M1 Abrams

Overview

M1 Abrams

After several abortive attempts at multinational co-operation, the USA finally produced a successor to the M60 series, which traced its lineage back to the Second World War. Unlike its predecessors, this tank represented a radical new design. Experience in the Arab/Israeli war of 1973 tended to over-emphasise the threat of missiles and RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) to the tank. Fortunately for the designers concerned, this coincided with the availability to them of the Chobham laminate armour from Great Britain.

Another drastic change was in the power plant, which for the first time was a gas turbine. This was fast, reliable and gave rapid acceleration but had a higher infra-red signature, and was very thirsty. After a lot of ill-informed publicity in the American press, based on the conceived demise of the tank due to the missile threat mentioned above, the M1’s debut into service proved a revelation to users who were delighted to get away from jibes about their M60s from the Leopard equipped Germans on NATO exercises.

Initial armament on service introduction in 1980 was the British L7 standard 105mm gun, but it was always intended to mount a 120mm smoothbore gun as soon as possible. This occurred in 1987, resulting in the designation changing from M1 to M1A1. Other changes included the addition of depleted uranium to the armour package with some penalty to the tanks weight. As a result of the change of armament stowage of rounds went down from 55 to 40.

Although American technology is the equal of anyone else’s, several failures to replace the M60 served to emphasise the value of this new weapons system to its users and their allies. Performance in both Gulf Wars has proved an adequate vindication of the design, to the extent that the vehicles have perhaps been misused in some cases after the actual combat offensive by people who see them as the only safe transport in a war zone.

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