Armor Upgrades

We noted an article in The Diplomat remarking on the recapitalization of the Army’s armored fleet.

And you’ve probably seen in the news in the last year or two complaints about how Congress was wasting money on new tanks the Army didn’t even want. Well, that’s not exactly true- after all, when is the last time the press was accurate about anything related to the military. The Army hasn’t bought a brand new tank since the early 1990s. What they have been doing is running tanks through a complete rebuild, upgrading to the latest configuration, known as M1A2 SEP v2. And it was never that the Army didn’t want to continue upgrading tanks. But under the sequester, the Army had to prioritize spending, and wanted to delay M1 upgrades in favor of other programs. Congress noted that delaying upgrades would force the plant to close, and potentially lose the skilled workforce. It was a matter of pay me now, or pay me later. In the long run, reopening the plant would cost more than simply keeping it open. And so Congress told the Army to do so. Don’t think for a moment the Army didn’t know the Congress was going to do this. There’s a very, very long history of the services, when faced with a budget crunch, putting important, popular programs on the block, knowing full well that Congress will put them back in the budget.

At any event, having played that game with Congress for a bit, the Army has now gone in the other direction, asking for quite a bit more money to upgrade tanks.

Army leaders have thus far taken up a losing battle against Congress to temporarily halt funding for its Abrams tanks. However, that changed in its latest budget proposal as the service has reversed course and asked for 50 percent more funding for the M1 Abrams tank over last year.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno told Congress in 2o12 that the Army wanted to spend money on other modernization priorities. Congress pushed back saying it was a mistake to shut down the production line of the M1 tank, which is located in Lima, Ohio, even if it’s a temporary shut down. The Army would risk losing the skilled workers at the plants and spend more on training when they needed to reopen the production line for the Abrams upgrades the Army had said it needed in 2017.

The Army apparently listened to the critique, as service officials requested $368 million for upgrades to the M1 tank. Last year, the Army asked for $237 million.

What are some of the upgrades the Army is implementing in the fleet? Well, shortly the M1 fleet will have a new type of ammunition, and importantly, a new thermal sight/sensor.

The ability to identify targets prior to engagement remains one of the biggest obstacles to improving Abrams lethality. The new IFLIR solves this problem using long- and mid-wave infrared technology in both the gunner’s primary sight and the commander’s independent thermal viewer. The IFLIR will provide four fields of view (FOV) displayed on high-definition displays, greatly improving target acquisition, identification and engagement times – compared to the current second-generation FLIR – under all conditions, including fog / obscurants.

When the M1 was first introduced in the early 1980s, the tanks thermal sight was almost black magic. The ability to see through dark and smoke was astonishing to gunners trained on earlier systems. Up to that point, night gunnery was conducted with searchlights mounted above the gun tube!

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The technology of thermal sights has greatly improved over the last 30 odd years, and the sights have been steadily improved since then. The original sight would seem crude to today’s gunners. A second thermal sight was added in the 1990s to give the tank commander an independent thermal vision device.*

The improvements, taken together, will establish the M1A2 SEP v3 configuration.

*That capability was planned from the outset of the M1 program, but not intially installed for cost reasons.

6 thoughts on “Armor Upgrades”

  1. The ammo upgrade will be nice. Will alleviate a lot of decisions and lost time in the choice of what round to battle carry, or whether to pull a round and load another type while in contact. The new round will just require re-fuzing the loaded round, which will occur digitally through the breach. Choices will include airburst, delay or point detonating. So you can use it to engage light armor, burst on impact with walls for breaching purposes without the penetration of shaped charges, or you can engage anti-armor teams with an airburst capability. Sadly, I will never fire it, and I will be sad to see the canister round replaced, but you can’t have it all…

  2. On a separate note, after growing up on the M1A1 with its whopping 13 power thermal sight and switching to the 50 power optics on the M1A2 SEPv2, I can’t even imagine another upgrade. The improved CROW will be nice, too, as it will restore forward visibility from the commander’s hatch, which is sorely lacking in the current CROW variant.

  3. Esli,

    As an Infantryman who was thrilled to see our tank battalion in our mech brigade in Germany equipped with M60A1 RISE(Passive) upgrade to M60A3, I know of what you speak!

    I did like talking on the phone in back!

    Especially on a cold day!

    1. Well, we had phones on our M1A2s, as a nice capability. Talk about hot; try turbine exhaust at about 1100 degrees. The key sound anybody standing behind a tank needs to learn is the sound of it shifting into gear. Don’t be behind it at that time–not all TCs look behind them. (Therein lies the story of one of my PLs backing into the 113 I was riding in and putting an inch-deep gouge in the flank “armor”. Silly me, I assumed that he knew how to back up tactically since I’d drummed it into his head….)

    2. And not all ground guides look at all. We had a 113 pass within 6″ of someone’s head one night. And another guy had his leg broken when he got between a reversing 113 and a wall.
      There used to be a not uncommon “badge” of an M113 driver; a nice scar on the chin from being hit by an improperly secured driver’s hatch lid which drove the chin into the edge of the hatch.

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