M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

Last updated on February 19th, 2019 at 10:15 pm

The M1 Abrams main battle tank is the primary main battle tank of the United States Army and the United States Marine Corp. It is the only battle tank currently produced in the United States.  The M1 Abrams main battle Tank is known for its exceptional service in the 1990/1991 and 2003 Persian Gulf Wars.

Development of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

During the 1960s, the United States and West Germany began collaborating on the development of a new main battle tank that would be a match for any new tank that the Soviets were working on.

This new tank, which was designated the MBT-70, was to be equipped with a Shillelagh missile system.
M1A1 Abrams main battle tank
The Americans wanted the MBT-70 to replace their M60 Patton MBT, while the West Germans wanted it to be a replacement for their Leopard 1.

As time went on and the MBT-70 project continued, the two countries began to disagree about the new tank’s design. In addition, costs began increasing dramatically.

West Germany withdrew from the project in 1969.

The West Germans went on to develop their own new main battle tank, the Leopard 2 MBT.

M1A1 Abrams main battle tankAt the end of 1971, the US Congress canceled development of the MBT-70. The funds that were budgeted for the MBT-70 project were transferred toward the development of a new main battle tank.

At first, this new main battle tank was designated the XM815 MBT. Later, it became known as the XM1 Abrams, after Vietnam War general Creighton Williams Abrams Jr.

In June 1973, the United States awarded both Chrysler Defense Division (now part of General Dynamics Land Systems) and General Motors contracts to develop prototypes of the XM1 Abrams.

Both companies built prototypes, which where then tested.

In November 1976, the Army announced that Chrysler had been chosen to produce the new tank.

The production version became known as the M1 Abrams main battle tank.

In 1980, the first production model of the M1 Abrams MBT was finished. The tank entered service that year.

Originally, production of the M1 Abrams took place at both the Lima Army Tank Plant in Ohio and at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Michigan.

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, Iraq, 2007Later on, production became concentrated in the Lima plant.

Production of the basic version of the M1 Abrams MBT ceased in 1985.

The M1 Abrams main battle tank has two primary variants: the M1A1 and the M1A2.

Most of the M1 Abrams main battle tanks that have been built have been M1A1s.

Production of the M1A1 took place between 1985 and 1993.

The M1A2 main battle tank entered production in 1992.

In 2011, the US Department of Defense was considering temporarily halting production of the M1 Abrams for at least three years, starting in 2013, in order to save money on defense spending.

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, South Korea 1998Description of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 Abrams main battle tank has a low profile

Its glacis palate is almost horizontal.

The nose of the M1 Abrams slopes back underneath the hull. The sides of the hull slope inward, while the rear of the hull is vertical.

There are air louvers on the upper part of the hull.

The turret front is almost vertical.

The M1 Abrams tank main battle tank uses Chobham composite armor, which gives the tank a slab-sided appearance.

There is an advanced torsion bar suspension, with seven road wheels and two return rollers on each side of the tank. A large idler is in the front. The drive sprocket is in the back.

Armored skirts cover the upper part of the suspension, the idler and most of the drive sprocket.

An advanced gas turbine engine, which can easily be maintained in the field, powers the M1 Abrams MBT.

The M1 Abrams MBT has NBC protection, a laser rangefinder and a ballistic computer.

M1A1 Abrams main battle tankCrew of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 Abrams main battle tank is operated by a four man crew, consisting of driver, commander, gunner and loader.

The driver sits in the front center of the hull.  The commander, gunner and loader sit in the turret – the commander and gunner on the right and the roader on the left.

The transmission and a raised engine compartment are in the back of the tank

Armament of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

When the M1 Abrams was first designed, it was supposed to have a 4.72 inch (120mm) gun as its primary weapon. However, the gun that was needed had not been fully developed by the time the tank entered production, so the earliest models  used an M68 4.13 inch (105mm) rifled gun – a licensed version of Great Britain’s Royal Ordnance L7 gun.

Later variants were fitted with a 4.72 inch (120mm) main gun.

The main gun on the M1 Abrams has a muzzle reference system and a fume extractor.

It can fire standard ammunition and APFSDS-T (armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot-tracer) rounds.

The turret has full 360 degree traverse, and the main gun can be power-elevated from -9 degrees to +20 degrees.

Secondary armament on the M1 Abrams consists of a 0.3 inch (7.62mm) stabilized coaxial machine gun,  a 0.3 inch (7.62mm) anti-aircraft machine gun that is manned by the loader and a 0.5 inch (12.7mm) anti-aircraft gun that is manned by the commander.

The M1 Abrams main battle tank has six pairs of smoke grenade dischargers.

Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK)

The Tank Urban Survival Kit (TUSK), which helps improve the tank’s chance of surviving in an urban combat environment, can be fitted to the M1 Abrams. TUSK was developed in the first decade of the 21st century.

TUSK includes reactive armor tile skirts and slat armor to protect the rear of the tank from rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) attacks.

The commander has a 360 degree camera and a remote weapons station that allows him to fire his gun from inside the turret.

A transparent armored gun shield protects the loader when he is firing his gun. The loader’s gun has a thermal sight system.

A 0.5 inch (12.7mm) machine gun with a Xenon spotlight can be mounted on top of the main gun.

Crewmembers can communicate with infantry via a Tank Infantry Phone (TIP).

Variants of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

M1 IP Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 IP (Improved Production) Abrams main battle tank was produced between 1984 and 1986.

It has heavier armor than the basic version of the M1 Abrams, and it has an improved suspension and transmission

M1A1-AIM main battle tank with TUSK (Tank Urban Survivability Kit)M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1A1 Abrams main battle tank entered service in 1985 and was produced until 1993.

Main armament on the M1A1 MBT is an M256 4.72 inch (120mm) gun, an American version of the German Rheinmetall gun that is used on the Leopard 2.

A new turret was built for the M1A1, so that it could hold the larger gun.

Subvariants of the M1A1 Abrams main battle tank include:

  • M1A1HA (Heavy Armor) Abrams MBT – has armor that consists of composite steel and depleted uranium – uranium that is no longer radioactive. Depleted uranium is very dense and provides good protection.
  • M1A1HC (Heavy Common) Abrams MBT – has an upgraded version of composite armor with depleted uranium.
  • M1A1D (Digital) Abrams MBT – has an upgraded digital suite
  • M1A1-AIM (Abrams Integration Management) – These are reconditioned tanks that have been fitted with a Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR) system, an onboard phone system and a thermal sight for the commander’s gun. The AIM upgrade includes a Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FCBCB2) communications platform that allows the commanders to track his tank’s position in relation to both enemy and friendly forces.
  • M1A1-KVT (“Krasnovian Variant Tank”) – training tank that is designed to look like an old Soviet tank
  • M1 Grizzly – combat engineering vehicle
  • M1 Panther II – remote-controlled mine clearer
  • M104 Wolverine – bridgelayer
  • M1 ABV – assault breacher vehicle, used by the US Marines

M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, Iraq 2005M1A2 Abrams Main Battle tank

The M1A2 Abrams main battle tank entered production in 1992.

Most M1A2 Abrams MBTs are upgraded M1A1s.

The M1A2 main battle tank has upgraded armor, which contains depleted uranium, and an improved engine cooling system.

It has an Internal Position Navigation System (POSNAV), and an Inter-Vehicular Information System (IVIS) –   a digital command information system that allows the tank to share information with other combat vehicles, aircraft and command posts.

The M1 A2 main battle tank has a Driver Thermal Viewer (DTV) and a Commander’s Independent Thermal Viewer (CITV) on the M1 A2.

A subvariant of the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank, the M1A2 SEP (System Enhancement Program) Abrams main battle tank, is the final version of the M1 Abrams.

The M1A2 SEP entered production in 1999 and is still being produced.

It has a new operating system with increased memory capacity and an improved soldier machine interface (SMI).

Depleted uranium armor protection has been improved by the addition of graphite.

M1A1 Abrams main battle tank, Kuwait 2003Combat History of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 Abrams main battle tank was first used in combat during the 1990/1991 Gulf War. It proved to be vastly superior to Iraqi tanks, which were upgraded versions of old Soviet T-55s, T-62s and T-72s.

It is claimed that only 18 Abrams tanks had to be taken out of service during the war.

Friendly fire from other M1s posed more of a threat than fire from Iraqi tanks.

Not one Abrams tank crewman was killed during war.

During the 2003 Gulf War, the M1 Abrams continued to outperform Iraqi tanks.

However, by this time, the Iraqis had improved their fighting tactics.

Abrams tanks became victims of ambushes by Iraqi infantry.

Iraqi soldiers were able to disable some Abrams tanks by firing short range anti-tank rockets at the tops, rears and tracks of the tanks, or by firing machine gun rounds at sensitive areas of the M1 tanks so that the tanks’ electronic sensors would be disabled.

Nevertheless, despite the Iraqi’s improved fighting techniques, not one M1 Abrams tank crewman lost his life during the conflict.

The M1 Abrams main battle tank was also used during peacekeeping operations in Bosnia in 1995 and 1996 and during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan. It has also been used in Kosovo.

Foreign Operators of the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank

The M1 Abrams tank is used by Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Australia.

Some M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks have been produced in Egypt.


M1 Abrams MBT

Active: 1980
Crew: 4
Weight: M1: 53.7 tons (54,545kg); M1 IP: 54.4 tons (55,300kg); M1A1: 58.1 tons (59,000kg); M1A2: 62.1 tons (63,100kg)
Length: M1 and M1 IP: 15ft 11in (7.92m), 32ft (9.77m) with gun forwards;M1A1 and M1A2: 15ft 11in (7.92m), 32ft 3in (9.83m) with gun forwards
Height: 7ft 9in (2.4m) to turret roof
Width: 11ft 11in (3.65m)
Weapons: Main – M1 and M1 IP: M68 4.13in (105mm) rifled gun: M1A1 and M1A2: M256 4.72 in (120mm) smoothbore gun; Secondary – 0.3 inch (7.62mm) coaxial machine gun, 0.3 inch (7.62mm) loader’s anti-aircraft machine gun, 0.5 inch (12.7mm) commander’s anti-aircraft machine gun, 6 pairs of smoke grenade dischargers
Armor Classified
Engine: Honeywell AGT-1500 gas turbine, 1500 hp
Speed: M1: 45mph (72kph); M1 IP, M1A1 and M1A2: 42mph (67kph)
Range: M1: 309 miles (498 km), M1 IP, M1A1 and M1A2: 298 miles (479km)