Armor: Spaceship Abrams


August 10, 2007: Crews of the latest model (M1A2) Abrams tank can't help but notice that, while their workspace is well protected, air conditioned and a smooth ride, it also resembles the inside of a space ship. The current generation of recruits grew up with video games and spectacular science fiction films.

The number of gadgets inside a tank has just kept increasing over the last decade. And all the new computers, and their software, have been redesigned to make them faster and easier to use. That's handy when you are under a lot of stress, or tired from being awake all night just watching somewhere the bad guys were expected to show up.

Consider, for example, the array of electronics that come into play when the gunner sees a target, through his thermal sight (that senses differences in temperature, so works day or night and in any weather). The gunner presses a button to have the computer calculate exactly where to point the 120mm gun, so that it will hit a truck size target several kilometers away. Within a second or so, the computer draws data from a laser rangefinder, a crosswind sensor, a pendulum static cant sensor, data on the ammunition type, ammunition temperature, and a muzzle reference sensor (MRS) that determines barrel drop due to gravity and temperature, and moves the gun minute distances, and lets the gunner know that he can push the fire button.

The tank commander also has a separate thermal site, in the mini-turret atop the turret, the better to look for new targets. The tank has GPS, and maps of the area. So, like many automobile owners, the driver can glance at a computer display to see where they are, in relation to all sorts of things.

The radio system, for internal and external communication, is now enhanced by a phone handset affixed to the side rear of the tank, so that infantry can pick up and discuss the situation. Infantry like to have M1A2s around, because the tank now has an auxiliary power supply, which enables the main (fuel guzzling gas turbine) engine to be shut down, while the tank sits in one place all night, using its thermal sights to watch out for whatever. And whatever is out there, nothing has yet come along that can kill the M-1 in combat. Only nine have been knocked out in combat. Seven were lost to friendly fire, and two were disabled on the battlefield, and destroyed by their crews because the tanks could not move, and their unit had to move on.


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