M1A2 SEPv4: The Future of the U.S. Army – The future of the main battle tank in modern warfare is not completely assured. The Russo-Ukraine war has showed that a determined infantry loaded to bear with anti-tank guided missiles can stop an armored force in its tracks. That’s why it’s interesting that the United States is forging ahead with yet another M1A2 Abrams tanks update. If the Americans do not believe tanks are obsolete, what does the Army have in store for their famous tank?
Look Out for the M1A2 SEPv4
The latest upgrade for the Abrams is the M1A2 SEP version 4 (SEPv4). SEP stands for System Enhancement Package and this program will be quite an enhancement for the vehicle. The Abrams has always been adept at identifying targets. Now a third generation forward-looking infrared system (FLIR) will make that process of target acquisition much better. This will use a color camera and the commander will have an optimized laser sight.
Why Not Add In Artificial Intelligence?
The Army did a forward-looking defense acquisition method for the SEPv4. It is leaving new features open to transition to future technology development, such as tanks using artificial intelligence and machine learning that could provide even more fascinating upgrades such as better sensors and the improved active protection system I’ll discuss below.
Improve the Kill Chain
The Abrams is probably due for some AI. Tank operations with four-man or three-man crews have not evolved much over the years in tanks around the world. The driver and gunner and tank commander’s jobs are roughly the same although systems have become more advanced. The basic job is still to “detect, identify and engage targets.” Then it’s time for the crew to pick a round and lase the target, then lock and load. This takes time and perhaps the process could be improved with AI. Instead of the crew focusing on one-shot one-kill for a single target, the AI would enable quick multi-shot salvoes against several targets at once.
Earlier Technology Saved Room for Advances
The earlier SEPv3 used this technology development practice for its upgrades as well and it has given the tank extra capability. “The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 can host any mature technology the Army deems operationally relevant. Improvements focus on increasing the electrical power margin, Vehicle Health Management Systems, integrated counter-improvised explosive device protection, a new Auxiliary Power Unit enabling silent watch, embedded training, and an Ammunition Data Link, according to the U.S. Army Acquisition Support Center.
Anti-tank Missiles Are the Problem: M1A2 SEPv4 Up To the Task
But can the Abrams with all its new systems survive an anti-tank missile? That’s the biggest question on the minds of Army battle planners who prep the force for armored maneuver warfare in Europe or Asia. The Army already ordered the “Trophy” anti-tank active protection systems in a five year contract announced in July.
Trophy APS works like this. “By outfitting an armored vehicle with a ring of radar antennas scanning for threats in all directions. Once an incoming anti-tank missile or even a tank shell is detected, the system tracks the threat and calculates its trajectory. The system shoots a shotgun-like pattern of metal to intercept and destroy it, Kyle Mizokami wrote for Popular Mechanics.
Russians Have Their Own Powerful ATGM
Trophy is yet to be tested on the battlefield. It sounds like a good idea, but the question remains if it could respond to a missile fired in anger. Russia boasts its 9M133 Kornet anti-tank model. The Kornet is being used in Ukraine. It’s laser fired and has a range that eclipses the Javelin. It can destroy tanks up to 3.4 miles away. The high-explosive anti-tank round the Kornet fires is one of the biggest in the business. So, Trophy would be measured up against the Kornet and that “shotgun-like pattern of metal” would have to work wonders on a future European battlefield.
The various SEP upgrades show that the U.S. Army is always trying to stay ahead of the competition. Anti-tank missiles are the big question for future warfare. A tank could have all the AI enhancements for precise targeting on board, but if they cannot defend against a precision-guided missile from the ground or the sky, the whole armored warfare concept of operations for armored brigade combat teams could be defeated.
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Now serving as 19FortyFive’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.