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M1 OPTEMPO way up; road use poses challenge


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.

The 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 states.

The tanks are made to last 20 to 25 years, although upgrade programs can extend that range.

"They never envisioned running tanks 1,000 miles a year,"Pietrangelo said.

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 said.

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.

"This 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 NewsStand:

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Last modified date and time: 02/14/2016 17:52