In October 2022 General Dynamics Land Systems unveiled a new technology demonstrator concept of a future main battle tank for the United States’ military. Named the AbramsX, it is being proposed as a successor to the M1 Abrams that can bridge the gap to a future tank.
The AbramsX joins vehicles such as the Panther KF51 and EMBT that are all marketed as the main battle tanks of the future. An interesting point to note though is that none of these tanks are built on new hulls, including the AbramsX.
Still, the AbramsX is fitted with a number of features that significantly depart from current serving designs, and could even be considered revolutionary in regards to US tank philosophy.
Lets take a look at what we know about the AbramsX so far.
Reminder – this vehicle is merely a technology demonstrator concept created by General Dynamics, and is not currently under genuine consideration by the US military.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s there has been a reduced need, and therefore investment, in entirely new main battle tanks (MBTs). As a result of this, many of the MBTs around today are still based on vehicles developed towards the end of the Cold War.
Tanks like the Challenger 2, Leopard, Abrams, and T-72 all originate from this time and have received extensive upgrades to keep them up to date.
General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) – the manufacturer of the Abrams – has created a new, heavily modified version of the Abrams for the future, called the AbramsX.
Right away, the biggest change on the AbramsX is its turret, which is now unmanned and contains an autoloader for the main gun. The human loader is completely emitted from the design, reducing the crew to three (commander, driver, gunner).
This is a radical change for a US vehicle, as the nation’s primary tanks have had at least a four-person crew since WWII.
Next, GDLS has thrown out the Abrams’ famous gas turbine engine for the Advanced Combat Engine (ACE). This is a horizontally opposed six cylinder (12 piston) two-stroke diesel engine from Cummins. Specifically designed for the military, the engine is modular and can be customised for specific roles and power outputs that range from 750 hp to 1,500 hp.
Also, enabled by the ACE, the AbramsX will feature a hybrid powertrain. These developments will reportedly give the tank a major boost in fuel efficiency over the current Abrams.
The three-person crew of the AbramsX is situated side-by-side at the front of the hull, in the same location as the driver on the current Abrams. This reduction in crew and fighting compartment size has enabled the tank to be lighter without a decrease in protection.
Many will recognise this layout from the Russian T-14 Armata, which contains its crew in an armored tub within the hull. Surprisingly, the US are not new to this concept, having created the M1 TTB in the 1980s to test an unmanned turret.
Naturally, the AbramsX has active protection systems, upgraded electronics and vast battlefield connectivity with other units in the field.
Below we cover some of the main aspects of the tank in more detail.
Weapons and Turret
The tank’s main armament is the XM360 120 mm smoothbore gun. This is a lightweight weapon originally developed for the XM1202, which had an autoloader. As a result, the XM360 is perfectly suited for use in the autoloading and reduced-weight AbramsX.
It is ballistically similar to the M256 used by the current Abrams, but is built for higher pressures and therefore has a higher performance potential. The weapon is fitted with a pepper pot muzzle brake to reduce recoil.
As with most modern tank guns, the XM360 is wrapped in a thermal shroud to maintain a consistent temperature throughout the barrel, but this particular shroud also reduces the gun’s thermal signature.
The XM360 also has electronic actuation, which enables the gun to be remotely operated, something the M256 cannot do.
On top of all this, the XM360 weighs nearly a ton less than the M256.
Interestingly, the AbramX’s gun does not have a fume extractor. While this is a trivial detail, it highlights the nuances of an unmanned turret, because there is no one inside to remove the fumes for.
The unmanned turret and autoloading system are radical departures from previous US tanks, but they are major factors in weight reduction and crew safety.
You may be wondering why GDLS would choose an autoloading system after the amount of incidents we’ve seen in recent months of Russian tank turrets popping off. Isn’t that the reason for the catastrophic turret losses?
No. The reason Russian tanks loosing their heads is because of how they store ammunition. Inherent in the T-72 family is their carousel autoloader, which sits directly below the turret and contains all of the tank’s ammunition. If a round penetrates the fighting compartment and ignites this ammunition, it will proceed to explode and, following the path of least resistance, force the turret upwards.
The AbramsX stores its ammunition in the rear of the turret. This is good, because it is kept completely separate from the crew. To make this even safer, the AbramsX continues the Abrams’ use of blowout panels above the ammunition. These allow an ammunition detonation to vent outwards with minimal resistance, saving the crew and sometimes even the rest of the tank.
So, in theory, this system is even safer than conventional ammunition storage, and much safer than older Russian autoloaders.
In addition to the main gun is a M230 30 mm chain gun in a Kongsberg XM914 remote weapons station on the roof.
The M230 is related to the Apache’s chain gun, and is likely present to combat drones and low flying aircraft. However it may also be used against softer targets to save using the main gun, which likely has less ammunition than a standard Abrams due to the autoloader.
Beside the M230 is a 7.62 mm M240 machine gun.
At the rear of the AbramsX is Cummins’ new Advanced Combat Engine (ACE), which is a six cylinder (12 piston), 20 liter, horizontally opposed two-stroke diesel engine that will produce 1,500 hp.
GDLS reports that the AbramsX weighs less than previous iterations of the Abrams, so, with equal power, it will possess an improved power-to-weight ratio.
One of the tank’s most talked about aspects is its hybrid power. While the specifics are not yet known, this will be a parallel hybrid motor, a type that provides power at the same time as the main engine.
GDLS has stated that this arrangement gives the AbramsX 50% less fuel consumption than the M1A2. It will also give the AbramsX “silent watch” capability, where all systems on the tank run on electric power only when stationary, greatly reducing noise and fuel consumption while on operations.
It is important to note however that the standard Abrams gas turbine engine is already one of the most quiet MBT powerplants in use today.
The part that has everyone intrigued though, is that the hybrid system “allows for some silent mobility”. There are no specifics on this yet, but it seems the AbramsX can actually drive on electric power only for short durations.
Dotted around the exterior of the tank is sensors, cameras and optics that serve as the eyes and ears of the AbramsX. Cameras are particularly important on this vehicle, as the crew no longer have their own eyes in the vantage point of the turret.
These systems are integrated by GDLS’ Next Generation Electronic Architecture (NGEA), known as KATALYST.
KATALYST helps to connect and manage the many technologies found inside modern tanks, such as the fire control system, communications, sensors, crew displays, electronic warfare capabilities and active protection systems. It can easily accept future systems too.
The AbramsX is fitted with the Trophy active protection system (APS) currently in use with the US Army on the M1A2 SEP v2. The sensors for the APS can be seen dotted around the vehicle, most noticeably on the front corners of the turret.
That is the latest on the AbramsX concept vehicle. It certainly looks like a tank of the future, but, as we mentioned at the beginning, it is a technology demonstrator, not a vehicle that is seriously being considered by the military.
Technology demonstrators like the AbramsX are actually quite regular, and are essentially a way for manufacturers to show what they are capable of. In fact, GDLS have already created an Abrams-based technology demonstrator before, back in 2013. This proposal was fitted with an MTU diesel engine, and, as Nicholas Moran pointed out, may be the same hull used for the AbramsX.
It is important to note too that the M1A2 SEP v3 only entered service at the end of 2020, with the US Army planning on introducing the M1A2 SEP V4 in the beginning of 2025. This pushes the need for the AbramsX into the 2030s.
As more information on the AbramsX arrives we will be sure to keep you updated.