The Army's Abrams tanks
are taking a beating in Iraq, where they are being subjected
to 12 times more use than envisioned when the tanks were
first fielded 25 years ago, industry officials told Inside
the Army last week.
In the "normal" environment of training
and field exercises, the Abrams had been logging about 850
miles a year. "In Iraq, they're getting more than that a
month," said Pete Keating, a spokesman for General Dynamics
Land Systems, which made and which maintains the tanks.
result, according to an Army official and GDLS, is at
least 10 years of wear and tear for every yearlong rotation
-- and a growing backlog of deferred maintenance. The solution,
said Pat Pietrangelo, GDLS's tank programs director,
isn't entirely clear, but is sure to include long-range planning
and more funding.
The Army, which did not
respond to requests for interviews on the tanks' use in Iraq,
is seeking $443.5 million for modification of the M1Abrams
for fiscal year 2006 -- about four times the amount requested
and granted in FY-05. That figure includes $300 million for
new engines instead of the usual rebuilt engines; and $143
million for armor and pulse jet air cleaning systems made
by General Dynamics.
The Defense Department,
through its FY-05 emergency supplemental appropriations request,
is seeking $294 million for the Abrams System Enhancement
Program (SEP). The program boosts combat effectiveness by
adding second-generation forward-looking infrared technology
and night vision systems, boosting lethality and other upgrades,
according to DOD's supplemental request justification document.
"Army weapon systems and equipment
continue to be flown and driven harder, further and under
more realistic conditions," a separate Army budget document
The tanks are made to
last 20 to 25 years, although upgrade programs can extend
"They never envisioned
running tanks 1,000 miles a year,"Pietrangelo
The Army plans to rely
on Abrams tanks at least until 2030, according to GDLS. The
tanks, originally designed for the Cold War, have performed
well in new roles like urban warfare in Iraq.
There, it's the "weapon of choice," an industry official
With plans to use the
Abrams as a primary fighting tool for decades to come, the
Army is preparing to deal with deferred maintenance and mechanical
problems stemming from unexpectedly high use. The service
is ramping up its recapitalization program for Abrams Integrated
Management (AIM) tanks, through which the service completely
rebuilds tanks using the original hulls. The result is a
zero-mile, zero-hour tank. The cost to the Army is $1.4 million
less for each tank that goes through AIM than it would cost
for a new tank, according to GDLS.
Through AIM, the Army
is refurbishing 115 to 135 tanks a year. Through SEP, it
is overhauling 65 to 120 tanks a year.
In a March 3 interview,
Col. Curtis McCoy said the Abrams were designed to spend
35 percent of their driving time on paved roads. The
urban environments of Iraq, however, have led the service
to run them on paved roads 80 percent of the time. Accordingly,
tank suspensions are heating up with the tanks running
full throttle under 120-degree heat.
is drilling down on the equipment . . . really stressing
the stuff," said McCoy, who is involved in
the council of colonels and the Army's newly
formed War Production Board (Inside the Army,
March 11, p1).
The result of the
higher level of operation tempo
is more tanks requiring depot maintenance
and rotating out of service for
about 180 days.
The Army has lost at
least 20 Abrams in Operation Iraqi Freedom. -- Glenn Maffei
- Copyright Inside Washington Publishers. Reprinted
with permission. Inside the Army is available at the InsideDefense.com