Image: 030313_WAPP_M1A2_vlarge
An Abrams tank climbes over a dune duinng a military exercise in the western Kuwait desert in December.

When the United States deployed its M1A1 Abrams tanks in the Persian Gulf in late 1990, there remained some questions about how they would do against the Soviet-designed T-72, a lighter but still respected weapon of the Cold War. By the end of the Gulf War, however, hundreds of T-72s had met an ugly end and not a single Abrams had fallen to tank fire. Since then, the Abrams — now the M1A2 version — has only got better.

The U.S. Army now has about 77 of this next-generation Abrams tank. A crew of four drives the all-weather, all-terrain 70-ton vehicle.

It is equipped with a separate commander’s gun station and position navigation equipment. Night vision allows the crew to function in bad weather or when visibility may be limited. During the Gulf War, tank crews relied on night vision to get through think smoke from blazing oil wells.

Unique for its fire control system and ability to achieve high speeds — up to 45 miles per hour, it uses high-tech laser sights to target the enemy.

However, what makes it successful is also its greatest weakness. Its heavy weight and high speed means it guzzles gas and needs frequent refueling.

“Once it is refilled it can move at a blinding speed but it doesn’t have a good mileage,” said Piers Wood, a senior fellow at Global

In addition, the tank’s turbine engine make it vulnerable to dust.

During the first Gulf War, the military deployed more than 1,800 first version Abrams. Approximately 1,000 M1 Abrams are under going an upgrade to the M1A2 version.


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