As the U.S. mulls another sale of American-made tanks to Iraq, it's weighing enhancements to the hulking tracked vehicles, according to a news report.
Bloomberg's Tony Capaccio reported this week that the U.S. Army is considering beefing up the Iraqi Army's 70-ton M1A1 tanks with more armor to protect the vehicles and their crews from land mines and roadside bombs. As he wrote:
"Upgrades to the tanks built by General Dynamics Corp. (GD) also could include belly armor; lightweight reactive armor tiles; improved night-vision sensors made by Waltham, Massachusetts-based Raytheon Co. (RTN) to provide 360-degree, all-weather views; and mine-clearing blades and rollers, according to an Army survey released in November."But will the enhancements also include heavier protection from missile attacks?
Of the 140 M1A1 Situational Awareness, or SA, versions the U.S. sold to Iraq between 2010 and 2012, only about 40 remain in inventory.
The vast majority were destroyed or heavily damaged last year as Islamic militants took over military bases and other parts of the country. More than a few were reportedly taken out by ISIS fighters wielding 9M133 Russian Kornet anti-tank guided missiles, presumably obtained in Syria. (Still others were reportedly attacked by U.S. aircraft once they were in the possession of militants.)
The State Department last month approved a possible sale of as many as 175 more M1A1 tanks and other equipment to the Iraqi military in a deal potentially worth $2.4 billion. Congress must approve the transaction.
However, the SA variant doesn't include features found on the latest M1A2 models, notably depleted uranium armor, explosive reactive armor and additional protection from anti-tank missiles.
Will the upgrades be enough? Or should the U.S. be providing Iraq with the M1A2, like it does other countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia? (Perhaps the U.S. military should simply add to its donations to Iraqi forces the new Abrams tanks it says it doesn't want but that Congress keeps funding.) Or should Iraqi forces simply do a better job of pairing their armor assets with well-trained infantry units?