The venerable M1 Abrams has been America’s core main battle tank for more than 40 years, thanks to a long series of incremental upgrades that have allowed it to remain one of the world’s most fearsome pieces of armor. But as foreign militaries roll out next-generation smart tanks that shoot, move, and communicate on a different plane than their predecessors, General Dynamics is premiering AbramsX: an Abrams for a new era of warfighting.
A demonstrator version of the tank made its debut on the show floor of the Association of the United States Army’s annual meeting this month. Painted in an eye-catching grey-and-black sawtooth color scheme, AbramsX aims to address some of the Army’s longstanding beefs with the M1, while building in cutting-edge technology and protection including AI and drone launchers.
The most notable differences in the AbramsX have to do with weight and power. The M1 Abrams has gotten progressively heavier with each upgrade due to Army-built armor packages. At 73.6 tons today, the Abrams is heavier than any of its competitors, which can limit maneuverability. It’s also a massive gas guzzler: it uses 10 gallons just to start the engine, close to two gallons per mile, and up to 10 gallons per mile when idling. Even before the U.S. military started to lean into climate change resiliency, this kind of fuel use was a huge liability, particularly in forward locations with risky over-land resupply routes.
By comparison, the AbramsX weighs in at just 60 tons, said Timothy Reese, director of Business Development for General Dynamics Land Systems. Reese, who spoke with Sandboxx News at AUSA, said the new tank cuts weight by moving the crew from inside the turret to inside the hull, which allows for the removal of heavy armor from the turret.
The new design also includes an auto-loader with built-in safety mechanisms, eliminating the need for a human tank loader and reducing the crew size from four to three. While the tank’s top land speed will remain the same, Reese said the lighter displacement will make it more maneuverable – key for operations like crossing bridges or covering technical terrain.
Reese acknowledged these design updates were “kind of radical for the Army.”
In building the uncrewed turret and auto-loader, Reese said GDLS paid attention to lessons from Ukraine, where some of Russia’s tanks have taken a very public and embarrassing beating.
“A lot of people see those [tank] turrets in Ukraine blowing up like a Roman candle,” Reese said, referring to Russian T-72 tanks, which store their ammo below the crew in the turret and are prone to a deadly “Jack-in-the-Box” effect when the turret is penetrated. Like the original Abrams design, the AbramsX keeps the tank’s ammunition in a sealed compartment behind the main part of the turret, and blast doors open only momentarily while loading a round before sealing again.
“If there’s ever a secondary detonation, it’s not going to blow off the whole turret,” Reese said to Sandboxx News. “It’s just going to blow off the back panel when the ammo is stored.”
To address the fuel use issue, the AbramsX replaces the turbine engine dating from the 1970s with a diesel hybrid-electric system. Combined with a high-powered electric generator, this provides as much power to the tank as the old turbine did, for an incredible 50 percent fuel savings, the company says. The battery will also allow crews to use elements of the tank, such as electronics and optics, without turning on the noisy engine, providing a battlefield advantage.
“You’re better able to hide your position for a longer duration of time,” Reese said.
The AbramsX also includes more protection from the growing threat of aerial drones. Reese said the design features an amped-up active protection system with three radars and launchers instead of two creating a perimeter around the tank.
“So instead of the two that normally create the donut around the vehicle, we have a third one that creates a dome over the top of the vehicle, for 360 degrees,” he said. “It’s not fully developed yet, but it’s close.”
While the demonstrator features the Rafael-made Trophy APS the Abrams currently uses, Reese said the design is agnostic and capable of working with whatever APS the Army might choose.
Also new for the AbramsX is the incorporation of Katalyst Next Generation Electronic Architecture, or NGEA, a modular open architecture developed independently by GDLS that uses AI for object detection and recognition, and automatic prioritization of targets, as well as navigation help including path-planning and avoidance of obstacles. NGEA also provides the kind of situational awareness tools being built into next-gen combat systems including the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, such as “see-through armor,” achieved by perimeter cameras that offer tank crews an unobstructed image of the battlefield.
At the rear of the AbramsX, there is another innovation for the modern battlefield: four launchers for Switchblade 300 munitions, also known as kamikaze, or suicide, drones. These unmanned aerial systems are controlled by the crew from the front of the hull, Reese said. And while they mainly serve as loitering precision missiles, the Switchblades also function as a camera en route to their target, Reese said, sending the feed from their sensor back to the crew and thus extending their visibility all the way up until detonation.
NGEA will also give crews the ability to control other UAVs and robotic ground vehicles from within the tank using their existing control panels.
As to weaponry, the AbramsX retains the 120mm main gun, with the XM360 gun tube developed by the Army that reduces weight by about half. A redesigned breach also cuts weight, Reese said. The turret features a 30mm remote weapons station in place of the .50 caliber heavy machine gun – a change he said tends to elicit an “emotional response” from soldiers who love it or hate it. The new design also makes the gunner’s sight independent from the turret and allows both the gunner and commander to scan the battlefield independently without rotating the turret.
“So again, it’s one of those things where we would like to have a collaboration with the Army and say, ‘What’s the combination that makes more sense to you? And then we can provide it.”
While conversations with the Army have already begun, there’s no clear timeline yet on a way forward for AbramsX.