U.S. Army, and most other armies, wonder what the next generation of tanks will
be like, there's a lively business in upgrading existing tanks. All this is
happening because the cycle of tank development, that got going during World
War II, came to a halt with the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. During
that fifty year period, the basic designs of World War II (U.S. M-26, German
PzKw V, Russian T-34) evolved into the leading designs of today (U.S. M-1,
German Leopard and Russian T-90). The M-1 was the most successful of these,
partly because it got lots of combat experience, which the technically superior
(according to many) Leopard did not.
There are actually several
very different models of the M-1, and that's where all the upgrade potential
comes from. The first generation of M-1s, had conventional armor and a 105mm
gun. Some 3,200 of these were built between 1980 and 1986. Then came the M-1A1,
with its 120mm gun and depleted uranium composite armor. There were several
variants of this model built into 1990s, for a total of about 4,500. More were
built for Middle Eastern customers (Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), for a
total of nearly 9,000 vehicles. Most of the current upgrades are for better
fire control and communications systems.
The M-1, and its
contemporaries, are the end of the line, for the moment, of practical design
ideas for new tanks. There are lots of impractical ideas being proposed. But,
basically, none are sufficiently superior to warrant replacing the improved M-1
type tanks now available.