In the past two months, the Army has put General Dynamics [GD] on contract to build prototypes of the most advanced versions of the M1A2 Abrams tanks that includes advances in lethality, mobility and protection.

The two contracts – awarded July 31 and Aug. 31 – total $580 million for development and integration of improvements within the system enhancement package versions three (SEPv3) and four.

The Army is in the process of outfitting its tanks with second and third-generation weapon and sensor kits called system enhancement packages (SEP) in an effort to keep the 1980s-vintage tanks on par with current allied and enemy technology.

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The M1A1 is scheduled for upgrade to the SEPv3 configuration, which Ground Combat Systems (GCS) Program Executive Officer (PEO) Maj. Gen. David Bassett recently said was, hands-down, a “better tank.” PEO GCS could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

It has more protection, is more reliable because of extensive reliability testing conducted in concert with GD and now exceeds the reliability rating of the M1A2, Bassett told reporters recently at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland. Current SEPv2 upgrades include addition of a common remotely operated weapons station and depleted uranium armor.

GD, which builds the Abrams, will design, develop and integrate multiple engineering changes into the Abrams M1A2 SEPv3, creating a SEPv4 and further modernizing the tanks, according to the company. Abrams main battle tanks are produced at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, Ohio.

Upgrades in the SEPv4 configuration include the commander’s primary sight (formerly known as the commander’s independent thermal viewer), an improved gunner’s primary sight and enhancements to sensors, lethality and survivability.

General Dynamics Land Systems will deliver seven prototype M1A2 SEPv4 tanks to the Army under a contract with an initial value of $311 million. Work will be performed in Sterling Heights, Mich., Lima, Scranton, Pa., and Tallahassee, Fla.

The company will install and integrate the SEPv2 legacy unique components “resulting in 45 M1A2 SEPv3 Abrams Main Battle tanks” and procure, stock and store 60 sets of SEPv2 legacy and SEPv3 unique components, according to the Army. GD also will procure Integrated product support requirements, special tooling and test equipment, and the systems support package.

The second award was a $270 million contract from the Army Tank Automotive Command to produce 45 Abrams M1A2 SEPv3 tanks. The first pilot vehicles, which feature technological advancements in communications, reliability, sustainment and fuel efficiency, and upgraded armor, are expected to roll off the production line in fall 2017. Work will be performed in Lima, Scranton, Tallahassee and Anniston, Ala.