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$6 Billion for the Best Tank in the World

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TEXAS – March 24, 2019

President Trump has announced that the US plans to spend $6 billion on upgrading the M1 Abrams tank, stressing that under his predecessor Obama, this amount was two times less.

According to the draft US defense budget for the fiscal year 2020, $2.2 billion has been provided for the purchase and modernization of M-1 Abrams tanks. This includes an upgraded version of the M1A2C. In the 2019 fiscal year, it was about $2.6 billion, and in 2018 — $1.7 billion.

The Pentagon intends to order 165 new units of equipment. Also in fiscal year 2020, 131 armored AMPV tracked vehicles will be purchased. For comparison, the Pentagon purchased 191 cars last year. There will also be purchased 53 self-propelled 155-millimeter artillery M109A6 Paladin and 152 Stryker armored personnel carrier, as well as 56 ACV amphibious combat vehicles for the Marine Corps.

M1 Abrams is the main US tank, which entered serial production in 1981. It belongs to the third post-war generation of tanks.

Very few tanks get nearly as much attention as the Abrams. Hundreds of articles have been written about it that are often inherently selective, arbitrary and subjective, or sing its praises, or descend into the indiscriminate (and often undeserved) criticism. It is really a very interesting machine that is a typical product of the western school of tank design. It is the brainchild of the Cold War and was created not to break through the enemy line of defense, but rather as an anti-tank weapon. The Abrams were supposed to stop the Soviet tank avalanche aspiring to the English Channel.

The US considers the Abrams the best tank in the world — a real death machine that has no competitors. But is this opinion correct? Let's take a look at its strengths and weaknesses.

The creation of M1A1 Abrams

In the late 60s, the leading countries of NATO stepped up work to create new types of military equipment. The main efforts were aimed at developing new tanks. The reason was very simple: the backlog of the United States and its allies in this area became more and more significant. It became especially obvious after the appearance of the newest Soviet T-72 tank.

At that time, the main tank of the US Army was the M60 Patton, the appearance and characteristics of which are more consistent with the era of the Second World War. The main tank of the Bundeswehr was the Leopard 1, which also was significantly behind the newest Soviet tanks.

But substantial disputes soon appeared between the military departments and the work stalled. The Americans wanted to get a tank suitable for any theater of operations; the Bundeswehr, first of all, was interested in Europe. The Germans, given the experience of the Second World War, insisted on a powerful tank gun with a large caliber and high firing range. There were other, less significant differences. The joint project was closed, and each side took up the development of its own tank. Several prototypes of MVT-70 were built, but they turned out to be too expensive and complicated.

The problem of lagging behind the Soviet Union in tank construction was so serious that a secret hearing in the US Congress was devoted to it.

By this time, the US already had experience in developing a new main tank to replace the outdated M60. However, the previous T95 program ended in failure — it turned out to be no better than its predecessor.

At the developmental stage, the new tank received an XM-1 index. The US Army was not immediately able to determine the gun and the power pack for the new machine. Options were considered for installing the M1 105-mm gun M68, the British rifled 110-mm, and the German 120-mm smoothbore gun. Initially, It was decided to install the M68 gun on the tank with a possible replacement for a 120-mm gun. As the power pack of the new tank, two variants of diesel engines (air and water cooling) and a gas turbine engine were considered.

In 1973, two American companies, General Motors and Chrysler, applied for the competition. In the middle of the same year, contracts were signed with them to create prototypes of the new tank.

The development of the British technology of multi-layered armor Chobham had great influence on the design and appearance of the new machine. It consisted of ceramic, aluminum and steel sheets bolted together, and resisted cumulative and sub-caliber ammunition much better.

The experience of the Arab-Israeli war of 1973 also influenced the design of the tank. It demanded to increase the ammunition of the tank guns and the firing range and to increase the security and maintainability of the tank. Initially, the military wanted to install an M242 Bushmaster automatic cannon coupled with a gun on a new tank, but then abandoned the idea, setting up a 7.62-mm machine gun.

In May 1976, the testing of prototypes of the new machine began. Both prototypes met the stated requirements, but Chrysler was able to offer a more interesting price and thus won the competition. They worked on the new machine until 1979 and the tank received the name Abrams in honor of the US Army general who made a great contribution to the development of American armored forces.

In 1981, the Abrams was officially adopted by the US army .

M1A1 Abrams modifications

Like most of the main battle tanks that have been in service with the armies for many years (Leopard 2, T-72, Challenger 2), the Abrams experienced many upgrades. The tank, which the US Army still uses today, has little resemblance to the Abrams adopted for service in 1981.

M1. This is the basic model that was adopted. It was installed with a 105-mm rifled gun with ammunition 55 shots.

M1IP. This tank can be called a transitional model for the modification of the M1A1. On this machine, the frontal armor of the turret was significantly enhanced, the suspension and gearbox were improved, and the tank weight increased by 900 kg.

M1A1. This modification appeared in 1984. Its main difference from the base model is the installation of a new 120-mm smooth-bore gun. American manufacturers took the proven German cannon Rheinmetall L44, slightly modified it, changing the breech and the cradle. Due to the increase in caliber, the tank ammunition decreased to 40 rounds. This gun can use ammunition from the German tank Leopard 2.

In addition to the installation of a new gun, the tank’s protection was strengthened. M1A1 Abrams has thicker armor on the frontal part of the body compared to the basic modification. The tank was equipped with a new system of protection from weapons of mass destruction with built-in air conditioning.

Additional armor protection, the installation of a more powerful weapon, and a new system of protection from weapons led to an increase in the mass of the machine by 2.6 tons. Serial production of the M1A1 Abrams continued until 1993, with a total of 3,546 units manufactured.

We should not think that all the Abrams tanks of the M1A1 modification were identical. The model was constantly improving; over the years of production, numerous changes were made to it. In 1988, the tank received the first generation uranium armor (M1A1HA), and after a few years and the second (M1A1HA +). In the later modifications of the model M1A1, the electronic equipment was improved with more sophisticated aiming devices.

The M1A1 is the first modification of the Abrams tank that was exported. The first contract was signed with Egypt in 1988. Also, export modifications of the Abrams M1A1 for the ground forces of Iraq and Morocco were specially made.

M1A2. This is a fundamentally new modification of the tank, work on which started in the early 90s. In the ten years since the introduction of the Abrams, many technologies have advanced, including electronics and computer technologies. The impetus for the creation of the modification M1A2 Abrams was the emergence of  new German Leopard 2 tank with a perfect fire control system (FCS). American designers worked on a similar system for their tank.The FCS is the main difference from previous models of the M1A2 Abrams.

The LMS is based on a new bus and the M1A2 Abrams LMS includes a stabilized gunner sight and a commander thermal imaging device, a more advanced laser rangefinder, and a thermal observation device for the driver. The creators seriously changed the rest of the onboard equipment of the tank: The machine received a new navigation system operating on the basis of satellite navigation and a new generation communication system.

The armor protection of the turret was also increased; the M1A2 has 42 rounds of ammunition.

It should be said that the improvements that were made to M1A2 increased its defensive effectiveness by 2 times and 1.5 times for offensive.

The first tank modification M1A2 appeared in the late 1990s; the US Army had serious plans for this machine. However, a year later, the USSR — the main adversary with whom the M1A2 was supposed to fight — had dissolved forever, so the plans for the production of the M1A2 Abrams were revised.

The latest Abrams upgrade (SEP-3) was completed in 2018. Now the machine’s ammunition consists of two standardized ammunitions:

• multipurpose XM1147 AMP with a programmable fuse;

• armor-piercing piercing projectile M829E4 AKE.

Another modification of the Abrams - M1A2 TUSK, which was developed specifically for urban combat, deserves attention. In fact, this is a set of equipment that can be installed on a tank in the field. It includes an additional set of dynamic protection, a thermal sight for the M240 machine gun, special armor shields to protect crew members with open hatches, and additional machine guns.

Combat use

The Abrams is the main American battle tank, thus it was involved in all the recent conflicts in which the United States participated.

The first real test for Abrams was Operation Desert Storm in 1991. Both M1A1 modifications and M1 basic machines participated in the battles. According to official data, in Iraq, the US lost 18 tanks, though others say 23. None of the Abrams were lost as a result of the fire of Iraqi tanks. At the same time, the basic models (M1) did not engage in battles with enemy tanks, this was done by more protected and armed M1A1s.

Combat vehicles were shot down from hand-held anti-tank weapons, fell victim to "friendly fire," or were blown up by landmines.

The next serious conflict in which the Abrams tanks participated was the second Iraqi campaign. In the first months of the war, combat vehicles actively participated in battles with the regular army of Iraq, and several cases of clashes with Iraqi T-72s were described where the Abrams won.

In 2011, a tank company of marines was brought to Afghanistan. However, the use of tanks in this mountainous country wore limited due to the specific conditions of the area. Two machines were damaged as a result of landmine explosions but were then restored.

Saudi troops used Abrams tanks in Yemen. In combat, 14 combat vehicles were lost. Some of them were blown up by landmines, some were destroyed by anti-tank guided missiles, and another part came under fire from tactical missile systems. Several tanks were simply abandoned by the crews.

Cost

The Abrams is one of the most expensive tanks in the world. The cost of modifying the M1A2 in 1999 was about $6.2 million. It should be understood that the price of the tank strongly depends on its configuration. Modification of the M1A1 for the Armed Forces of Iraq cost "only" $1.4 million, and for Australia — $1.18 million.

In 2012, each machine cost the US Army $5.5-6.1 million.

The tank M-1 in the modification M1A2C has been made since 1999. It is used not only by the US, but also by Australia, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

Tests on new tanks for the first time took place in 2015, and in 2017 they began to be sent for testing to the troops. Serial delivery of new armored vehicles in the US Armed Forces is scheduled for 2020. This modification has increased power and an improved optics and communications system. In addition, it is equipped with protection against improvised explosive devices and an active protection system.

In February, the US showed detailed shots of the M1 Abrams tank, the latest version of which (M1A2C or M1A2 SEPv3) received Trophy HV (Heavy Vehicle) active defense systems from Israeli company Rafael Advanced Defense Systems. At the same time, the media noted that the M1A2C “may be the best tank in the world.”

Meanwhile, until today, the Abrams has not faced its main competitors in any real situation. These certainly include the Russian T-90 tank in the modification of the T-90MS. The National Interest experts in this regard said on Feb. 19 that this is a serious combat vehicle with large export potential.

The question remains whether the new Abrams will withstand competition with its Russian competitors in export, because the export T-90MS potential is quite high.

According to the same experts, the cost of a combat vehicle can be about $4.5 million while the T-90S is sold for $2.5-3.5 million.

However, despite the high cost, the only state organization in Russia for exporting the entire range of military Rosoboronexport is close to completing the transaction for the supply of a new tank to Egypt and Kuwait, writes NI.

In addition, Russia continues to sell the T-90S and even the original T-90, which remain relevant and popular.

Author: USA Really