Army Marines

M1 Abrams Tank: 1970s Development and Prototype Selection

Since the early 1960s U.S. defense ordnance workers and contractors had been working on a new main battle tank design to replace the M60 tank. A larger caliber gun and better protection for the crew were desired.

M1 Abrams History Quick Jump
1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s

After years of development in the 1970s, two prototypes emerged in 1976, one from General Motors and another from Chrysler. Even though Army leaders preferred the GM prototype, politics and special interest led to the Chrysler prototype being selected.

Regardless of which prototype was better, what resulted was a nearly 55-ton killing machine powered by a turbine engine and eventually a 120 mm smoothbore cannon. Improvements over the M60 were also made in several areas including optics, night vision, suspension, armor, and speed.

The M1 tank was built to counter tank advances made by the Soviet Union. Fielded in 1980, the M1 had a 105 mm main gun which was later upgraded to a 120 mm bore. From initial fielding until 1990, the M1 would see a training role only. Ironically, the Soviet Union crumbled shortly after the M1 saw its first actual combat in early 1991 during the Gulf War, also known as Operation Desert Storm.

The original U.S. Army XM1 Chrysler prototype main battle tank
1976. The original U.S. Army XM1 Chrysler prototype main battle tank on display at the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds. Photo by Don S. Montgomery,
M1 Abrams Tank
Rear view of the original US Army M1 Abrams prototype main battle tank on display at the US Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds.