The US Army’s M1 Abrams main battle tank is “not sufficient” to support missions conducted from 2040 and beyond, according to a study by the Army Science Board.
The group, composed of federally-sanctioned experts that advise the Secretary of the Army, described the need for one or more types of fifth-generation combat vehicles (5GCV) to effectively meet operational demands in the coming decades.
The 5GCV should be lighter than the Abrams, have a hybrid-electric propulsion system, larger caliber guns, hypersonic anti-tank missiles, and active protection systems.
“Based on our findings, the M1 Abrams will not dominate the 2040 battlefield,” the study said. “Its design for protection, lethality, mobility, and C2 [command and control] are not sufficient to dominate the 2040 battlefield.”
The US Army currently has around 2,500 M1 Abrams tanks in service. There could also be thousands more in storage that could be drawn out when necessary.
The Army Science Board based its findings on a wide variety of factors, including current geopolitical situations.
First, it mentioned the lessons learned from Israel’s interventions in southern Lebanon in 2006, in which Jerusalem achieved armored vehicle “survivability overmatch” with active protection systems.
In Operation Protective Edge in Gaza in 2014, the Israeli Defense Forces also allegedly did not lose a single tank to anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) due to the advanced protection system.
In contrast, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine has exposed Abrams’ vulnerabilities from powerful ATGMs, kamikaze drones, land mines, and loitering submunitions.
“Near transparency in all domains will significantly increase the lethality our forces will experience. China and Russia have studied our forces and doctrine and are fielding countermeasures,” the study noted. “We will continue to have to fight outnumbered, exacerbated by a low [main battle tank] operational readiness rate and an aging fleet.”
Despite being regarded as one of the most powerful main battle tanks today, the Abrams will likely face a multitude of problems on tomorrow’s battlefield, according to the study.
The board predicts the 2040 battlefield will see significant increases in the use of advanced radars and sensors, making it important for future tanks to have reduced signatures.
Furthermore, the latest M1 version is said to be heavy for battle, negatively impacting mobility on the ground. For example, the M1A2 System Enhancement Package Version 3 variant weighs up to 78 tons with a full combat load.
In the context of a future major conflict in the Pacific, the study cautions that such issues will cause problems in deploying and sustaining traditional heavy armored units across long distances.