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Marines' M1A1 tanks: How an upgrade will help make them more lethal

August 26, 2016 (Photo Credit: Cpl. Gabrielle Quire.)
Marines' M1A1 Abrams tanks are about to get even more awesome.

The improvements to 400 tanks will include a button that will allow ​the tank commander to move the main gun on a target being tracked by the tank’s .50 caliber machine gun, and improved day and thermal sights, said Mike Kreiner, M1A1 project officer for Marine Corps Systems Command.

All of the improvements were inspired by feedback from Marine tankers in Iraq, Kreiner told Marine Corps Times. They will be installed between October and December 2017, he said. 

The M1A1 Abrams tank has a turret and a 120 mm smoothbore main gun operated by the gunner and a .50 caliber machine gun operated by the commander from inside the tank, Kreiner said. Now MARSYSCOM is making it easier for commanders to move the main gun as well.

“That allows them to engage targets quicker, specifically when the tank is moving,” Kreiner said. “He [the commander] can track a target on the move using his .50 caliber and then press the button and the main gun can come over there.”

Without these improvements, tank commanders have to visually acquire the target and use an override to move the turret, he said.

“It’s just difficult to do on the move,” Kreiner said.

Making it easier for tank commanders to move the turret and main gun can shave precious seconds off the time it takes to acquire a target, depending how far commanders need to traverse the turret, he said.

The tank’s day ​and thermal sights are also being improved by adding a color camera and a color display, Kreiner said. The existing camera and display for both sights shows targets in green and black.

“We couldn’t distinguish blue, red, white, yellow, purple targets, specifically in vehicles,” Kreiner said. “Color cues are very important for positive identification. You might have two trucks in a column waiting a checkpoint and one’s red and one’s green, and they say, ‘Hey, you need to target that green truck.’ Well, they couldn’t distinguish that.”

Both the day and thermal sights will also be able to see much further than they can now, he said.

When asked if the M1A1 Abrams improvements are meant to counter the latest Russian tanks, Kreiner said categorically "they were not."

"This requirement was not based on any specific threats,” he said.
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