It's part of the Pentagon's rather large family of so-called "military engineering vehicles," hybrids of design and imagination that seem to belong more to science fiction than conventional war theaters.
The ABV, as its inevitable acronym goes, can do all it does at the relative speed of a tank, being an M1A1 Abrams tank without the gun turret and its 120mm gun. It's been replaced with a .50 caliber machine-gun. That and a line charge launching system that will do what individual soldiers have had to do until now--clear minefields. The plow up front will enable the thing to build protective berms on the spot--or whiplash obstacles out of the way.
One other thing: The ABV is the Predator of the ground: It can be piloted by remote control. You can watch the vehicle in action, in a loud and chest-thumping Pentagon video, here.
The thing went to work in Afghanistan's Helmand province last month. That's where British and American forces launched Cobra's Anger, an assault on Taliban forces that attempts to to "reverse Taliban momentum," in President Obama's words.
The assault also features the V22 Osprey aircraft for the first time in a combat role in Afghanistan (it's been in use in Iraq f r about a year and a half). It's not yet clear whether the V-22 Osprey, which has had a scandalously lethal, crash-filled history since its harebrained inception several decades ago, will be a greater danger to enemy forces or to its own. The thing--uglier than the ABV, if you can believe it--should have been canceled out of production years ago, but like most things military, it had a fanatical constituency in Congress that opts for jobs above safety and strategic logic every time. So the Osprey still flies (when it does, anyway).
As for the ABV, Jane's magazine reports that the Marines ordered 45 units, and that by mid-2009 31 had been delivered. It's not clear how many are in Afghanistan, or what the Taliban think of them.