Ukraine’s M-1A1 Tanks Have A Special Power: The Ability To Pinpoint Targets 8,000 Meters Away

Mar 21, 2023

A U.S. Marine Corps M-1A1 FEP in Iraq in 2004.

To speed up deliveries of new tanks to Ukraine, the United States has opted to send secondhand M-1A1s instead of newer M-1A2s that would take longer to produce.

The M-1A1s presumably are ex-U.S. Marine Corps tanks that the Corps retired starting in 2019. While lacking the sophisticated commander’s sights that are the main feature of the M-1A2, the USMC M-1A1 Firepower Enhancement Package was the first American tank with a piece of equipment the Ukrainian army might find really useful: a Far Target Locator.

With the press of a button, an M-1A1 FEP’s FTL calculates the GPS coordinates of a target as far away as 8,000 meters. The tank’s four-person crew can relay—via voice radio or a digital network—these same coordinates to an artillery battery, which then can lob guided or unguided shells at the target. All in the span of a few minutes.

In that way, the tank functions as a forward-observer—spotting targets too far away for the tank itself to hit, but close enough for an artillery fire mission.

A Far Target Locator combines a compass, gyros and a processor that takes input from the platform’s GPS and laser rangefinder.

It works like this: the gunner spots a target through their long-range optics, fires a laser at it to determine its range, then activates the FTL. The FTL knows where the tank is, thanks to the vehicle’s GPS unit. With the range data from the laser and orientation from the compass, it then calculates the target’s GPS coordinates.

These days a host of U.S. military systems have FTLs. Even the command units of shoulder-fired Javelin anti-tank missiles. But in 2004, when the Marines began upgrading their 450 M-1A1s to FEP standard, the locators weren’t yet standard equipment on American tanks.

The Marines initially modified a few tanks belonging to units fighting in Iraq, and asked the crews to provide feedback. The crews really appreciated their FTLs.

“The position location capability and the ability to range a target and get a 10-digit grid were considered very useful,” U.S. Marine Corps captain C.S. Roos wrote in a 2005 paper. “It proved valuable in fire missions and situation awareness.”

If there’s a downside to the early FTLs that the Marines installed on their M-1A1 FEPs, it’s the system’s middling precision.

“The Marine Corps’ FTL will provide tank crews with accurate target location out to 8,000 [meters] with less than 35 meters [of] Circular Error Probability,” Roos explained. “This means that an accurate grid location to within 35 meters of the target will be provided for situational awareness and/or subsequent engagement by artillery or air.”

Thirty-five meters is pretty inaccurate by today’s standards. The U.S. military’s latest Precision FTL is two or three times more precise.

Still, a loose FTL is better than no FTL. There’s nothing stopping a Ukrainian tank crew in one of Ukraine’s existing, Cold War-vintage T-64s from radioing a nearby artillery battery with a target’s location.

But the crew might have to calculate the target’s coordinates using a map and protractor. And even then, there’d be a lot of guessing.

Even an older, dumber FTL would be a lot faster and more accurate. With their automated locators, the Ukrainian army’s M-1A1s won’t just improve the force’s armor capabilities. They’ll improve its artillery, too.

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David Axe


  1. Sounds good to me. Get those tanks to Ukraine fast and in sufficient numbers. This should be child’s play for a country like the United States!

    • Ha! Child’s play? For the demented in the White House? Playing tidily winks is a challenge for those fools.

      • Those demented fools are the only reason Ukraine is still a country. If you don’t think that the Ukraine has done as well as it has without the support and guidance from those dement fools, I encourage you to do a reality check.

        Why don’t you blame whoever’s fault it was for letting Russia so easily take Crimea in the first place? But Biden has to cover for everyone else’s fuckups because just fuck Biden and its too difficult to do anything yourself

        • You’re obviously someone who needs some grey matter. Who the fuck was the VP when Crimea was taken asswipe!!

          • ‘The’ Ukraine finally compromised his filrthy ass. He attacked me because i’m #1, always saying what i think no matter what.

            • Say what you think, nothing against that. Don’t complain on being called out on stupidity (like that flag for instance) though.

              • Exactly. Keep targeting me. It’s pure flattery you piece of shit. Where was your Obama when Ukraine was invaded? Yes, he told Kyiv not to defend Crimea, but pushed Minsk on us instead. GFY!

                • I was talking about Biden and the current administration but let me ask:

                  Where was the AFU and if it’s not their job to fight Russia why is it Obama’s?

                  Why does Kyiv need listen to Obama anyway?

                  OK, you (and I) don’t like Obama’s reaction but that’s not Biden’s fault.

                  Oh and let me restate something, I do like the dead confederate just not the flag.

          • VP doesn’t have any power in that situation. Your expectations of what he might have done are not remotely realistic.

              • Being the designated pawn to visit frequently, gather info, and maintain relationships is in no way giving Biden the power to decide Obama’s policy.

                Got anything better than that?

                Blaming Biden is just weak.

                • If Biden was strong he would have offered Nato protection for Ukraine. RuSSia’s nuke threats were and are a joke since they would erase themselves after the first launch. Not defending Trump and DeSantis who are both assholes, but as a close friend and supporter of John McCain and Nikki Haley i can tell you that you are a complete idiot!

            • Jake Sullivan was the idiot in the Obama administration who offered blankets. Want to guess who Biden the demented picked as his security advisor

        • You need a pulse. Go kiss the ass of the demented assholes in the White House rather then troubling me with your nonsense

          • Geez, if Ukraine had been that welcoming to the Russians when they arrived, maybe they wouldn’t have stayed.

            One thing we know for sure, I will fight for my president much harder than Ukrainians fought for Crimea in ’14

            • I’m sure. You’re an asswipe of the highest order who talks a big game but is without any balls. You’d be the first one run followed by a trail of shit

        • Ukraine was a troubled country back then, especially when Crimea was stolen from it. If you recall, it was right during the Euromaidan. Ukraine was in the midst of throwing out an extremely corrupt pro-ruskie president. It was yet another step towards becoming a better nation.
          Trouncing on Ukraine for not defending Crimea is weak. If you were better informed, you’d also know that it had virtually no military at the time. It only had around 6000 battle-ready troops.
          We all appreciate the help that Ukraine has gotten. But, even you must admit that our performance was less than subpar. Given the circumstances, far more could have been sent to Ukraine and quicker too. It is quite obvious that Biden and his administration are governed by fear. Fear is never a good ingredient for a US presidential administration. Fear is dangerous. Fear is an encouragement for monsters like putler.

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