Abrams to get high-tech upgrade
By Kris Osborn
The Army plans to build prototypes of a tougher, more high tech M1A3 Abrams main battle tank by 2014 and field it by 2017. The variant would incorporate improvements based on lessons from Iraq. It will be able to plug into networks such as that planned for the Future Combat Systems, service officials said.
Army plans to preserve the battle-tested, 70-ton tank through 2050 will take Abrams technology well beyond the most advanced current variant, the M1A2 SEP, with more networking capability, laser designation and improved composite armor protection.
The plans build on interim improvements made to the Abrams during the war in Iraq.
“We want to take lessons learned from Iraq and improve interim fixes such as ballistic shields and underbelly armor protection,” said Lt. Col. Jim Schirmer, assistant capabilities manager for Training and Doctrine Command, Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
One analyst said a key factor in planning the M1A3 was that the Abrams’ performance in Iraq exceeded expectations.
“The Abrams design has proven to be more durable and versatile than anyone expected when the Cold War ended. The real turning point was the battle of Fallujah, when the presence of the system seemed to have a decisive impact on the outcome of the fight,” said Loren Thompson, vice president of the Lexington Institute, an Arlington, Va.based think tank.
One aim of the modernization plan will be to ensure the Abrams can accommodate next-generation battle command technologies and be able to beam radio and satellite images, data and video across the force in real time.
Also, the M1A3 will take advantage of technological gains now being made with lighterweight materials.
The Army is developing an experimental power unit to bring exportable power on board the Abrams to handle the additional electronics. The alternator on the Abrams produces 1,000 amps when the engine is running. Officials want to add to that an 8- to 10-kilowatt onboard generator.
Funding for the Abrams modernization is included in a supplemental spending request in Congress, which calls for $362 million for the project. Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey told reporters in May that more money may be added to the Abrams in five to seven years.
The M1A3 Abrams tank will fire a range of munitions, including some planned for the future:
■ An Advanced Kinetic Energy round
■ An Advanced Multi-Purpose (AMP) tank round combining multiple ammunition types into a single round and designed to fire as a canister, high-explosive or anti-tank round. It will be ready in five to seven years.
■ Mid-Range Munition, a guided 120mm ammunition with built-in infrared cameras and sensors to autonomously direct it toward enemy targets from ranges up to 12 kilometers.