Abrams and the need for TUSK in the age of rapid urbanization

Abrams and the need for TUSK in the age of rapid urbanization

Benjamin M. Harris

Urban operations are difficult and costly in terms of personnel and equipment, and require a full suite of military capabilities. Demographic studies indicate a vast increase in the number and size of urban areas throughout the world. Urban areas may be strategic centers of gravity and will probably contain a number of operational centers of gravity and decisive points. (1)

The operational concept for Abrams, written and approved in 1980, describes the role of the tank as the principal element in the combined arms team that possesses, in a single system, the essential requisites for mounted combat: a high degree of tactical mobility and protected firepower.

The Abrams main battle tank (MBT) has successfully demonstrated tactical mobility during numerous joint combined operations in Iraq. These operations, however, revealed that some improvements should be made to preserve tank combat power. Today, both the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are experimenting and testing technology that will improve Abrams protection, lethality, and mobility in the urban environment.

Some of the new technologies being considered are not that new. In fact, many of the most recent upgrades to the Abrams M1A2 systems enhancement program (SEP) paid the biggest dividends, particularly the commander’s independent thermal viewer (CITV) and the second-generation forward-looking infrared (2-GEN FLIR). The modernization path begins with the baseline difference between the M1A1 and the M1A2 SEE For the Army, the ongoing research in support of this effort is the tank urban survival kit (TUSK), but it is only limited research. The Army has not yet funded the TUSK program for fielding. The Marines have funded the program and are adding enhancements to the M1A1 Abrams as part of their firepower enhancement program (FEP).

The Marines are integrating three technologies for the M1A1, which are universally required to enhance the MBT’s mobility and protection in urban operations. The first initiative is to upgrade first-generation FLIR with second-generation technology as part of the FEE With the introduction of the M1A2 SEP, the Army began adding 2-GEN FLIR to the Abrams in 1999. The capability of 2-GEN FLIR to prevent fratricide, recently recognized by the Joint Anti-Fratricide Task Force, prompted the Army to reprogram money from the combat identification program to fund 2-GEN FLIR integration for the remaining M1A1s in the Active and National Guard heavy brigade combat team (HBCTs), down to platoon sergeant level. (2) For the Army, the U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Systems Manager-Abrams (TSM Abrams) and Program Manager (PM) Abrams agreed that the Army’s M1A1 hardware solution should be common with the Army’s M1A2 SEP upgrade, rather than the Marine Corps’ design. Australia is adding 2-GEN FLIR to all of their new M1A1s, which will be common with the U.S. Army. Egypt is also adding 2-GEN FLIR to their M1A1 production.

As the second initiative of the FEP, the Marines are integrating an un-cooled infrared (IR) sight for the commander’s .50-caliber machine gun. This improved sighting system will replace the current telescope with a thermal day TV and an uncooled IR sight. As part of the TUSK, TSM Abrams requested that PM Abrams integrate a thermal sight for the tank commander’s machine gun, as well as return the original M1A1 tank commander’s capability to fire his machine gun while protected. TSM Abrams requested that PM Abrams maintain M1A1 commonality with the Marine Corps’ M1A1 solution for the tank commander’s .50-caliber machine gun. However, the M1A2 SEP requires a different solution to improve the tank commander’s ability to fight in limited visibility conditions while protected.

To fully meet the original requirement to provide mobile protected firepower to the tank commander when operating the .50-caliber machine gun, TSM Abrams agrees that the M1A2 SEP requires the common remotely operated weapons system (CROWS), which is currently being fielded to military police on M1114s in Iraq. CROWS will provide the M1A2 SEP tank commander the ability to fire the .50-caliber during movement due to its fully stabilized full-fire control system. During operations in Iraq, “movement” in urban operations has greatly added to our mounted systems’ survivability. Stationary tanks are easy targets; a moving tank often surprises the enemy, causes less disruption to the friendly population, and is in the spirit of “offensive” operations.

The “Baghdad box” formation requires all systems, including the Abrams, Bradley, and M1114, to move slowly through the urban landscape, resulting in frequent, but short, engagements. (3) The ability to quickly react and accurately return fire while maneuvering will greatly add to the lethality of this formation, while improved accuracy and target acquisition will help reduce collateral damage.

Finally, the Marine Corps’ third FEP initiative will add a tank infantry phone (TIP). Every tank in the Army since World War II has had a connection for the dismounted infantry (normally required in urban operations) to connect a phone for communications and integration of tank fires in support of joint urban operations. This changed when the Abrams began fielding in 1982.

As part of TUSK, TSM Abrams has requested that the TIP be integrated into both the M1A1 and M1A2 SEP systems, using the Marine Corps’ design. Australia is already integrating the TIP into their new production of M1A1s. The TIP will enable supporting infantry to communicate with the Abrams crew and provide dismounted soldiers access to the Abrams full suite of tactical radios for emergency use. Currently, dismounted infantry-to-tank coordination is conducted by shouting over the noise of the AGT1500 gas turbine engine, and requires the tank commander to be fully exposed to enemy fire. Eventually, this system could host a wireless communications system, which would increase safety and protection for dismounted infantrymen. Even with complete fielding of the multi-band inter/intra team radio (MBITR), this system will provide a good backup during the ‘fog of battle.’

To improve the Abrams protection, lethality, and mobility, TSM Abrams has requested the addition of other technologies. These remaining components make up what PM Abrams has coined, “TUSK,” which includes a modern driver’s vision enhancement. The Bradley, Stryker, and Marine Corps light armored vehicle (LAV) already have a newer driver’s thermal viewer than the Abrams.

Other TUSK improvements are being outfitted for user evaluation during 2d quarter fiscal year (FY) 2006. Both TSM Abrams and the Marine Corps realize the loader’s machine gun requires improvements to better support urban operations. Many soldiers in Iraq have converted the M240 butt stock and trigger assembly to make it similar to the M240B used by the Abrams loader. The problem is that the tank’s mounting system is not designed to hold the M240B. Crewmen have to rest the machine gun on the rear pin to have full access to the trigger assembly.

Using the M240B allows the loader to engage targets with less of his torso exposed to enemy fire, which is considered by many to be a more accurate firing technique. Unfortunately, the Abrams M240 does not have the front iron sight, and the ammunition can often become misfed due to improper alignment, which is based on the added elevation when the weapon is resting on the rear-securing pin. Key to Abrams operations is its ability to provide protected firepower. The loader, however, is fully exposed. Most gunners in Iraq have learned the same lessons learned in Vietnam and other wars–some added protection is better than none.

The Army and Marine Corps combat developers have not yet agreed on a common design for mounting the M240. The Army has already fielded some transparent armored gun shields (TAGS) to many combat vehicles in Iraq. This includes a variant for Abrams, which was developed by United Defense (BAE), in cooperation with TSM Abrams and PM Abrams. Currently TSM Abrams, PM Abrams, and General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) are developing an improved protection system, the loader’s armored gun shield (LAGS), which will provide added survivability to the loader. Unfortunately, no new design for mounting the M240 has been introduced as of yet.

TSM Abrams manager has also requested that a thermal sight be added to the loader’s M240 in support of combat operations during periods of limited visibility. The infantry branch is currently fielding a medium thermal weapons sight for their inventory of M240Bs; the Abrams was not included in the basis of issue since the tank gunner already has a thermal sight for the coaxially mounted M240.

The enemy has attempted to conduct simultaneous complex attacks from multiple directions, requiring all three crewmen to conduct simultaneous engagements, which necessitate improvements for the loader. Due to the distance from the loader’s head to the recommended loader’s thermal weapons sight eyepiece, a heads up or embedded goggle display will be required. These goggles will be the standard Army issue sand, dust, and wind ballistic goggles with an embedded display. The goggle could also be connected to the driver’s new thermal sight since it has the same RS 170 video output connection.

The Marine Corps is also investigating ways to improve the loader’s station by using a different technological solution. They are testing a new fixed/swing mount that is capable of securing the M240B. This mount would be common with the system used on Stryker, but could not support the weight of any added ballistic protection, such as TAGS or LAGS, for the loader. The Marine Corps mount would enable the loader to fire the weapon without exposing any part of his body when engaging enemy at higher elevations commonly found in urban terrain. However, during normal tank-to-ground engagements, this system would fully expose the loader, but is also more responsive since there are no bearings or skate ring. which has recently been reported as an issue for tanks equipped with the TAGS. Army and Marine Corps combat developers will continue to share information gained during testing.

TUSK includes many other technologies, which will greatly enhance and preserve tank combat power. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) has submitted a requirement (operational needs statement) for TUSK: however, no funding for production has been received to date. Money is promised in June 2006 as part of the FY06 supplemental for OIF. (4)

Most leaders would agree that loaders and tank commanders should have protection and having night sights for machine guns makes sense: the problem is trying to compete with all the other Army and Department of Defense requirements. Today, TUSK is not fielded. If money is made available, limited quantities of LAGS, CROWS. TIR and driver’s vision enhancer (DVE) could be produced and begin fielding in early 2007.

The mission of armor is to close with and destroy the enemy using firepower, maneuver, and shock effect. TUSK will enhance this capability and the mission of armor. Unfortunately, TUSK is not currently funded. Originally identified by TSM Abrams in the late summer of 2003, there is only a glimmer of hope for funds in the summer of 2006. (5) As of February 2006, the Army Requirements Resourcing Board approved 76 TUSK kits for 1st Armored Division, but funding cannot be made available in time to meet their deployment. For units to receive TUSK once it is funded, commanders should submit an operational needs statement today.


(1) Joint Publication (JP) 3-06, Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations. U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC, 18 September 2002, pp. vii and viii.

(2) Reprograming is when the Army changes the purpose of motley authorized for use from one item to another.

(3) The “Baghdad box” formation is a small-unit formation with vehicles at all four corners to maintain 360-degree situational awareness; it Makes it less likely for a rear attack on any of the vehicles. Each vehicle is responsible for a specific sector.

(4) Supplemental funding is emergency funding requested to support the current war effort and is outside of the formal budget process.

(5) TSM Abrams was scheduled to close in FY04, but has been reinstated. No more changes for Abrams requirements were expected since production was to stop in 2008.

Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Harris is currently the assistant Training and Doctrine Command System Manager for Abrams, Fort Knox, KY. He received a B.S. from the U.S. Military Academy and an M.S. from Central Michigan University. His military education includes Airborne School, Armor Officer Basic Course, Armor Officer Advanced Course, and U.S. Army Command and General Staff College. He has served in various command and staff positions, to include assistant product manager for large caliber (Abrams) ammunition, Picatinny Arsenal, NJ; administrative contracting officer, Lima Army Tank Plant, Lima, OH; combined arms team armor advisor, 42d Army National Guard, Fort Dix, NJ; commander, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 70th Armor, 194th Separate Infantry Brigade, Fort Knox, KY; and commander, E Company, 2d Battalion, 46th Infantry, 1st Armor Training Brigade, Fort Knox.

COPYRIGHT 2006 U.S. Army Armor Center

COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale Group