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Smart Bombs: Military, Defense and National Security

Abrams: The 40 Year Old Super Tank The U.S. Military Can’t Get Rid Of

M1 Abrams Tank History
Image: Creative Commons.

Should the U.S. military replace the M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank or keep upgrading it? So far, the supporters of upgrades have won out.

The modern M1A2 has been improved so much that it hardly resembles the original tank on the inside. Proponents are calling it the most technologically advanced tank in the world. But it requires a long testing cycle. This year the Abrams M1A2 had to show its mettle by driving 2,000 miles in sub-Arctic weather to prove it can operate in the cold.

Abrams: Twisted Steel With Lots of Appeal

It’s hard to believe, but the Abrams original concept began during the Carter administration in the late 1970s. The first tanks were delivered in 1980. That’s over 40 years of service. The Abrams did not see major conflict until Operation Desert Storm, but there it dominated the Iraqis. Almost 1,900 tanks streamed across the desert to attack Saddam Hussein’s Army. That’s when the Abrams made piecemeal of the Iraqis. The Americans lost only 18 Abrams tanks, with nine taken out of service due to damages, while another nine were destroyed completely. Moreover, the United States didn’t lose a single tank crew member during the first Gulf War.

Since then, U.S. allies have ordered hundreds of the various Abrams models. To keep up with the demand and to compete with Russian tanks such as the T-14 Armata, the Americans needed to constantly improve the Abrams over the years. You can see the latest from 1945 on Russia’s T-14 Armata here and here.

The Abrams boasts a powerful 120mm smoothbore cannon and two machine guns. It has a crew of four. The loader can prepare a round for fire in three seconds. It sports a 1,500-horsepower gas turbine engine. The maximum speed is 42 miles per hour and its range is 265 miles.

The Abrams Is Greatly Improved From the Early Days

The most significant improvement has been the Inter-vehicle Information System (IVIS). During battle, the Abrams M1A2 can constantly communicate with ease. For example, the leading tank commander gets automatic updates on what tanks under his command are doing at any given time. Each tank has a unique position and navigation point that makes sure IVIS doesn’t disappoint during complex battle maneuvers. IVIS keeps track of enemy tanks giving the M1A2 huge advantages in combat. IVIS can also call for artillery fires to enhance the attack. Each tank commander gets an all-weather thermal sight. The driver has a digital display while the gunner sights has been upgraded. IVIS will eventually have voice recognition and digital mapping too.

The Abrams has been an amazing platform over the last 40 years. Due to various counter-insurgency battles during the war on terror, the Abrams has taken a back seat to dismounted infantry and cavalry units who were fighting insurgents. However, in a potential armored battle against Russia or China, the Army will have a decided advantage with the various Abrams upgrades. Unfortunately, the tank fight will not include the Marine Corps, as the marines have shut down their armor branch and have done away with the marine version of the Abrams tank. But the Army is still more than capable of dominating in armored warfare.

M1 Abrams Tank

Battle Group Poland Fires an M1 Abrams Remotely

1945’s new Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.

Written By

Now serving as 1945s New Defense and National Security Editor, Brent M. Eastwood, PhD, is the author of Humans, Machines, and Data: Future Trends in Warfare. He is an Emerging Threats expert and former U.S. Army Infantry officer.



  1. A

    October 5, 2021 at 8:58 am

    At some point you break away, but I’d focus on supplementing it with a medium tank. MPF is a start, but I think we are looking for a modular armor system on a tank designed for an urban setting. High angle, shorter gun. 2 on a C-17, 3 on C-5, and can also fit a Japanese C-2 or A400. Same sort of math on a surface connector. 2 on an SSC and or MSVL and 3 on an LCU.

  2. Billy

    October 5, 2021 at 10:02 am

    That’s not what “piecemeal” means.

  3. thelaine

    October 5, 2021 at 10:07 am

    Any replacement would be subject to all the greed and incompetence which has plagued so many other major defense acquisition programs. You can predict that the product will be years late and billions and billions over budget resulting in a fraction of predicted units being built with a good likelihood of an unreliable and problematic product to boot.

    The biggest winners will be the defense contractors and the generals who retire to fat “consulting” positions with these same companies to thank the generals for selling out. Forget it. This tank is very good. Keep it for the foreseeable future.

  4. Cenebar

    October 5, 2021 at 11:48 am

    The truth is that the US Army DID try to replace the M1 Abrams many times over the decades but these programs were canceled with just studies and prototypes made. There was the M1 Block III, the M1 with 140mm cannon, the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT), the Future Combat System (FCS), and the Next Generation Tank. None of these programs came into fruition so it’s M1A2 SEPv2, SEPv3, and SEPv4. The US Army’s tank design philosophies keep changing.

    I would have replaced the entire turret with a total newly designed one, just like the Leopard 2 Next Generation tank. Adding components to the M1A2’s turret such as Anti-IED, Trophy APS, APU, Boomerang Anti-Sniper, GPS and Blue Force tracker, LP CROWS, TUSK and ERA has created a turret that has all these add-ons that adds to more weight and complexity when these components can be incorporated internally in a better more streamlined turret design. Still missing is a Laser Warning System (will be in SEPv4), more smoke grenade launchers, UAV, jammers, rooftop ERA, etc. The US Army can’t do that with the existing M1 turret design quite well without adding even more weight to an already 82-ton tank with all the add-on trimmings.

  5. Eric Schodde

    November 24, 2021 at 7:11 pm

    Why did the Abrams get rid of the 3rd machine gun. I guess the hard lessons of WW2 are lost on soldiers in 2022. What a shame that will come back and cause tanks to be lost.

  6. Richard Mc

    April 13, 2022 at 4:49 pm

    The M1A2c is not really the same tank as the M1A1. It just has a superficial resemblance and there are two reasons for this: 1. Congress was not willing to fund a new tank so they had to build a new tank and call it an old tank and 2. The features the old Abrams had made is the most effective tank in the world so there were good reasons to retain some of those features. You could not use the body of an M1A1 to make an M1A2c, they’re close but not identical or interchangable.

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