By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetApril 5, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga. - The Army's Program Executive Office for Ground Combat Systems is rolling out its newest fleet of Abrams tanks.
Fifty-eight M1A2 Abrams Tanks with the second version of the system enhancement package were fielded to two 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team battalions this week, the first 3rd Infantry Division units to receive them.
The brigade is trading out older M1A1 tanks in a roll out marking the division's move from an analog Abrams platform to digital.
"The Abrams tank is the backbone of the U.S. heavy armored force. It's the most lethal, survivable, reliable and supportable combat power for the U.S. Army," said Lt. Col. Torry Brennan, Product Manager for Abrams Tank Systems under PEO-GCS's Project Manager-Heavy Brigade Combat Team.
The newest version of the M1A2 is considered the most technologically advanced digital tank in the world with superior firepower, protection and mobility, PEO-GCS officials said.
The Project Management-Heavy Brigade Combat Team, based in Warren, Mich., is responsible for fielding the new main battle tank to the Army's 17 active-duty HBCTs.
Maj. Carlos Lago, assistant product manager with PM-Abrams, said all M1A1s in those units will be replaced and nearly 60 percent are already fielded. The older Abrams models will be maintained until they are re-issued to other units and organizations.
The key component of the M1A2 SEPv2 is the Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer. The viewer allows the commander and gunner to designate and track multiple targets simultaneously, giving them a "hunter-killer" capability under one armored platform, Lago said.
The M1A2s also have better night vision capabilities, more advanced fire control, an upgraded 80GB FBCB2 hard drive, an extensive Armor package upgrade, dual redundant digital traffic routing systems and a Common Remotely Operated Weapon Station. The remote weapons station allows Soldiers to fire a .50-caliber machine gun inside the tank without exposing the crew to enemy fire.
Lt. Col. John Pirog, commander of 2nd Combined Arms Battalion, 69th Armored Regiment, said the separate optics prevent commanders from getting "tunnel vision and focusing only on where the (gunner's) weapon is pointing."
3rd HBCT's 2nd Bn., 69th Armor Regt., and 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, are receiving the new tanks.
Once fielding is complete, the troops will begin a 10 weeks of new equipment training. Platoon and company-level live fire gunnery will follow, with certification to be completed at the new Digital Multi-Purpose Range Complex.
Pirog said the tank training signifies a shift for the two units as the tankers return to their roots.
"They've been doing a phenomenal job serving as Infantrymen in Iraq and Afghanistan but they joined the Army because they wanted to fight tanks ... we really want to spend a lot of time over the next year getting them back to the basics of tank warfare," he said.
Helping the tankers make the switch from analog to digital will be Team Abrams, a group within the Armor community that assists in training tankers on the upgraded equipment.
Lt. Col. Lowry, a part of Team Abrams and the user representative for the Army's 26 Heavy Brigade Combat teams, said the challenge will be changing from switches to touch screens - but expects the teams to catch on quickly.
"Our Xbox generation dudes will be right at home," he said.
History of the M1A2
Production of the M1A2 main battle tank began in 1992 and is considered one of the best, and most lethal combat weapon systems in the world. The Abrams has proven itself to be the tip of the spear in multiple engagements in the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. The M1A2 was a modification of the M1A1 to improve the fire control system, adding the Commander's Independent Thermal Viewer and multiple other upgrades bringing the Tank from an analog to a fully digital platform. A system enhancement package fielded in 2001 contained additional features boosting its already lethal capabilities. Initial fielding of the second system enhancement package, known as SEPv2, began in 2004 introducing the Armor Community to one of the finest digital combat platforms to date.