M1 Abrams

The M1 Abrams is an American third-generation main battle tank produced by the United States. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and Commander of U.S. military forces in the Vietnam War from 1968 to 1972. Highly mobile, designed for modern armored ground warfare, the M1 is well armed and heavily armored. Notable features include the use of a powerful multifuel turbine engine, the adoption of sophisticated composite armor, and separate ammunition storage in a blow-out compartment for crew safety. Weighing nearly 68 short tons (almost 62 metric tons), it is one of the heaviest main battle tanks in service.

The M1 Abrams entered U.S. service in 1980, replacing the M60 tank. It served 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 Iraq.

Three main versions of the M1 Abrams have been deployed, the M1, M1A1, and M1A2, incorporating improved armament, protection and electronics. These improvements and other upgrades to in-service tanks, have allowed this long-serving vehicle to remain in front-line service. In addition, development for the improved M1A3 version has been known since 2009.

M1 Abrams
Class Vehicle
Type Armoured Fighting Vehicle
Manufacturer Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant
Production Period 1982 - 1996
Origin United States of America
Country Name Origin Year
United States of America 1980
Country Name Operational Year Retirement Year
Australia View
Egypt View
Iraq View
Kuwait View
Saudi Arabia View
United States of America 1980 View
ManufacturerName Production From Production To Quantity
Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant 1982 1996 View
Lima Army Tank Plant 1980 View

The M1 Abrams was developed during the Cold War as a successor to the canceled MBT-70. The M1 Abrams contract went to Chrysler Defense and was the first vehicle to adopt Chobham armor. Adaptations before the Persian Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm) gave the vehicle better firepower and NBC (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical) protection. Being vastly superior to Iraqi tanks, very few M1 tanks were hit by enemy fire. Upgrades after the war improved the tank's weapons sights and fire control unit. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed Iraq's military. The subsequent insurgency exposed the tanks' vulnerability to rocket-propelled grenades and mines. These problems were partially rectified with the TUSK modification. The Marine Corps sent a company of M1A1 Abrams to Afghanistan in late 2010.

The first attempt to replace the aging M60 tank was the MBT-70, developed in partnership with West Germany in the 1960s. The MBT-70 had advanced features such as a height-adjustable air suspension and a very small body with the driver in a turret design that allowed the driver to always face the direction of travel. The MBT-70 ultimately proved to be too heavy, complex, and expensive. As a result of the imminent failure of this project, the U.S. Army introduced the XM803, using some technologies from the MBT-70 but removing some of the more troublesome features. This succeeded only in producing an expensive system with capabilities similar to the M60.

Congress canceled the MBT-70 in November and XM803 December 1971, and redistributed the funds to the new XM815, later renamed the XM1 Abrams after General Creighton Abrams. Prototypes were delivered in 1976 by Chrysler Defense and General Motors armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun along with a Leopard 2 for comparison. The turbine-powered Chrysler Defense design was selected for development as the M1; Chrysler had significant experience designing turbine-powered land vehicles going back to the 1950s. In March 1982, General Dynamics Land Systems Division (GDLS) purchased Chrysler Defense, after Chrysler built over 1,000 M1s.

A total of 3,273 M1 Abrams were produced 1979–85 and first entered U.S. Army service in 1980. Production at the government-owned, GDLS-operated Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, was joined by vehicles built at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Michigan from 1982 to 1996. The M1 was armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun. An improved model called the M1IP was produced briefly in 1984 and contained small upgrades. The M1IP models were used in the Canadian Army Trophy NATO tank gunnery competition in 1985 and 1987.

About 6,000 M1A1 Abrams were produced from 1986–92 and featured the M256 120 mm (4.7 in) smoothbore cannon developed by Rheinmetall AG of Germany for the Leopard 2, improved armor, and a CBRN protection system. Production of M1 and M1A1 tanks totaled some 9,000 tanks at a cost of approximately $4.3 million per unit. By 1999, costs for the tank were upwards of US$5 million a vehicle.

In 1990, Project on Government Oversight in a report criticized the M1's high costs and low fuel efficiency in comparison with other tanks of similar power and effectiveness such as the Leopard 2. The report was based on data from U.S. Army sources and the Congressional record.

As the Abrams entered service in the 1980s, they operated 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, including South Korea. The exercises were aimed at countering Soviet forces. However, by January 1991 the Berlin Wall had fallen and the Abrams was instead deployed in the Middle East.

Type Main battle tank
Place of origin United States
Service history
In service 1980–present
Used by See Operators below
Wars Gulf War
War in Afghanistan
Iraq War
Iraqi insurgency (2011–present)
DesignationsM1 Abrams
Manufacturer(s)General Dynamics (Lima Army Tank Plant, Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant)
StatusProduction competed. In service with USA. (1)
Production Period1980-198Production Quantity3500+
Length, overall9.8mLength, hull7.9m
Width, overall3.7mHeight, overall2.9m
Combat Weight54545kgUnloaded Weightn/a
Radio, externaln/aCommunication, crewn/a
Main Armament105mm M68 rifled gunAmmunition Carried55x105mm
Gun Traverse360Elevation/Depression+20/-9
Traverse Rate42/sElevation Rate22/s
Gun Stabilizationvertical/horizontalRangefinderlaser
Night VisionyesAuto-Loaderno
Secondary Armament2 x 7.62mm MG (coaxial, AA)
12.7mm MG (AA)
Ammunition Carried11400x7.62mm

EngineAvco Lycoming AGT-1500 gas turbineTransmissionDetroit Diesel X-1100-3B automatic (4 forward, 2 reverse)
Horsepower1500hp at 3000rpmSuspensiontorsion bar
Power/Weight Ratio27hp/tTrack Width63.5cm
Speed, on road72km/hTrack Ground Contact465cm
Fuel Capacity1908 lGround Pressure0.92kg/cm2
Range, on road498kmGradient60%
Fuel Consumption380 l/100kmVertical Obstacle1.2m
Turning RadiuspivotTrench Crossing2.7m
Ground Clearance0.43Fording1.2m (1)
Smoke Laying2 x 6 smoke dischargers (24 smoke grenades)
engine smoke generators
NBC Protectionyes
Armor DetailsHull and turret constructed of advance armor that provides protection against HEAT projectiles and improved resistance to AP munitions.
(1) At least hundreds of the M1 tanks have been upgraded to the M1A2 standard over time.
(2) Fording depth 2.4m with preparation.

End notes