The American M1 Abrams Tank

The American M1 Abrams Tank Background

The M1 Abrams is named after the late General Creighton W. Abrams, who was the former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the 37th Armoured Battalion. The M1 replaced the M60 & M48A5’s AKA Patton tanks in service with the US Army. Prior to the M1, both the US & West Germany had embarked on a joint development of a new tank to replace the Leopard 1 & M60 which was designated the MBT-70. It was designed around the same cannon used on the M551 Sheridan but was plagued with problems, as was the proposed engine, so a new prototype called the XM803 was developed but soon was cancelled due to high costs.

Eventually the US started a new indigenousness M60 replacement program in 1972. The Abrams design by Chrysler Defence, won the bidding process in 1976, but was bought out in 1979 by General Dynamics Corporation, and is now manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems. The M1 was introduced into service with the American Army in 1980 and 3273 M1’s were built.

The M1 Abrams Tank

The American M1 Abrams Tank

In 1971 a new tank designated the FV4211 was built in the UK which was fitted with a new type of composite armour called Burlington. The project was dropped in 1972, however the armour was shared with the US. Newly declassified papers shown to TankNutDave in 2010, show that this armour was then installed on the later UK Challenger 1 and called Chobham. It should not be confused with the Dorchester armour used on the Challenger 2, which uses a more advanced ceramic mix.

The M1 profile was lower than that of the M60 series, with new angular flat surfaces comprising of Burlington armour, which is made up of ceramic tiles of aluminium, plastics and glue.

Both Burlington & Chobham used the same bonding process and a matrix which is used to secure the tiles & keep them under a constant compression, which was developed by the British Tank Research Centre based in Chobham, Surrey in the UK.

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The bonding process/matrix not only hugely increases the hardness and resistance of the tiles, but increases the number of times the armour can be repeatedly hit before failing, compared to that of other composite armour. It is fitted at the front of the turret and hull to protect the crew from frontal attack. This type of armour was chosen over the German perforated armour being applied to the Leopard 2 at the time which was based on a similar design used on the Leopard 1 A3.

The M1 was supposed to be fitted with a newly developed German 120mm smoothbore main gun (Calibre Length 44), but there were issues with adaption of a new US breech. So the M68A1 105 mm rifled main gun, which was a licence built version of the highly successful British Royal Ordnance L7 main gun was installed in the interim period as issues with the breech were resolved, so the Abrams used many British systems.

The M1 IP Abrams Tank

In 1984 the M1 production was replaced by the M1 IP (Improved Protection) and saw the introduction of armour bulkheads made of Kevlar, separating and protecting the crew compartment from the fuel tanks and ammunition stowage. An NBC system was also installed.

The M1A1 Abrams Tank

Production of the M1-IP was short lived and by 1985 production of the M1A1 was in full swing and continued until 1993. It was equipped with the M256 smoothbore main gun, which was a modified German Rheinmetall L44 120mm smoothbore (as used by the German Leopard 2 series) and manufactured in the US under licence by The Watervliet Arsenal. M1’s fitted with the 105mm M68A1 were up-graded with the M256. The new M1A1 entered service in 1985.

The M1A1HA (Heavy Armour) Abrams Tank

By 1988 a new steel-encased Depleted Uranium armour was introduced. Only one reputable publication says that this DU replaced the Burlington composite armour, however the manufacturer has confirmed that both this and new versions of the DU armour is not fitted to exported Abrams (new and reconditioned), which would mean these Abrams would be left unarmoured, so retain the originial Burlington composite.

The M1A1HA (Heavy Armour) Abrams Tank

The first M1A1’s upgraded to the M1A1HA were those of Armoured Units based in West Germany. During operation Desert Shield, M1A1’s sent were up-graded to the M1A1HA in Saudi Arabia. DU is said to be 70% denser than lead and during the Gulf War it was only penetrated by other M1A1’s on three occasions with no loss of life or lasting damage to the tanks. The M1A1HA is commonly referred to as the M1A1 as its not fully clear how many have been up-graded to the M1A1HA. However 4796 M1A1’s were built for the American Army and a further 403 for the Marine Corp designated as the M1A1HC and all M1’s were also up-graded to the M1A1. There are many new up-grade packages for the M1A1, but it still remains the back bone of the US Armies tank force. Over 8,800 M1 and M1A1 tanks have been produced at a cost of $2,350,000–$4,300,000 per unit, depending on the variant. The M1A1 production was replaced by the M1A2 and 600 M1A1’s were up-graded to the M1A2 by 1998.

The M1A2 Abrams Tank

The M1A2 Abrams Tank

The M1A2’s improvements included new position navigation equipment, digital database with a radio interface unit and a commander’s thermal sight, which rotates 360º, and a different 50 cal (12.7mm) weapon station as well as the addition of the Depleted Uranium armour added in the M1A1HA upgrade. It is this new sight located to the left of the main cannon, which looks like a bucket turned up side down, which is the main visual aid to identify an A2 from an A1 (See above picture). The new sight gives the Abrams a hunter killer capability bringing it up to a 3rd generation standard. The M1A2 for a number of years was the most technically advanced tank of its time, however many countries have developed (as has the US) more advanced technical systems.

Only a total of 77 were manufactured by General Dynamics Land Systems however 600 M1A1’s were up-graded to this variant and deliveries started in 1998 to the US Army. GDLS has also built 315 M1A2’s for Saudi Arabia and 218 for Kuwait.

The M1A2 SEP Abrams Tank


The M1A2 SEP Abrams Tank

Version 1:

GDLS introduced a new up-grade for the A2 called System Enhancement Program AKA “SEP” (version 1). Since Feb 2001 to November 2006, GDLS has up-grade 540 M1A2’s to the M1A2 SEP configuration for the US Army. Improvements include:

1. An under-armour Auxiliary Power Unit
2. New frontal laminated DU armour
3. Up-graded electronics which accommodate the U.S. Army’s Command and Control System (FBCB2)
4. A new Raytheon Commander’s Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV) fitted with a second generation thermal imager
5. Commander’s display for digital colour terrain maps
6. DRS Technologies second generation GEN II TIS thermal imaging gunner’s sight with increased range
7. Driver’s integrated display
8. Thermal management system to cool the crew and electronic equipment

Version 2:

In January 2008, GDLS were awarded the contract to up-grade a total of 435 M1A1’s to the M1A2 SEP Version 2:

improved displays, sights, auxiliary power and a tank-infantry phone. It also can accommodate future technology improvements to ensure compatibility with the U.S. Army’s Future Combat Systems. These upgrades are expected to be completed by June 2013 and will complete the modernization of all serving M1A1 tanks in the US Army.

In April 2008 it was announced that GDLS is to up-grade 63 M1A2 SEP Version 1’s to the version 2 and is to be completed by November 2008. All up-grade work is be completed at the GDLS Joint Systems Manufacturing and the Anniston Army Depot.


FBCB2 is a digital communication platform designed for commanders to track friendly forces (via GPS tracking installed in friendly vehicles) and displaying them graphically on a computer animated battlefield monitor in the commanders station, instead of him collecting this information verbally over a radio and relying on visual confirmation. Integrated with the BFT it can also receive data such as enemy forces located by other units/vehicles equipped with FBCB2/BFT or Ground Surveillance Radar’s & UAV’s, which is also graphically displayed on the commanders computer animated battlefield monitor. This allows the commander to be aware of what is happening around his vehicle and others in real time.

It also allows command operation centre’s either behind the lines or even in the US, to monitor the location of its and the enemies forces, so they can be co-ordinated in a joint effort to defeat those enemy forces. Changes to orders can be made instantly to all vehicles as the FBCB2 can also receive e-mail. It also considerably reduces accidental friendly fire AKA blue on blue (hence the word blue in BFT) as commanders are aware of friendly units rather than relying on visual confirmation which is difficult through a thermal sight! These systems have been developed since the mid to late 90’s in a previous reshaping plan called Force XXI AKA Task Force 21 and is gradually being integrated in to US vehicles through its current modernization program.

The M1A1D Abrams Tank

The US did introduce prior to the M1A1 AIM SA, a stop-gap digital appliqué FBCB2 command and control package so that the M1-A1’s could communicate with the recently (at the time) up-graded M1-A2 SEP’s, which were designated M1-A1D. However it was short lived and only 95 of these vehicles were fitted with it and have since been withdrawn from service.

The M1A1 AIM Abrams Tank

One of the Abrams greatest strengths are its ease of upgradeability and reclamation, which is carried out by General Dynamics Land Systems whose company moto is “Strength on your side”.

The reset process (Abrams Integrated Management) involves the Abrams being delivered in various states, be it an out of date model or combat damaged to the Anniston Army Depot who strip the vehicle to its bare elements. These are then completely re machined to a zero hours state. The Abrams hull, turret and re machined parts are then sent by train over 900km to the GDLS Joint Systems Manufacturing Centre in Lima, Ohio.

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This mega factory then spends 4 months re-building the Abrams to a restored combat-level capability. It’s then put through testing at the track on the JSMC’s site and then goes on to field-testing at fort Bliss in Texas before re-entering service with the US Army.

Thanks to this remarkable process of overhauling to a like-new zero-mile condition, reset Abrams have demonstrated an 18% Operations and Support cost savings as well as improved reliability. The reset process also offers the opportunity for implementation of upgrades.

The M1A1 AIM SA Abrams Tank

One of these current implemented upgrades (started in July 2007) has been the addition of mission-critical technologies to bolster crew Situational Awareness (being aware of what is happening around the vehicle) AKA the M1A1 AIM SA. The SA up-grade improvements include improved side armour, second-generation Forward-Looking Infrared, Far Target Locate, a tank-infantry phone, a .50 calibre thermal sight (increasing the accuracy of the tank commander’s .50 calibre machine gun), a power distribution box, a rear slave receptacle, an eye-safe laser rangefinder, driver’s vision enhancement and Blue Force Tracking (AKA BFT)/Force Battle Command Brigade and Below (AKA FBCB2).

As of June 2007, 886 M1-A1’s have been through the AIM process and is funded at 135 tanks per year.

Firepower Enhancement Program


The US Marine Corp operates a 403 strong M1A1 fleet. It is often commented on that they are the last to receive any up-grades, if any compared to those of the US Armies Abrams fleet. The USMC on the 2nd of February 2005 awarded Raytheon a $32.5 million contract, with a total estimated value of $65 million to up-grade their M1A1’s, designated the “Firepower Enhancement Program”. The principal up-grades are Target Location (FTL) sensors and a second generation thermal sight, which is an upgrade to the current M1A1 sight system. FEP gives an improved accuracy during all-weather and night conditions as well as improving the Abrams engagement capability at extended ranges. FEP will extend the USMC M1A1’s effective fighting capability beyond 2018.


During the following years of Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Abrams found itself carrying out its principal role of infantry support in built up urban environments, rather than the forward leading engagement of other tanks, which meant the Abrams was attacked on its weaker areas (which all tanks have) sides and rear by Improvised Explosive Devices, RPG attack and sniper fire directed at the commander or gunner, as he mans his MG mounted on his cupola/hatch. In response, GDLS has developed the Tank Urban Survival Kit.

TUSK has seen slat AKA bar or cage armour fitted across the rear of the engine to protect it from RPG-7 attack, reactive armour to the sides to defeat road side IED’s, an exterior phone so supporting troops can talk to the tanks commander and gun shield to the loaders 7.62m MG. The original commanders 12.7mm Browning MG replaced by the Kongsberg Gruppen manufactured PROTECTOR M151 Remote Weapon Station. This allows the commander to operate the RWS’s MG from inside the turret without having to expose him to close quarter arms fire. 505 TUSK kits have been produced by GDLS.

M1A1 & M1A2 Abrams Tank T.I.G.E.R. Program

One of the US’s prowdest features of the Abrams is the AGT-1500 gas turbine engine. However the engine does account for a whopping 42% of all Abrams support costs. To reduce this and improve on the number of required depot repairs, the ANAD, the Army’s Program Manager Heavy Brigade Combat Team & Honeywell have teamed up to create a new program called the “Total InteGrated Engine Revitalization” program AKA TIGER.

Now refered to as a TIGER engine, these refurbed engines have seen a number of up-grades to reduce the number of parts of the engine as well as the introduction of Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) engineering support. Honeywell supply through a chain management system the required parts to the ANAD, rather than relying on a number of different suppliers for the parts.

TIGER engines have double the run time between required repairs and TIGER field work shops are also responsable for some 1200 up-graded TIGER engines which were completed by November 2008. The TIGER engine up-grade are also due to be completed by other national operators such as Egypt.

The Abrams series uses a Torsion Bar suspension and the Allison X-1100-3B Hydro-Kinetic automatic transmission giving it a governed top road speed of 45 mph (72 km/h) and 30 mph (48 km/h) off road. The vehicle uses a wopping 10 US Gallons just to start the engine and does 0.6 miles to the Gallon. This can increase off road and on average the vehicle needs refuelling every eight hours.

M1A1 & M1A2 Abrams Tank Firepower

All Abrams now use the 120mm Calibre Bore M256, which is a modified licence built Rheinmetall L44, which is a Calibre Length 44 smoothbore. The US adopted the smoothbore for two reasons. Firstly was financial, as its service life is long than rifled cannons as the rifling can be worn down through repeated use. Secondly rifling imparts a spin and the US Army wanted to use HEAT. HEAT is a shaped charge munition and the spin can break up the copper jet of the shaped charge as it burns through the enemy tanks armour, making it less effective.

The three primary rounds on the Abrams is the M803A1 HEAT. It has an multi-mode electronic sensing fuse so can be used against low level helicopters as well as armoured vehicles. It has been in service since 1994.

The M829A3 is the current APFSDS of a series. The A3 is reportedly capable of defeating the Kontakt-5 ERA used on the modern Russian T-80 and T-90 Main Battle Tanks. It has been in service since 2003. It has an effective range of 3000m and a muzzle velocity of 1555m/s.

The newest round was developed as an anti-personnel round. It is the M1028 120 mm anti-personnel canister cartridge. It contains 1098 3/8 inch tungsten balls which spread from the muzzle to produce a shotgun effect lethal out to 600m. It can also be used to bring down walls and detonate/destroy road side IED’s.

All Abrams are equipped with a coaxial M240 7.62mm MG for close encounters. It is mounted to the right of the M256. The legendary Browning M2HB .50cal (12.7mm) MG is mounted on the commanders cupola, but in different configurations depending on the Abrams. On the M1A1 the MG is on a powered mount, known as the Commander’s Weapon Station and can be fired using a 3× magnification sight from within the vehicle. On The M1A2 & SEP V1 it is on a flexible mount and can only be operated when the commander is standing in his cupola.

On the M1A2 SEP Version 2, General Dynamics are installing a total of 370 CROW II’s (Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station) equipped with the M2HB .50cal (12.7mm) MG (see above picture). The estimated completion date for the work is the 31st of August 2012.

“The CROWS mount on the outside of the tank allows the commander to stay inside instead of opening the hatch,” said Mark Roualet, president of General Dynamics Land Systems. “By remaining inside the tank, the commander remains protected and can keep in constant communication with the gunner and the loader.”

The operator AKA loader is also supplied with a 7.62mm M240 MG on his hatch and six smoke grenade launchers are mounted on either side of the turret. The crew compartment (Commander, Gunner, Operator – Driver sits central front of the hull) has a full HALON fire suppression system and the munitions are all one part and stored in an armed box in the rear of the turret. Access is through a hatch behind the operator and if struck, the cook off blast from the explosive is directed out through the blow out panels on the sides and top of the rear of the turret.

The Gulf War

Thou contributing to many NATO and US exercises in West Germany and South Korea, it was in the liberation of Kuwait that the M1A1 first saw action, in tank on tank engagements. Many say that it was a lopsided fight in favour of the US Army. How ever I tend to look at it as a fine example of the US’s tactical believe of spotting and engaging the enemy first, hence their continued upgrade and superiority in development of thermal and night vision sighting equipment, which enabled Abrams crews to spot and target Iraqi armour before they knew what had hit them.

The Abrams went up against locally built T-72M’s AKA Lion of Babylon, T-55’s and Chinese Type 69’s (See above picture). Various sources claim different numbers of Abrams sustained damage taking them out of the fight, however most state that nine were destroyed and one crewman was killed. Strangely thou it was the M2 Bradley IFV with its TOW Anti-Tank Missile System which scored a higher number of tank kills.

The 2003 Invasion of Iraq AKA Operation Iraqi Freedom

The Abrams returned to Iraq in 2003, but this time the M1A2 with its hunter killer capability tagged along, complementing the M1A1. Again it out classed Saddam’s T-72’s and T-55’s, which were in various states of modifications and repair (see picture above). However its success has been tested due to its extended exposure to combat in support of Coalition Forces occupying Iraq in the earlier years and now working along side Iraqi Forces.

Thou no Abrams crewman was killed during the initial invasion, Some vehicles which suffered a mobility kill were destroyed by Coalition Forces. A number of crewman fell victim to snipers over the last few years, including road side bombs/IEDs and RPG ambushes. Thou there are no concrete sources clearly confirming the number of Abrams destroyed at the enemies hand, there have been videos taken by US Servicemen and leaked on to of US vehicle graves in Iraq, which show a large number of destroyed Abrams and a vaster number of Bradley’s.


In late November 2010 the 1st Five of the 14 USMC’s M1A1 tanks arrived to Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. These tanks belong to the Marines with Delta Company, 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division (Forward). Delta Company.

1st Tank Battalion, was the first U.S. tank company to deploy to Afghanistan elements of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, who are deployed to Afghanistan to provide regional security in Helmand province in support of the International Security Assistance Force (Semper Fidelis! “always faithful”). These tanks lack the full TUSK kit as used in the latter years of the Occupation of Iraq.

M1A1 & M1A2 Abrams Tank Operators

US Army: 4393 M1A1’s and 1174 M1A2’s (includes various models ie SEP)

US Marine Corp: 403 M1A1

Egypt: 880 M1A1’s which have been co-produced from kits since 1988. In August 2007 Egypt placed an order for a further 125 M1A1 tank kits, which would bring the country’s fleet to 1005. Of these 1005, Egypt is having 755 M1A1 up-grade to the M1A2 SEP.

Saudi Arabi: GDLS has also built 315 M1A2’s for the Royal Army and deliveries started in 1993. In 2006 an additional 58 M1A1’s were purchased. GDLS has been developing an (unspecified) upgrade based on the M1A2 SEP for the Royal Army. Its M1A2’s go through the reset process in the US where the upgrade is implemented and re-designated the M1A2S. All vehicles are expected to be upgraded by March 2012.

Kuwait: 218 M1A2’s built from scratch by GDLS and deliveries started in 1994.

Australia: 59 M1A1 SA’s which entered service in 2007 at a total cost of $70 million

Iraq: 140 M1A1 AIM SA’s with TIGER engines have been purchased

Australian “Diggers” M1A1 AIM SA