- Shortly before dawn on Aug. 28, an M1A1 Abrams tank on
routine patrol in Baghdad "was hit by something" that crippled
the 69-ton behemoth.
- Army officials still are puzzling over what that "something"
- According to an unclassified Army report, the mystery
projectile punched through the vehicle's skirt and drilled a pencil-sized
hole through the hull. The hole was so small that "my little finger
will not go into it," the reportís author noted.
- The "something" continued into the crew compartment,
where it passed through the gunner's seatback, grazed the kidney area of
the gunner's flak jacket and finally came to rest after boring a hole 1-1/2
to 2 inches deep in the hull on the far side of the tank.
- As it passed through the interior, it hit enough critical
components to knock the tank out of action. That made the tank one of only
two Abrams disabled by enemy fire during the Iraq war and one of only a
handful of "mobility kills" since they first rumbled onto the
scene 20 years ago. The other Abrams knocked out this year in Iraq was
hit by an RPG-7, a rocket-propelled grenade.
- Experts believe whatever it is that knocked out the tank
in August was not an RPG-7 but most likely something new - and that worries
- Mystery and anxiety
- Terry Hughes is a technical representative from Rock
Island Arsenal, Ill., who examined the tank in Baghdad and wrote the report.
- In the sort of excited language seldom included in official
Army documents, he said, "The unit is very anxious to have this 'SOMETHING'
identified. It seems clear that a penetrator of a yellow molten metal is
what caused the damage, but what weapon fires such a round and precisely
what sort of round is it? The bad guys are using something unknown and
the guys facing it want very much to know what it is and how they can defend
- Nevertheless, the Abrams continues its record of providing
extraordinary crew protection. The four-man crew suffered only minor injuries
in the attack. The tank commander received "minor shrapnel wounds
to the legs and arms and the gunner got some in his arm" as a result
of the attack, according to the report.
- Whatever penetrated the tank created enough heat inside
the hull to activate the vehicle's Halon firefighting gear, which probably
prevented more serious injuries to the crew.
- The soldiers of 2nd Battalion, 70th Armor Regiment, 1st
Armor Division who were targets of the attack weren't the only ones wondering
what damaged their 69-ton tank.
- Hughes also was puzzled. "Can someone tell us?"
he wrote. "If not, can we get an expert on foreign munitions over
here to examine this vehicle before repairs are begun? Please respond quickly."
- His report went to the office of the combat systems program
manager at the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command in Warren,
Mich. A command spokesman said he could provide no information about the
- "The information is sensitive," he said. "It
looks like [members of the program manager's office] are not going to release
any information right now."
- While it's impossible to determine what caused the damage
without actually examining the tank, some conclusions can be drawn from
photos that accompanied the incident report. Those photos show a pencil-size
penetration hole through the tank body, but very little sign of the distinctive
damage - called spalling - that typically occurs on the inside surface
after a hollow- or shaped-charge warhead from an anti-tank weapon burns
its way through armor.
- Spalling results when an armor penetrator pushes a stream
of molten metal ahead of it as it bores through an armored vehicle'ís
- "It's a real strange impact," said a source
who has worked both as a tank designer and as an anti-tank weapons engineer.
"This is a new one... It almost definitely is a hollow-charge warhead
of some sort, but probably not an RPG-7" anti-tank rocket-propelled
- The well-known RPG-7 has been the scourge of lightly
armored vehicles since its introduction more than 40 years ago. Its hollow-charge
warhead easily could punch through an M1's skirt and the relatively thin
armor of its armpit joint, the area above the tracks and beneath the deck
on which the turret sits, just where the mystery round hit the tank.
- An RPG-7 can penetrate about 12 inches of steel - a thickness
far greater than the armor that was penetrated on the tank in Baghdad.
But the limited spalling evident in the photos accompanying the incident
report all but rules out the RPG-7 as the culprit, experts say.
- Limited spalling is a telltale characteristic of Western-manufactured
weapons designed to defeat armor with a cohesive jet stream of molten metal.
In contrast, RPG-7s typically produce a fragmented jet spray.
- The incident is so sensitive that most experts in the
field would talk only on the condition that they not be identified.
- One armor expert at Fort Knox, Ky., suggested the tank
may have been hit by an updated RPG. About 15 years ago, Russian scientists
created tandem-warhead anti-tank-grenades designed to defeat reactive armor.
The new round, a PG-7VR, can be fired from an RPG-7V launcher and might
have left the unusual signature on the tank.
- In addition, the Russians have developed an improved
weapon, the RPG-22. These and perhaps even newer variants have been used
against American forces in Afghanistan. It is believed U.S. troops seized
some that have been returned to the United States for testing, but scant
details about their effects and "fingerprints" are available.
- Still another possibility is a retrofitted warhead for
the RPG system being developed by a Swiss manufacturer.
- At this time, it appears most likely that an RPG-22 or
some other improved variant of the Russian-designed weapon damaged the
M1 tank, sources concluded. The damage certainly was caused by some sort
of shaped-charge or hollow-charge warhead, and the cohesive nature of the
destructive jet suggests a more effective weapon than a fragmented-jet
- A spokesman for General Dynamics Land Systems, which
manufactures the Abrams, said company engineers agree some type of RPG
probably caused the damage. After checking with them, the spokesman delivered
the manufacturer's verdict: The tank was hit by "a 'golden' RPG"
- an extremely lucky shot.
- In the end, a civilian weapons expert said, "I hope
it was a lucky shot and we are not part of someone's test program. Being
a live target is no fun."
- - John Roos is editor of Armed Forces Journal, which
is owned by Army Times Publishing Co.
- Copyright © 2003
- More Images Of US M1 Tank Disabled By What?
- From Stan Bernard
- Source: Strategy Page.com