Last Wednesday, the U.S. Army took delivery of the first of a new series of Abrams-based main battle tanks.  The M1A2 System Enhancement Package Version 3 is slated to replace the Version 2 that has been in production since 2005.

This version is the most modernized configuration of the Abrams tank, having improved force protection and system survivability enhancements and increased lethality over the M1A1 and previous M1A2 variants,” said Lt. Col. Justin Shell, the Army’s product manager for Abrams.

The new tank design was planned to serve as a foundation for future iterations of the tank, with a modular methodology intended to permit the installation of incremental advances in offensive and defensive technologies.  This strategy will help ensure the Version 3 tank doesn’t face obsolescence as rapidly as earlier designs, despite the fast pace in which new technology is now being released.

The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 is the first in a series of new or significantly improved vehicles that we will be delivering to the Army’s ABCTs,” said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer for Ground Combat Systems. “It is a great step forward in reliability, sustainability, protection, and on-board power which positions the Abrams tank and our ABCTs for the future.”

Fiscal restraints have made it extremely difficult for the Army to attempt to field an all new battle tank platform, and previous efforts at doing so have proven fruitless.  By updating an existing platform, the Army believes they can ensure they have the most capable tank possible in the fight, as quickly as possible, and within the often uncertain parameters of defense budgeting.

“Even in a fiscal environment that has greatly hampered our ability to move towards entirely new vehicles, the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 shows we can still deliver meaningful and operationally relevant improvements.” Bassett added.

The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 (Courtesy of the U.S. Army)

Among the improvements made in the Version 3 are a Joint Tactical Radio System intended to help maintain battle command communications, a better power generation and alternator setup that produces enough electricity to support future energy based applications, an auxiliary power unit intended to permit the tank to operate silently with reduced functionality for silent watch operations, and a number of armor upgrades aimed at leveling the playing field against the likes of Russian competitors like the new T-14 Armata.

Most important, the entire platform saw a modular redesign, which will be coupled with a new two-level maintenance scheme that will not only make the platform easier to repair and maintain, but it will allow for the easy addition of new technologies.  This means the Army won’t have to wait for a new tank to field the latest and most advanced weapon systems, but will instead be able to quickly add them their existing fleet.

“These vehicles are not just about assuring our allies, or deterring or coercing potential adversaries,” added Bassett. “They are about compelling our enemies and winning the multi-domain battle.”

Concerns about being able to maintain battlefield supremacy in a ground war against an opponent like Russia are warranted, as new tank and artillery platforms currently being fielded by the Russian military boast a longer range and, in the case of the T-14, a more powerful primary weapon system than their American peers.  However, despite having platforms that could feasibly outgun the current Abrams battle tank, just how many of those T-14s Russia can actually afford to produce has yet to be seen.


Images courtesy of the U.S. Army