STERLING HEIGHTS — The venerable M1 Abrams tank, the main battle tank of the United States, is now 32 years old.

Thursday, Sterling Heights-based General Dynamics Land Systems got an eight-year, $395 million contract for research, development and testing for improvements designed to make the Abrams work for American forces for another 38 years.

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General Dynamics officials said that since its initial fielding in 1980, enhancements to the Abrams tank have consumed much of the available space, weight and power capacity on the vehicle. The current contract, called the Abrams Engineering Change Proposal 1 program, aims to integrate a group of system improvements into a single upgrade program for the M1A2SEPv2 baseline tank.

The Army plans to begin initial production of tanks with ECP1 upgrades in 2017. ECP1 will reengineer internal systems to reduce size, weight and power requirements, creating capacity for additional upgrades in the future. The effort will include miniaturization of electronics; evolving to a Line Replaceable Module-based electronics architecture; and increasing electrical capacity through improved power generation, distribution and management.

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In addition, when implemented, ECP1 upgrades will improve Abrams’ survivability by enhancing armor and adding the capability to employ current and advanced counter-IED equipment.

“This award shows the Army’s long-term commitment to improving the Abrams tank’s capabilities for the warfighter, while ensuring that platforms are able to integrate planned and future upgrades,” said Donald Kotchman, vice president for heavy brigade combat teams at General Dynamics Land Systems. “This effort will maintain Abrams’ position as the leading main battle tank in the world.”

Work will be performed by existing employees in Sterling Heights, Mich. The contract will be completed by 2020.  The Abrams main battle tank is planned to be an active component of the Army’s fleet through 2050.

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More information about General Dynamics Land Systems is available at www.gdls.com.