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Encyclopedia > M1A1 Abrams
General Characteristics
Length: 8,48 m (27.82 ft)
Width: 3,64 m (12 ft)
Height: 2.43 m (8 ft)
Weight: 69.5 tons
Speed: 67 km/h (42 mph) (road)
48 km/h (30 mph) (off-road)
Range: M1: 498 km (310 mi)

M1A1: 465 km (288 mi)
M1A2: 391 km (243 mi)

M1: 105 mm gun
M1A1 and M1A2:
120 mm smoothbore gun
.50 caliber (12.7 mm) machine gun
7.62 mm machine gun
Power plant: 1119 kW (1500 hp)
gas turbine
Crew: 4

The M1 Abrams main battle tank is the principal combat tank of the United States Army. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the Army's 37th Armored Battalion.


Production history

The M1 Abrams was designed by the General Dynamics Corporation and first entered US Army service in 1980. An improved version of the M1, the M1A1 was introduced in 1985. The M1A1 has a 120 mm smoothbore gun developed by Rheinmetall GmbH of Germany, improved armor and an NBC protection system. The M1A2 is a further improvement of the M1A1 with a commander's thermal viewer and weapon station, position navigation equipment, digital data bus and a radio interface unit. The army has upgraded all older M1s and M1A1s to the A2 configuration; the US Marine Corps still uses M1A1 tanks that have not yet been upgraded to the A2 configuration.

An electronic upgrade (and other equipment) of the M-1A2 called the System Enhancement Program (SEP) was begun in 1999.

In this article, "Abrams" is used to refer to all variants of the tank, while the specific variants are referred to as the M-1, M-1IP, M-1A1, and M-1A2.

M1A1 with mine plow from 1995 or earlier

During Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm and for Bosnia, some M1A1s were modified with armor upgrades. The M1 can be equipped with mine plow and mine roller attachments if needed. The M1 chassis also serves as a basis for the Grizzly combat engineering vehicle and the Wolverine heavy assault bridge.

Over 8,800 M1 and M1A1 tanks have been produced.

Reduced-capability export variants of the M1 Abrams are also used by the defence forces of:

Combat history

An M1A1 Abrams

The Abrams remained untested in combat until the Gulf War in 1991. A total of 1,848 M1A1s were deployed to Saudi Arabia. The M1A1 was vastly superior to the Soviet produced T-72, T-62 and T-55 tanks fielded by the Iraqis. Only 18 M1A1s were taken out of service due to battle damage and none of these losses resulted in crew casualties. The M1A1 was capable of making kills at ranges in excess of 4000 m.

Further combat was seen during 2003 when US forces invaded Iraq and deposed the Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. The campaign saw very similar performance from the tank with no Abrams crew member being lost to hostile fire during the battle in Iraq. However, on October 29, 2003, two soldiers were killed and a third wounded when the tank was disabled by an anti-tank mine, which may have been combined with other explosives to increase its effect. This marked the first time deaths resulted from an assault on the M1 tank.

On November 27, 2004 an Abrams tank was completely destroyed and its driver killed from shrapnel wounds when an extremely powerful improvised explosive consisting of three L15 155mm shells with a total explosive weight of 34.5 kg detonated next to the tank. The other three crew members were able to escape, a testament to the armor of the M1A2.

During the major combat operations in Iraq, Abrams crew members were lost when one tank with the US Army's 3rd Infantry Division, and US Marine Corps troops, drove onto a bridge. The bridge failed, dropping the tank into the Euphrates River, where one soldier drowned.

No Abrams tank has ever been destroyed as a result of fire from an enemy tank, though a number have been disabled in ambushes employing short-range antitank rockets like the Russian RPG-7, RPG-18 and AT-14 "Kornet".


The Abrams is protected by a type of composite armour (similar to Chobham armour) formed by multiple layers of steel and ceramics. It may also be fitted with reactive armour if needed; however, this modification has never actually been done. Fuel and ammunition are in armored compartments to protect the crew and reduce the risk of cooking off if the tank is damaged. Protection against spalling is provided by a kevlar liner. Beginning in 1988, M1A1 tanks received improved armor packages that incorporated depleted uranium reinforcing rods in their armor at the front of the turret and the front of the hull. Armor thus reinforced offers significantly better resistance towards all types of anti-tank weaponry, but at the expense of adding considerable weight to the tank. The first M1A1 tanks to receive this upgrade were tanks stationed in Germany, since they were the first line of defense against the Soviet Union. US tankers participated in Operation Desert Storm received an emergency program to upgrade their tanks with depleted uranium armour immediately before the onset of the campaign. The newer M1A2 tanks uniformly incorporate depleted uranium armor, and the majority of the M1A1 tanks in active service have been upgraded to this standard as well.


Main armament

The main armament of the M1 variant was the M68A1 105 mm rifled cannon firing a variety of APFSDS, HEAT, and high explosive rounds (tanks in US service carried no high explosive rounds, only APFSDS, APFSDSDU, HEAT, white phosphorus smoke, and a highly efficient and lethal anti-personnel flechette round).

The main armament of the M1A1 and M1A2 is the M256 120 mm smoothbore cannon, created by the Rheinmetall Corporation of Germany and manufactured under license in the US by General Dynamics Land Systems Division in their plant in Lima, Ohio. It fires depleted uranium armor-piercing shells and a high explosive shaped-charge HEAT round that incorporates a sophisticated multi-mode electronic sensing fuze mechanism allowing it to be used effectively against both armored vehicles and personnel, or even, theoretically, low-flying aircraft—though this latter capability has never been tested in combat.

The M1028, a new 120 mm anti-personnel canister cartridge, has been brought into service early for use in the 2003 occupation of Iraq. It contains 1150 10 mm tungsten shot projectiles which spread from the muzzle to produce a shotgun effect lethal out to 500m. The tungsten balls can be used to clear enemy dismounts, break up hasty ambush sites in urban areas, clear defiles, stop infantry attacks and counter-attacks, and support friendly infantry assaults by providing cover-by-fire.

Secondary armament

The Abrams tank has three machine guns:

  1. A .50 cal (12.7 mm) M2 machine gun in front of the commander's hatch. This gun is on a powered mount and has a 3 magnification sight.
  2. A 7.62 mm M240 machine gun in front of the loader's hatch on a skate mount.
  3. A 7.62 mm M240 machine gun in a fixed mount coaxial with the main armament. It is the coaxial gun that gets by far the most use (simply because it can be operated from within the tank) and many tank crewmen consider the coaxial gun to be the tank's main armament.

The turret is fitted with two six-barreled smoke grenade launchers. These can create a thick smoke that blocks both vision and thermal imaging. The engine can also be used to create a smokescreen.


The Abrams is equipped with a fire control computer that takes data from a thermal imaging sensor system, a laser rangefinder, a wind sensor, a tilt sensor, and data on the ammunition type (a switch above the thermal sight viewer at the gunner's station provides settings for different ammunition types), and computes a firing solution. Either the commander or gunner can fire the gun.

The Abrams's fire control system is highly sophisticated, extremely efficient, and very deadly; it is the sensors and fire control system, as much as the armor and the powerful main gun, which make the Abrams so effective on the battlefield by allowing it to fire with accuracy while moving quickly on rough terrain. With a skilled crew at the controls, they can detect the enemy in smoke, rain, fog, snow, or total darkness, from four kilometers away or more, and often hit a target the size of a tank on the first try from that distance.


The M1 Abrams is powered by a 1500 hp (1119 kW) Lycoming gas turbine, and a 4-forward/2-reverse speed transmission, giving it a governed top speed of 42 mph (67 km/h) on roads, 30 mph (48 km/h) cross-country. There are unconfirmed reports of crews removing the engine governor and achieving speeds of up to 57 mph (90 km/h) on relatively smooth cross-country ground. The tank can be fueled by diesel fuel, kerosene, JP-1 jet fuel, any grade of gasoline, or even (theoretically) alcohol.

The Abrams can be carried by the C-5 Galaxy and C-17 Globemaster III. The limited capacity (one combat-ready tank or two transport-ready tanks in a C-5, one combat-ready tank in a C-17) caused serious logistical problems when deploying the tanks for the first Gulf War: the 1,848 tanks used had to be transported by ship. If the tank is shipped in the transport-ready configuration, it needs depot-level maintainence to install a number of sections of armour, and needs to be fueled and loaded with ammunition.


The Abrams has a crew of four:

  1. A driver in the center front of the hull.
  2. A gun loader seated on the left side of the turret.
  3. A commander seated on the rear right side of the turret.
  4. A gunner seated on the front right side of the turret.

See also

External links

  • FAS Military Analysis Network's page on the M1 Abrams (http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/m1.htm)
  • M1A1/A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank Information (http://www.army-technology.com/projects/abrams/index.html)
  • An M1 Abrams in King Arthur's Court (http://chadparmet.home.comcast.net/M1Abrams.html)
  • Army Times - Two soldiers die in attack on Abrams tank, October 29, 2003 (http://www.armytimes.com/story.php?f=1-292925-2348567.php)

  Results from FactBites:
M1A1 Abrams (472 words)
The new tank was named for the late General Creighton W. Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the 37th Armored Battalion.
The Abrams hull and turret are built of a material similar to the ceramic-and-steel-plate Chobham armor developed in Britain.
The driver is seated in a reclining position in the front of the hull; the commander and gunner are in the turret on the right, and the loader is on the left.
NationMaster - Encyclopedia: M1 Abrams (1270 words)
The M1 is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the 37th Armored Regiment.
Notable features of the M1 Abrams include the use of a powerful gas turbine engine, the adoption of sophisticated composite armor, and separate ammunition storage in a blow-out compartment for crew safety.
The M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank is the namesake of the late General Creighton W. Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and commander of the 37th Armored Battalion.
  More results at FactBites »



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