Uncle Sam’s Sale: M1 Tanks for Morocco
In June 2012, the US DSCA announced Morocco’s formal request for upgrades and refurbishment of 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks, which are being provided as Excess Defense Articles from US stocks. Used tanks have become very popular around the world, and Germany’s Leopard 2 has become ubiquitous as a direct result of sell-offs by Germany and the Netherlands. American M1s haven’t been part of that dynamic so far, but the US Army does have a significant backlog of armored vehicles needing reset and repairs after hard use in theater.
Having allies pay for that work, in exchange for the tanks, does 3 important things. It removes some of that maintenance overhang from American budgets. Second, it helps keep the Lima, OH busy until American M1 modernization work is set to begin in 2017. Finally, it keeps the tanks “useful” to the USA in a geo-strategic sense. This proposed sale is a classic example.
- Morocco’s M1s: Benefits All Around
- Was the Chinese Tank Rumor an Information Op? [NEW]
- Contracts & Key Events
- Additional Readings
Morocco’s M1s: Benefits All Around
If a contract is signed with Morocco, 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks would be refurbished and upgraded to M1A1-SA status, matching Iraq’s new tanks. They would immediately become the most advanced tanks in Morocco’s arsenal, alongside 200 upgraded Russian T-72s, 300 American M60s (150 upgraded with fully modern thermal sights), and 105 old Austrian SK-105 light tanks. There have also been unconfirmed reports of a Moroccan purchase of 150 “Al-Khalid“/ VT1A tanks from Pakistan and/or China in 2010; if true, they would slot above the upgraded T-72s, as T-80/T-90 counterparts.
The M1s provide an important addition to counter neighboring Algeria, which has long had uneasy relations with Morocco. Algeria recently ordered over 300 T-90 tanks from Russia, alongside its 325 existing T-72s, 150 old T-62s, and 270 ancient T-54/55 tanks. The M1’s protection, gun, and advanced fire-on-the move electronics place it a full tier beyond any current Russian designs, and it has been able to dominate opposing T-72 tanks in combat. If Morocco can maintain even contested control of the air, the M1s will create a potent deterrent against outside attack.
That explains the tanks’ geo-strategic usefulness, as the USA seeks to keep the peace in northern Africa, and shore up a moderate Muslim dynasty that traces its royal lineage back to Mohammed.
The Moroccan order will be equally useful on the industrial front. US Army spokesman Ashley Givens says that the US Army isn’t shutting down the Lima plant by stopping modernization and new-build orders, but it’s clear that the plant will need to rely on foreign military sale orders from countries like Egypt (M1A1 new), Iraq (M1A1-SA new), Saudi Arabia (M1A2S upgrades), and now Morocco (M1A1-SA rebuilt) until 2017. in a statement to The Toledo Blade, Ms. Givens said:
“This production ‘pause’ of U.S. tanks will allow the Army to focus its limited resources on the development of the next generation Abrams tank instead of building more of the same M1A2 SEPv2 tanks [link added] that have exceeded their space, weight, and power limits.”
So far, Congress hasn’t agreed, funding additional M1 modernization work in order to keep the plant busy. As America’s fiscal situation bites harder, a sizeable book of foreign orders could cause them to change that calculus.
Was the Chinese Tank Rumor an Information Op?
The rumors of a Moroccan buy of Chinese VT1A tanks appeared in several places, including numerous Chinese sites. We had an online discussion with some people in Morocco, who suggested to us that the combination of reports and pictures may have been something of a private “information operation” that inflated a test & trials shipment into something larger, via clever use of online forums, as a way to add pressure on the USA. We throw this set of excerpts out there for our readers to ponder:
“…Abrams negociations that began december 2006 when our Army Chief requested them as grant on EDA basis to respond to the algerian big deal, but it was difficult to manage this…”
“…[in 2008] China made an offer for its new MBT2000, dubbed later VT1A as new export config ; So Kanwa, the chinese defense review, reported about the sale of 1/2 bataillons (33/66), and so did RAIDS, the french defense magazine late 2008. separately China sold us also a batalion of AR2 MLRS and HJ-8L ATGMs… [in July 2010] a member of our forum saw a group of VT1A tanks coming from casablanca port, and he made the 3 picture that made it around the globe… I wrote in the forum “we bought 150 for 600M$” (based on an offer made to saudi arabia), and later it made it through the net with the pics..so it’s not really true gentelmen, it was just for test purposes…”
“…the Army wanted an enhanced Abram to deal with the threats around… so they made a a lot of visits to ANAD and Army HQ to discuss the possibility getting the last upgrade version with the minimum financial and maintenance costs, and fortunately, the Lima/ANAD and GDLS people managed to pressure including some US financial help (defense authorization act) in the deal, and get the best from it. GDLS is also cooperating with a moroccan tank refurbish facility near casabanca named 3rd ESMAT, here all M-series are maintained and refurbished with their help since 90s), the US ambassador visited it last summer to check its ability for the “coming” capabilities.”
Contracts & Key Events
June 18/12: DSCA request. The formal purchase request is announced [PDF]. In addition to refurbishing the 200 surplus American M1A1s, work would also install 150 AN/VRC-87E and 50 AN/VRC-89E Exportable Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radio Systems (SINCGARS), 200 M250 Smoke Grenade Launchers, 200 M2 Chrysler Mount Machine Guns, and 400 7.62MM M240 Machine Guns.
The possible sale also includes 12,049,842 Ammunition Rounds (including 1,400 C785 SABOT, 1,800 CA31 HEAT, and 5,400 AA38 SLAP-T 120mm tank rounds – most of the rest would be .50 caliber and 7.62mm), support equipment, spare and repair parts, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, communication support, and other forms of US government and contractor support.
The prime contractor will be General Dynamics Land Systems in Sterling Heights, MI. Refurbishment work will be performed at Anniston Army Depot in Anniston, AL and the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center in Lima, OH. Implementation would require annual trips to Morocco involving up to 64 U.S. Government and 13 contractor representatives for a period of up to 5 years, to manage the fielding and training for the program. That’s a lot of support, which may help explain why the estimated cost is up to $1.015 billion. Exact costs will depend on contract negotiations.
- Toledo Blade (June 17/12) – Lima tank plant faces risk of 3-year production hiatus