WASHINGTON — Raytheon, in concert with the US Army, has put together a package of upgrades to modernize 1960s-era Patton tanks still used by many Middle Eastern countries.
The effort is a procurement formula for bringing old equipment up to speed in an era where most countries' defense spending budgets are declining and the idea of building anything new from the ground up is rarity.
The Pentagon and the defense industry have heard it said countless times: The military services have to make do with what they have.
And the services are turning more and more to upgrading and modernizing what they already own whether it's aircraft like the CH-47 Chinook expected to fly for 100 years before it's retired in the 2060s or taking vehicles already in the inventory and adding lethality through a bigger gun like in the case of the Stryker.
Raytheon's Mission Support and Modernization business core competency is taking a look at what is in a military's inventory and figuring out ways to sustain and modernize such equipment to meet the current threat using an affordable strategy.
"The thing that is most interesting to me when you look at the current state from a readiness standpoint and what we need to do, all the things the administration wants to do, focus on the war on terror, the shift to the Pacific, deal with emerging cyber threats, it's something that is a fairly significant challenge given the budget environment that we are in," Todd Probert, Raytheon's vice president in charge of the business sector, told Defense News.
"I think the recipe we have, modernization through sustainment, is going to be a key mechanism for the US to move through this period," he said.
And that strategy will likely be employed by countless other countries around the world as well.
Take the M60 Patton tank, for example. It became the standard main battle tank for the US Army in the 1960s, but was replaced by the M1 Abrams 20 years later. Yet, there are still Patton tanks used by countries around the world and there are estimated to be about 7,000 to 10,000 of them used by countries in the Middle East, Probert said.
Raytheon said it was aware of tanks remaining in Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Lebanon, Israel, Thailand and Taiwan.
The company's program to upgrade the Patton tanks began many years back when Raytheon developed a new fire control solution for Jordan's tanks. Raytheon completed fielding the new fire control systems to the country about five years ago, according to Probert
Now Raytheon has created a package of modernization-level upgrades for the tanks that goes far beyond the initial upgrade for Jordan, Probert said.
The company's service life extension program for the M60 A3 variant increases lethality ranges and accuracy through an advanced digital fire control system using US Army-developed software and by swapping out the tank's 105mm cannon with a 120mm gun.
Raytheon has also changed out a 750 horsepower engine to a 950 horsepower one, which restarts the engine to zero-hour condition, Probert said.
The tank weighs a full ton less as Raytheon has changed out the hydraulics with electronic systems.
Through the new upgrades the tank will also be able to fire on the move rather than having to use a soldier in the loop to stop the tank, aim the gun and fire, which turns the tank into an easy target on the battlefield. The fire control system is linked to a GPS that tells it where the tank is and digitally coordinates automatic aiming, discrimination and firing capability.
The entire package of upgrades would cost one-third of the price tag of a new tank, he said.
The Patton tanks "are a generation older, but with what we are doing, we are allowing them to be more relevant in the current fight," Probert said.
The tank and its full package of upgrades has been tested rigorously at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, in partnership with the US Army.
Raytheon has been in discussions with a number of countries in the Middle East about upgrading tanks, seeing an emerging need for the service life extension of the vehicles.
"It comes down to systems engineering first and foremost, coming in and appreciating what is needed marry that up with the customers' desires and with what the threat and challenges that they are facing, and system engineering a solution that makes sense for that platform or that particular IT or intelligence command and control system," Probert said.
"We have a lot of stuff in play," he added.
Jen Judson is an award-winning journalist covering land warfare for Defense News. She has also worked for Politico and Inside Defense. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Boston University and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Kenyon College.