Similar to previous Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, Ukraine is also looking for ways to increase the survivability of Abrams.

As part of the military aid package for Ukraine, the US transferred to its ally a total of 31 M1A1 Abrams tanks. However, there is no public information showing that these tanks have been equipped with additional dynamic protection systems. This decision to provide M1A1 tanks, instead of the more modern M1A2 variants, was made to facilitate faster delivery and to align with the capabilities and logistical support available in Ukraine.

Similar to previous Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, Ukraine is also looking for ways to increase the survivability of Abrams. A video provided by Ukrainian sources shows an upgrade of M1A1 Abrams tanks with the blocks of dynamic protection, which are the first generation M-19 ARAT (Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles). This enhancement is aimed at bolstering the tanks’ defenses against the evolving threats on the Ukrainian battlefield.

The M1A1 Abrams tank, an improved version of the M1 Abrams, is equipped with sophisticated composite armor for protection. This armor, known as Chobham armor, is a composite armor that incorporates materials such as ceramics and metal alloys. It’s known for its effectiveness against a variety of anti-tank threats, including kinetic energy penetrators and chemical energy heat rounds. The Chobham armor is a significant aspect of the M1A1 Abrams, contributing to its reputation as a highly protected main battle tank. This advanced armor system is a key feature that has been consistently upgraded in various versions of the Abrams tanks to enhance their battlefield survivability.

Historically, urban and other close battlefields have been poor places for tanks to fight. A tank’s front armor is much stronger than that on the sides, top, or rear. In an urban environment, attacks can come from any direction, and attackers can get close enough to reliably hit weak points in the tank’s armor or gain sufficient elevation to hit the top armor.

Leaked images of Ukraine’s new Abrams show that ARAT dynamic protection elements have been installed on the tank’s side skirts. The explosive-filled packages could help the tanks stand up to increasingly advanced tanks and anti-tank munitions. Derived from combat experiences in Iraq, in 2004, the dynamic Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles protection system, the ARAT, was explicitly crafted to safeguard the M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams tanks. Its design foundation rests on the successful Bradley Reactive Armor Tiles (the BRAT), a robust defensive system utilized for Bradley Infantry Vehicles.

In its first generation called ARAT-1, modules known as M19 were incorporated. Although explicit data about its defensive capabilities remains undisclosed, it’s widely inferred that it fortifies against cumulative ammunition, rendering protection levels up to 70% of the tank’s primary armor.

The M-19’s modular and lightweight design allows for manual installation, facilitating easy application and adaptation based on changing battlefield conditions or specific mission needs. It can be applied to various parts of a vehicle, such as the hull, skirt, or turret, offering enhanced protection against shape charge threats, particularly in urban combat scenarios.

Notably, the M-19 technology is highly reliable and has maintained a clean safety record across training, field operations, and combat situations. It does not require maintenance, power, or sensors, and its handling requirements are akin to those of ammunition, allowing for joint handling and storage. The design minimizes collateral damage, with rigorous analysis and testing ensuring the prevention of adjacent module detonation during an attack and directing the response towards the incoming threat.

This armor system complies with MIL-STD 2105 IM requirements and has undergone extensive testing against small arms to verify its insensitivity to bullet and fragment impacts. It is also fully self-extinguishing, adding another layer of safety and reliability to its design.

While Ukraine’s Abrams have not actually participated in combat, mud problems could be an obstacle for the 68-ton tanks coming from the US. Its 1,500 horsepower turbine engine is also a real thirster. It also requires constant cleaning. Maintaining the Abrams, and keeping spare parts and fuel readily available — will also limit how and when the Abrams is used.

Regardless of how Ukraine uses the Abrams next, its long-term success may be more reliant on what other Western weaponry is delivered. It most recently struck with new long-range missiles, the secretly acquired MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) that hit Russian bases behind lines. How the Abrams will be useful later on, of course, depends on whether Ukraine is given what it needs to win.


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