necessary to respond to the fast-emerging and deadly threat of roadside bombs in Iraq.

The new tank will be specifically engineered with additional space for automotive systems, people and ammunition.  As computer algorithms rapidly advance to allow for greater levels of autonomy, the Abrams tank will be able to control nearby drones using its own on-board command and control networking, service developers said.

Unmanned “wing-man” type drones could fortify attacking ground forces by firing weapons, testing enemy defenses, carrying suppliers or performing forward reconnaissance and reconnaissance missions while manned-crews remained back at safer distances.

Bassett, and developers with General Dynamics Land Systems, specifically said that this kind of autonomy was already being worked on for current and future tanks.

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