The U.S. Army has decided go with a radical redesign of its M1 tank that will result in a lighter 59-ton M1E3 tank with a smaller three man crew and a smaller unmanned turret containing an auto-loaders for the 120mm main gun as well many other items currently not found in the M1 manned turret. This means the end for the M1A1 line of upgrades that began in 2007 and were supposed to continue with improvements to the current 78-ton M1A2Sep4. The M1E3 will not enter service until all the changes have been made and tested. That will take about ten years. In the meantime, the army will continue with the current M1s that have been upgraded to the M1A2SEP4 standard. Oher internal improvements for the M1A2s will be installed over the next decade while the M1E3 is completed.
The first M1A2 entered service in 2007. This version was a pleasant surprise for M1 crews. While the 2007 M1A2 retained its excellent armor protection, air conditioning and a smooth ride, it now resembled the inside of a space ship. The 2007 generation of recruits grew up with video games and spectacular science fiction films.
The number of gadgets inside a tank has steadily increased since the late 1990s. All the new computers, and their software, were 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 enemy tanks 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 it 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, moves the gun’s direction 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 it up and discuss the situation. US tanks first adopted those in the field in Normandy during 1944 but the M-1 inexplicably lacked a field phone until the 2007 version of the M-1. 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.
Using lessons from the Ukraine War and substantial technology improvements since 2007, the M1E3 will be a radical upgrade that will keep the M1 tank relevant into the 2040s. Fuel use will be cut in half and weight reduced by 20 tons. A mixed conventional-electric propulsion system enables the tank to move silently just using the electric drive. M1E3 has an unmanned turret with an autoloader for the 120mm main gun, which allows for a three man crew (down from four), all inside a heavily protected capsule beneath the turret (this is similar to the Russian T-14 Armata prototype tank). On top of the turret is a remotely operated 30mm autocannon. The APS (active protection system) that was added to the M1a2 is built into the M1E3 providing better protection against ATGMs (anti-tank guided missiles) and anti-tank rockets. All the new features installed in the M1E3 are designed to be easily modified or even replaced. The new features in the M1E3 are upgrades of tech that has been used in other tanks or lighter armored vehicles. The army has agreed to build some M1E3s and, if these pass user and durability tests, the E3s will gradually replace the older and heavier A models.