Building the U.S. Army's M1A2 Abrams tank (pictures)
Since 1980, the Army has depended on the Abrams for battlefield superiority in combat. As part of Road Trip 2013, CNET's Daniel Terdiman checked out how these battle-tested vehicles are forged.
Abrams tanks ready to roll
LIMA, Ohio -- For 35 years, Abrams tanks have been rolling off the assembly lines of General Dynamics Land Systems' Joint Systems Manufacturing Center plant in this western Ohio town, destined for the U.S. Army (and a few foreign customers).
In 1996, the plant stopped making brand-new hulls and turrets for the the U.S. Army's Abrams tanks, instead choosing to recondition older M1A2 systems that were still in working order.
As part of Road Trip 2013, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the Lima plant to see how GDLS manufactures an Abrams tank.
Here, we see a line of tanks that have gone through the production process and have been vetted by the government's Defense Contract Management Agency. Once they're strapped down and ready to roll away on rails, the tanks become the property and the responsibility of the Army.
After the plant receives the "rusties," workers take the old hulls and turrets and put them through a shot-blasting process, stripping them of years of rust. On the left is a rusty, and on the right is a hull that has been shot-blasted.
After the hulls and turrets have been shot-blasted and painted, they then go through the process of being de-masked. This hull has already gone through that step, meaning it is now ready for the assembly line.
Once the turrets have been shot-blasted and de-masked, they have a set of so-called ammo doors added to them. After that, the cannons are mounted on them. But first, workers test the cannon recoil to ensure that the shock of firing it is properly absorbed inside the turret.
After the cannon is installed on the turret, the turrets are moved to the assembly line for the addition of interior equipment and systems. CNET was not able to see this part of the assembly process due to its sensitive nature.
This is what's known as "the basket." Essentially, it is the pod inside of which three of the tank's crew members -- the gunner, the commander, and the loader, as well as 2,000 pounds of electronics and gear -- will sit. The basket is loaded up from underneath the turret and installed.
This is the Abrams hull assembly line. Workers systematically install equipment at a series of stations along the line. A drag line pulls the hulls forward, since they don't have their suspension installed at this point.
This is the tank's full-up power pack, or FUPP. It includes the Abrams' engine, transmission, and all cooling apparatus -- the oil coolers and the exhaust. The turbine engine has 1,500 horsepower, and is multi-fuel, meaning that it can work on many different kinds of fuel, from diesel to jet fuel to gasoline to kerosene, and even peanut oil. That gives the tank a great deal of flexibility, which is a major advantage during combat or other activity.
The FUPP is designed to be "plug and play," meaning that if it is damaged or dysfunctional, it is pulled out in its entirety and replaced with a new one.
On the battlefield, this is thought to be a more efficient way of repairing systems. In a case like this, the defective FUPP will usually be taken away to a maintenance area. In combat zones, replacement FUPPs are carried around by heavy trucks, or possibly delivered by aircraft.
Initially, the many different targeting sensors are not calibrated, so this targeting board is designed to help calibrate all the different weapons systems, a process known as "zeroing the scopes." The different colors on the board correspond to different weapons systems, while the different heights correspond to different distances for potential targets.
Once the main production process is finished, the tanks are moved into a separate building, known as "Test and Accept." Here, they are put through a 1,200 item inspection process by General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS) employees that involves driving the tanks about 30 miles. This process involves steps as simple as making sure small parts are present -- and if not, installing them on-site -- and others that can take two full days.
Once GDLS has completed its inspection, the government's on-site Defense Contract Management Agency takes over, with its quality assurance inspectors doing their own examination, which involves around 600 to 700 checks. Once the DCMA is satisfied, the tanks are ready to move on.
The Test and Accept process usually takes longer than the production process.
Most Abrams tanks use full-up power packs built by GDLS, but some Army contracts mandate that the Army builds the FUPPs and delivers them to the plant, where they are installed in the tanks. This is a row of Army-built FUPPs in the test and accept building.
One of the inspection steps involves the tanks climbing this artificial hill, engaging their parking brake, turning off the power, waiting a specified amount of time, turning the engine back on, disengaging the brake, and then backing down the hill.