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Meet the M1 Abrams: The Tank That Was Built for a War Against Russia

M1 Abrams Tank
An M1 Abrams Tank fires off a round as a demonstration during 1st Tank Battalion’s Jane Wayne Spouse Appreciation Day aboard the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms, Calif., April 3, 2018. The purpose of the event is to build resiliency in spiritual well being, the will to fight and a strong home life for the 1st Tanks Marines and their families. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Rachel K. Porter)

The M1 Abrams tank is old compared to other main battle tanks around the world. And yet, this tank keeps getting upgraded again and again. Why? The M1 Abrams: what is it about this tank that keeps you coming back for more?

It was a stalwart during both wars in Iraq – probably the most combat-tested in the world. The gun is powerful. The platform has been steadfastly upgraded over the years. It is fast and maneuverable compared to other tanks in its class. It protects the crew well. For these reasons and others that I will examine, it has to be considered the best tank ever.

Hard to Believe the M1 Abrams Has Been At It So Long

The origins of the M1 Abrams tank dates back to the 1970s.

The XM815 program was instituted to replace the M60 tank. The Army later re-named the XM815 after General Creighton Abrams who led the Army from 1968 to 1972 during the Vietnam War. The new tank became known as the XM1 Abrams. The first prototypes came from Chrysler Defense and General Motors and were tested in 1976. The GM design did not cut the mustard and was considered too expensive. But the Chrysler Defense version was chosen for further development. Then Chrysler Defense merged with General Dynamics Land Systems Division in 1979.

The M1 Abrams Set the Standards

The M1 Abrams was delivered to the troops in 1980. This tank originally had a 105mm gun. Then the tank was upgraded with the powerful M256 120 mm smoothbore gun borrowed from the German firm Rheinmetall AG.

The original M1 had a gas turbine engine that pushed out 1,500 horsepower. It took only seven seconds for it to go from zero to 20 miles per hour with a top speed of 42 miles per hour. It had a six-speed transmission with a 490-gallon fuel tank. In 1988, depleted uranium armor was added.

M1 Abrams Training Techniques Led to Battlefield Success

From then on General Dynamics made about 6,000 of the M1 Abrams from 1986 to 1992. The 1980s saw the Abrams conduct much training in Europe to defend against an armored attack from the Soviet Union. South Korea was another important training site. The Abrams was a featured tank in exercises at the National Training Center (NTC) in Fort Irwin, California. This is where the most realistic training happened. The Abrams was up against Russian-speaking opposing force troops who operated Soviet-era vehicles such as the BMP and BTR. The NTC has often been credited for preparing the M1 Abrams to dominate the battlefield during Operation Desert Storm.

Desert Storm Is the M1 Abrams’ Coming Out Party

By the first Gulf War, the M1A1 Abrams was ready for combat against various Russian tanks in the Iraqi Army such as the T-55T-62, and the T-72. The Americans lost only 18 Abrams tanks during the short campaign, with nine removed from the battlefield because of damages. Only nine were destroyed entirely and there were no casualties to the tank crewmen.

M1A2 Is An Upgraded Killing Machine

The M1A2, has remained the workhorse of the Army. It provides improved battle systems and survivability over the M1A1. The improvements of the M1A2 include the Improved Commander’s Weapon Station, the Commander’s Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV), an Inter-Vehicular Information System (IVIS), Position/Navigation System (POS/NAV).

Watch Out for the M1A2 SEPv3 Model

General Dynamics won a $4.6 billion contract in 2020 to improve the M1A2 SEPv3 version with an estimated completion date of June 2028. The first delivery order is valued at an estimated $406 million. Last December, General Dynamic got another contract for upgrades worth nearly $100 million from the Army.

The SEP in M1A2 SEPv3 stands for System Enhanced Package. This upgrade is about lethality, protection, and survivability. The upgrade also features more firepower and better armor. The SEPv3 was delivered to the troops in 2017. It can fire the M829A4 advanced kinetic energy and advanced multi-purpose (AMP) rounds. The common remotely operated weapon system (CROWS) is an advanced fighting system with a better day camera.

The targeting is impressive. It has improved forward-looking infrared to help the SEPv3 better find and destroy targets.

The armor can protect against improvised explosive devices, mines, and other types of remote-controlled road-side bombs.

The SEPv3 has advanced power generation and distribution that makes for improved fuel savings.

The M1 Abrams Just Won’t Go Away 

It’s amazing the Army can keep upgrading the original platform. The improvements have come a long way since the 1970s. Now threats from China and Russia could involve tank warfare. The Abrams will be ready for these types of mass armor engagements should conflict arise.

I wasn’t a tanker during my service in the Army, but I can tell you that seeing the Abrams in action gives a soldier a psychological boost. You just know it is going to protect you in battle and survive against the enemy. The Abrams and their variants are arguably the most advanced tanks in the world. For a full package of firepower, maneuverability, targeting, and survivability, the Abrams has to be considered the best tank in the world.

Now serving as 1945’s 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. You can follow him on Twitter @BMEastwood.

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.