US Army Crafting New Abrams Tank Upgrade Plan

Foreign Affairs

Washington: US Army is still fleshing out its M1 Abrams tank modernisation plan, but the tentative strategy is to keep General Dynamics Land Systems as the prime contractor and open up “robust” competitions for subsystems, said a top service official.

Since the service announced its decision last month to abandon Abrams System Enhancement Package version 4 (SEPv4) development, in favour of a more ambitious upgrade dubbed the M1E3 Abrams, specific details have been slow to emerge, in part, because the program manager is still crafting the new acquisition strategy, Army Under Secretary Gabe Camarillo told reporters  at the Association of the United States Army conference here.

“It’s an engineering change proposal which, in acquisition speak, is a modification of an existing program. So, it will continue to be a sole-source award to General Dynamics Land Systems,” Camarillo explained.

American service officials have noted that they want a M1E3 Abrams that is lighter, but with better survivability and a logistics footprint. Maintenance and weight concerns are nothing new, but recently released Army Science Board report dated August 2023 inks out dire concerns about the Army’s ground combat vehicle portfolio, including the Abrams line.

The board, tasked with providing the service with advice and recommendations on a host of technology and business-related topics, reports that the Army must make a $3 billion to $4 billion armour technology modernization investment “now” or “risk mission success in close combat on the 2040 battlefield.

“Regardless of the theatre of operations, the lack of an overmatching [main battle tank] capability jeopardises Army mission success,” the board wrote. “All of the M1’s advantages in mobility, firepower and protection are at risk,” it later added. “The M1A2 SEP V3&4 upgrades will improve effectiveness but will not restore dominance.”

Camarillo said that report helped compel Army leaders to pivot to the M1E3 and address gaps identified in that report. “That said, I don’t want to leave you with the impression that our current Abrams tank is not the absolute best tank in the world,” he said. “It is very effective, not just against the range of threats that we see today, but even as they’re emerging, what we want to do is make sure that we are staying ahead of that curve.”