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M1/M1A1/M1A2 Abrams Tank

The US Main Battle Tank, and platform for large calibre DU munitions

  • The main US battle tank since 1980
  • Different versions can fire either 105mm or 120mm rounds
  • Some versions of the tank also have DU armour in the turret
  • Exported to Australia, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia









Original M1 Abrams Battle Tank, with 105mm M68 Gun

The design of the Abrams tank began in the 1970s, and the first M1 was produced in 1980. The original M1 (left was fitted with the same M68 gun as the earlier M60 Patton tanks. In the mid 1980s, the M1A1 was produced, with a larger calibre 120mm gun. An adapted version of the Rheinmetal L44 was used, with the designation M256. Both versions can fire DU APFSDS-T rounds - the 105mm M774/M833/M900, and the 120mm M829 round.

In 1988 M1A1 tanks with DU armour fitted to the turret were produced. These were given the designation M1A1HA (for Heavy Armour - pictured below). Not all M1A1 tanks have this armour - for example the 59 M1A1 purchased by Australia were not built with it. M1A1HAs can be recognised by a serial number ending in 'U'. No other countries have followed this US innovation, as far as ICBUW is aware, and little is known about the health implications of DU being used in this way.

M1A1HA - Abrams Tank with DU armour

The Abrams first saw battle in the 1991 Gulf War, and was extremely effective against the ageing Soviet tanks fielded by Iraq. Only eight Abrams tanks were damaged during the conflict, and no crew members were killed by enemy fire. The superlative reputation of uranium based ammunition is largely due to the performance of US tanks during this conflict, but the success of the Abrams was due to several factors, including thermal imaging systems.

The M1A2 was first produced in 1992. It is thought that DU HA armour is fitted to most, if not all, M1A2 tanks. The M1A2, and further upgrades to the Abrams such as the M1A2 SEP (Special Enhancement Programme) have focussed on improvement to internal systems such as targetting and communications.

The US Abrams fleet is undergoing a renovation programme to bring all tanks up to the M1A1 or M1A2 SEP (Special Enhancement Programme) standard, meaning that the M1 tank with the 105mm cannon is no longer in service. When the programme is complete, the US is expected to have a little over 2,500 front line Abrams tanks. The M1A2 is expected to remain in service until at least 2050.

As well as the M829 round, a number of other 120mm US rounds are available to fire from the M256:

  • M830 High Explosive, Anti Tank, Multi-Purpose Tracer round - an upgraded M830A1 version is also available
  • M865 Target Practice, Cone Stabilised, Discarding Sabot round - a steel core practice version of the M829
  • M831 / M1003 Target Practice Tracer round - older, and updated practice versions of the M830
  • M1028 Canister round - an anti-personnell round which expells a spray of tungsten ball-bearings

The Abrams tank is manufactured by General Dynamics, with an engine made by Honeywell.

Foreign sales of the Abrams have been made to Australia (59), Egypt (1,005), Iraq (140), Kuwait (218) and Saudi Arabia (315).