The M1 Abrams is a third-generation main battle tank produced in the United States. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and Commander of US military forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. The M1 Abrams is a well armed, heavily armored, and highly mobile tank designed for modern armored ground warfare. Notable features of the tank include the use of a powerful gas turbine engine, the adoption of sophisticated composite armor, and separate ammunition storage in a blow-out compartment for crew safety. With a weight of close to 68 short tons, it is one of the heaviest main battle tanks currently in service.
The M1 Abrams entered U.S. service in 1980, replacing the 105 mm gun, full tracked M60 Patton. It did, however, serve for over a decade alongside the improved M60A3, which had entered service in 1978. The M1 remains the principal main battle tank of the United States Army and Marine Corps, and the armies of Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Australia, and in 2010 Iraq. It is anticipated to continue in U.S. service until
the 2050s, approximately 70 years after adoption.
Three main versions of the M1 Abrams have been deployed, the M1, M1A1, and M1A2, incorporating improved armament, protection and electronics. These improvements, as well as periodic upgrades to older tanks have allowed this long-serving vehicle to remain in front-line service. The M1A3 is currently under development.
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As the Abrams entered service in the 1980s, they would operate alongside M60A3 within the United States military, and with other NATO tanks in numerous Cold War exercises. These exercises usually took place in Western Europe, especially West Germany, but also in some other countries like South Korea. During such training, Abrams crews honed their skills for use against the men and equipment of the Soviet Union. However, by 1991 the USSR had collapsed and the Abrams would have its trial by fire in the Middle East.
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 Iraq’s Soviet-era T-55 and T-62 tanks, as well as Iraqi-assembled Russian T-72s, and locally-produced copies (Asad Babil tank). The T-72s, like most Soviet export designs, lacked night vision systems and then-modern rangefinders, though they did have some night fighting tanks with older active infrared systems or floodlights—just not the latest starlight scopes and passive infrared scopes as on the Abrams. Only 23 M1A1s were taken out of service in the Gulf. Some others took minor combat damage, with little effect on their operational readiness. Very few Abrams tanks were hit by enemy fire, and there was only one fatality, along with a handful of woundings as a result.
The M1A1 was capable of making kills at ranges in excess of 2,500 metres (8,200 ft). This range was crucial in combat against tanks of Soviet design in Desert Storm, as the effective range of the main gun in the Soviet/Iraqi tanks was less than 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) (Iraqi tanks could not fire anti-tank missiles like their Russian counterparts). This meant Abrams tanks could hit Iraqi tanks before the enemy got in range—a decisive advantage in this kind of combat. In friendly fire incidents, the front armor and fore side turret armor survived direct APFSDS hits from other M1A1s. This was not the case for the side armor of the hull and the rear armor of the turret, as both areas were penetrated at least in two occasions by friendly DU ammunition during the Battle of Norfolk.