Land Platforms

Iraqi Abrams losses revealed

20 June 2014
This image is part of a series posted on a pro-ISIL Twitter account on 6 June. Source: Al-Anbar News

The armour on five of Iraq's M1A1 Abrams tanks was penetrated by anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) and six helicopters were shot down between 1 January and the end of May, The New York Times quoted an unnamed US official as saying on 13 June.

The official said 28 Iraqi Army Abrams had been damaged in fighting with militants, five of them suffering full armour penetration when hit by ATGMs. The United States supplied 140 refurbished M1A1 Abrams tanks to Iraq between 2010 and 2012. While they have new equipment to improve situational awareness, they do not have the depleted uranium amour package that increases protection over the tank's frontal arc.

The penetration of a tank's armour by a shaped-charge warhead increases the likelihood of crew casualties, but does not necessarily result in the destruction of the vehicle, especially if it has a dedicated ammunition compartment, as in the case of the Abrams.

However, the US official said the Iraqi Army has problems maintaining its Abrams, suggesting it will struggle to get damaged tanks back into service.

At least one video has emerged showing an Abrams 'brew up' after being hit by an ATGM during fighting this year in the western province of Al-Anbar. Militants operating in Al-Anbar have also released images of numerous attacks on other Abrams tanks, including ones involving a 9K11 Kornet ATGM, RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launchers, and a M70 Osa rocket launcher. The latter is a Yugoslavian weapon that has been widely used by insurgents in neighbouring Syria, but is rarely seen in Iraq.

The damage inflicted on the tanks has been difficult to assess from the images. These mostly seem to be stills from unreleased videos and tend to show spectacular explosions, but not the state of the vehicles after the attacks.

Only one sequence of images posted on a pro-Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) Twitter account on 6 June appears to show an Abrams actually being destroyed. A militant is seen placing a charge on the tank and an object is also thrown into an open turret hatch. Flames are then seen coming out of the hatches. The fate of the crew is unclear.

Another sequence posted on 28 May purportedly shows the same militant placing a charge on or in the turret of another Abrams in a hull-down position. While the extent of the damage caused by the resulting explosion is unclear, the fact that militants are repeatedly getting close to the tanks suggests the vehicles lack adequate infantry support.

Other types of armoured vehicle in service with the Iraqi Army appear to have suffered higher attrition rates than the Abrams. Militants have released many images showing destroyed or captured Humvees, M113 armoured personnel carriers (APCs), and mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles.

The Soviet-era armour the Iraqi Army has been using in Al-Anbar has also suffered losses, including MT-LB multipurpose armoured vehicles, a BMP-1, and T-55 tanks.

The US official also said that six Iraqi helicopters had been shot down and 60 damaged in combat between 1 January and the end of May. This represents a significant proportion of the Iraqi Army Aviation Command's assets. Another helicopter was shot down by a light anti-aircraft gun (LAAG) over Al-Saqlawiyah on 16 June; its two crew members were killed.

It is unclear what helicopters the Iraqis have lost, but militants have released footage shot using an infrared camera of heavy machine guns or LAAGs bringing down at least two Mi-24/35 combat helicopters carrying out low-altitude rocket attacks.

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