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M1 Abrams

The M1 Abrams main battle tank is the principal combat tank of the United States Army, with three main versions being deployed starting in 1980: the M1, M1A1, and M1A2. The latest versions of the A2 have a new armor and electronics package. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the Army's 37th Armored Battalion. The M1 Abrams replaced the M60 Patton in US service.

General Characteristics
Length:8,48 m (27.82 ft)
Width:3,64 m (12 ft)
Height:2.43 m (8 ft)
Weight:69.5 tons
Speed:67 km/h (42 mph) (road)
48 km/h (30 mph) (off-road)
Range:M1: 498 km (310 mi)

M1A1: 465 km (288 mi)
M1A2: 391 km (243 mi)

M1: 105 mm gun
M1A1 and M1A2:
120 mm smoothbore gun
one M2 .50 BMG (12.7 mm) MG
and two M240 7.62 mm MG
1 pintle, 1 co-axial
Power plant:1119 kW (1500 hp)
gas turbine
Crew:4 (driver, gunner, loader, commander)

Table of contents

Production history

The M1 Abrams was designed by the General Dynamics Corporation and first entered US Army service in 1980. An improved version of the M1, the M1A1, was introduced in 1985. The M1A1 has a 120 mm smoothbore gun developed by Rheinmetall GmbH of Germany, improved armor, and an NBC protection system. The M1A2 is a further improvement of the M1A1 with a commander's thermal viewer and weapon station, position navigation equipment, digital data bus and a radio interface unit. The army has upgraded all older M1s and M1A1s to the A2 configuration; the US Marine Corps still uses M1A1 tanks that have not yet been upgraded to the A2 configuration.

An electronic upgrade (and other equipment) of the M-1A2 called the System Enhancement Program (SEP) was begun in 1999.

In this article, "Abrams" is used to refer to all variants of the tank, while the specific variants are referred to as the M-1, M-1IP, M-1A1, and M-1A2.

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and for Bosnia, some M1A1s were modified with armor upgrades. The M1 can be equipped with mine plow and mine roller attachments if needed. The M1 chassis also serves as a basis for the Grizzly combat engineering vehicle and the Wolverine heavy assault bridge.

Over 8,800 M1 and M1A1 tanks have been produced.

Export variants, with the export armor package and different options (such as multi-fuel diesel engines) of the M1 Abrams are also used by the defence forces of:

  • Also tested but not adopted by Sweden and a number of other nations.

Combat history

An M1A1 Abrams

The Abrams remained untested in combat until the Gulf War in 1991. A total of 1,848 M1A1s were deployed to Saudi Arabia. The M1A1 was superior to the Soviet produced T-72, T-62 and T-55 tanks fielded by the Iraqis. Only 18 M1A1s were taken out of service due to battle damage and none of these losses resulted in crew casualties. The M1A1 was capable of making kills at ranges in excess of 4000 m.

Further combat was seen during 2003 when US forces invaded Iraq and deposed the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The campaign saw very similar performance from the tank with no Abrams crew member being lost to hostile fire during the battle in Iraq. However, on October 29, 2003, two soldiers were killed and a third wounded when the tank was disabled by an anti-tank mine, which may have been combined with other explosives to increase its effect. This marked the first time deaths resulted from a hostile-fire assault on the M1 tank.

On November 27, 2004 an Abrams tank was completely destroyed and its driver killed from shrapnel wounds when an extremely powerful improvised explosive consisting of three L15 155mm shells with a total explosive weight of 34.5 kg detonated next to the tank. The other three crew members were able to escape, a testament to the armor of the M1A2.

During the major combat operations in Iraq, Abrams crew members were lost when one tank with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division, and US Marine Corps troops, drove onto a bridge. The bridge failed, dropping the tank into the Euphrates River, where one soldier drowned.

No Abrams tank has ever been destroyed as a result of fire from an enemy tank, though a number have been disabled in ambushes employing short-range antitank rockets like the Russian RPG-7, RPG-18 and AT-14 "Kornet". Also, during the Operation Desert Storm four Abrams were destroyed in a friendly fire incident by Hellfire missiles fired from AH-64 Apache attack helicopters.


Abrams at night

The Abrams is protected by a type of composite armor (derived from the British Chobham armour) formed by multiple layers of steel and ceramics. It may also be fitted with reactive armor if needed; however, this modification has never actually been done. Fuel and ammunition are in armored compartments to protect the crew and reduce the risk of cooking off if the tank is damaged. Protection against spalling is provided by a kevlar liner. Beginning in 1988, M1A1 tanks received improved armor packages that incorporated depleted uranium reinforcing rods in their armor at the front of the turret and the front of the hull. Armor thus reinforced offers significantly better resistance towards all types of anti-tank weaponry, but at the expense of adding considerable weight to the tank. The first M1A1 tanks to receive this upgrade were tanks stationed in Germany, since they were the first line of defense against the Soviet Union. US tankers participated in Operation Desert Storm received an emergency program to upgrade their tanks with depleted uranium armor immediately before the onset of the campaign. The newer M1A2 tanks uniformly incorporate depleted uranium armor, and the majority of the M1A1 tanks in active service have been upgraded to this standard as well.

M1A1 firing


Main armament

M68A1 rifled gun

The main armament of the original model M1 was the M68A1 105 mm rifled tank gun firing a variety of APFSDS, HEAT, and high explosive rounds (tanks in U.S. service carried no high explosive rounds, only APFSDS, APFSDSDU, HEAT, white phosphorus smoke, and a highly efficient and lethal anti-personnel flechette round).

M256 smoothbore gun

M1A1 being offloaded from a LCAC

The main armament of the M1A1 and M1A2 is the M256 120 mm smoothbore gun, designed by Rheinmetall AG of Germany and manufactured under license in the US by General Dynamics Land Systems Division in their plant in Lima, Ohio. It fires depleted uranium armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding-sabot long-rod penetrators and a high explosive shaped-charge HEAT round that incorporates a sophisticated multi-mode electronic sensing fuse mechanism allowing it to be used effectively against both armored vehicles and personnel, or even, theoretically, low-flying aircraft—though this latter capability has never been tested in combat.

The new M1028 120 mm anti-personnel canister cartridge has been brought into service early for use in the 2003 occupation of Iraq. It contains 1,150 ten-millimetre tungsten shot projectiles which spread from the muzzle to produce a shotgun effect lethal out to 500 m. The tungsten balls can be used to clear enemy dismounts, break up hasty ambush sites in urban areas, clear defiles, stop infantry attacks and counter-attacks, and support friendly infantry assaults by providing cover-by-fire.

Secondary armament

M1A1 with mine plow from 1995 or earlier

The Abrams tank has three machine guns:

  1. A .50 cal (12.7 mm) M2 machine gun in front of the commander's hatch. This gun is on a powered mount and has a 3× magnification sight.
  2. A 7.62 mm M240 machine gun in front of the loader's hatch on a skate mount.
  3. A 7.62 mm M240 machine gun in a fixed mount coaxial with the main armament. It is the coaxial gun that gets by far the most use (simply because it can be operated from within the tank) and many tank crewmen consider the coaxial gun to be the tank's main armament.

The turret is fitted with two six-barreled smoke grenade launchers. These can create a thick smoke that blocks both vision and thermal imaging. The engine can also be used to create a smokescreen.


The Abrams is equipped with a fire control computer that takes data from a thermal imaging sensor system, a laser rangefinder, a wind sensor, a tilt sensor, and data on the ammunition type (a switch above the thermal sight viewer at the gunner's station provides settings for different ammunition types), and computes a firing solution. Either the commander or gunner can fire the gun.

The Abrams's fire control system is highly sophisticated, extremely efficient, and very deadly; it is the sensors and fire control system, as much as the armor and the powerful main gun, which make the Abrams so effective on the battlefield by allowing it to fire with accuracy while moving quickly on rough terrain. With a skilled crew at the controls, they can detect the enemy in smoke, rain, fog, snow, or total darkness, from four kilometers away or more, and often hit a target the size of a tank on the first try from that distance.


An M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank conducts an area reconnaissance near Balad, Iraq

The M1 Abrams is powered by a 1500 hp (1119 kW) Lycoming gas turbine, and a 4-forward/2-reverse speed transmission, giving it a governed top speed of 42 mph (67 km/h) on roads, 30 mph (48 km/h) cross-country. There are unconfirmed reports of crews removing the engine governor and achieving speeds of up to 57 mph (90 km/h) on relatively smooth cross-country ground. The tank can be fueled by diesel fuel, kerosene, JP-1 jet fuel, any grade of gasoline, or even (theoretically) alcohol.

The Abrams can be carried by the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III. The limited capacity (one combat-ready tank or two transport-ready tanks in a C-5, one combat-ready tank in a C-17) caused serious logistical problems when deploying the tanks for the first Gulf War, though there was enough time for 1,848 tanks to be transported by ship. Tanks shipped in the transport-ready configuration require depot-level maintenance to install a number of sections of armor, and need to be fueled and loaded with ammunition. Tanks shipped in the combat-ready configuration can enter combat immediately.

Tank Urban Survival Kit for M1A2

M1A2 with TUSK

The Tank Urban Survival Kit, or TUSK, is a series of improvements to the M1A2 Abrams intended to improve fighting ability in urban environments. Historically, urban and other close battlefields have been the worst place for tanks to fight — a tank's front armor is much stronger than that on the sides, top, or rear, and in an urban environment, attacks can come from any direction, and attackers can get close enough to reliably hit weak points in the tank's armor, or get sufficient elevation to hit the top armor square on.

Armor upgrades include reactive armor on the sides of the tank to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and other shaped charge warheads. Slat armor similar to that on the Stryker is added to the rear to provide similar protection for the engine. A gun shield is added to the loader's machine gun to protect the operator while the gun is in use.

Other upgrades include thermal sights for the loader's machine gun. The commander's .50-caliber heavy machine gun is modified to allow that weapon to be fired from within the turret with the hatch closed. An exterior telephone allows supporting infantry to communicate with the tank commander.

The TUSK system is a field-installable kit that allows tanks to be upgraded without needing to be recalled to a maintainence depot.

Other Variants, etc.

  • M1A2 SEP
  • M1A1D
  • M1 Grizzly
  • M1 Mine Clearing Blade System
  • M1 Mine Clearing Roller System
  • M1 Panther II
  • M104 Wolverine

  • M1/IPM1 M1A1 M1A2 M1A2 SEP
  • Length: 32.04 ft 32.04 ft 32.04 ft 32.04 ft
  • Width: 12 ft 12 ft 12 ft 12 ft
  • Height: 7.79 ft 8.0 ft 8.0 ft 8.0 ft
  • Top speed: 45 mph 41.5 mph 41.5 mph 42 mph
  • Weight: 61.4/62.8 tons 67.6 tons 68.4 tons 69.5 tons
  • Main armament: 105mm 120mm 120mm 120mm
  • Crew: 4 4 4 4

See also

External links

Wikimedia Commons has more media related to:
M1 Abrams


"M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank." FAS Military Analysis Network. Accessed on January 17, 2004. "TUSK to update Abrams for urban battle." Army News Service. Accessed on April 6, 2005.

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