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One change in store for the M1A2 SEP, based on lessons learned from Operation Iraqi Freedom, will be a new auxiliary power supply, Szydlosky said. That basically means adding batteries to a voltage regulator on the SEP, he explained.
"The regulator now is older technology, and by tweaking that we can get more out of the batteries," he said. By using batteries, the tankers can run the vehicle's electronics without turning on the engine.
The Army has funds through 2007 to finish outfitting the M1A2 SEP tanks, said Harris, who noted that it is possible that funding could be stretched out for a few more years. In the fiscal year 2005 defense appropriations bill, the SEP program received $292 million.
"We are not converting all the M1A2s into SEP," Szydlosky noted. A few years from now, the 1st Cavalry Division, 4th Infantry Division and 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment will be the only ones to have the SEP, he said.
By fiscal year 2009, a good chunk of the remaining tanks will be converted to M1A1 AIM tanks, while other M1A1 tanks will receive certain modifications, according to Szydlosky. The AIM is a completely rebuilt M1A1, Szydlosky explained. The 2005 defense appropriations bill allotted $116.9 million for M1A1 modifications.
Hull mounted APUs were used up until about 1993, after that the turret mounted APU was introduced in the M1A1 Heavy Common. Original M1A2s still had turret bustle APUs as well. The M1A2 SEP (Systems Enhancement Program) has an internal APU mounted in the left side of the rear hull.
Another Abrams was disabled near Karbala after a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) penetrated the rear engine compartment and one was lost in Baghdad after its external auxiliary power unit was set on fire by medium-calibre fire.
The Abrams tank armor system was not really put to the test during military operations in Iraq. There were virtually no reported hits on the highly protected frontal arc or on the “heavy” ballistic skirts; all tank losses to enemy fire were defeated from the top, side and rear. Iraqi soldiers had clearly familiarized themselves with the capabilities of American tanks during operation Desert Storm and avoided engaging them in direct battle. For example, there were no reported cases of anti-tank guide missiles (ATGM) being fired at any US army vehicle. At the same time, Iraqi resistance fighters, whose ranks were bolstered by scores of trained Iraqi soldiers, have clearly learned to exploit the vulnerabilities of the US systems. They managed to destroy up to 20 enemy tanks even with their antiquated light anti-tank weapons, mostly Soviet rocket-propelled grenades such as the RPG-7 or its Chinese and Egyptian variants, with rounds developed in the 1970s-early 1980s. The results of combat operations show that the side armor of the Abrams tank is completely inadequate to fire from light anti-tank weapons, including older generation weapons, making these tanks unsuitable for operations in built-up areas.
For example, in a widely-discussed incident, an M1 tank from the 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, 1st Armor Division was hit and disabled during a routine patrol on 28 August 2003. The American press, deluded by its own reports of the “invulnerability” of the Abrams, claimed that some kind of “secret weapon” was responsible for the damage. In fact, published photographs clearly show that the offending weapon was none other than a simple RPG. The hollow-charged jet penetrated the side skirt and turret ring and continued into the crew compartment as it disintegrated before finally coming to rest after boring a cluster of craters 30-50 mm deep in the hull on the far side of the tank. The crew was lucky to have suffered only minor shrapnel wounds as the projectile passed through the gunner’s seatback and grazed his flak jacket. On April 2, 2003 an RPG attack from the side disabled another tank by penetrating the turret’s hydraulic drive.
The side protection of the M1 turret is also inadequate. On 7 April 2004 an anti-tank RPG penetrated the side of the turret resulting in serious wounds to two crew members. The top of the tank is equally vulnerable, and even the glacis was easily defeated by anti-tank weapons. For example, on April 10, 2004 a tank was hit on the right side of the glacis by an RPG fired from an overpass and destroyed. Additional measures designed to increase protection for the Abrams tank have showed mixed results. Halon firefighting gear has proven largely ineffective. Practically all secondary fires resulting from enemy fire, engine breakdown or overheating destroyed the tank completely. For example, the 7 April attack noted above ignited the tanker’s personal effects attached to the outside of the turret, and since the crew had abandoned the vehicle, the fire was left unchecked, while on 10 April, fuel leaked out of a damaged fuel tank and ignited. Externally stored items, including on one occasion an external auxiliary power unit (EAPU), caught fire on several occasions and led to catastrophic losses. On the other hand, the vulnerability caused by externally stored items only underlined the wisdom of storing ammunition in a separate compartment protected by blast doors, which contained fires and saved the crew when the main rounds ignited.