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The Tungsten M-1—How Ukraine’s Tanks Will Differ From America’s

There is a good reason why it could take Ukraine months, if not most of a year, to receive the first 31 M-1A2 Abrams tanks from the US.

Vehicle manufacturer General Dynamics Land Systems must remove the uranium from the tanks and then replace them with tungsten. Both metals can be problematic.

It takes GDLS six months to build the M-1A2 at the government tank factory in Lima, Ohio. The firm produces only three “new” tanks per week. Each is based on one of the thousands of surplus M-1s in the US Army’s arsenals. All of them have depleted uranium mesh in their armor.

Depleted uranium is a by-product of the nuclear industry. In the United States, it is administered by the US Department of Energy and subject to Department of Energy regulations prohibiting its export.

Not everyone agrees that an export ban is necessary. As early as 1986, the US General Accounting Office – now the Government Accountability Office – questioned this provision. “DOE should be able to develop more objective criteria that will provide flexibility in better achieving established nonproliferation goals,” the GAO said.

Until the rules change, M-1 must be stripped of its depleted uranium and given something to replace it before the US government sells or donates the tank overseas.

It’s something made of tungsten. A very hard metal, which is the key to the export of American tanks. When the United States sells M-1s to its allies – Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Taiwan and Poland – all recent buyers – they pay GDLS and Only GDLS, for stuffing steel “pockets” with tungsten on the front of the M-1 turret, and also, on some models, on the front of the hull.

Work takes time. It doesn’t help that General Dynamics Land Systems has a monopoly on the trade. “GDLS is currently the only known contractor with the necessary protective equipment and the necessary production equipment capable of providing the installation of classified armor on the Abrams main battle tank,” the US government noted in a recent contract rationale with a single supplier. Company.

It is not clear how significantly more vulnerable the M-1 with tungsten armor is to enemy fire than the M-1 with uranium armor.

Both metals very dense indeed. Steel has a density of about eight grams per cubic centimeter. Uranium and tungsten greatly outweigh the scales. nineteen grams per cubic centimeter.

This does not mean that you will cover the entire tank with any of the silvery metals. First, both metals are hard to find. Depleted uranium is a by-product of nuclear power. Meanwhile, tungsten comes from a vanishingly small number of mines, many of which are in China.

In addition, depleted uranium tends to ignite under certain conditions, and is radioactive and toxic enough to pose a safety hazard when it burns.

Tungsten, for its part, is dense but brittle. It tends to crumble on impact. When the US Department of Defense investigated tungsten outer armor in 1960, it was disappointed. “The use of hard [tungsten] lining does not seem appropriate to improve the ballistic characteristics of the armor, ”the testers said.

No wonder armor makers tend to mix depleted uranium and tungsten into cake mixes for armor. same include ceramics and steel – and usually steel on the outside. Ukrainian M-1 like Everybody non-US M-1s will be equipped with this mixture of armor with tungsten inside.

They will have company. At least part of the German-made Leopard 2 tanks that Germany, Poland, Norway, Canada and other countries pledged to Ukraine same have tungsten in their armor.

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