US Army Awards Next Generation Abrams Design Contract

M1E3 Abrams
M1E3 Abrams

The efforts for redefining the US Army next generation main battle tank (MBT) was formally initiated on 31 May 2024 with the award of a preliminary design contract to General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS).

The program for the M1E3 Abrams seeks to pursue different priorities than the previous Abrams improvements implemented over the past thirty-plus years. These enhancements were typified by the series of System Enhancement Packages (SEP) developed and applied to the Abrams updating portions of the fielded fleet.

The most recent upgrade was the M1A2 SEPv3 with new technologies and capabilities. However, in September 2023 the US Army decided to cancel the SEPv4 development.

Major General Glenn Dean, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems indicated at the time that “add-on” approach of the SEP effort could only offer new tank’s capabilities with weight increases that would have adverse logistic and operational implications. This is evident in the 73-ton weight of the latest Abrams.

In addition, lessons from combat in Ukraine are suggesting the need for both broader and integrated protections for soldiers, as well as, enhancing situational and threat awareness.  The threat of drones and unmanned munitions are especially challenges that must be addressed. Beyond this Gen Raney, heading Futures Command suggested “The Indo-Pacific theatre has the potential to fundamentally change the requirements for combat vehicles.”

The specific requirements of the M1E3 have not yet been revealed, however, the Army Science Board study on future tanks suggested a number of advances. This included hybrid electric drive, an autoloader, a new main gun, advanced munitions, integrated armour protection, improved command, control, and networking, application of artificial intelligence (AI), and the reduction of the vehicles thermal and electromagnetic signatures.

In fact, General Dynamics in October 2022 displayed an AbramsX Technology Demonstrator weighing ten tons less than the current M1 with a more efficient hybrid electric diesel engine, an unmanned turret, a three-person crew, protection against drone bombs, plus links to unmanned aerial vehicles, and an onboard AI.

The preliminary design effort is intended to be completed in eighteen months. A schedule that is feasible largely due to the company initiatives of General Dynamics. Ultimately, the Army has indicated its desire to have the M1E3 introduced in parallel with its XM30 Infantry Combat Vehicle.

by Stephen W. Miller