The Army is making a massive, $4.62 billion buy of the emerging, upgraded variant of the Abrams tank, signaling continued confidence in the value of heavy armor and bringing a wide sphere of new combat attack-enhancing technologies.
The concept with the M1A2SEPv3 Abrams variant is to bring new technologies, firepower, computing, high-fidelity sensing and survivability systems to the decades-old platform, to essentially re-engineer it in some ways into a new tank. The current upgraded Abrams, for instance, is much different in terms of combat performance than the original tank which first emerged in the 1980s.
The Army deal is with General Dynamics Land Systems, could wind up leading to the acquisition of as many as several hundred massively upgraded tanks. Earlier in its developmental life, the M1A2SEPv3 was referred to as the Army’s Engineering Change Proposal 1, wherein existing Abrams tanks were given new on-board electrical systems, auxiliary electrical power units, new armor materials, upgraded engines and transmissions and a 28-volt upgraded drive system, among other things.
Part of the electronic upgrades include the integration of something called the Auxiliary Power Unit, a new system engineered to support much greater levels of computing, electronics, and on-board reconnaissance and survellience sensors such as next-generation Forward Looking Infrared targeting systems. Additional electronics can help power up other elements of the M1A2SEPv3, including a new generation of digital moving maps, force location data and GPS-enabled navigation.
These enhancements not only incorporate faster computer processing speeds but also greatly reduce latency, shortening image and data refresh time through additional electrical power and higher-bandwidth, faster satellite connectivity.
Newer Abrams tanks, such as the v3 and arriving v4 variant, also streamline targeting and attack systems with a new ammunition data link. This can enable attacking tank crews to make adjustments to the ammunition, depending upon the requirements of a given threat circumstance. The new ammunition data link helps lay the technical foundation for innovations now being engineered in the M1A2 v4 variant which will be armed with a next-generation Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round (AMP) which combines several different attack options into a single munition.
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. Interestingly, the MPAT round was introduced in 1993 to destroy Russian helicopters, as it is designed with a two-position fuse, ground and air, which can be manually set. This can allow tanks to attack enemy helicopters, drones or other air assets with 120mm explosive rounds. The M1028 is yet another tank round being replaced by the emerging AMP munition, a weapon intended to disperse fragmentation to achieve a greater anti-personnel lethality effect. This kind of ammunition could, for instance, be used against an assaulting wave of infantry fighters.
The M908, Obstacle Reduction round, is the fourth that the AMP round will replace; it was designed to assist in destroying large obstacles positioned on roads by the enemy to block advancing mounted forces, Army statements report.
The Army’s v3 will continue to arrive in greater numbers and help preserve a highly-survivable heavyweight armored attack option for commanders engaged in force-on-force mechanized combat. At the same time, quite significantly, years of counterinsurgency in Iraq helped further demonstrate that the Abrams tank, while built to engage in heavy armored combat, also bring interesting and substantial added value to counter insurgency operations. The Abrams, for example, was often used in “road clearing” missions in Iraq because, as the most survivable armored platform, the tank could inspect or clear transit routes presenting a very high threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to planned convoy missions. While no armored platform could be called completely invincible, the Abrams tank was, and is, by far the vehicle most likely to withstand and survive IED explosions.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.