TechUkrainian tankers wary of bulky American-made m1a1 Abrams tanks

Ukrainian tankers wary of bulky American-made m1a1 Abrams tanks

M1A1 Abrams tank with additional armor.
M1A1 Abrams tank with additional armor.
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1:51 PM EDT, June 15, 2024

The M1A1 Abrams tanks do not excite Ukrainian tankers. Like the Leopard 2, American designs are locally modified in various ways, resembling creations from the Mad Max universe. We explain whether these modifications bring any advantages.

Based on their experiences using the M1A1 Abrams tanks, Ukrainians are making modifications. Similar to modifications on Leopard 2 tanks, they are using Kontakt-1 reactive armor blocks and grids as bar armor. The following picture shows a modified M1A1 Abrams tank, which received a rubber skirt covering the lower front armor plate.

M1A1 Abrams in Mad Max style - pros and cons of this type of solution

The M1A1 Abrams tanks are characterized by very good armor, which is specific to the battlefield for which they were designed. They were intended for fighting enemy tanks and protection against anti-tank guided missiles.

Therefore, the frontal armor is highly durable, but the sides, particularly the top, are much thinner. The M1A1 Abrams was not designed for conditions where, for example, an FPV drone with a shaped charge warhead can strike the upper front armor plate or the rear of the turret at an almost vertical angle. A hit in these areas can injure or kill the driver, which has happened. Therefore, seeing these areas protected with Kontakt-1 reactive armor blocks is not surprising.

These types of blocks, through the use of a shock wave and a hail of fragments from their casing during an explosion, can significantly or completely nullify the penetration capabilities of PG-7VL grenades (capable of penetrating 20 inches of steel armor), which are widely used on drones. Another method of protection involves using metal grids spaced about 20 inches from the armor to cause the premature detonation of shaped charge warheads.

Furthermore, prioritizing crew survivability has resulted in the design of the ammunition storage being fully isolated from the crew with thin covers that, in the event of ammunition ignition, redirect the energy of the explosion outside. This makes such areas particularly vulnerable to FPV drone attacks, and attempting to block them might only worsen the situation.

It is worth noting that these improvisations are ineffective against modern anti-tank weapons. They do not matter for kinetic penetrators like APFSDS-T fired from other tanks. For anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs), tandem-shaped charges have become the norm, allowing them to overcome such armor.

Simply put, the first smaller warhead creates a gap in such a cover, allowing the second, larger-shaped charge to detonate under optimal conditions. On the other hand, the drawback of these improvised solutions is the significant increase in weight of an already approximately 70-ton tank.

This results in deteriorated mobility due to a worse power-to-weight ratio and additional tons, causing faster wear of suspension components. This might be one of the reasons for the high failure rate of Abrams tanks, which Ukrainian crews complain about.

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