M1 Abrams Gets Slavic Makeover

Photos have emerged online showing an American-supplied, Ukraine-operated M1A1 Abrams Main Battle tank (MBT) outfitted with M-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles (ARAT) and Russian Kontakt-1 Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks around its hull, as well as a notable counter-drone “cope cage” around its turret.

The addition of the cope cage, which has never been seen before on American made armor in Ukraine, highlights attempts to adapt to drone warfare amid recent Abrams losses on the battlefield.

What Happened

Recent photos reveal a Ukraine-operated M1A1 Abrams Main Battle Tank (MBT) outfitted with a combination of American M-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles (ARAT) and Russian Kontakt-1 Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA) blocks, along with a counter-drone “cope cage” around its turret. This unique combination of armor modifications has never been seen before on American-made tanks in Ukraine and highlights the need to adapt to drone warfare, especially following recent losses of Abrams tanks on the battlefield.

The Modifications

Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA): This type of reactive armor consists of explosive charges sandwiched between metal plates. When struck by a projectile, the explosive layer detonates, pushing the outer metal sheet outward to disrupt and neutralize the projectile.

M-19 Abrams Reactive Armor Tiles (ARAT): In service with the United States military since 2006, ARAT is a modular ERA system created in response to threats posed by insurgents to armor in Iraq. The ERA cassettes are typically installed on the side skirts of the Abrams, but can also be placed on the hull or turret.

Kontakt-1 ERA: Originating from the Soviet Union, Kontakt-1 has been used on various tanks such as T-55, T-62, T-64, T-72, and T-80. It can be modularly applied to a tank’s hull or turret and has recently been seen on other Western-supplied armor in Ukraine. The integration of Kontakt-1 on Abrams tanks is a notable example of cross-utilization of available technologies to meet urgent battlefield needs.

Cope Cage: The cope cage, a type of slat armor, has become a significant addition to tanks to counter drone threats. First observed on Russian T-72 tanks during training in Crimea in July 2021, this armor aims to disrupt the detonation of explosive charges from drones and ATGMs. The design of the cope cage was influenced by lessons learned during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war, where drones played a critical role in targeting and destroying Armenian armor.

The cope cage is typically constructed from metal wire or steel plates and is positioned over the turret to prevent direct hits from above. Its effectiveness has been debated, but the rapid development of drone warfare has made such modifications increasingly necessary. The presence of cope cages on Abrams tanks in Ukraine highlights the ongoing adaptation to evolving combat threats.

Why It Matters

The emergence of these modified Abrams tanks underscores the rapidly evolving nature of modern warfare, particularly the significant threat posed by drones and loitering munitions. The adaptations seen on these tanks are a direct response to the increased vulnerability of traditional armored vehicles in the face of advanced aerial threats.

Impact on Drone Warfare Tactics

The addition of reactive armor and cope cages to Abrams tanks represents a crucial step needed in enhancing their survivability on the battlefield. These modifications are not merely cosmetic but are essential for countering the growing prevalence of drone attacks, which have proven highly effective in recent conflicts, such as the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war. The use of drones in Nagorno-Karabakh demonstrated the devastating impact of top-down attacks on armored vehicles, leading to significant losses and highlighting the need for improved defensive measures.

Implications for Military Strategy

The losses of Abrams tanks in Ukraine, particularly around the Avdiivka frontline, have prompted a reevaluation of their deployment and tactics. According to reports, at least eight of the 31 supplied M1 Abrams have been lost, primarily due to drone and mine attacks. This has led to a tactical reset, with Ukraine pulling back Abrams from frontline operations to reassess and adapt their usage in the face of ubiquitous unmanned aerial systems (UAS).

According to AP, citing Joint Chiefs of Staff Vice Chairman Admiral Christopher Grady and other unnamed defense officials, the losses have led Ukraine to pull back Abrams from frontline operations to “reset tactics.”

“When you think about the way the fight has evolved, massed armor in an environment where unmanned aerial systems are ubiquitous can be at risk,” Grady said, adding “We’ll work with our Ukrainian partners, and other partners on the ground, to help them think through how they might use that, in that kind of changed environment now, where everything is seen immediately.”

Broader Context and Relevance

The modifications seen on the Abrams tanks are part of a broader trend of adapting military equipment to new threats. This trend reflects a continuous arms race between offensive and defensive technologies, where each side seeks to gain a tactical advantage through innovation. The current modifications aim to enhance the Abrams’ resilience against modern threats, ensuring that these valuable assets remain effective in increasingly complex combat environments.

As stated in an earlier article about Abrams losses by AFV Recognition, the Abrams’ destruction behind the frontline highlights not only the operational freedom of drones, but also the strategic challenges in recovering such valuable assets amidst the fast-paced advances of Russian forces. Furthermore, the additional losses of M1150 Assault Breacher Vehicles (ABV) underlines the critical importance and scarcity of vehicles designed for specific roles such as mine clearance, emphasising the high stakes involved in maintaining technological and tactical superiority.

Abrams are not invincible and they are not unlimited. While this article will not speak on tactical shortfalls in the use of Abrams in combat, it will emphasize the need for adaptability in order to maintain effectiveness. The addition of more ERA and the cope cage will also not make the Abrams impervious, but it will increase its chances of survivability as the skies of Ukraine’s battlefields continue to be stalked by drones.

Field Observations

Since February 2024, Ukraine has lost at least eight of the 31 supplied M1 Abrams tanks, with all losses confirmed visually. These incidents have primarily occurred around the Avdiivka frontline, particularly near the village of Berdychi. The first recorded loss on February 26 involved an explosive drone attack on the rear of the turret, leading to an ammunition cook-off. Subsequent losses included tanks disabled by mines or ATGMs that were later destroyed by drone attacks, making recovery efforts impossible.

FPV drones have been particularly impactful, responsible for at least four of the losses. Additionally, a Lancet loitering munition was used in another attack. These losses have forced a strategic reassessment, with Abrams tanks being pulled back from frontline operations to reconsider their deployment and tactics in a drone-dominated environment.

What’s Next

The continued adaptation and modification of Abrams tanks in Ukraine signal an ongoing effort to improve their resilience and effectiveness on the battlefields of Ukraine. As drone technology and tactics evolve, so too must the defensive strategies and equipment of ground forces.

Potential Future Developments

The integration of both American and Russian reactive armor systems on the Abrams tanks may lead to further innovations in armor technology. The need for adaptable, modular systems that can be quickly and easily applied to different parts of the tank will likely drive future developments in this area. Additionally, the effectiveness of cope cages and other counter-drone measures will be closely monitored, potentially leading to refinements and improvements in their design and implementation.

Tactical Adjustments

Ukraine’s decision to pull back Abrams tanks from frontline operations to “reset tactics” highlights the need for a strategic reassessment in the face of new threats. Future tactical adjustments may include changes in how and where these tanks are deployed, as well as the development of new operational doctrines that take into account the ubiquity of drones and other modern threats.

Broader Implications

The modifications seen on the Abrams tanks are indicative of a broader trend in modern warfare, where adaptability and rapid innovation are essential. As conflicts continue to evolve, so too will the technologies and strategies used by armed forces around the world. The lessons learned from the deployment and modification of Abrams tanks in Ukraine will likely inform future military developments and procurement decisions, not only in Ukraine but also the United States.


The emergence of modified M1A1 Abrams tanks in Ukraine, equipped with both American and Russian reactive armor and counter-drone cope cages, underscores the dynamic nature of modern warfare. These modifications highlight the urgent need for adaptability and innovation in response to evolving threats such as drone warfare.

Key Takeaways

  1. Adaptation to Drone Threats: The addition of reactive armor and cope cages is a direct response to the increasing use of drones and loitering munitions on the battlefield. These modifications aim to enhance the survivability of the Abrams tanks, which have suffered significant losses due to these threats.
  2. Strategic Reassessment: The losses of Abrams tanks have prompted a tactical reset, with Ukrainian forces reevaluating their deployment and operational strategies. This reassessment is crucial for maintaining the effectiveness of these valuable assets in a rapidly changing combat environment.
  3. Ongoing Innovation: The integration of different reactive armor systems and the development of new counter-drone measures reflect a broader trend of continuous innovation in military technology. These efforts are essential for staying ahead of adversaries and ensuring the protection and effectiveness of armored vehicles.

What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of these modifications? Do you think the integration of different reactive armor systems will significantly enhance the survivability of tanks on the modern battlefield? Share your insights and predictions on how drone warfare will continue to shape military strategies.

Unbiased & Unfiltered News Reporting for 12+ years. Covering Geo-Political conflicts, wartime events, and vital Breaking News from around the world. Editor-In-Chief of Atlas News.


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