Abrams, Challenger 3, Armata…: What are modern heavy tanks worth? 2/3

After their planned disappearance was almost announced with the appearance of new weapon systems, heavy tanks are once again becoming a key marker of the military power of an armed force, and this, in all theaters. This article is the second of a series of three intended to present the main models of modern combat tanks which equip or will equip the armed forces in the world.

A first article presented the Leopard 2, the Chinese Type 99A, the Israeli Merkava Mk IV and the French Leclerc. This presents the American M1A2C Abrams, the British Challenger 3 and the Russian T-90M and T-14 Armata. A final article will present the Turkish Atlay, the K2 Black Panther South Korean, the Japanese Type 10 and the Italian C1 Ariete.

United States: M1A2C Abrams heavy tanks

In 1972, at the end of the Vietnam War, the US armies were exhausted, handicapped by 10 years of investment in a specific theatre, and many of its land and air equipment no longer offered significant added value in the face of their Soviet equivalents. This was notably the case of the M60 Patton tank, derived from the M48 and in service since 1960, but which, in many areas, was surpassed by the Soviet T-64, as well as by the new T-72 which will enter service in 1973.

To deal with this, and not without great difficulty, the US Army embarked on a super program which will be called BIG 5, and which will give birth to 6 of the most efficient equipment of the 80s: the M2/M3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle, the M108/109 self-propelled gun, the Patriot anti-aircraft system, the AH-64 Apache and UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, as well as the most symbolic of all, the M1 Abrams heavy tank. .

Breaking with the doctrine of simplicity inherited from the M4 Sherman, and perpetuated by the M48 and the M60, the Abrams was at the same time a rolling monster, a concentrate of technology, and had firepower equal to the only Leopard 2 German at that time. He did the demonstration of this power during the first gulf war, taking a very clear ascendancy over the Iraqi T62 and T72, destroying the majority of the tanks encountered for minimal losses, largely due to fire from other Abrams or HOT missiles from M2 Bradley.

abrams germany MBT combat tanks | Construction of armored vehicles | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The first version of the M1 Abrams was equipped with a 105mm gun like most battle tanks of the 60s and 70s

The American tank underwent several successive modernization phases, the first in 1984 equipping it with a longer and more efficient 105 mm gun, the second, in 1988, equipping it with the 120 mm M256 gun derived from the Rheinmetall L44 which equipped the Leopard 2, to give birth to the M1A1 standard (the one that will fight during the Gulf War).

A few years later, the M1A2 version appeared, consisting mainly of a transformation of the on-board electronic system for a fully digital version, including new detection and visualization capabilities, the native integration of GPS positioning, and the implementation of a digital bus. This structure allowed the M1A2 to evolve quickly, through System Enhancement Package (SEP), corresponding largely in software and systems evolutions.

The M1A2 SEP2 version has been equipped with an automatic machine gun cupola, new screens and new interfaces. The latest version, the M1A2 SEPv3, sometimes referred to as M1A2C, entering service from 2017, has seen its network and communication capabilities greatly improved, its power production significantly increased, its FLIR capabilities improved, and its protection reinforced by the addition of new ARAT active armor tiles, and especially the possibility of being equipped with the system Hard-Kill Trophy ordered by the US Army from the Israeli Rafael.

the M1A2C Abrams is one of the most imposing modern heavy tanks of the moment with the challenger 3
The M1A2SEPv2 equipped with the hard-kill Trophy system during tests conducted by the US Army. Notice the Trophy system radar on either side of the turret

All these additions have not been made without consideration, the weight of the tank having gradually increased from 55 to 67 tons over the years, adding significant constraints to the 1500 hp Honeywell AGT 1500 gas turbine which propels the tank. Its price has also increased from $8,5m (price adjusted for inflation) to more than $15m for the M1A2 SEPv3 version, making it one of the most expensive tanks at the moment. But the greatest weakness of the Abrams remains its staggering consumption, limiting its autonomy on the road to 400 km despite a 1900 liter tank, which is twice the consumption of a T90M or a Leclerc.

In addition, the armored vehicle is reputed to be complex to maintain, and requires heavy and well-honed logistics to be used to its full potential. On the other hand, once these conditions are met, it remains one of the most powerful combat tanks of the moment, which explains its recent commercial successes at Taiwan ou in Poland (Krakow), two particularly exposed countries.

United Kingdom: Challenger 3 tank

Since the Cheftain came into service at the end of the 60s, the British armies have always favored heavy combat tanks, even very heavy ones, even if their mobility were to suffer as a result. Thus, the Cheftain only had a 720 hp engine to move its 55 tons, and the Challenger 2, which entered service in 1998 and radical evolution of the Challenger 1 with which it shares only 5% of the parts, only had a 1200 hp engine for a combat weight ranging from 65 to more than 70 tons.

However, British tanks have always been formidable opponents on the battlefield, in particular because of their very advanced composite armor Chobham then Dorchester, and their great firepower.

On the other hand, and like their French or German European counterparts, the British armies saw their fleet of heavy tanks dwindle from 2000 onwards, to the point that during the preparatory work for the 2021 White Paper on La Défense, many rumors circulated according to which the 165 Challenger 2s which today arm the 3 cuirassier battalions of the British Army, would be purely and simply abolished.

challenger 3 MBT battle tanks | Construction of armored vehicles | Defense Contracts and Calls for Tenders
The Challenger 3 will be one of the best protected tanks during the 10 years during which it will have to act as interim until the arrival of its replacement from 2035

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