The tank’s namesake is the late General Creighton W. Abrams, the U.S. commander in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972 and then U.S. Army chief of staff until his death in 1974.
With a 120 mm smoothbore cannon mounted in the center of the turret, it provides enough mobile firepower to destroy opposing armored fighting vehicles while protecting its crew.
The original model of the tank, the M1 Abrams tank, came into use in February 1980. The M1 was swift and squat, with a turbine engine that ate up gas. The tank’s composition – ceramic blocks glued together with a resin and sandwiched between traditional armoring materials – lent the tank both flexibility of movement and toughness. The tank came equipped with high-tech gadgets, including tools to enhance night vision and pinpoint targets.
There are nearly 9,000 M1 and M1A1 tanks in use by the U.S. Army and Marine Corps and by the Egyptian, Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti armies.
Angular in appearance, the M1A1 has a four-member crew: a tank commander, a gunner, a driver and a loader. The engine is mounted in the rear. Skirted with armor and equipped with a system for guarding against nuclear, chemical and biological contaminants, it weighs in at around 68 tons; nevertheless, it can attain a top speed of 41.5 mph.
The M1A1, deployed in large numbers for the first time during the first Gulf War, proved successful against the Iraqi Army’s well-equipped tanks, most of which were procured from the Soviets. It had great range and reliability, even at high speeds, and its night-vision devices helped crew members see through the dust kicked up in the Kuwaiti deserts and the dense smoke billowing from burning oil wells.
Eighteen Abrams tanks were damaged in Gulf War skirmishes and had to be taken out of service, nine permanently, but no crew members were reported killed. Reports of mechanical mishaps were rare.
The M1 was designed by the U.S. Army primarily to destroy other tanks. However, about 10 percent of the tanks have been pressed into service by the U.S. Marine Corps in recent years to provide support to infantry stationed in Iraq, where a few of the vehicles have been disabled by roadside improvised explosive devices.