The M1 Abrams is a third-generation main battle tank produced in the United States. It is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and Commander of US military forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. Highly mobile, designed for modern armored ground warfare, the M1 is well armed and heavily armored.
The first attempt to replace the aging M60 tank was the MBT-70, developed in partnership with West Germany in the 1960s. The MBT-70 had advanced features such as a height-adjustable pneumatic suspension and a turret design that allowed the driver to always face the direction of travel, but ultimately proved to be too heavy, complex, and expensive. As a result of the imminent failure of this project, the U.S. Army introduced the XM803. This succeeded only in producing an expensive system with capabilities similar to the M60.
Congress canceled the MBT-70 in November and XM803 December 1971, and redistributed the funds to the new XM815, later renamed the XM1 Abrams after General Creighton Abrams. Prototypes were delivered in 1976 by Chrysler Defense and General Motors armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun along with a Leopard 2 for comparison. The turbine-powered Chrysler Defense design was selected for development as the M1; Chrysler had significant experience designing turbine-powered land vehicles going back to the 1950s. In March 1982, General Dynamics Land Systems Division (GDLS) purchased Chrysler Defense, after Chrysler built over 1,000 M1s.
3,273 M1 Abrams were produced 1979-85 and first entered US Army service in 1980. Production at the government-owned, GDLS-operated Lima Army Tank Plant in Lima, Ohio, was joined by vehicles built at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant in Warren, Michigan from 1982 to 1996. The M1 was armed with the license-built version of the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 gun. An improved model called the M1IP was produced briefly in 1984 and contained small upgrades. The M1IP models were used in the Canadian Army Trophy NATO tank gunnery competition in 1985 and 1987.
About 6,000 M1A1 Abrams were produced from 1986–92 and featured the M256 120 mm (4.7 in) smoothbore cannon developed by Rheinmetall AG of Germany for the Leopard 2, improved armor, and a CBRN protection system. Production of M1 and M1A1 tanks totaled some 9,000 tanks at a cost of approximately $4.30 million per unit. By 1999 costs for the tank were upwards of US$5 million a vehicle.
In 1990, Project on Government Oversight in a report criticized the M1's high costs and low fuel efficiency in comparison with other tanks of similar power and effectiveness such as the Leopard 2. The report was based on data from U.S. Army sources and the Congressional record.
As the Abrams entered service in the 1980s, they operated alongside M60A3 within the United States military, and with other NATO tanks in numerous Cold War exercises. These exercises usually took place in Western Europe, especially West Germany, but also in some other countries, including South Korea. The exercises were aimed at countering Soviet forces. However, by 1991 the USSR had collapsed and the Abrams was instead employed in the Middle East.