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Why Nothing Can Stop the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

M1 Abrams
M1 Abrams Tank firing. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

M1 Abrams Tank, Explained

The M1 Abrams has experienced great longevity. A third-generation main battle tank first produced in 1979 and put into service with the US military in 1980, this tank has been upgraded time and again to make it fit for modern battle.

Despite one-time considerations by the Department of Defense to replace the Abrams platform with the Future Combat Systems XM1202 program (a family of “closely related main battle tanks, armored personnel carriers, infantry fighting vehicles, and self-propelled howitzers”), the decision instead was made to progressively update the Abrams.

The original M1A2 was first approved for production in 1990 and seen as a big improvement over the M1A1. Externally, it featured a redesigned Commander’s Weapon Station (CWS) and new Commander’s Independent Thermal Viewer.

But the biggest difference was on the inside, where the new M1A2 added an Inter-Vehicle Information System (IVIS) that could transmit data to others in real time.

M1 Abrams, the Updates

Since the original M1A2 was introduced, many variants have followed. Of note are the most recent SEP (System Enhancement Program) variants, the SEP, SEPv2, SEPv3, and soon to be SEPv4.

The first SEP addition, first delivered to the US Army in 1999, included improved armor protection, improved system components, and, importantly, improved computer components. SEPv2 built on the SEP by adding a remotely operated weapon station.

The SEPv3, the most recent and modernized configuration of the Abrams, is now considered the foundation for the future of incremental upgrades. Rolled out in 2017, the SEPv3 adds additional armor, including Explosive Reactive Armor, as well as a Trophy active protection system. The Trophy system is a “hard-kill” system designed to fire shotgun-like blasts in downing incoming threats.

In addition, the manually loaded 120mm XM256 Smooth Bore Cannon can reliably and accurately hit targets almost two miles away.

SEPv4

And yet even now, the SEPv4 is currently in the works, being developed by General Dynamics Land Systems, the same company that picked up the SEPv3 production contract for a cool $4.6 billion. This newest variant will feature two major upgrades. One includes third-generation Forward Looking Infrared (FLIR) targeting sensors, which will allow the identification of enemy targets from farther than ever before and with groundbreaking levels of image resolution and processing.

The second upgrade will be the addition of an Advanced Multipurpose Round (AMP), which will effectively condense four separate tank rounds into one by combining a variety of blast effects into a single round through the use of variable fuse adjustments and an advanced Ammunition Data Link.

Alongside these two major upgrades, the SEPv4 will also include meteorological sensors, new fire-control systems and key Electronic Warfare technology.

The first SEPv4 prototype is expected sometime this month, but the new variant is expected to take until at least 2025 before being deployed to the field. Final deployment will occur following the building of multiple prototypes.

One thing for certain is that as the SEP variants of the Abrams progress, they will see far more customers than just the US Army. The Polish just signed a $4.75 billion deal in March of this year to buy 250 M1A2 Abrams Sepv3s, with deliveries expected to begin soon. And they are not alone. Australia also closed on a $2.5 billion deal to obtain 75 SEPv3s and other armored support vehicles.

North Korea Marines

An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires its 120 mm smoothbore cannon during a live-fire event as part of Exercise Eager Lion 2015 in Jordan, May 9, 2015. Eager Lion is a recurring multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability between partner nations, and enhance regional security and stability.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols/Released)

U.S. Marines Israel

An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank with 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, fires its 120 mm smoothbore cannon during a live-fire event as part of Exercise Eager Lion 2015 in Jordan, May 9, 2015. Eager Lion is a recurring multinational exercise designed to strengthen military-to-military relationships, increase interoperability between partner nations, and enhance regional security and stability.
(U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Devin Nichols/Released)

Invasion of Ukraine

Image: Creative Commons.

This trend in production and innovation is likely to continue. As pointed out recently here in 19fortyfive, the war in Ukraine has shown battle tanks are still extremely relevant to modern warfare. Despite the effectiveness of UAVs and anti-tank weapons, Russia and Ukraine have been deploying thousands of tanks in the conflict, as they remain vital to capturing and holding territory.

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review

Written By

Alex Betley is a recent graduate of the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy where he was an International Security Studies Civil Resistance Fellow and Senior Editor with the Fletcher Security Review.

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