Armor: Kuwait Catches Up

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December 27, 2016: Kuwait is spending $1.7 billion to refurbish and upgrade its 218 M1A2 tanks. Kuwait received these tanks in the mid-1990s and they have been used frequently since then for training. The refurb work will involve shipping the tanks to the United States where they will be taken apart so that worn or damaged parts can be repaired or rebuilt. The tanks are then reassembled with additional mechanical and electronic components and upgrades for some of the replaced ones. In effect this process restores the tank to "like new" condition and good for another two decades of hard service. Neighbor Saudi Arabia had already performed a similar process for 315 of its older M1A2 tanks. The Kuwait upgrades include new radios, RWS (remote weapons station) to replace the machine-gun that must be operated by a crewman atop the turret, additional 120mm main gun barrels (to replace those worn out by lots of gunnery practice), additional armor, improved sensors and computers and active defense (to detect snipers as well as countermeasures against incoming missiles) capabilities.

The M1A2 is the 1985 era M1A1 with a number of minor improvements and upgrades, plus an independent thermal sight for the commander and improved armor. The M1A2S has some special modifications to help tanks cope with operating in the desert. The ones Kuwait and Saudi Arabia received did not come with the enhanced (with depleted uranium) armor standard in American service. The refurbed Kuwaiti M1A2s will receive armor upgrades.

The M-1 Abrams tank is considered the best combat proven tank in the world. But there are many different models of M1s, which vary considerably in their combat capability. The earliest model is only about half as capable as the most recent M1A2SEP model. The first of 3,273 M-1 Abrams tanks was produced in 1978 armed with a 105mm gun. The first of 4,796 M1A1s (all with a 120mm gun and most with depleted uranium armor) was produced in 1985 (plus 221 for the U.S. Marines and 555 co-produced with Egypt and another 200 M1A1s for Egypt). Production of the M1A2 (with improved fire control systems) began in 1986, with 77 for the U.S. Army, 315 for Saudi Arabia, and 218 for Kuwait. Another 600 M1s were upgraded to M1A2 standards. Deliveries of these upgrades began in 1998. In 2001, the army began to upgrade 240 M1A2 tanks with better thermal imaging and fire control equipment as well as communications and computer equipment that would allow tanks to operate a full color "battlefield internet" with each other as well as headquarters and warplanes with similar equipment. The Kuwait M1 upgrades will make their older M1s more compatible with current American and Saudi ones.

 


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