The M1 Abrams has proven to be a remarkably long-lived and versatile main battle tank (MBT), spawning dozens of variants over its four decades of service in the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The M1’s latest rendition is the M1A2C, an upgrade packed with modern features to sustain the M1 platform into the coming decades. But an even more advanced M1 revision looms on the horizon.
Whereas some M1 variants are geared for a specialized purpose or changes in a particular performance area, the recent M1A2C upgrade package—also known as the SEPv3—introduced across-the-board improvements. “The M1A2 SEPv3 configuration features technological advancements in communications, fire control and lethality, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency, plus upgraded armor,” read a statement by General Dynamics Land Systems.
The M1A2C retains much of the design language of the baseline M1A2 whilst introducing a slew of new components. The communications suite has been improved with a new radio system, while a revised forward-looking infrared (FLIR) bolsters the M1’s target acquisition in some battlefield scenarios. The M1A2C employs a new electronic warfare system, the CREW Duke V3, to protect against roadside improvised explosive device (IED) attacks. Additional steps were taken to streamline maintenance and repairs with the addition of a Vehicle Health Management System (VHMS) and New Line Replaceable Modules (LRMs), which should serve to significantly decrease downtime. An auxiliary power unit was added to improve fuel efficiency, complementing the M1’s Honeywell AGT1500 turbine engine. As part of the $4.6 billion between the U.S. Army and General Dynamics, hundreds of older M1 models—including the M1A1 and prior versions of the M1A2—will be upgraded to the M1A2C package. It is unclear how many new M1A2C units will be procured, though the army hopes to field up to 2,101 such tanks according to the DoD’s 2021 budget report.
But the M1 upgrades don’t end here. Spurred by parallel developments in the form of Russia’s T-14 Armata and China’s Type 99 MBT’s, the Army is already planning a new M1 revision. Slated to enter service later in the mid 2020’s, the M1A2 SEP v4 package will boast another round of iterative updates. “The current M1A2 SEPv3 production will transition to the v4 configuration in 2023. The v4 upgrade is currently scheduled to begin production in 2023 with fielding in 2025,” PEO GCS spokeswoman Ashley Givens told the publication We Are The Mighty. The v4 will introduce a wide array of new, advanced sensors and cameras, as well as ammunition data links. Details remain murky, but Givens maintains that the new sensors will substantially improve weapons performance. There will be further Active Protection Systems (APS) improvements, though the precise nature of the changes has yet to be revealed. One of the most exciting additions is in the firepower department: the v4’s new Advanced Multi-Purpose (APM) 120 mm tank round will consolidate four rounds—HEAT, MPAT, M1028 Canister, and the M908 Obstacle Reduction round—into one. The ammunition data link streamlines the process for deciding which ammo type is best in any given situation, offering unprecedented weapons flexibility.
The M1A2 SEP v4 is slated to enter testing later this year.
Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest.