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

Article from September 6, 2021 updated on January 27, 2023

After their planned disappearance was almost announced with the appearance of new weapon systems, the tank is 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 3 intended to present the main models of modern tanks which equip or will equip the armed forces in the world. A first article presented the German Leopard 2, the Chinese Type 99A, the Israeli Merkava Mk IV and the French Leclerc. This one features 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 South Korean K2 Black Panther, the Japanese Type 10 and the Italian C1 Ariete.

United States: M1A2C Abrams

In 1972, at the end of the Vietnam War, the US armies were bloodless, handicapped by 10 years of investments in a specific theater, and many of its land and air equipment no longer offered significant added value in the face of their costs. Soviet equivalents. This was particularly the case with the M60 Patton tank, a derivative of 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 face it, and not without great difficulties, the US Army engaged a great program which will be designated BIG 5, and which will give birth to 6 of the most efficient equipment of the 80s: the Infantry Combat Vehicle M2 / M3 Bradley, 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 main battle tank. Breaking with the doctrine of simplicity inherited from the M4 Sherman, and perpetuated by the M48 and M60, the Abrams was at the same time a rolling monster, a concentrate of technology, and had a firepower equaled to the only Leopard 2 German at that time. He demonstrated 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 linked to fire from others. Abrams or M2 Bradley's HOT missiles.

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 giving it a longer and more efficient 105 mm gun, the second, in 1988, equipping it with the 120 mm M256 gun derived from Rheinmetall's L44 which fitted the Leopard 2, to give birth to the M1A1 standard (the one that will fight in 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, native integration of positioning by GPS, and the in place 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 was equipped with an automatic machine gun cupola, new screens and new interfaces. The latest version, the M1A2 SEPv3, sometimes referred to as M1A2C, which entered service from 2017, saw its network and communication capacities greatly improved, its electricity production significantly increased, the capacities of its FLIR improved, and its protection reinforced by the '' addition of new ARAT active armor tiles, and above all the possibility of being equipped with the system Hard-Kill Trophy ordered by the US Army from the Israeli Rafael.

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 were not made without consideration, the weight of the tank having gradually increased from 55 to 67 tons over the years, adding significant constraints to the Honeywell AGT 1500 gas turbine of 1500 hp which propels the armored vehicle. Its price has also gone from $ 8,5m (inflation-adjusted price) to over $ 15m for the M1A2 SEPv3 version, making it one of the most expensive tanks around. But the biggest weakness of the Abrams remains its pantagruelic consumption, limiting its range on the road to 400 km despite a tank of 1900 liters, or double 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 battle tanks of the moment, which explains its recent commercial successes at Taiwan ou in Poland (Krakow), two particularly exposed countries.

United Kingdom: Challenger 3

Since the Chief entered service at the end of the Sixties, the British armies always privileged heavy battle tanks, even very heavy, even if their mobility was to suffer. Thus, the Chief only had a 60 hp engine to move its 720 tonnes, and the Challenger 55, which entered service in 2 and a radical evolution of the Challenger 1998 with which it only shares 1% of the parts, only had a 5 hp engine for a combat mass ranging from 1200 to over 65 tonnes. However, the British tanks have always been formidable adversaries on the battlefield, in particular because of a very advanced composite armor Chobham then Dorcester, and of their great firepower. On the other hand, and like their French or German European counterparts, the British armies saw their fleet of heavy tanks shrink from 70 onwards, to the point that during the preparatory work concerning the 2000 White Paper on La Défense, many rumors circulated according to which the 165 Challenger 2 which arm today the 3 battalions of the British Army, would be purely and simply suppressed.

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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