Hard to believe as it may seem, the U.S. Army’s M1 Abrams main battle tank (MBT) has been in service for 45 years, thus eclipsing the 36-year service record of its namesake, the late great Gen. Creighton Abrams, who, prior to serving as Army Chief of Staff, came a lot closer to winning the Vietnam War than most academicians are willing to admit, and going back even further in time to WWII, immortalized himself during the relief of the Bastogne.
But as honorable as the General’s MBT namesake has been, it’s starting to get long in the tooth, and therefore, not wanting to remain frozen in time – not to mention not wanting to lag behind the Russians in tank technology – the U.S. Army is hard at work at developing the next generation MBT, the so-called Abrams-X.
The M1 Abrams Legacy
The current Abrams MBT’s record is indeed an impressive one. As noted by “David B” for The Online Tank Museum:
“The M1 Abrams eclipsed for the last thirty years all past MBTs to date, including the M48/M60 series. It represented a definitive change in US tank design since World War 2 and was engineered with the crew protection in mind, but without sacrificing either the firepower or mobility…Eventually, the M1 proved its excellence in combat, during the first Persian gulf war [sic] (1991), and the post nine-eleven operations in Afghanistan and Irak [sic]. In all these operations, the M1 reigned supreme and washed over any armored opposition with apparent ease, earning a solid reputation as one of the world’s very best MBTs.”
To date, at least 9,000 M1 tanks have been built.
AbramsX Specifications: What Do We Know?
So then, what will make the AbramsX a worthy successor to the M1 Abrams series?
For starters, we shall turn to Stephen W. Miller of Armada International (not to be confused with “Armata,” as in the Russian T-14 Armata tank that’s been failing to live up to its hype thus far), who wrote back in October 2022:
“Tim Reese, Director General Dynamics AUSA US Business Development, shared that ‘Abrams-X represents what is possible today that could be incorporated into a possible follow-on to the latest current M1A3 SEP V3 and V4 updates’…This future design replaces the manned turret and locates the entire crew of three (reduced by one crewman) forward in the hull. This move is facilitated by the incorporating an automatic loader for the XM-360 derived 120mm main gun with a ported muzzle brake. Observation and targeting relies on two 360 degree panoramic roof mounted sights which include multi-sensor next generation day, thermal, and laser ranging.”
As a brief side note about Tim Reese (COL, U.S. Army, Ret.), he does know a thing or two about tanks, as he led the first US Army tank battalion task force to enter Kosovo as part of the NATO’s Operation Allied Force in 1999.
A major enhancement to the AbramsX’s lethality comes in the form of the XM914 Bushmaster 30mm chain gun, which supplants the time-honored Browning M2 “Ma Deuce” .50 caliber machine gun as the tank’s secondary armament.
In addition to packing a bigger bullet than the M2, the XM914 – which will be installed as remote weapon station on the turret roof – will, via the use of so-called Programmable Airburst ammunition, offers both a more effective defense against anti-tank teams and a counter-UAS capability; the importance of the latter cannot be overstated, especially in light of how the feared Bayraktar drones absolutely ravaged Russian armor during the early stages of Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Where to From Here?
As the old Ginsu knife infomercials from the late 1970s and early 1980s would say, “But wait, there’s more!”
The AbramsX will at least somewhat mollify the environmentalist types, as it will be powered by a hybrid electric diesel engine, which makes it lighter and far more fuel-efficient than the gas-guzzling current-generation Abrams. (Whoda thunkit, a green-friendly tank?)
Arguably the most fascinating and revolutionary feature of the AbramsX will be its use of artificial intelligence (AI).
As Prasnhu Verma of The Washington Post elaborates, “Reese envisioned a scenario where the software could alert soldiers that an enemy tank is a few miles away and it has roughly 90 percent confidence it’s a threat. The tank can also communicate with unmanned aerial vehicles, which could scout dangers ahead…In fighting situations, Reese noted, the tank’s artificial intelligence could prioritize a target list when multiple enemies are present. But it could not kill anyone automatically.”
Sounds all well and good. So then, what’s the catch?
Well, there’s skepticism amongst the Pentagon brass about whether AbramsX is truly viable and relevant, and understandably so.
The aforementioned travails of Russian armor in Ukraine have starkly demonstrated the vulnerabilities of tanks on the modern battlefield. What’s more, there’s the reality that America’s main geostrategic rival is China, and a battle against the People’s Liberation Army (Army) would be largely fought with naval and air power rather than tanks.
Last but not least, regarding the prospective use of AI, as the cynical joke goes, “What could possibly go wrong?” In other words, there’s the lingering concern about a real-life “Terminator” situation unfolding.
Time will tell.
Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He is a former Air Force Security Forces officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon). Chris holds a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Southern California (USC) and an M.A. in Intelligence Studies (concentration in Terrorism Studies) from American Military University (AMU). He has also been published in The Daily Torch and The Journal of Intelligence and Cyber Security. Last but not least, he is a Companion of the Order of the Naval Order of the United States (NOUS).
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