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Jan 3, 2017

How to Replace US Army M-1 Tanks on the Cheap

The US Army's M-1 tank has inadequate armor protection against modern antitank missiles and IEDs.  However, the Pentagon doesn't have the money to buy a whole new from the ground up tank.  I don't think they have to.

In manned systems, I think that the automotive components can evolve and don't require a separate full platform development. I think the Army could get more bang for the buck by selectively upgrading subsystems with more advanced technology in electronics, composite armor and weapons.

Electronics and software change rapidly, so Army procurement should be geared to taking advantage of upgrades that can be retrofitted into the existing vehicle fleet. More modern electronics generally require less power and give off less heat so this should be a relatively easy engineering task.

Composite armor has advanced quite a lot since the designs of the Abrams tank and Bradley Fighting Vehicle. Some investigation of building versions of the Bradley and Abrams with new composite armor on the existing automotive chassis would seem like a good place to improve vehicle survivability economically. Again, the new composites are lighter than the existing armor, so the existing vehicle chassis will not require changes.

In the history of armored vehicles, mounting new weapons on existing vehicle designs is quite common. Sometimes this involved completely new turrets and sometimes it didn't. For example, the Israelis had a wide assortment of tanks after the 1967 war. They installed one standardized main gun on all of the different turrets of their T-54, T-55, M-4 and M-60 tanks. This solved their logistical problem of ammunition supply. New weapons should be able to be mounted on the existing Abrams and Bradley vehicles.

The advantage of going with upgrades instead of a whole new platform is that the upgrades can be installed on the existing vehicle fleet. This means that instead of a few super vehicles, you have a vastly improved fleet relatively quickly.

Upgrades are also less disruptive to your logistics, maintenance and training. For land vehicles, your big maintenance is probably on the automotive components. If it moves, it breaks. If the automotive components don't change, you don't have to spend big bucks retooling and restocking new parts.

It seems fairly clear that we are in the midst of a big change in remotely piloted vehicles. It's also clear that we are in a period of tight budgets. I think this combination dooms any big new Army vehicle program for at least the next 5 years. But I don't think that means the Army can't explore new components for its existing vehicles. 

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