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M1 Abrams Block III

M1 Abrams Block III The M1 Abrams Block III was the Main Battle Tank configuration for the Armored Systems Modernization program. Developed from the mid-1980s, the ASM program was to have prototypes built by 1990 and in production by 1997.

Concern about developments in reactive armor and electro-optical countermeasures prompted the Army's Armor Anti-Armor (A3) Modernization Plan, a combined arms approach. To help meet the challenge, the Army indicated to Congress it would procure 3,000 MlA2-configured Abrams tanks during a five-year period and also field a Block III tank by 1997.

In FY 1989 the Defense Acquisition Board conditionally approved the Army's plans for the M1A2, or Block II version of the Abrams tank, and authorized limited production. The DAB also asked the Army to clarify the relation of the modifications planned for Block II Abrams with the Block III.

The Army adopted a more radical approach for the development of the M1 Block III version of the Abrams tank. Regarded as necessary to combat future Soviet armor, the Army planned to equip the Block III tank with an automatic gun loader; a new high-energy gun and electronic fire control system; advanced target acquisition capabilities; improved chassis, power pack, and suspension; advanced armor protection; and a vehicular information system that would be able to convey vehicle status reports and diagnostic information to the crew. Its automated command and control systems would include a position navigation system that would display unit locations, indicate direction and speed of movement, and locate distant targets for indirect fire.

The Army planned to initially field the Block III tank in FY 1998, barring future funding shortfalls and assuming timely development of an advanced power system and the common chassis envisioned in the HFM Plan. Congress, however, was increasingly concerned about the development costs of both the Block II and Block III tanks. The Block III alone was estimated to be about $1 billion.

The Defense Acquisition Board [DAB] met to review the Block III Milestone I in August 1990. At this meeting, the threat-based justification for ASM was validated. The intelligence community had verified ASM'sSystem Threat Analysis Report (STAR) in February 1990. In August, they signed a joint intelligence memorandum indicating that the Soviets, despite reduced forces, still retained significant military capabilities. Milestone I was approved for Block III and entry of ASM Package I into OEM/VAL was approved.

Separate prototyping and component integration for Block III was required before moving into FSD. This delayed the IOC date almost two years, from early 2001 to late 2002. With purchase contracts for M1 tanks nearing completion and the decision to not buy (to ensure ASM funding) large numbers of the M1A2, the postponement created a gap in Army tank production. Consequently, DOD wanted to start the upgrade program in FY94, but FY96 was the optimum year for ASM.

M1 upgrades were considered able to fill the projected four year gap between the planned shutdown of the M1A2 production lines and startup of Block III production, thus preserving the tank industrial base. The Army, however, had determined that it would sacrifice M1A2 buys to keep dwindling procurement funds for the purchase of ASMs. Army leaders had made a conscious decision to forego near and mid-term systems to the reduced threat, in order to pay for future ASM systems.

By 1991, Block III slippage and Army curtailment of M1 procurement had resulted in an almost 10 year gap in major tank production; this was expected to have a significant impact on the US tank-building industrial base. The often maligned M1/M1A1 Abrams tank performed much better than expected in Desert Storm; high operational rates and action against Iraqi, top-line Soviet equipment raised additional questions about the need for Block III. The performance of these systems provided Congress with the rationale needed to further demand current production be continued and up-grades efforts be undertaken.

Despite the fact that there was probably not enough funding in the out-year budgets to upgrade M1s, even with sacrificing Block III to pay for it, the Army did not cancel Block III but instead realigned ASM Program priorities. Development of the Block III was deferred, but only small steps were taken toward the Congressionally mandated M1 upgrades. As development of Block III has slipped, the production gap between the last M1A2 and a future tank had widened. Without Block III, however, there was no longer a tank plant layaway, it was tank plant closure.

Because of the changing threat and a realignment of budget priorities, the Congress and the Office of the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to restructure the ASM program with AFAS and ARV as the lead systems. Block III, CMV, and IFV were deferred indefinitely.

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