Minimum weapon to damage an Abrams tank?

It’s time for the gaming group I’m in to agree on a new campaign again and we’re debating various possibilies. One discussion we’ve had got bogged down on the subject of tanks and anti-tank weapons (for simplicity’s sake we’re assuming early twenty-first century level tech). Simply put, what is the minimum gun that will produce some measurable damage on a main battle tank like the M1 Abrams? Would an M2 .50 caliber machine gun at least degrade the armor, or is anything less than 20mm a waste of time? The idea we’re shooting (heh!) for is a tank on a mission in which it never encounters any single threat that could destroy it, but it’s facing a “nibbled to death by squirrels” scenerio of cumulative damage over days or weeks from light artillery.


Dig a sufficient ditch and let it fall in.

There’s never been an M-! Abrams lost in battle, so there’s no real world answer.

I could be wrong.

Trouble is if you can get close enough to hit it you are already dead.

Depends on what kind of damage you’re talking about. The ability to absorb hits/explosions is classified. Some things to ponder.

  1. Penetrate the hull and severely injure or kill the crew.
  2. Mobility kill. Tear up a tread or drive gear.
  3. Mobility kill. Rear shot damaging the engine.
  4. Mobility kill. Triple stack of large anti-tank mines might flip it over on it’s side.
  5. Obscure things. Dozens of squirrels hitting the observation ports would degrade the crew’s ability to see out unless they open up the hatches. Note that hundred of squirrels would be dead in the meantime.
    Where are you coming from? Front armor is thickest/robust. You’d need at least a 5-6" diameter shaped charge warhead with a precursor charge to disrupt the reactive armor. Maybe the Russian 125mm sabot tank round could do sufficient damage. Again - classified.

Side attack against the body or turret would take a big diameter anti-tank missile or a Kinetic Energy/ HEAT round in the 100mm diameter and up range. Classified info here also.

From the top or bottom, armor is the thinnest. Some anti-tank missiles either fly a “top attack profile” (Javelin - US) or fire downward self-forging plate projectiles (TOW-2B - US). Helicopter, drone, aircraft fired missiles also do top attack. Anti-tank mines with plate projectiles could be expected to penetrate the bottom armor if sufficient in size.

Rear attack against the engine. An anti-tank round from a grenade launcher might do the trick. Shaped charge would mess up the engine or auxiliary equipment.

Basically small arms and machine guns would make sleeping difficult for the crew but that’s about all.
The tank will take itself out of action fairly rapidly due to fuel consumption, mechanical problems (clogged filters), and ammunition shortages. It’s going to need fuel pretty much every day if moving. If actively engaging, multiple ammo uploads as well each day.

Not a tanker here, but going off my love for tanks the only thing a .50 is going to do is damage periscopes and exterior gear. Your best bet for damage from light cannon would be against the tracks. I know the Abrams’ armor is a mix of different materials in layers, but I think you’d have to get something fairly heavy involved to penetrate enough to start compromising the armor over larger areas.

?? The Abrams doesn’t have reactive armor.

ETA: Ah. They have it on the skirts now with TUSK systems.

If you threw enough Molotov Cocktails at it could you heat the inside sufficiently to make the crew bail?

Otherwise define what damaging the tank means.

My understanding is the treads are a weak point. Break that and the tank is going nowhere. However, the crew can still swivel the turret and shoot the gun. Is that disabled enough or are we talking totally dead tank?

In which case I go back to the shovel. Tank traps have been a part of warfare since the things were invented. See what the Soviets achieved at Kursk. They built massive (as in a lot) tank defenses around there. Pretty much all done with peasant labor and hand tools. Screwed the Germans pretty well.

What’s the ventilation like in a tank? Could you get something poisonous or noxious into the crew compartment? Alternately, could you clog up the vents and suffocate the crew?

Modern tanks are equipped to survive in a nuclear, biological, or chemical environment. Like any container, close the air vents and you’ll eventually kill everyone inside.

It’s my understanding that modern western tanks are fairly resistant to Molotov cocktails and the like with automated fire suppression systems.

Would there be an ‘easy’ tweak you could do to the barrel of the gun to insure a misfire the next time they tried to fire a shell?

Like snag it with a chain anchored securely and bend it a little?


And don’t forget, there’s an awful lot on the tank that’s going to make your day unpleasant as you try all of this.

My understanding is sticking your finger in a gun barrel is enough to cause the gun to backfire and cause the shooter problems.

Yes, your finger is toast.

That said, if true, doesn’t sound like it takes a lot to plug a gun barrel.

Obviously a tank’s gun needs more than your finger to plug it up but presumably if you could stuff something down the barrel you might disable the main gun.

Of course pulling that off is another matter. I imagine your chances of dying while trying to stuff something in the barrel of a tank are pretty high.

In theory though, if you pulled it off, you could disable the main gun with mud.


So, you point a gun at me, I stick my finger in the barrel (firmly) and you shoot the gun and all that happens is I get my finger blown off (and perhaps part of my hand)?

Mythbusters covered this. Short answer - yes.

Well, we have seen, for instance, tanks in urban settings (Tienanmen Square) and at least occasionally, civilians get close to them.

I am wondering what would happen if a big handful of masonry drill bits was chucked into the gun and then the tank crew attempted to fire it.

Are the barrels rifled? Seems like hardened metal rods might jam it up pretty bad. The shell probably would not detonate, but overpressure in the gun could be a problem, and once you jam a shell in the barrel, the gun is toast.


Do you have a link to the episode? (I believe you…I just want to see them do it)

IIRC the Abrams was upgraded to the smooth-bore rifle.

That came up in the earlier tank thread about why they are used against protests; it was mentioned that yes, they have fire suppression systems that make them more difficult to hurt that way than older tanks. But enough fire will cause the fire suppressant system to run out, naturally.

Earlier versions were rifled, later versions are smoothbore.