On 19 November 2010, it was announced that the US Marine Corps would be deploying 14 M1A1 Abrams tanks to Afghanistan. The tanks would be deployed with USMC forces in Regional Command - Southwest. This represented the first time M1 tanks of any type had been deployed to Afghanistan since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.
The M1A1 is the first major block improvement to the M1 ABRAMS Tank System and provides a significant improvement to the Army's offensive ground combat power as displayed during Operation Desert Storm. This block upgrade includes the 120mm M256 cannon, improved fire control system, and NBC overpressure system, and improved suspension. These improvements give the M1A1 greater shoot-on-the move capabilities and an increased first round probability against advanced enemy armor. A new configuration is currently under development that will incorporate the Force XXI Battle Command Brigade and Below (FBCB2) computer and software and a far target designate capability. The M1A1 is fielded throughout the US Army, the US Marine Corps, and is being coproduced for the Government of Egypt.
This tank significantly increases the capabilities of the Fleet Marine Forces across the full spectrum of conflict in the near and midterm. The M1A1 Tank, in addition to the improved armor, 120mm smoothbore gun and the NBC overpressure system, has a Deep Water Fording Kit (DWFK), a Position Location Reporting Systems (PLRS), enhanced ship tiedowns, Digital Electronic Control Unit (DECU) (which allows significant fuel savings),and Battlefield Override.
The main weapon of the M1A1 is the M256 120mm smoothbore cannon, designed by the Rheinmetall Corporation of Germany. Engagement ranges approaching 4000 meters were successfully demonstrated during Operation Desert Storm. The primary armor-defeating ammunition of this weapon is the armor-piercing, fin-stabilized, discarding sabot (APDS-FS) round, which features a depleted uranium penetrators. Depleted uranium has density two and a half times greater than steel and provides high penetration characteristics. Several other types of ammunition are available as well. It is reliable, deadly accurate and has a "hit/kill ratio" that equals or surpasses any main battle tank armament in the world.
As with virtually every tank every fielded by the US, the familiar .50 caliber Browning M2 Heavy Barrel machine gun - the "Ma Duce" - is located in a powered mount at the Commander's station and is equipped with a x3 magnification sight. The Loader is provided with a 7.62mm M240 machine gun, and another M240 is mounted in-line with the main gun of the tank ("coaxially"). It is in a fixed mount and is aimed with the main gun to suppress enemy ground troops.
The layout of the Abrams follows classic tank design and accommodates a crew of four: Commander, Gunner, Loader and Driver. The Commander and Gunner are seated on the right side of the turret. The Loader is seated on the left side of the turret, and the Driver is seated at the center front of the hull.
The Commander's station is equipped with six periscopes which provide all round 360 degree view. The Independent Thermal Viewer (ITV) from Texas Instruments provides him with independent, stabilized day and night vision with a 360 degree view, automatic sector scanning, automatic target cueing of the Gunner's sight with no need for verbal communication, and a complete back-up fire control system - the Commander is capable of firing the main gun independent of the Gunner.
The Gunner's Primary Sight-Line of Sight (GPS-LOS), was developed by the Electro-Optical Systems Division of Hughes Aircraft Company. The night vision Thermal Imaging System (TIS), also from Hughes, creates an image based on the differences of heat radiated by objects in the field of view. The thermal image is displayed in the eyepiece of the Gunner's sight together with the range measurement to within 10 meters of accuracy, from a Hughes laser range finder, which is integrated into all of the fire control systems. The Abrams also has an onboard digital fire control computer. Range data from the laser rangefinder is transferred directly to the fire control computer, which automatically calculates the fire control solution. The data includes 1) the lead angle measurement, 2) the bend of the gun measured by the muzzle reference system of the main armament, 3) wind velocity measurement from a wind sensor on the roof of the turret and 4) the data from a pendulum static cant sensor located at the center of the turret roof. The Gunner or Commander manually inputs the data on the ammunition type and temperature, and the barometric pressure and the weapon is prepared for engagement.
The Loader's station is located on the left side of the turret and has no special fire control equipment.
The Driver's station is located at the center front of the hull. The Driver is in a semi-reclined position when his hatch is closed, as it must be whenever the vehicle is in operation. His station is equipped with a standard array of gages and monitors reflecting the condition of vehicle fluid levels, batteries and electrical equipment. The Driver has either three observation periscopes or two periscopes on either side and a central image intensifying ("Starlight") periscope for night vision. The periscopes provide 120 degrees field of view. The Driver's night vision equipment enables the tank to maneuver at normal daytime driving speeds in darkness and in poor visibility conditions such as in the dust and smoke encountered on the battlefield.
The turret is fitted with two six-barreled M250 smoke grenade launchers, one on each side of the main gun. The standard smoke grenade contains a phosphors compound that masks thermal signature of the vehicle to the enemy. A smoke screen can also be laid by an engine operated system.
An improvement program will eventually upgrade all M1A1 tanks with steel encased depleted uranium armor, which has a density at least two-and-a-half times greater than steel. The depleted uranium armor will raise the total weight of the Abrams tank to 65 tons, but offers vastly improved protection in the bargain.
The Abrams has been using Depleted Uranium (DU) armor since 1988. In 1996, a design change to the armor package was made by the Army and cut-in to production by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) via Change Request XMPP-2083 in Oct 96 and effective with Job #1 M1A2 Phase II AUT. The use of DU armor is a primary feature that distinguishes the Abrams tank from numerous other commonly accepted equipment employed by the military and industry. The current use of the depleted uranium (DU) armor package on the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT) Heavy Armor System has been re-evaluated to determine whether the environmental impacts of its continued use remain insignificant, taking into consideration the current use of the tank and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC's) reduction in allowable radiation exposure from 500 mrem/year to 100 mrem/year for tank and maintenance crews (individual members of the public). As in already-fielded weapon system, M1 MBTs have been in production and in the field since the early 1980s. During that time, many technical, environmental and health assessments have been completed. These documents have addressed and minimized environmental impacts.
The stowage for the main armament ammunition is in armored ammunition boxes behind sliding armor doors. Armor bulkheads separate the crew compartment from the fuel tanks. The tank is equipped with an automatic Halon fire extinguishing system. This system automatically activates within 2 milliseconds of either a flash or a fire within the various compartments of the vehicle. The top panels of the tank are designed to blow outwards in the event of penetration by a HEAT projectile.
Nuclear, Biological and Chemical (NBC) warfare protection is provided by an overpressure clean-air conditioning air system, a radiological warning system, and a chemical agent detector. The crew are individually equipped with protective suits and masks.
The Marine Corps has fielded the M1A1 Common Tank to replace the aging M60A1 Rise/Passive tank. The M60 has reached the end of its service life and lacks the capability to survive and to defeat the threats expected to be encountered on the modern battlefield. During Operation Desert Shield/Storm, the Marine Corps borrowed 60 M1A1s (called the M1A1 Heavy Armor) from the US Army. There were also 16 Marine Corps M1A1 Tanks delivered on an accelerated schedule for employment during the operation. This total of 76 M1A1 tanks was employed by 2d Tank Battalion and elements of 4th Tank Battalion. The M1A1 tanks saw immediate action during the I Marine Expeditionary Force (IMEF) drive through the burning Kuwaiti oil fields. All loaned tanks were returned to the US Army after Desert Storm.
Due to unique Marine Corps amphibious requirements, and the need for both supportability and interoperability between the Marine Corps and the US Army, the two services agreed to jointly produce the M1A1 Main Battle Tank. The M1A1 MBT has the capability to conduct operations ashore. It is compatible with all US Navy amphibious ships and craft (to include the LCAC) and Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS). The USMC completed fielding of all tanks, to include active, reserve, MPS, and depot maintenance float (DMF) during FY 96.
In 1995 the 26th MEU became the first amphibiously deployed unit to carry the M1A1. This added some complication to the logistics of the unit due to the tank's weight. Topping the scales at over 68 tons the vehicle requires special care during amphibious operations. One tank can be carried at a time on an Air Cushioned Landing Craft (LCAC), two on a Landing Craft Utility (LCU), but only during fairly calm seas. For operations with the Marine Corps, tanks have been equipped with special fording systems. These modifications include extended air intake and exhaust tubes that allow the vehicles to cross rivers and shallow waters such as the surf zones that Marines operate in.
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