Mounting the Trophy active protection system (APS) on an M1 Abrams results in a net increase in weight of about half a ton to the already 73-ton tank, but achieves a vehicle survivability level that only an unacceptably heavy amount of traditional armor could provide.

With Trophy installed “you are protected against a broader range of threats,” Maj. Gen. David Bassett told reporters last week during a media day at Aberdeen Test Center, Md. “Everybody talks about losing weight with active protection. It really is about all the threats that you face, what subset of those threats does APS address and what armor do you need to retain to address the residual threats to that platform?”

“When you’re talking about tandem anti-tank guided missiles, some of the most modern ones that are out there, the weight of conventional armor to defeat that threat would greatly exceed anything I’ve added.”

Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew, from the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conducting Table VI Gunnery at Fort Stewart, Ga. December 8, 2016.
Aerial drone image of an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank crew, from the 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, conducting Table VI Gunnery at Fort Stewart, Ga. December 8, 2016.

The added weight will neither slow the Abrams nor change the character of a behemoth vehicle that is designed for a combat load of 70 tons, Bassett said. APS is not sufficiently effective or reliable to protect against all the threats tanks face in a war zone, so traditional slat armor cannot be eliminated. As the systems become more effective and address other threats besides rocket propelled grenades and anti-tank guided missiles, more armor and weight can be stripped from the vehicle, he said.

“We’re not talking about adding 10 tons to a 30-ton vehicle,” he said. “We’re talking about adding a half-ton to a 73-ton vehicle. There’s always a trade-off between capabilities and weight. … With Trophy on the tank, there are some armor tiles that we take off that are duplicative of the protection that Trophy would provide, but it’s not a net-zero change in the weight of that tank. It’s a modest increase.”

As with other combat vehicles – epitomized by the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected armored truck – the Abrams has been overburdened with aftermarket weapons, armor and sensors during the past decade and a half of war. Each of those pieces of equipment served a specific purpose and added capability, but the tank is now approaching 80 tons and is overtaxing support equipment essential to its in-theater mobility, according to Army leaders.

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.

The currently fielded and combat laden M1A2 currently exceeds the payload rating of the currently fielded Heavy Equipment Transport System, which was designed to haul a 70 ton tank. That in turn means the M1A2 is cannot be transported legally in Europe, for instance. The current M1A2 also exceeds safety limits of the Army’s combat bridging capabilities.

The M1A1 is scheduled for upgrade to the SEPv3 configuration, which Bassett said was, hands-down, a “better tank.” It has more protection – without the addition of APS – it is more reliable because of extensive reliability testing conducted in concert with General Dynamics [GD] and now exceeds the reliability rating of the M1A2. But the continued upgrades – the SEPv2 include addition of the common remotely operated weapons station and depleted uranium armor – increased the tank’s weight considerably.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley often lists new, lighter-weight metals as a key technology for the future of combat vehicles. Some exist today but are not affordable for retrofit on the scale of a combat vehicle fleet the size of the Army’s, Bassett said.

“I think we know right now that if we were to go build the Abrams tank today with modern steel, with modern manufacturing techniques, I could make it lighter without giving up any capability,” Bassett said. “Is it going to half the weight? I don’t want to give a specific answer, but … I think we could make it enough lighter that we could get it back down under 70 tons. But I don’t think it makes it a 40 ton vehicle, not with that level of protection and the capability we’re talking about.”