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.”

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2 Responses to M1A2 SEP3

  1. DW says:

    I am also glad to see the SEP upgrade to the M1. It’s a proven tank and seems like a better “bang for buck” spending decision, compared to dealing with a completely new tank design. What I haven’t been able to find is any write-up comparing the capabilities of the M1/SEP to the Russian T90S. Are there any and what’s your opinion?


  2. rthtgnbs says:

    The T90S is a good tank, it is pretty much as far as the T-72 platform can get pushed with current tech, very similar to the PT-91 Twardy really. That being said, the Poles seem more interested in acquiring Leopard 2 main battle tanks than in upgrading more T-72s to PT-91 standard. Remember the T-90S was originally designated T-72BU, but T-90 probably sells better for export numbers.

    The T90S can kill an Abrams, with either missile or direct hit from the main gun using a penetrator. The Abrams can kill the T90S with the main gun. The explosive reactive armor on the T-90S may or may not work against an APFSDS round from an Abrams, but for sure it won’t work twice in a row as it is consumed in use.

    That being said, the Abrams is a better base tech level than the T-90. No matter how much you upgrade the T-72 hull there are some performance levels you just can’t surpass. Most of the major problems have been fixed with the T-90, such as fire on the move. The better night vision, anti-laser systems, and other capabilities are excellent performance enhancers. But, once you get to the point where your main gun can effectively engage an Abrams, the base level of tech doesn’t matter as the tactical employment of the system fills the need.

    In the end, the T-90 is still just a third gen T-72 based on 1960s tech and the Abrams is based on 1970s tech. They can kill each other. The T-90 is cheaper, smaller, lighter and louder, the Abrams is bigger, heavier more expensive and faster and quieter. In a 1 on 1 battle the skill of the crew is the deciding factor, as part of a combined arms team approach to warfare they are essentially interchangeable in American and Russian formations. Seriously we could swap tanks and it wouldn’t change how either side fights.

    The reason why we aren’t buying new tanks is that there hasn’t been a revolution in armor tech that makes upgrading from the Abrams worthwhile. At best we would get a tank that matches Abrams performance in most areas.


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