With the promise of increased defense spending, U.S. Army officials are planning a major upgrade for the M1 Abrams tank as the start of a sweeping effort to modernize the armored vehicles in the service's heavy brigades.
The initial package of upgrades currently in test will enable to M1 to fire the Advanced Multipurpose, or AMP, round, which can be programmed to deliver devastating effects such as airburst on enemy targets, said Maj. Gen. David Bassett, program executive officer, Ground Combat Systems.
"It's a dramatic advancement in lethality; it replaces a bunch of rounds with only two," Bassett said at the Lexington Institute's Army Rapid Equipping Forum on Capitol Hill on Monday. "When we are done, we are going to have the AMP round and the Sabot."
Ground Combat System officials have also just finished an armored protection system, or APS, upgrade to an M1 that will soon go into testing, Bassett said.
"We now have upgrades for every single platform in the [armored brigade combat team] just about ready to go -- an upgraded Bradley, and upgraded Abrams, an upgraded howitzer and a replacement for the M113, something we have waited for an awful lot of years," Bassett said. "Those systems today are nearly shovel-ready."
The Lexington Institute's forum coincided with President Donald Trump outlining his fiscal 2018 budget priorities, pledging to increase defense spending by $54 billion, a roughly 10 percent increase across the services.
Some of the forum's attendees said the Army needs to do a lot more than just modernize its fleet of Cold War-era armored platforms.
"Sequestration and the Budget Control Act have forced the Army to pursue this incremental modernization plan," said retired Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation. "Meanwhile, our adversaries continue to produce revolutionary designs for tanks, antitank guided missiles, personnel carriers, fire support and air defense systems."
Russia, a country with a gross domestic product lower than Brazil, managed to design the new T14 tank "with fully-integrated reactive armor, fully-integrated active protection system and an automated turret," Spoehr said.
Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute agreed, saying, "If the Russians invaded Eastern Europe tomorrow, the U.S. Army would be overrun.
"Americans spend very little money on their Army," added Thompson, who then made some budgetary spending comparisons.
The federal budget under the Obama administration was $4.1 trillion and will likely grow under President Trump, he said, calculating that the federal government spends about $11 billion a day.
Thompson then said that the Army's $22.6 billion request for modernization is worth just two days of federal spending.
The Trump administration plans to increase defense spending by cutting other parts of the federal government. To do this, Congress will have to repeal the Budget Control Act, which has imposed damaging cuts to all areas of the federal government.
"The path to removing the Budget Control Act and taking off the risks of sequestration is cloudy," Spoehr said. "We don't know how we get to 60 votes in the Senate to repeal the Budget Control Act."
Spoehr called Trump's pledge to spend an additional $54 billion on defense spending "a significant increase to what had been previously planned."
"The president had made national defense a national priority," he said.
Bassett agreed that the Army needs to make plans to replace the current armored vehicle fleet with modern designs, but said "you develop a strategy for the resources that you have."
"I think we have a responsibility to upgrade the ABCT formation. Getting the M113 out of the inventory is a big deal for us, but also continuing to add capabilities to Abrams and Bradley," Bassett said, referring to the Armored Multipurpose Vehicle that will replace the Vietnam War-era M113 armored personnel carrier.
"We are looking at active protection systems right now across the formation."
APS technology is designed to give a combat vehicle the capability to shoot down incoming missiles, but the Army has been reluctant to trust it because of the danger it presents to dismounted soldiers.
"I am going to tell you right now that we are going to eventually have to ask the service -- and I think the chief is very ready to do this -- to accept some shortcomings," Bassett said. "There are going to be some angles that may not work now.
"We can talk about the risks to soldiers around the vehicle, but it needs to be in context to the risks to soldiers both in the vehicle and near the vehicle when an antitank guided missile hits it."