The most recent version of the US Army’s main battle tank, the M1 Abrams, is so heavy that transport could be limited by its weight.
An annual report by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) called attention to the issue with the M1A2 SEPv3, a new version of the Abrams tank with upgrades to its defensive and targeting systems, among other deadly improvements.
“The Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 upgrades introduce suitability concerns,” the report notes. “Weight growth limits the tank’s tactical transportability. The M1A2 SEPv3 is not transportable by current recovery vehicles, tactical bridges or heavy equipment transporters.”
Defense News noted however that Program Executive Office Ground Combat Systems claims the new tank is “recoverable, bridgeable and transportable with no new restrictions above the current Abrams fleet.”
The upgrades are intended to plug holes in the Abrams revealed by the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the ensuing occupation war. Ambush attacks and roadside bombs planted by Iraqi insurgents destroyed or severely damaged dozens of the heavy tanks, which were built for open-field duels with Soviet armor on battlefields in central Europe.
The limitations could become a real problem, since the Army is “going all-in” on the new version, as an article by Task & Purpose described it last month. On December 18, 2020, the Pentagon announced a $4.6 billion contract with General Dynamics to build M1A2 SEPv3s for the Army, although no total build figure was given. Although, as the outlet noted, the Army has already dumped $13.3 billion into the program since 2015, which could include as many as 1,700 upgrade packages.
Meanwhile, the newest version of the Army’s other armored fighting vehicle, the Bradley A4, is suffering problems of its own. DOT&E also reported that operational tests in Fort Hood, Texas, revealed that the infantry fighting vehicle’s batteries were overheating due to new power demands in the new version, which then produces toxic gases inside the vehicle.
The upgrades include a larger engine, improved vision for operators, and a so-called Iron Fist Light Decoupled (IFLD) active protection system developed by Elbit Systems for the Israel Defense Force’s Namer armored personnel carrier.
Last year, the Army began its fourth attempt to find a replacement for the Bradley, which has never been popular with operators due to its numerous weaknesses, many of which were further exposed during the Iraq War. A design phase competition was launched last month after the first attempt resulted in only a single design submission by General Dynamics.