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File Video Above: Next-Gen Army 50mm Cannon Destroys Targets in Live-Fire Demo

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

The long-awaited next-generation Abrams tank variant is here .. ready for war .. now operational with Army units, a substantial step forward into a new era of modern warfare defined by advanced threats, a more dispersed battlefield and a growing number of multi-domain challenges.

Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Vehicles, told The National Interest that v3 tanks have arrived and are now operational with Army units.

Abrams M1A2 SEPv3

The Army and General Dynamics Land Systems M1A2 SEPv3 introduces a new sphere of landwar technologies designed to preserve the Abrams combat relevance, functionally and lethality moving into an area. Newer applications of traditional Combined Arms Maneuver are emerging quickly as paradigm-changing weapons, sensors, cyber technologies and networking blast onto the scene, vastly altering the threat scenario.

The M1A2 SEP v3, the new Abrams, brings a new high-resolution display for gunner and commander stations and new electronic Line Replaceable Units. It also features a driver’s control panel and a turret control unit. This M1A2 SEP v3 effort also initiates the integration of upgraded ammunition data links and electronic warfare weapons such as the Counter Remote Controlled Improvised Explosive Device—Electronic Warfare—CREW. 

Abrams M1A2 SEPV3

Abrams M1A2 SEPV3 (System Enhanced Package) is a modernised configuration of the Abrams main battle tank

An increased AMPs alternator is also part of this upgrade, along with Ethernet cables designed to better network vehicle sensors together. One of the signature elements of the v3 and emerging v4 tank pertain to longer-range, higher-resolution thermal sights for finding otherwise unreachable targets. 

This is a crucial area of innovation for the Army, as many are likely to remember stories from the Gulf War famous tank battles. US Army Abrams tanks were able to see and destroy Iraqi T-72s at standoff ranges where they themselves could not be detected, a margin of difference which greatly contributed to US victories. 

The arrival of the new v3 signifies a milestone when it comes to Abrams modernization and future war, as many senior Army weapons developers maintain the tank has been upgraded so many times that it will remain superior for years into the future. 

Over the years, Army weapons experts have made many key adjustments to address, mitigate and overcome what could have been seen as limiting factors in prior years. Advanced navigational technology such as mapping, sensing and multi-node networking have improved the tank’s ability to maneuver and find optimal points of entry in seemingly inaccessible close-quarter urban areas. Should a bridge or narrow area present restrictions for an Abrams, advanced networking, for location data and mapping might quickly calculate new alternative transport routes. 

Alternative routes are quite likely something possible for the Abrams as it can traverse off-road terrain as a tracked vehicle and travel over grass, rocky areas or even uneven land. Mechanized columns with Abrams tanks can also travel with a transportable bridge able to accommodate the 70-ton weight of the tank, enabling it to advance alongside a mobile, faster-moving attack.

Abrams tank gunners will now operate with new, streamlined and highly efficient attack options due to the arrival of a next-generation 120mm adjustable cannon round able to combine several different rounds into a single munition. The Abrams also has an Auxiliary Power Unit designed to introduce more on-board power to support new electronics, computing, sensors and EW technology. 

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M1A2 SEPv3

M1A2 SEPv3 configuration features innovative advancements

The Army is now building its first prototype of an upgraded next-generation variant to its Abrams tank, indicating that the service is pursuing a long-term vision for its 1980s-era combat platform.

M1A2 SEP v4 Variant

The Army and General Dynamics M1A2 SEP v4 variant, to fully emerge in coming years, incorporates and extends a series of transformative upgrades which continue to ensure the tank’s continued combat performance. There are many specifics to the v4 upgrade, some of which are not available for security reasons, yet much of the adjustments related to breakthrough sensor technologies, Brig. Gen. Glenn Dean, Program Executive Officer, Ground Combat Vehicles, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army, Acquisition, Logistics and Technology, tells The National Interest. 

The sensor breakthrough involves the integration of a new generation of Forward Looking Infrared, or FLIR, targeting sensors which introduce paradigm-changing levels of image resolution, range and image processing, Dean explained. 

“This is the first prototype and it will go through a wide range of testing. We have multiple prototypes we have to build, so it will be a number of years before it will see the field. The first prototype is being built right now and it should be ready in about the June ‘22 timeframe,” Dean said.

Other v4 innovations include new color camera adaptation, laser rangefinder technology, meteorological sensors and fire-control or weapons sights improvements. On board networking will also be heavily emphasized in the v4 variant as it will have a new ethernet switch to streamline information flow throughout the vehicle. This will streamline information flow and also reduce the need for the number of “boxes” and reduce or consolidate the hardware footprint.

A M1A2 SEPV3 Abrams Tank fires at multiple range targets during a range warfighter exercise, April 11, 2021, Fort Hood, Texas. The visit with foreign allies allows the U.S. Army to boost interoperability of staff members and warfighting capabilities with the M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams Tank. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Melissa N. Lessard)

A M1A2 SEPV3 Abrams Tank fires at multiple range targets during a range warfighter exercise, April 11, 2021, Fort Hood, Texas. The visit with foreign allies allows the U.S. Army to boost interoperability of staff members and warfighting capabilities with the M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams Tank. (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Melissa N. Lessard)

 Along with other modern tank variants such as the now arriving v3 Abrams tank, the v4 will fire an advanced kind of ammunition called an Advanced Multipurpose Round. 

The AMP is an advanced ammunition technology which enables tank crews to pick and adjust a specific blast effect from a single round. For example, High Explosive Anti-Tank Rounds, Multi-Purpose Anti-Tank ammunition, fragmenting Canister rounds to attack dismounted fighters on the move and a penetration round. This is made possible through a variable fuse, ammunition data link and air burst technology.

The arrival of the v4 speaks to an important and at times under recognized phenomenon, which is that while the Abrams tank may have first emerged in the 1980s, the platform has been upgraded so extensively that it is now an entirely different vehicle. The computing, electronics, targeting technology, armor protections and sensors are generations beyond anything that first emerged. The prevailing consensus among Army weapons developers seems to be that the Abrams can remain superior for many years to come and that heavy armor … is here to stay

File Video Above: Army Maps Future Abrams Tank

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President