Army officials are cancelling their current upgrade plans for the M1 Abrams main battle tank in favor of a more significant modernization effort, the service recently announced.
The Army will end the M1A2 System Enhancement Package version 4 program and develop the M1E3 Abrams instead, according to the Sept. 6 announcement.
The M1E3 will focus on challenges the tank is likely to face on the battlefield of 2040 and beyond.
The Army was supposed to receive the M1A2 SEPv4 this past spring.
The Army National Guard currently operates about 400 Abrams tanks. The fleet is a mix of older M1A1 Abrams Integrated-Situational Awareness tanks and M1A2 SEPv2s and M1A2 SEP v3s.
The Army’s Abrams Upgrade Program is in the process of replacing all of the Guard’s AIM SA tanks with SEP v3s.
Army officials said the move to the M1E3 is partially a product of the lessons learned from recent and ongoing conflicts.
Abrams modernization is a NGAUS legislative priority.
"We must optimize the Abrams’ mobility and survivability to allow the tank to continue to close with and destroy the enemy as the apex predator on future battlefields," said Brig. Gen. Geoffrey Norman, the director of the Next-Generation Combat Vehicle Cross Functional Team.
"The Abrams Tank can no longer grow its capabilities without adding weight, and we need to reduce its logistical footprint," said Maj. Gen. Glenn Dean, Program Executive Officer for Ground Combat Systems. "The war in Ukraine has highlighted a critical need for integrated protections for Soldiers, built from within instead of adding on."
Army officials have long said adding weight to the Abrams inhibits the vehicle's mobility.
According to the Sept. 6 statement, the Army's new approach to the Abrams balances costs with the service's needs and invests in the nation’s defense industrial base.
The M1E3 will include many features of the planned M1A2 SEPv4, while complying with the latest modular open systems architecture standards, the statement added.
Per the Army, these open systems architecture standards will allow quicker technology upgrades and require fewer resources.
Army officials said that these changes will enable the service and its commercial partners to design a more survivable, lighter tank that will be more effective on the battlefield at initial fielding, while being easier to upgrade in the future.
General Dynamics Land Systems is the prime contractor for the Abrams tank.
The Army will continue producing the M1A2 SEPv3 at a "reduced rate" until production transitions to the M1E3 Abrams, officials said, and the Army will carry technologies forward into the SEPv4 Abrams modernization effort.
Initial operational capability of the M1E3 is anticipated in the early 2030s, the Army's statement additionally said.
Dean said that the M1E3 Abrams nomenclature is a return to the Army’s standard use of its "type" classification and nomenclature system for the Army combat vehicle fleet.
"The 'E' designation represents an engineering change to an existing platform that is more significant than a minor modification and serves to designate the prototype and development configuration until the vehicle is formally type classified and receives an 'A' designation,” he explained. "This is distinct from the 'XM' designation used for new prototype systems."
— By John Goheen