The Army is now engineering a far-superior M1A2 SEP v4 Abrams tank variant for the 2020s and beyond --designed to be more lethal, faster, lighter weight, better protected, equipped with new sensors and armed with upgraded, more effective weapons, service officials said.
Advanced networking technology with next-generation sights, sensors, targeting systems and digital networking technology -- are all key elements of an ongoing upgrade to position the platform to successfully engage in combat against rapidly emerging threats, such as the prospect of confronting a Russian T-14 Armata or Chinese 3rd generation Type 99 tank.
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The SEP v4 variant, slated to being testing in 2021, will include new laser rangefinder technology, color cameras, integrated on-board networks, new slip-rings, advanced meteorological sensors, ammunition data links, laser warning receivers and a far more lethal, multi-purpose 120mm tank round, Maj. Gen. David Bassett, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew, from the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conducting Table VI Gunnery at Fort Stewart, Ga. December 6, 2016.
While Army officials explain that many of the details of the next-gen systems for the future tanks are not available for security reasons, Basset did explain that the lethality upgrade, referred to as an Engineering Change Proposal, or ECP, is centered around the integration of a higher-tech 3rd generation FLIR – Forward Looking Infrared imaging sensor.
The advanced FLIR uses higher resolution and digital imaging along with an increased ability to detect enemy signatures at farther ranges through various obscurants such as rain, dust or fog, Bassett said.
"A combination of mid-wave and long-wave sensors allow for better target identification at long ranges and better resolution at shorter ranges," Bassett explained. Higher-definition sensors allow Army crews to, for instance, better distinguish an enemy fighter or militant carrying an AK 47.
Improved FLIR technologies also help tank crews better recognize light and heat signatures emerging from targets such as enemy sensors, electronic signals or enemy vehicles. This enhancement provides an additional asset to a tank commander's independent thermal viewer.
Rear view sensors and laser detection systems are part of these upgrades as well. Also, newly configured meteorological sensors will better enable Abrams tanks to anticipate and adapt to changing weather or combat conditions more quickly, Bassett explained.
"You do not have to manually put meteorological variables into the fire control system. It will detect the density of the air, relative humidity and wind speed and integrate it directly into the platform," Basset explained.
Marines from Company C, 1st Tank Battalion, prepare their tank for the day's attack on Range 210 Dec. 11, 2012, during Steel Knight 13.
The emerging M1A2 SEP v4 will also be configured with a new slip-ring leading to the turret and on-board ethernet switch to reduce the number of needed "boxes" by networking sensors to one another in a single vehicle. Also, some of the current electronics, called Line Replaceable Units, will be replaced with new Line Replaceable Modules including a commander's display unit, driver's control panel, gunner's control panel, turret control unit and a common high-resolution display, information from General Dynamics Land Systems states.
Advanced Multi-Purpose Round
The M1A2 SEP v4 will carry Advanced Multi-Purpose 120mm ammunition round able to combine a variety of different rounds into a single tank round.
The AMP round will replace four tank rounds now in use. The first two are the M830, High Explosive Anti-Tank, or HEAT, round and the M830A1, Multi-Purpose Anti -Tank, or MPAT, round.
The latter round was introduced in 1993 to engage and defeat enemy helicopters, specifically the Russian Hind helicopter, Army developers explained. The MPAT round has a two-position fuse, ground and air, that must be manually set, an Army statement said.
M1 Abrams tanks conduct a live fire range day. (Photo from U.S. Army)
The M1028 Canister round is the third tank round being replaced. The Canister round was first introduced in 2005 by the Army to engage and defeat dismounted Infantry, specifically to defeat close-in human-wave assaults. Canister rounds disperse a wide-range of scattering small projectiles to increase anti-personnel lethality and, for example, destroy groups of individual enemy fighters.
The M908, Obstacle Reduction round, is the fourth that the AMP round will replace; it was designed to assist in destroying large obstacles positioned on roads by the enemy to block advancing mounted forces, Army statements report.
AMP also provides two additional capabilities: defeat of enemy dismounts, especially enemy anti-tank guided missile, or ATMG, teams at a distance, and breaching walls in support of dismounted Infantry operations
Bassett explained that a new ammunition data link will help tank crews determine which round is best suited for a particular given attack.
"Rather than having to carry different rounds, you can communicate with the round before firing it," Bassett explained.
Engineering Change Proposal 1
Some of the upgrades woven into the lethality enhancement for the M1A2 SEP v4 have their origins in a prior upgrades now underway for the platform,
Accordingly, the lethality upgrade is designed to follow on to a current mobility and power upgrade referred to as an earlier or initial ECP. Among other things, this upgrade adds a stronger auxiliary power unit for fuel efficiency and on-board electrical systems, improved armor materials, upgraded engines and transmission and a 28-volt upgraded drive system. This first ECP, slated to begin production by 2017, is called the M1A2 SEP v3 variant.
This ECP 1 effort also initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare devices such as the Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device – Electronic Warfare – CREW. An increased AMPs alternator is also part of this upgrade, along with Ethernet cables designed to better network vehicle sensors together.
The Abrams is also expected to get an advanced force-tracking system which uses GPS technology to rapidly update digital moving map displays with icons showing friendly and enemy force positions.
The system, called Joint Battle Command Platform, uses an extremely fast Blue Force Tracker 2 Satcom network able to reduce latency and massively shorten refresh time. Having rapid force-position updates in a fast-moving combat circumstance, quite naturally, could bring decisive advantages in both mechanized and counterinsurgency warfare.
Active Protection Systems
The Army is fast-tracking an emerging technology for Abrams tanks designed to give combat vehicles an opportunity to identify, track and destroy approaching enemy rocket-propelled grenades in a matter of milliseconds, service officials said.
Called Active Protection Systems, or APS, the technology uses sensors and radar, computer processing, fire control technology and interceptors to find, target and knock down or intercept incoming enemy fire such as RPGs and Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, or ATGMs. Systems of this kind have been in development for many years, however the rapid technological progress of enemy tank rounds, missiles and RPGs is leading the Army to more rapidly test and develop APS for its fleet of Abrams tanks.
The Army is looking at a range of domestically produced and allied international solutions from companies participating in the Army's Modular Active Protection Systems (MAPS) program, an Army official told Scout Warrior.
General Dynamics Land Systems, maker of Abrams tanks, is working with the Army to better integrate APS into the subsystems of the Abrams tank, as opposed to merely using an applique system, Mike Peck, Business Development Manager, General Dynamics Land Systems, told Scout Warrior in an interview.
Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Clarence A. Leake
Peck said General Dynamics plans to test an APS system called Trophy on the Abrams tank next year.
Using a 360-degree radar, processor and on-board computer, Trophy is designed to locate, track and destroy approaching fire coming from a range of weapons such as Anti-Tank-Guided-Missiles, or ATGMs, or Rocket Propelled Grenades, or RPGs.
The interceptor consists of a series of small, shaped charges attached to a gimbal on top of the vehicle. The small explosives are sent to a precise point in space to intercept and destroy the approaching round, he added.
Radar scans the entire perimeter of the platform out to a known range. When a threat penetrates that range, the system then detects and classifies that threat and tells the on-board computer which determines the optical kill point in space, a DRS official said.
Along with Rafael's Trophy system, the Army is also looking at Artis Corporation's Iron Curtain, Israeli Military Industry's Iron Fist, and UBT/Rheinmetall's ADS system, among others.
Overall, these lethality and mobility upgrades represent the best effort by the Army to maximize effectiveness and lethality of its current Abrams tank platform. The idea is to leverage the best possible modernization upgrades able to integrate into the existing vehicle. Early conceptual discussion and planning is already underway to build models for a new future tank platform to emerge by the 2030s – stay with Scout Warrior for an upcoming report on this effort.