Armor: Replacing M1 Tanks Lost In Yemen

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August 27, 2016: In mid-2016 Saudi Arabia ordered another 153 American M1A2S tanks, for about $7 million each. This will increase the Saudi M1 force to 595 M1A2S tanks, minus at least twenty lost in the last year in Yemen. Since early 2015 Saudi Arabia has had M1A2S tanks in Yemen and is believed to have several hundred there (or on the Yemen border) now. There have been some media reports of Saudi M1A2S losses, including several videos of the Shia rebels there doing some serious damage to these tanks. Iranian media has mentioned at least five M1A2S tanks lost and the Shia rebels captured at least two, which were apparently hunted down and destroyed by Saudi warplanes.

As the Americans discovered in Iraq the M2A2S is still a potent weapon in irregular warfare, especially with well-trained and resolute crews. The U.S. shared their experience with the Saudis and now that the Saudis have had similar success with the M1A2S in Yemen, although with higher losses. The Saudis are satisfied with the M1 as can be seen with the new order, which included twenty tank recovery vehicles (M1s without a turret and equipped to tow damaged M1s from the battlefield to be repaired and returned to service.)

The M1A2 is the 1985 era M1A1 with a number of minor improvements and upgrades, plus an independent thermal sight for the commander and improved armor. The M1A2S has some special modifications to help tanks cope with operating in the desert. In 2006 Saudi Arabia decided to have its 315 M1A2 tanks upgraded to the M1A2S standard. This involved shipping the tanks to the United States where they were taken apart so that worn or damaged parts could be repaired or rebuilt. The tanks were reassembled with additional mechanical and electronic components and refurbished older ones that brought it up to the M1A2S standard. That is, the Saudi tanks are restored to "like new" condition. By 2015 Saudi Arabia had 442 MiA2S tanks, which included some new M1A2S tanks plus the 315 older ones rebuilt.

The M-1 Abrams tank is considered the best combat proven tank in the world. But there are many different models of M1s, which vary considerably in their combat capability. The earliest model is only about half as capable as the most recent M1A2SEP model. The first of 3,273 M-1 Abrams tanks was produced in 1978. This version had a 105mm gun. The first of 4,796 M1A1s (all with a 120mm gun and most with depleted uranium armor) was produced in 1985 (plus 221 for the U.S. Marines and 555 co-produced with Egypt and another 200 M1A1s for Egypt). Production of the M1A2 (with improved fire control systems) began in 1986, with 77 for the US Army, 315 for Saudi Arabia, and 218 for Kuwait. Another 600 M1s were upgraded to M1A2 standards. Deliveries of these upgrades began in 1998. In 2001, the army began to upgrade 240 M1A2 tanks with better thermal imaging and fire control equipment as well as communications and computer equipment that would allow tanks to operate a full color "battlefield internet" with each other as well as headquarters and warplanes with similar equipment. The army upgraded 700 tanks to the M1A2SEP (System Enhancement Package) standard and built another 240 new M-1A2SEP vehicles.

Saudi Arabia also has about 400 older American M-60 tanks, some of which were lost in Yemen. There are also about 140 French AMX30s, which were acquired in the 1970s and these are being sold off and none are in use.

 


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