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The M1A2 Abrams program incorporated improved frontal armor protection, improved mission electronics on a digital data bus, and implementation of the independent thermal sight (ITS) (M1A1s had the mount in place but was never used until the M1A2 upgrade). While 77 new-build M1A2s rolled off the production line, most were upgrades for remanufactured Abrams. The next round of improvements came as the System Enhancement Package (SEP) which added navigation and situational awareness. The additional mission electronics required improvements to the cooling system, both of which increased the electrical load on the tank. In order to operate the tank without the main engine operating constantly, an auxiliary power unit was added to the rear turret basket.
Further enhancements came with SEP v2 (version 2) which added improved mission electronics, improved transmission, and the capability to install the Common Remotely Operated Weapons Station (CROWS). The external APU was supposed to be relocated inside the hull but the APU was replaced by batteries which provided extended power with the engine shut down. SEP v3 is underway which replaces the batteries with a diesel generator in the hull and additional mission system updates.
In parallel with the tank systems improvements, combat experience with the Abrams in urban counter-insurgency missions dictated that the tank needed effective side, rear, and underside protection from anti-tank weapons and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The Tactical Urban Survival Kit (TUSK) was developed to protect tank and crew from urban insurgent threats. These improvements included explosive blocks added to the side skirts and turret sides, slat armor added to the rear, SAG-type shields for the loader’s and tank commander’s hatches, and a call box on the right rear of the hull so ground troops could communicate directly with the tank crew. In addition, V-shaped ‘boat-hull’ armor could be attached to the underside of the tank for blast-wave protection from IEDs. TUSK II introduced a curved explosive block in place of the flat explosive blocks used with TUSK I.