The M1 Abrams Tank


M1 Abrams tank with 105mm cannon at Grafenwöhr, 1986.


M1A1 conducts reconnaissance in Iraq, September 2004.

The Abrams is the most powerful U.S. tank and is utilized by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. The M1A1 mounts the 120mm main gun, and the next modification was the introduction of almost impenetrable steel-encased, depleted-uranium armor, designated HA (heavy armor). Prior to the 1991 Gulf War upgrades were carried out in Saudi Arabia on all in-theater M1A1 tanks to upgrade them to M1A1HA status. Of some 600 Abrams tanks that saw service during the war, not one was penetrated by enemy fire. Most changes in the M1A2 over the M1A1 described earlier are internal. These include a thermal viewer for the tank commander, a new land navigation system, and the Inter-Vehicular Information System (IVIS). The IVIS is a datalink compatible with other advanced AFVs and helicopters. Only 77 M1A2s were delivered new, but a large number of M1A1s were upgraded to M1A2s. The M1A2 weighs some 139,000 pounds, mounts a 120mm gun and three machine guns: two 7.62mm (.30-caliber) and one 12.7mm (.50-caliber). Production was completed in 1996 but can be reopened if necessary. The M1A2 is also in service with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.


The Coalition commander, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf mounted an elaborate deception to convince the Iraqis that the Coalition would mount an amphibious assault against Kuwait. This feint pinned down a number of Iraqi divisions. In reality Schwarzkopf planned a return to large-scale maneuver warfare and the AirLand Battle concept. Schwarzkopf’s plan involved three thrusts. On the far left, 200 miles from the coast, XVIII Airborne Corps, which consisted of the 82d Airborne Division and the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), supplemented by the French 6th Light Armored Division, would swing wide and cut off the Iraqis on the Euphrates from resupply or retreat. The center assault, the “mailed fist” of VII Corps, was mounted some 100 miles inland from the coast. It was made up of the heavily armored coalition divisions: the U.S. 1st and 3d Armored Divisions, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Infantry (Mechanized) Division, and the British 1st Armored Division. VII Corps’s mission was to thrust deep, engage, and destroy the elite Iraqi Republican Guards divisions. The third thrust occurred on the Kuwaiti border along the coast. It consisted of the U.S. 1st Marine Expeditionary Force of two divisions, a brigade from the U.S. 2d Armored Division, and Arab units. It would drive on Kuwait City.

On 24 February Coalition forces executed simultaneous drives along the coast, while the 101st Airborne Division established a position 50 miles behind the border. As the Marines moved up the coast toward Kuwait City they were hit in the flank by Iraqi armor. In the largest tank battle in Marine Corps history, the Marines, supported by Coalition airpower, easily defeated this force in a battle that was fought in a surrealist day-into-night atmosphere caused by the smoke of burning oil wells set afire by the retreating Iraqis. As the Marines, reinforced by the Tiger Brigade from the 2d Armored Division, prepared to enter Kuwait City, preceded by a light Arab force, Iraqi forces laden with booty fled north in whatever they could steal. Thousands of vehicles and personnel were caught in the open on the highway from Kuwait City and there pummeled by air and artillery along what became known as the “highway of death.” In the major opening engagement, these divisions came up against an Iraqi rear guard of 300 tanks, covering for the withdrawal north toward Basra of four divisions of the Republican Guards. U.S. tanks were able to take the Iraqi armor under fire at nearly twice the effective range of the enemy. The M1’s high muzzle velocity of 1,805–1,860 yards per second could destroy the Iraqi tanks well beyond the range at which they could engage the enemy. In perhaps the most lopsided massed tank battle in history, the Iraqi force was wiped out at a cost of only one U.S. fatality.


The afternoon of 27 February saw VII Corps engaged in some of its most intense combat. Hoping to delay the Coalition advance, an armored brigade of the Medina Republican Guards Division established a 6-mile-long skirmish line on the reverse slope of a low hill, digging in their T-55 and T-72 tanks there. The advancing 2d Brigade of the 1st Armored Division came over a ridge, spotted the Iraqis, and took them under fire from 2,500 yards. The American tankers used sabot rounds to blow the turrets off the dug-in Iraqi tanks. The battle was the largest armor engagement of the war. In only 45 minutes U.S. tanks and aircraft destroyed 60 T-72 and nine T-55 tanks, in addition to 38 Iraqi armored personnel carriers. As VII Corps closed to the sea, XVIII Corps to its left, which had a much larger distance to travel, raced to reach the fleeing Republican Guards divisions before they could escape the trap to Baghdad.

During the fighting the Coalition’s tanks, especially the M1A1 Abrams and British Challenger, had proved their great superiority over their Soviet counterparts, especially in night fighting. Of 600 M1A1 Abrams that saw combat, not one was penetrated by an enemy round; three were struck by depleted uranium shells fired from other M1s, but none of the three were permanently disabled, and there was only one crew fatality. This reflected the survivability features built into the tank, including armored bulkheads to deflect blasts outward. Conversely, the M1A1’s 120mm gun proved lethal to Iraqi MBTs. It could engage the Iraqi armor at 3,000 meters (1.86 miles), twice the Iraqi effective range; its superior fire-control system could deliver a first-round hit while on the move; and the depleted uranium penetrators could almost guarantee a kill. Overall, the Coalition maneuver strategy bound up in the AirLand Battle had worked to perfection.

All Variants

XM1: Experimental model. Nine test-beds were produced in 1978.

M1: First production variant. Production began (at Chrysler) in 1979 and continued to 1985 (at General Dynamics) (3,273 built for the US).

M1IP (Improved Performance): Produced briefly in 1984 before the M1A1, contained upgrades and reconfigurations like new turret with thicker frontal armor, new turret is referred as “long” turret instead of older “short” turret, armor upgraded from ~650mm line of sight thickness to ~880mm (894 build for US).

M1A1: Production started in 1985 and continued to 1992, pressurized NBC system, rear bustle rack for improved stowage of supplies and crew belongings, redesigned blow-off panels and M256 120 mm smoothbore cannon (4,976 built for the US Army, 221 for USMC, 755 for Egypt, 59 M1A1 AIM SA sold to Australia).

M1A1HA (Heavy Armor): Added 1st generation depleted uranium armor mesh, some tanks were later upgraded with 2nd generation depleted uranium armor mesh, and are unofficially designated M1A1HA+.

M1A1HC (Heavy Common): Added new 2nd generation depleted uranium armor mesh, digital engine control and other small upgrades common between Army and Marine Corps tanks.

M1A1D (Digital): A digital upgrade for the M1A1HC, to keep up with M1A2SEP, manufactured in quantity for only 2 battalions.

M1A1AIM v.1 (Abrams Integrated Management): A program whereby older units are reconditioned to zero hour conditions; and the tank is improved by adding Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) and Far Target Locate sensors, a tank-infantry phone, communications gear, including FBCB2 and Blue Force Tracking, to aid in crew situational awareness, and a thermal sight for the .50 caliber machine gun. General Dynamics has been awarded contracts by the US Army to supply this variant.

M1A1AIM v.2/M1A1SA (Situational Awareness): Upgrades similar to AIM v.1 tanks + new 3rd generation depleted uranium armor mesh.

M1A1FEP (Firepower Enhancement Package): Similar upgrade to AIM v.2 for U.S.M.C. tanks.

M1A1KVT (Krasnovian Variant Tank): M1A1s that have been visually modified to resemble Soviet-made tanks for use at the National Training Center, fitted with MILES gear and a Hoffman device.

M1A1M: An export variant ordered by the Iraqi Army.

M1A2 (Baseline): Production began in 1992 (77 built for the US and more than 600 M1s upgraded to M1A2, 315 for Saudi Arabia, 218 for Kuwait). The M1A2 offers the tank commander an independent thermal sight and ability to, in rapid sequence, shoot at two targets without the need to acquire each one sequentially, also 2nd generation depleted uranium armor mesh.

M1A2SEP (System Enhancement Package): Has upgraded 3rd generation depleted uranium armor mesh with graphite coating (240 new built, 300 M1A2s upgraded to M1A2SEP for the USA, also unknown numbers of upgraded basic M1’s and M1IP’s, also 400 oldest M1A1’s upgraded to M1A2SEP).

M1A3: Under development, with prospective prototypes by 2014, operational by 2017.

M1 TTB (Tank Test Bed): Prototype with unmanned turret, 3 crew members in armored capsule in front of the heavy armored hull, main armament was 120mm smoothbore gun, M256 derivative or modification, mechanical loading system under turret, never fielded.

CATTB – Experimental model with a 140 mm smoothbore gun, heavy armored turret and upgraded hull based on the M1’s chassis. It had a mechanical loading system in turret bustle, a new engine and probably other upgrades, never fielded. The tank went trials in 1987-1988. CATTB stands for Component Advanced Technology Test Bed.

M1 Grizzly Combat Mobility Vehicle (CMV)

M1 Panther II Remote Controlled Mine Clearing Vehicle

M104 Wolverine Heavy Assault Bridge

M1 Panther II Mine Clearing Blade/Roller System.

M1ABV Assault Breacher Vehicle: Assault variant for the USMC. Based upon the M1A1 Abrams chassis, the Assault Breacher Vehicle has a variety of systems installed, such as a full-width mine plow, two linear demolition charges, and a lane-marking system. Reactive armor has been fitted to the vehicle providing additional protection against HEAT-based weapons. The turret has been replaced by a new smaller one with two MICLIC launchers at its rear. A M2HB .50 machine gun in a remote weapons station is mounted on the commander’s cupola and a bank of grenade launchers are fitted to each side of the superstructure to cover the frontal arc are provided for self-protection.

M1 Armored Recovery Vehicle. Only a prototype produced.

Summary: Current U.S. MBT. Also in service with Kuwait and Saudi Arabia.

Production dates: 1983–1995

Number produced: 8,064

Manufacturer: General Dynamics Land Systems, Lima, Ohio, Tank Factory

Main Variants:

M1: mounts 105mm gun

M1A1: (from August 1985) mounts 120mm gun, heavier armor, and an integrated NBC system and improved crew compartment; nearly 5,000 produced

M1A1HA: (1988) had heavy armor (HA), in which the composite armor incorporates almost impenetrable steel-encased depleted uranium, although this increased the weight dramatically

M1A2: most changes are internal, including a thermal viewer for the tank commander; a new navigation system; and the Inter-Vehicular Information System (IVIS), a datalink compatible with other advanced AFVs and helicopters; 77 delivered new, and 600 M1A1s upgraded to M1A2

Crew: 4

Armament: 1 x 105mm main gun or 1 x 120mm M256 main gun; 1 x 7.62mm machine gun (coaxial); 1 x 7.62mm machine gun (antiaircraft)

Weight: 120,218 lbs. (M1A1); 145,552 lbs. (M1A1HA); 130,042 lbs. (M1A2)

Length: 21’9” (32’3” over gun)

Width: 12’

Height: 8’

Armor: not disclosed, but flat-plate composite Chobham-type composite armor on M1, improved protection armor on M1A1, and steel-encased depleted uranium armor on M1A1HA (heavy armor)

Ammunition storage and type: 55 x 105mm; 1,000 x 12.7mm; 11,400 x 7.62mm


The Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK), is a series of improvements to the M1 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.

Armor upgrades include reactive armor on the sides of the tank and slat armor (similar to that on the Stryker) on the rear to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and other shaped charge warheads.

A Transparent Armor Gun Shield and a thermal sight system are added to the loader’s top-mounted M240B 7.62 mm machine gun, and a Kongsberg Gruppen Remote Weapon Turret carrying a .50 caliber machine gun (again similar to that used on the Stryker) is in place of the tank commander’s original .50 caliber machine gun mount, wherein the commander had to expose himself to fire the weapon manually. 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 maintenance depot.

While the reactive armor may not be needed in most situations in maneuver warfare, items like the rear slat armor, loader’s gun shield, infantry phone (which saw use on Marine Corps M1A1s as early as 2003), and Kongsberg Remote Weapons Station for the .50 caliber machine gun will be added to the entire M1A2 fleet over time.

On August 29, 2006, General Dynamics Land Systems received a US Army order for 505 Tank Urban Survivability Kits (TUSK) for Abrams main battle tanks supporting operations in Iraq, under a US$45 million contract. The add-on kit will be provided for M1A1 and M1A2-series tanks to enhance crew survivability in urban environments. The kit ordered by the Army consists of a Loader’s Armor Gun Shield (LAGS), a Tank Infantry Phone (TIP), Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles (ARAT), a Remote Thermal Sight (RTS) and a Power Distribution Box (PDB). Deliveries are expected to be complete by April 2009.

Under a separate order, the US Army awarded General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products (GDATP) US$30 million to produce reactive armor kits to equip M1A2. The total contract value could reach $59 million if all contract options are exercised. The reactive tiles for the M1 will be locally produced at GDATP’s Burlington Technology Center. Tiles will be produced at the company’s reactive armor facility in Stone County Operations, McHenry, Miss. On December 8, 2006 the U.S. Army added Counter Improvised Explosive Device enhancements to the M1A1 and M1A2 TUSK, awarding GDLS U.S. $11.3 million, part of the $59 million package mentioned above. In December GDLS also received an order amounting about 40% of a US$48 million order for loader’s thermal weapon sights being part of the TUSK system improvements for the M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams Tanks.


U.S. Main Battle Tank M1A2 SEP Abrams Tusk II

During the Iraq War of 2003 and the subsequent occupation, the M1 Abrams served as the main tank of the US military. While the M1A2 SEP was a highly modernized version including electronics improvements and so on, the US military found that it faced a new threat during the occupation from 2004 onwards, namely in close-quarters urban situations with weapons such as mines and hand-held weapons. Tank Urban Survival Kits (TUSK) were developed to counter such threats, and the original TUSK I added block-shaped reactive armor to the tank sides as well as an anti-mine underplate, additional M2 heavy machine gun above the main gun, and shields for the loader. The TUSK II upgrade further added shields for the commander and the distinctive tile-shaped reactive armor, although these were not fitted to all M1A2 SEPs.



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