M1 Abrams Tank: If It Burns, It Can Fuel This Armored Warrior

M1 Abrams Tank Firing
December 1, 2023 Topic: military Blog Brand: The Buzz Tags: U.S. ArmyArmyM1 AbramsAbramsTanksTank

M1 Abrams Tank: If It Burns, It Can Fuel This Armored Warrior

Fuel really shouldn't be a problem, said one former U.S. Army tanker, who claimed to have operated the M1 Abrams.

If It Burns, It Can Fuel the M1 Abrams - When President Joe Biden announced earlier this year that the United States would provide Ukraine with a number of M1 Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs), some critics suggested the tank was not well-suited to the task – despite the tank literally being designed to confront Soviet armor in Europe.

At issue was that the M1 Abrams is powered by a gas-turbine engine, which was designed to burn jet fuel; something it doesn't do especially efficiently. That does make for a speedy tank, but almost every other armored vehicle – including the Leopard 2 – runs on diesel fuel. There were concerns that could present logistical challenges for the Ukrainian military, which would need a steady supply of JP-8 aviation fuel delivered to the front.

Or maybe not

The M1 Abrams Tank Is Simply Amazing 

As David Axe, writing for Forbes.com, noted at the time, the Abrams' AGT1500 Honeywell gas-turbine engine in theory can run any fuel that is thin enough to move through the lines. The Australian Army's M1s have run on diesel without problems, but the tanks still burn a lot of it. Axe cited a 1990 study by the Washington, D.C.-based Project on Government Oversight that concluded an M-1 would burn 83 percent more fuel than the German-made Leopard 2 would do at the same speed.

Periodically, the United States has explored converting Abrams tanks to diesel engines, Jalopnik reported. That would allow common fuel and likely more familiar repair needs, even if the engine itself would use more moving parts.

And a Bottle of Rum?

Fuel really shouldn't be a problem said one former U.S. Army tanker, who claimed to have operated the M1.

TheAviationGeekClub.com quoted Glenn Girona, who explained, "Jet fuel is basically kerosene which is basically diesel. Everything in the Army runs on JP-8 now as does the Air Force. It does burn cleaner than commercial diesel but lacks the lubricating properties meaning you need to add a bottle of special additive to run a diesel engine not made for it without long term damage (Short term especially if there is still diesel in the tank is perfectly fine). So, the M1 does normally run on diesel everyday which is Jet fuel."

That would seem to confirm that alternative types of fuel might not be a problem for the M1.

In fact, Girona added, "Gasoline of any grade?: Check – Diesel of any grade?: Check – Any percentage of Ethanol fuel to include Pure Ethanol?: Check (it will run on Bacardi 151 all day)."

He explained that during his service his tank was fueled up with anything they could find, including "questionable heating oil" found in the back of a broken-down truck. Whatever was sufficient to get the platoon back to friendly lines, "Been there done that, the tank didn't even hesitate."

Of course, the issue is still how much JP-8, gasoline, kerosene, or even Barcardi 151 can be found. That's because the Abrams is estimated to use between 1.5 to 3 gallons per mile – and not the more common "miles per gallon." That makes even the most gas-guzzling muscle car look downright fuel-efficient.

M1 Abrams Tank

The M1 Abrams Now in Ukraine

The U.S. Army Europe and Africa Command confirmed in October that all 31 of the previously pledged M1 Abrams main battle tanks (MBTs) to Ukraine have been delivered, along with ammunition and spare parts. Moreover, the Ukrainian soldiers who trained on the American-made tanks with U.S. troops in Germany have also returned to their homeland.

The first batch of the M1 Abrams had arrived in September, Voice of  America also reported. It is unclear when the U.S.-made MBTs could be deployed to the frontlines.

"We have lived up to our end of the bargain. From this point forward, it is up to them (Ukraine) to determine when and where they will deliver this capability," Colonel Martin O’Donnell, Spokesman for the USAREUR-AF told Voice of America.

"I think Ukraine will be deliberate in when and where they use it. The Abrams tank is one hell of an armored vehicle, but it's not a silver bullet," O'Donnell added. "Ultimately, it's Ukraine's determination to break through that matters most."

Russia has downplayed the significance of the M1 Abrams being supplied to Ukraine.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned that the U.S. M1 Abrams will not change the balance of power on the battlefield, and noted that other Western-supplied MBTs – notably a number of the German-made Leopard 2 – have been destroyed in the fighting.

M1 Abrams Tank on the Sand

"Abrams tanks are serious weapons, but remember what the president said about other tanks made in another country," the Kremlin mouthpiece said. "Well, these (Abrams) too will burn."

End of the Line for the M1 Coming Soon?

According to a report from the Army Science Board, a federally-sanctioned independent group of experts that advises the Secretary of the Army, published in late August, the M1 would not be sufficient to support missions conducted from 20240 and beyond.

The study further called for one or more types of fifth-generation combat vehicles (5GCV) to effectively meet operational demands in the coming decades.

Author Experience and Expertise

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.

All images are Creative Commons.