General Dynamic Land Systems has announced that it will begin work on upgrading the US Army’s fleet of M1A2 Abrams tanks to the System Enhancement Package version 3.
For those who don’t know, a SEP is just a “modernization” process where the basic system doesn’t get replaced, but things like thermal sights get upgraded, radios get more bandwidth, power distribution busses get more robust.
Since the introduction of the L/44 cannon system on the M1A1 replaced the 105mm rifled cannon on the original M1 there have been no firepower increases with the base system, but a number of other upgrades over the decades on everything from armor to ammo.
In other news, the Army is still looking for “mobile protected firepower” to give better fire support options to our Light and Airborne forces left by the retirement of the M554 Sheridan.
While Russia is working to upgrade its armored vehicle fleet from Soviet Era equipment the US is looking to upgrade the capabilities from what is essentially 1970s designs. This is pretty smart considering the absolute lack of cutting edge developments in armor technology which would justify a new generation of tanks. The advances in projectile technology have shown that the Abrams has had five distinct generations of Armor Piercing Fin Stabilized Discarding Sabot (APFSD) rounds, but only one uprade in Armor from the M1A1 to M1A2 standard (which the USMC didn’t bother with the armor but took other performance enhancements).
The SEP process for the Abrams is a good thing, it implements features we want to see on the next tank and puts it on the tank we currently have. The fact that the Abrams is not going to the L/55 version of the main cannon is telling, as the enemy armor available isn’t so tough as to merit that final upgrade option just yet.
But really it is only a matter of time. Sooner or later there will be a need for a new tank, not just some additional “mobile protected firepower.”