The M1 Abrams is an American third-generation main battle tank produced by the United States. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and Commander of U.S. military forces in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1972. Highly mobile, designed for modern armored ground warfare, the M1 is well armed and heavily armored. Notable features include the use of a powerful multifuel turbine engine, the adoption of sophisticated composite armor, and separate ammunition storage in a blow-out compartment for crew safety. Weighing nearly 68 short tons (almost 62 metric tons), it is one of the heaviest main battle tanks in service. The M1 Abrams entered U.S. service in 1980, replacing the M60 tank. It served for over a decade alongside the improved M60A3, which had entered service in 1978. The M1 remains the principal main battle tank of the United States Army and Marine Corps, and the armies of Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia and Iraq. Three main versions of the M1 Abrams have been deployed, the M1, M1A1, and M1A2, incorporating improved armament, protection and electronics. These improvements and other upgrades to in-service tanks have allowed this long-serving vehicle to remain in front-line service. In addition, development for the improved M1A3 version has been known since 2009.
The M1 Abrams was developed during the Cold War as a successor to the canceled MBT-70. The M1 Abrams contract went to Chrysler Defense and was the first vehicle to adopt Chobham armor. Adaptations before the Persian Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm) gave the vehicle better firepower and NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protection. Being vastly superior to Iraqi tanks, very few M1 tanks were hit by enemy fire. Upgrades after the war improved the tank's weapons sights and fire control unit. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed Iraq's military. The subsequent insurgency exposed the tanks' vulnerability to rocket-propelled grenades and mines. These problems were partially rectified with the TUSK modification. The Marine Corps sent a company of M1A1 Abrams to Afghanistan in late 2010.
The first attempt to replace the aging M60 tank was the MBT-70, developed in partnership with West Germany in the 1960s. The MBT-70 had advanced features such as a height-adjustable air suspension and a very low-profile chassis with the driver located in the turret. The MBT-70 ultimately proved to be too heavy, complex, and expensive. As a result of the imminent failure of this project, the U.S. Army introduced the XM803, using some technologies from the MBT-70 but removing some of the more troublesome features. This succeeded only in producing an expensive system with capabilities similar to the M60. Congress canceled the MBT-70 in November and XM803 December 1971, and redistributed the funds to the new XM815, later renamed the XM1 Abrams after General Creighton Abrams. Prototypes were delivered in 1976 by Chrysler Defense and General Motors armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun along with a Leopard 2 for comparison. The turbine-powered Chrysler Defense design was selected for development as the M1; Chrysler had significant experience designing turbine-powered land vehicles going back to the 1950s. In March 1982, General Dynamics Land Systems Division (GDLS) purchased Chrysler Defense, after Chrysler built over 1,000 M1s. A total of 3,273 M1 Abrams were produced 1979–85 and first entered U.S. Army service in 1980. Production at the government-owned, GDLS-operated Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, was joined by vehicles built at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Michigan from 1982 to 1996. The M1 was armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun. An improved model called the M1IP was produced briefly in 1984 and contained small upgrades. The M1IP models were used in the Canadian Army Trophy NATO tank gunnery competition in 1985 and 1987. 105-mm M1 Abrams tank of the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment at Grafenwöhr Training Area in Germany, 1986. About 6,000 M1A1 Abrams were produced from 1986–92 and featured the M256 120 mm (4.7 in) smoothbore cannon developed by Rheinmetall AG of Germany for the Leopard 2, improved armor, and a CBRN protection system. Production of M1 and M1A1 tanks totaled some 9,000 tanks at a cost of approximately $4.3 million per unit. By 1999, costs for the tank were upwards of US$5 million a vehicle. In 1990, Project on Government Oversight in a report criticized the M1's high costs and low fuel efficiency in comparison with other tanks of similar power and effectiveness such as the Leopard 2. The report was based on data from U.S. Army sources and the Congressional record. As the Abrams entered service in the 1980s, they operated alongside M60A3 within the United States military, and with other NATO tanks in numerous Cold War exercises. These exercises usually took place in Western Europe, especially West Germany, but also in some other countries, including South Korea. The exercises were aimed at countering Soviet forces. However, by January 1991 the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Abrams was instead deployed in the Middle East.
The Gulf War
Abrams move out on a mission during Desert Storm in 1991. A Bradley IFV and logistics convoy can be seen in the background. The Abrams remained untested in combat until the Persian Gulf War in 1991, during Operation Desert Storm. A total of 1,848 M1A1s were deployed to Saudi Arabia to participate in the liberation of Kuwait. The M1A1 was superior to Iraq's Soviet-era T-55 and T-62 tanks, as well as T-72 versions imported from the Soviet Union and Poland. The existence of license-produced T-72 (nicknamed Lion of Babylon) has been disputed; according to Polish officials none were finished prior to the Iraqi Taji tank plant being destroyed in 1991.9] The T-72s, like most Soviet export designs, lacked night vision systems and then-modern rangefinders, though they did have some night-fighting tanks with older active infrared systems or floodlights. A total of 23 M1A1s were damaged or destroyed during the war. Of the nine Abrams destroyed, seven were destroyed by friendly fire, and two were purposely destroyed to prevent capture after being damaged. Some others took minor combat damage, with little effect on their operational readiness. Very few M1 tanks were hit by enemy fire, which resulted in no fatalities and only a handful of wounded. The M1A1 was capable of making kills at ranges in excess of 2,500 metres (8,200 ft). This range was crucial in combat against previous generation tanks of Soviet design in Desert Storm, as the effective range of the main gun in the Soviet/Iraqi tanks was less than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft). This meant Abrams tanks could hit Iraqi tanks before the enemy got in range—a decisive advantage in this kind of combat. In friendly fire incidents, the front armor and fore side turret armor survived direct APFSDS hits from other M1A1s. This was not the case for the side armor of the hull and the rear armor of the turret, as both areas were penetrated on at least two occasions by friendly depleted uranium ammunition during the Battle of Norfolk. During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm some M1IP and M1A1s were modified locally in theater by modification work orders (MWO) with additional rolled homogenous armor plating welded on the turret front. The M1 can be equipped with mine plow and mine roller attachments.
The M1A2 was a further improvement of the M1A1 with a commander's independent thermal viewer, weapon station, position navigation equipment, and a full set of controls and displays linked by a digital data bus. These upgrades also provided the M1A2 with an improved fire control system. The M1A2 System Enhancement Package (SEP) added digital maps, FBCB2 capabilities, and an improved cooling system to compensate for heat generated by the additional computer systems. The M1A2 SEP also serves as the basis for the M104 Wolverine heavy assault bridge. The M1A2 SEPv2 (version 2) added Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station (CROWS or CROWS II) support, color displays, better interfaces, a new operating system, better front and side armor, and an upgraded transmission for better durability. Further upgrades included depleted uranium armor for all variants, a system overhaul that returns all A1s to like-new condition (M1A1 AIM), a digital enhancement package for the A1 (M1A1D), and a commonality program to standardize parts between the U.S. Army and the Marine Corps (M1A1HC).