Name That Mystery Tank: M1A3 Prototype?


Watch this video at the 1:35 mark and you’ll see a mysterious looking tank riding on the back of a CSX freight train that’s supposedly rolling through Ohio. Anyone have any idea what this beast is?

Some are speculating that it’s the new M1A3 Abrams tank prototype while others think it’s merely a movie prop.

The video was posted to YouTube on Sept. 30, 2010 followed by chatter on the TankNet forum. The pics below emerged on in the last week.

Here are a couple of pics of the M1 Component Advanced Technology Test Bed (CATTB) built in the late 1980s to test out a smoothbore gun, heavier turret armor, an auto a mechanical loader and new engine for the tank. The CATTB, however, never made it past the test bed phase.

The tank in the video is similar looking to the CATTB, but the turret is much different.

More pics after the jump.

Thanks to reader Brody for passing us the tip.

  • Heraclitus

    Abrams with a Crusader like turret. Obviously and autoloader experiment.

    • todd

      unless that auto loader can load in under 3 seconds, the us army will not put an auto loader in it. Also, has to be REALLY efficient

    • warrior12398
    • warrior12398
    • david

      it is an a3 the a3 comes with a diesel engine (finally) lighter tracks and an auto loader but the auto loader loads 10 rounds a minute which isnt too bad but was too slow for us so its probably gonna end up holding extra rounds with manual loading

    • marces

      the M1A2 has an autoloader

  • Logan

    Jim, editor of JED Equipment had this to say about the “mystery tank” on a Military Recognition Yahoo group I contribute to:

    “Your picture shows one of the CATTB prototypes – the last one and sometimes referred to as a Block III vehicle.. The vehicle on the train is the first one and is probably on the move due to all the relocations going on at the moment.”

    It’s neat, but a bit of a non-story. Must be a slow news day.

  • chaos0xomega

    Clearly its an abrams with a modified turret.

    • BubbaBirner

      I think it is a prototype of an abrams with a few differnt specs. It looks like the engine is bigger and the gun is bigger besides that there may be an armor upgrade or two. What i want to know is who sits around and takes pictures of trains?\

      • speedfreak88

        I work for the railroad, and we call em frn’s, f’n rail nuts. Not a single day goesbythat a frnisn’t taking our picture’s

        • BubbaBirner

          Oh ok my bad but still its kind of weird that they got a picture of that. I think the tank is cool though.

    • ********

      Thanks Captain Obvious…

    • jeff

      looks like a leopard2

    • something

      Its a challenger…

  • tribulationtime

    Have a automatic loader, w/t aft left side turret round exit. Engine area seems black by fumes and by hooking rings on the sides I suppose only the turret is “new” ( and oldie hull). Front turret area resembles korean K2. It has mud in wheels but rust in chains. Side skirt over second and thirth wheels look weared by works to ensamble the turret or torch cuts to make room? New spaced armor evident!. Mobility trials to demo it can climb 30% w/t so “rucksack”. No bore evacuator? no coax?. I dont Know

  • Cornell

    If that was the newest Abrams, it would be under wraps. No way the US Army/Marine Corp would allow the public a chance to see it. It would be in a covered piece, not opened

  • Zeppo

    Merkva? I’ve only seen’em from a distance but very close in profile

    • Ace226

      The Merkava has a completely different turret.

  • Jake

    It is a Advanced Tank Cannon (ATAC) System

    Look at the image john posted above

  • Cam

    Looks like a cross between an Abrams, Leopard A6 and Israeli M4 tank.

  • charles williams

    its just a prop if it was a secret prototype they would have transported it in a c17 not a “everyone come look at me” train.

    • dominic

      you would be surprised what they transfer on trains, but all the clasified stuff is covered up, this looks like an autoloader experiment, probrally research into the developement of the m1a3 as the turret on the m1a3 will be modified


      just letting you know, it is probably just a stunt to get people talking about this “new” tank to distract people from looking for information on the actual project.

  • Scubafreak

    Well, we know that the Marine Corp is desperately seekign to develop an M-1 variant with the same power and protection as the M-1A2 SEP, with 1/3rd less weight. This could be one of the concepts for that requirement.

  • matt

    Can’t be a new one though. Would be heavily guarded. Too loosely transported

    • Donnell

      It would appear that the Army may be working on a newer variant of the Abrams tank on line with the German Leopard2A6 and the British Challenger 2, both those tanks have added armour upgrades on the turrent and a longer main gun for added power and range. Time will tell.

  • Tanker Mike

    Not too very new. M1A1 hull with T-156 track.

  • IraqVet05

    something interesting to check out, google M1 CATTB and then look at the image results. Half of the websites that show the same photos from above are Chinese websites….

    just one of the sites:

    translate to english, a little interesting.

  • Justin H

    If it was a secret tank, you would think that the Army would have put some kind of cover on it.

  • William C.

    140mm cannon, when destroying things with the 120mm just gets old…

  • John

    You guys are killing me – Look at the link to the image below

    Like I said earlier it is the: Advanced Tank Cannon (ATAC) System

    Test bed only. Different turret than the CATT-B

    image here:

    This is from:

    Due to a shortage of funding, the CATT-B was never completed as a fully integrated system. Prior to being installed in the CATT-B, the ATAC System has been installed in a modified M1 turret on a standard M1 chassis.

    • William C.

      I’m pretty certain the XM291 120mm/140mm cannon was installed in the CATTB by some point, maybe after this ATAC testbed?

      • John

        You are correct, but the CATTB had a different turrent

        Here is a link to a research paper on the turrent configuration and the stress anlaysis.

        Finite Element Stress Analysis for Component Advanced Technology Test Bed (CATTB)

  • tribulationtime

    No 140. Too much heavy, BiG rounds, no room for hydraulics recoilers (loose english use), ammo and auto-loader so more armor to use for protection then a very heavy turret (less mobility) in exchange of not significant increment. Years ago discarded, new tech must arise….gas, liquid, electromagnetic propelants. Not this case I think. Maybe auto-loader research. A GI is very expensive, maybe.

  • C88m

    Alright folks this is a M1 chassis with a modified turret as John said. It is a 105mm cannon not in use. I should know I’m a 19k otherwise known as a M1 Abrams tank crewmen, I have seen all 3 variants of the Abrams and operated 2 of them. That tank is an old prototype, the sprocket does not have skirt in the newer models because of mud build up though I have seen some in the desert with them. In the rear of the turret there is a shell ejection port for an auto loader system, the Army found that a human can load rounds twice as fast 3-5 seconds versus an auto at 10 seconds. This tank is headed for either Maryland or Kentucky.

    • Belesari

      Probably just doing research into auto loaders and turret design/systems.

      Chassis looks like a simple M1A1.

    • blight

      The autoloader was intended for the 140mm. In the long run, as tank round size increases, the auto loader would probably become a necessity.

    • tribulationtime

      For sure I prefer a Soldier. If there are malfuctions you always can punish him (Joke). Years ago I was learning to climb and a veteran say us “how less parts you put between you and safety less things can fail”. This same blog wrote a lesson learned about “wanat” Don´t rely on tech. A soldier can keep fighting with a knive (?) dismount from a disable tank or give me a hand to help me. But auto loader hasn´t family, dental care, life insurance, PTSD, etc. (Maybe more expensive tank more profits, more maintenance bills, posibly a crap loader give more money to built other or maybe Research business itself. In this moment i think miltech research it´s a business, but this is Politics BUT FOOCK WHY ECHOES ON THE FRONT, CITIZENS-SOLDIERS TRADE….Yes i shut foock up

      • blight

        That’s reductive logic. At some point you engineer an item that is reliable enough…such as the tank itself. In the long term the autoloader will improve in reliability until it is second nature, just as tanks improved from their 50% fail rate in WW1.

        • Mastro

          I’ve never seen anyone argue that we should ADD a crewman to an M-1 – or whatever replaces it. So all that “he can help load MRE’s, etc” seems a bit like status quoism.

          If we take a man or two out of a tank- it’s that fewer casualties, family BS, etc-

  • William barth

    Looks like it has a Leopard AS1 turret in place of the Abrahms turret, after all the smooth bore 120mm is from Germany and adapted to the M1. The Leopard turret is wide and thick like that, the Israeli Merkeva turret is totally different in shape and design. It’s missing all of the design features of the standard M1 turret. Year 1977

  • Joe

    This is not the new M1E3 tank currently under development. It is the “Thumper” ATAC demonstrator armed with the XM291 140mm gun from nearly two decades ago.

  • Adam

    movie prop for a “end of the world” type movie, the americans have no need or even money for any new tanks as they are not fighting wars to need them. It might be even an old prototype that was in storage being moved

    • William C.

      Block III

  • Terrell Young

    The last N1 Abrams I saw uo close was over at Ft.Polk, Turret wasn’t even close to size of this thing. I see the tanks on their way to ports of embarkation at least once a week and none of them have a main gun close to that monster in pic., talkes to a few of tankers at PX and asked if they were going back soon,but was told they just got back, My wife and I thanked them or their service and told them to be carefil while home.

  • howard

    ‘…merely a movie prop….’

    who would put that many load chains on a prop?
    and ship it the slowest way possible (train)?
    and require a long container capable flatcar to carry it?
    looks like a used proto to me.
    didn’t the Army test the 140mm guns on Abrams

  • Allan Desmond

    There would be nothing really “eyes only about a M-1a3 to warrent real tight security

  • annoymous54

    hahaha this not a new tank or prototype tank. It’s old battle tank, you guy should watch carefully which is the front and the back of the tank. funny hahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahaha.

    • AnontheBarbarian

      Well no shit where the front of it is, the turret is facing the rear which is common in transport, it’s an old prototype that isn’t of any use anymore, it’s simply an out-dated piece of technology.

  • MarsTheGrayAdept

    It’s definitely the ATAC. You can tell by the shape and rake angle of the turret face as well as the rings on the side. My only question is, since the ATAC in the other guy’s pic looked white or tan, why did they see the need to repaint it?

  • Jared


  • P.D. Sims

    I use to be a master gunner. I don’t think it is a 140 MM gun, however it does look like a 120 M-55 gun. As for the size of the turret, I suspect the army is using the Crusader autoloading system. This would inject liquid propellant into the gun and result in a lot more room for projectal storage. This system can probably carry a load of 60 rounds or better and fire at a rate of at least 12 round per minute.

  • P.D. Sims

    4-140 MM gun tubes were made a year ago in the cannon factory near Albany, New York
    Who knows what the future holds.

  • alex

    Look ladies its just a test bed tank with a new turret mounted on an M1a2 body. The real body will be ship by other meant where it will be out of sight . The defence contractor is no fool to show you the real thing girl.

  • P. D. Sims

    Don’t be an idot. I saw several XM-1 tank being tested at Fort Drum, New York in the late 1970’s. This isn’t a secret government project. It doesn’t take a lot of brains to guess at the updates going on in the armor community. The Chinese put a 140 MM gun on their latest tank and reduced the ammo load to 37 rounds. The 140 hits three times harder than the 120, but there isn’t any armor package in the world today that can stop a 120 round at normal battle ranges. Long range—may be, but that only occures in long range desert gunnery. Try and think out what your going to daay before you call everyone an uninformed fool.

  • mike bell

    i saw a US ARMY Commercial Heavy equipment transport Truck last week at Exit 370 on Interstate 20 in Texas. It was parked on freeway access road. It had two escort vehicle with armed men in black uniforms similar to swap. TruckTractor had a sign that stated it was a US Army vehicle, Use of Deadly Force Authorized. Also on vehicle was a sign that stated it was a US M1A3 Abrams Tank. It was east bound.

  • P.D. Sims

    the M1A3 you saw at exit 370 on I-20 in Texas, must have been coming from 1st Armor at Fort Bliss and going to the Red River Depot.

  • Dave

    Isn’t it the m60 tank?

  • lol

    it’s a 140mm…. This has been around for 15+ years folks…

  • Mat

    thats not the new prototype M1A3 If it was it would not be open and traveling on that kind of train it would be covered and on a military or govermental train and since its just 1 it most likely is a prop

  • Well to be honest it looks like an abrams tank modifed with a better cannon maybe for more fire power and better range?? and correct me if im wrong but it looks a bit lower than usual so they may have bulit this for speed?

    • blight_

      Abrams is plenty fast, moreso without the governors. The 140mm never got that far.

  • cole

    it look like a leopard tank (german mbt)

  • Anon

    That’s the old ATACS testbed. Worked on it in 1990. Note the barrel length. That’s a 120mm Benet weapon. Yes that turret bustle has an autoloader for its 2-piece ammo.

  • ghost

    it looks like a japanese type 90

  • Fred Ludwig

    That is the ATACS test turret designed by General Motors at their (then) Combat Vehicle Center located in the Park Fletcher complex in Indianapolis. General Motors’ MVO (Military Vehicles Operation) has long since been abandoned. The unit you’re looking at has no armor….only an empty shell filled with concrete to simulate the weight. It sits atop an M1 chassis. It was built at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. From there it was sent to Aberdeen (MD) for testing of its 140mm main weapon. (Notice the long barrel length) It ALMOST got shipped to the Mideast during the 1st Gulf War. The long turret bustle was for the long two-piece ammunition and its autoloader. The weapon was designed by the Benet Weapons Lab at the Picatinny Arsenal. It was intended to defeat the armor on the Soviet T-90 tank. From what I understand, the T-90 never went into production…so THIS weapon was never needed. I was the engineer that designed this testbed turret and still have copies of its CAD model and photos from Anniston.

  • Witacha

    I don’t know what all this tank is exactly, but I do know where its at. Its currently parked in the LTS (Long Term Storage) division at Sierra Army Depot in Herlong CA. I saw it personally when I worked out there during summer 2011. My supervisor confirmed that it had a 140mm gun and an auto loading system. Beyond that I know nothing about the tank. Hope this is helpful.

  • Kale

    Never have seen a turret like that on the M1A2 before, but who knows, the military says the experimental M1A3 is supposed to be half the size of the M1A2, but there is also a newer version of the M1A2 as well, outfitted with a newer turret that has the capability of firing 125mm shells the army will not let you get any further than that.

  • Well, it’s obviously an experimental design. I just hope it works out though. It would be a huge waste of raw materials otherwise.

  • TankHistorian

    Ok this is getting annoying its NOT a prototype, it is a German Leopard II tank

  • leroy c watson

    Clearly an M1 variant, the exact nature of is less clear…not especially well concealed, maybe they thought no one would notice it or it’s an old thing thats just being moved about….the lord acts in mysterious ways and so does our govt! Supposedly there eventually will be an M1A3 but weather this is it only time will tell and even if the Army wants to build it is no sure thing it will happen….a long long time ago they wanted the GM prototype not the Crysler one but Congress decided Crysler instead! I saw one look in Popular Mechanics magazine and thought jeah we need this! But having so much of our stuff made in China is an economic and military disaster waiting to happen….worried about our deficit then get those poor soles off assistance and back to work….and I don’t mean blowing paper arround an office tower either…

  • james

    the turret look like k2 black panther a south korean tank

  • jayc

    target model stripped down

  • Elijah’ w Lott

    They. Will eventually make the M1a3/A4/A/5 series in about 2019 with a 140 mm smooth bore cannon the turret will be slightly enlarged Turret for the bigger caliber gun. And the engine will be toned up the tank seen in the picture is a varient of the m1 abrams prototype from the co corp of Germany and US before being canceled in favor of the m1 varient also the large gun is the long 120. Smooth bore prototype from a us m1a2. Abrams commander who partisapated in the enters of Baghdad

  • Nielsen

    I think I seen this at the Armor Conference in the 90s, it appears to be “Thumper”.

  • Confidential

    The U.S. would never let such a flawed tank become the successor A1A2, they have repeated a design flaw that the previous standard M1 had that was a crippling weakness. Though that information is confidential, I can assure you this is no secret tank, as the U.S. would have transported it by air or concealed rail.