|The revolution in American Tank Gun and Ammunition
For much of the 1970s and 1980s, American tank gun ammunition development has been pretty much a mirror of similar developments by European allies. In fact, the US adopted first a British gun (L7A1) then a German gun (M256), firing similar APFSDS ammunition as those used by European armies except for the US preference (partly due to material availability) for Depleted Uranium penetrators while European armies preferred Tungsten alloys. However, this changed in the last decade as philosophies between American and European developers diverged in response to the latest threats.
American tank gun philosophy
The current direction of American tank gun and ammunition development differs from European practices in three different ways. First, America now favors a SLOWER, heavier long rod penetrator over one with the highest muzzle energy and velocity. Second, America has no intent or desire to adopt longer, heavier barreled weapons similar to the Rheinmetall 120mm/L55 or the Giat 120mm/L52, in fact the next generation gun being developed is an L43 weapon that is one caliber shorter in barrel length and lighter than the current 120mm/L44 on the Abrams MBT. Lastly, America has developed a taste for 12km range tank gun ammunition for use with third party designation or autonomous homing guidance.
The Slower, Heavier Rod
The latest sabot round fielded by the US Army is the M829A3. This round fires a long rod that is the longest possible for the legacy 120mm cartridge dimensions with the rod spanning the maximum allowed cartridge length right down to the front of a newly shortened ignitor cap. The 7kg, 924mm long, penetrator is longer, larger in diameter and heavier than that used in say the contemporary German DM63 ammunition (5kg, 745mm long). This long rod round however has a rather low muzzle velocity amongst modern Sabot rounds -- at 1550 m/s it is about 200m/s slower than the German DM63 for instance. But, the 10kg the projectile one heavy slug with the penetrator itself being much thicker in diameter in addition to being longer and heavier than european designs. Its manufacturer, ATK, believes that the round offers similar penetration performance shot out of a 44-caliber barrel as the latest German ammunition shot out of a 55-caliber tube. In addition, the design is believed to be much more resilient to the shearing action of "heavy" reactive armor and is designed to penetrate all existing Konkat style armor with negligible or no degration to penetration performance.
M829A3 - Depleted Uranium APFSDS-T round
DM63 - Tungsten APFSDS-T round
The Shorter, Lighter Gun
Almost in direct contradiction to the European tank gun trend towards longer, heavier 52~55 caliber weapons such as the Giat 120mm/L52 on the Leclerc and the Rheinmetall 120/L55 on the Leopard 2A6, the latest US gun being developed is lighter and a tad shorter than the 120mm/L44 M256 weapon on the Abrams MBT. The XM360 will be roughly 43 calibers long and weigh a paltry 4100 lbs for the entire gun system. This puts it at less than half the weight of the Rheinmetall 120/L55 mounting (9100 lbs). This is partly driven by the desire to make a 120mm weapon available to light FCS vehicles being developed (20~35 tons) and partly due to the believe that the next major step up in tank gun lethality cannot be had with longer and heavier guns anyway. For instance, the Rheinmetall 120/L55 fires the DM63 ammunition with 7% more velocity and 15% greater impact energy than the same round fired from a Rheinmetall 120/L44. While this is no doubt a tangible improvement it neither dramatically improves lethality nor offer a tangible increase in effective engagement range. The next major leap in tank gun lethality will have to come from somewhere else.
The Guided Medium Range Munition (MRM)
The US is currently developing two guided, rocket assisted anti-tank rounds with a range of 12 km. In some ways these are similar to gun launched missiles such as the MGM-51 and those used by Russian tanks. The big difference is that unlike other ATGMs, these are launched at full