Tank Munitions Development

Picatinny played a major role in giving our Army's tanks their preeminent world reputation; our expertise in warhead development is without a doubt the primary reason that U.S. tank munitions have the ability to defeat any armor in the world.

TMAS Kinetic Energy Projectiles are perhaps the oldest form of antiarmor weaponry. While full-caliber, hardened steel shot remained in the tank ammunitions inventory for many years, Picatinny began looking at an alternative type of KE shot in which a sub-caliber, spin-stabilized penetrator was launched by a pot-type sabot. Much of the technology was transferred to Picatinny's tank cannon in all calibers from 76mm to 120mm. The latest models of the KE penetrator are more than two feet long and concentrate all their energy in an area of about a square inch.

Picatinny began to research upgrades to the penetrator in the early 1950s. They eventually led to the revolutionary development of accurate, long-rod, fin stabilized penetrators encased in aluminum sabots that filled the full diameter of the inside of the barrel and were capable of defeating the heaviest tank armor. By the mid 1960s, Picatinny's efforts concentrated on a very high pressure, smoothbore cannon in a 120mm caliber and on experimental fin stabilized projectiles. These used a variety of sabot designs and a new penetrating material, depleted uranium (DU). There were difficulties with sabot integrity and excessive gun wear, but the program showed that very high pressures were feasible, that such pressures were essential to greatly improved performance and that DU could be used as a structural material as well as an efficient penetrator.

The primary effort at Picatinny during that time period was the development of the XM578 kinetic energy round for the new 152mm cannon. A strategy was devised that called for combining ultra-lightweight plastics with titanium sabot components, with the DU material that acted as both a structural material and as the penetrator body. These were combined with a plastic driving and sealing band that allowed insertion of the much longer KE cartridge several feet down the rifled bore of the new cannon.

In the mid-1970s, it became evident that the latest generation armor was impervious to tungsten carbide penetrators. Picatinny engineers had been working on improving the properties of DU, an especially dense metal, and saw potential for its use in the 105mm M774 cartridge. In conjunction with the Department of Energy's Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, Picatinny developed the unique material purity and heat treatment process necessary to produce a hard, touch U3/4Ti, Uranium/Titanium alloy penetrator.

The next evolution of 105mm KE cartridge was the M833. This projectile incorporated a longer monolithic DU penetrator, which made it go faster and reduced the weight of the sabot by making longitudinal cuts. This gave the projectile the strength it needed on launch and the penetration necessary to defeat the threat. As effective as this cartridge was, threats became even more sophisticated and it was replaced with the M900 Depleted Uranium projectile. Currently in its fourth generation, this cartridge is the Army's primary antiarmor 105mm tank ammunition, and is also used by the Marine Corps. The M900 can penetrate the frontal slope of enemy armor systems and has excellent accuracy at all combat ranges because of the penetrator and sabot design.

In the 1970's the Army also set about the long and difficult process of deciding what kind of new tank it needed. Picatinny was an active member in the design, development and fabrication of ammunition to support the tank, which was to become the M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams. Two types of ammunition were developed for the M1A1 Abrams tank; kinetic energy (KE) and multipurpose (MP) rounds. KE ammunition is used to defeat the heavy frontal armor of main battle tanks; the MP rounds are used against lightly armored vehicles, helicopters, buildings, bunkers and infantry.

The M829 was the first in a series of 120mm armor piercing cartridges developed at Picatinny. At the time, the M829 provided the M1A1 tank with the greatest killing potential of any fielded NATO tank. The M829 is no longer in production but did lead to the development of future rounds (the M829A1, M829A2 and the M829E3).

Advances in high-energy propellants, lighter sabots, penetrators of increased mass and length, sabot designs, subprojectiles and fin designs culminated in the fielding of the M829A1. It was nicknamed "The Silver Bullet" by Operation Desert Storm tank crews because it was widely regarded as the most effective tank fired antiarmor weapon in the world.

The M829A2 was an enhanced round with increased velocity and improved terminal effects. To attain the increased performance, engineers at Picatinny used new composite material technology and a new propellant with a higher loading density. This in combination with other contributing technologies increased muzzle velocity to approximately 100m/second greater than the M829A1 while operating at a slightly lower pressure. The M829A2 KE munition is compatible with all standard NATO smoothbore 120mm tank cannons.

The latest version of the 120mm tank ammunition is the M829E3 KE round. The M829E3 also features a high-performance propellant which will substantially increase the lethality and accuracy of the Abrams main battle tank at extended ranges. The improved performance comes at the same low cost as the M829A2 rounds and provides the Army an affordable way to maintain superiority in armored battle on the 21st century battlefield.

As in so many other areas of technology, Picatinny has led the way in the development of tank ammunition. Through innovation and perseverance, the engineers at Picatinny overcame the U.S. Army's late start in tank development and made the M1A2 Abrams main battle tank the premier tank in the world. Picatinny has a proven fifty-year history of resolving complex technical issues and is committed to continued success in this area in the future.