How America Rebuilds And Upgrades The Mighty M1 Tank

The Abrams M1 tank is the primary battle tank of the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. It has been used in nearly every major U.S. conflict since its introduction in 1980 and the military wants to keep these land weapon systems in service until 2040.
NBC reports that the U.S. military has more than 2,300 M1s deployed and roughly 3,000 more in American military bases nationwide.

Repairs and upgrades are done at Anniston Army Depot in Alabama and the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Ohio, where tanks are gutted and rebuilt over a 10-month operation.

We’ve taken screenshots from a National Geographic documentary to show how the military keeps its tanks in fighting shape.

Army Depot in Anniston Alabama is the first stop for the M1 tanks. The tanks will spend an average of 4 months here before they are shipped off for the second reconstruction phase some 600 miles away in Lima, Ohio.

The first step is to strip the tank of its parts. Here the crew separates the turret from the hull.

Next, the 1.5 ton gas turbine engine is removed. The M1 is the only tank in the world that uses this versatile engine. 'Everything from unleaded gasoline to Chanel No. 5, it'll burn it,' says Rodney Brodeur of the Anniston Army Depot.

However, sand can cause serious damage to this powerful engine. When sand is sucked into the engine, the inner metal turbines begin to disintegrate.

The metal blades start out looking like this ...

... and end up with what is called a 'blade hook' appearance.

During wartime, the Anniston Army Depot is expected to refurbish 29 tanks a week.

To expedite the process, 9 robots are responsible for storing and retrieving more than 4 million bar coded tank parts.

This worker removes the remaining parts from the hull of the tank. Once the tank is completely stripped, its outer metal shell will receive a makeover.

Here's how the makeover begins. Workers hook the tank to an 11-ton crane ...

... that has a 44-ton lift capacity.

The crane then hoists the body of the tank vertically in the air ...

... and transports it into the 'spinner hanger' where it is locked behind 8-ton doors.

Millions of steel pellets are blasted at the tank for an hour and a half.

After the bombardment, the shell comes out with a brand new steel finish.

Most tanks won't keep their shine for long because the next stage requires the hull to sit outside for a few days. Once a specialised train car is ready, the slightly rusty 20-ton hulls are sent to Lima, Ohio.

Here, at the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center, gutted tanks are resurrected in less than 180 days.

The first step for some tanks is to update the body so that it can accommodate modern computer and weapon systems. That is what this metalworker is doing, a process referred to as 'retrofitting.'

Sometimes these metal workers need bigger tools. This plasma cutter uses an electrified beam of nitrogen gas in order to cut slabs of steel precisely. The plasma can reach a temperature up to 18,000 degrees -- which is hotter than the sun.

The tanks are shot-blasted once more and then given a quick paint job.

It's now time for the 12,000 tank parts removed at the Anniston Army Depot to find their way back into the M1 tank. Here, factory workers gently steer the refurbished turbine gas engine into place.

Next, the tank gets its two 55-foot long tracks back. Each track weighs about 5,000 pounds.

The nerve center of the M1 has thermal imaging systems like this one as well as digital command control systems and wind speed sensors that correct firing trajectories.

The M1 tank isn't complete without its main armament, a 120mm gun that has a lethal range up to 2 miles.

It takes two men and a robotic arm to help secure the cannon to the turret.

An M1 tank can hold up to 3 machine guns and the cannon. Each gun and scope must be target tested to ensure proper alignment. This process is called 'bore sighting' and takes an entire day to complete.

At this point, the M1 tank has a rebuilt turret and hull and now it's time for them to marry.

A crane carries the new turret, weighing in around 29-tons, over to the sitting hull.

It's a match. But before an M1 tank can leave this plant, it must pass a series of quality control tests.

Here, an evaluator checks to see if this M1 tank can climb a 60% grade without slipping.

But the final test happens at Ft. Bliss, Texas where there is more than 1 million acres of testing area.

Soldiers operate the tanks in a simulated assault environment and the M1 must perform flawlessly by hitting every target.

And this one does, so it's ready for deployment after 10 months of reconstruction. The U.S. Army plans to use the Abrams M1 tank for another 27 years.

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