10. T-90S (Russia)
The T-90 is a Russian main battle tank (MBT) derived from the T-72, and is currently the most modern tank in service with the Russian Ground Forces, Naval Infantry and the Indian Army. The successor to T-72BM, the T-90 uses the gun and 1G46 gunner sights from the T-80U, a new engine, and thermal sights. Protective measures include Kontakt-5 ERA, laser warning receivers, the EMT-7 electromagnetic pulse (EMP) creator for the destruction of magnetic mines and the Shtora infrared ATGM jamming system. It is designed and built by Uralvagonzavod, in Nizhny Tagil, Russia.
9. Type 99G (China)
The Type 99, also known as ZTZ-99 and WZ-123, developed from the Type 98G (in turn, a development of the Type 98), is a third generation main battle tank (MBT) fielded by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. It is made to compete with other modern tanks. Although not expected to be acquired in large numbers due to its high cost compared to the more economical Type 96, it is currently the most advanced MBT fielded by China. The ZTZ99 MBT is considered one of the 12 best tanks in the world and is a successor to the Type 98 G tank manufactured for the for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
8. Leclerc (France)
The Leclerc is a main battle tank (MBT) built by Nexter of France. It was named in honour of General Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque who led the drive towards Paris while in command of the Free French 2nd Armoured Division (2ème DB) in World War II.
The Leclerc is in service with the French Army and the army of the United Arab Emirates. In production since 1991, the Leclerc entered French service in 1992, replacing the venerable AMX 30 as the country’s main armoured platform. With production now complete, the French Army has a total of 406 Leclercs and the United Arab Emirates Army has 388.
7. Type 90 (Japan)
After the adoption of the Type 74, the Japanese High Command was already looking for a superior, completely indigenous tank design to defeat the Soviet T-72. As a result, development of a prototype, the TK-X MBT began between 1976 and 1977. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and joint development were performed by leadership of TRDI (Japan Defence Agency’s Technology Research and Development Institute). Major subcontractors include Japan Steel Works, Daikin Industries, Mitsubishi Electric Corporation, Fujitsu Company and the NEC Corporation.
Requirements of the Type 90 were completed in 1980 with two prototypes, both armed with a Japanese 120 mm gun (product by Japan Steel Works Limited) firing Japanese ammunition (product by Daikin Industries Limited), completed in 1982 to 1984. Testing, improvements (Turret and half Modular type ceramic composite armour), and designs were modified and constructed until 1986.
A second series of four prototypes was built between 1986 and 1988 which incorporated changes as a result of trials with the first two prototypes. These were armed with the Rheinmetall 120 mm smoothbore gun also fitted to the German Leopard 2 and, in a modified version, in the US M1A1/M1A2 Abrams MBT.
These second prototypes were used for development and then user trials, all of which were completed by 1989, before Japan formally acknowledged the Type 90 in 1990.
With the exception of the 120 mm smoothbore gun, which is made under licence from Rheinmetall of Germany, the Type 90 and its subsystems are all designed and built in Japan.
6. K1A1 Type 88 (South Korea)
In the 1970s, Republic of Korea was desperately in need of additional main battle tanks. M4A3E8 “Easy Eight” variant of Sherman tanks, dating back to World War II, had been retired from service by the Republic of Korea Army, and the backbone of the South Korean armor was formed up of M47 and M48 Patton tanks. Meanwhile, North Koreans had both numerical and technological advantages over the South Korean armor with their T-62 main battle tanks.
At first, attempts were made to obtain the United States’ M60A1 Pattons, but ended in a failure. It was deemed that, even if the M60A1s were obtainable, there would not be enough of them to give the South Korean forces a significant advantage over existing North Korean tanks. A number of other plans were also devised, such as upgrading the existing M48 Pattons to the M48A3 and A5 standard, as well as obtaining the license to domestically produce Germany’s Leopard 1 main battle tank. Only the upgrades to the Pattons were carried out, with the results being the M48A3K and M48A5K, while producing Leopard 1s were deemed as counterproductive as newer generation of main battle tanks were already being developed and tested in both the U.S. and Germany, namely the M1 Abrams and Leopard 2.
In light of this, the Park Chung-hee administration announced plans to domestically produce main battle tanks that were comparable to the newer generation of main battle tanks. However, having absolutely no experience in the design, development and manufacture of main battle tanks to speak of, the task assigned to the South Korean industry was all but impossible. Upon realization, foreign designs were considered and evaluated, with condition being that the winning design be licensed and produced domestically. The winning design was based on the XM1, the prototype of M1 Abrams, by Chrysler Defense, the company which was later sold to General Dynamics and renamed General Dynamics Land Systems. Soon afterwards, South Korean officials were dispatched to General Dynamics Land Systems for supervision of the design, which would spawn the XK1.
With its design being based on XM1, the XK1 shared various similarities with it. However, upon closer inspection, numerous differences can be found. The differences included the weight (55 ton XM1 versus 51 ton XK1), height (2.37 m versus 2.25 m), engine (1,500 hp Honeywell AGT1500C for XM1 versus 1,200 hp Teledyne Continental AVCR-1790, also used on Merkava 3, for XK1, although the XK1’s engine will later be replaced with MTU MB Ka-501, a compact version of the 1,500 hp MB-873 Ka-503 used on Leopard 2), transmission (Allison DDA X-1100-3B for XM1 versus ZF Friedrichshafen LSG 3000 for XK1), and several other components used in the vehicles. The XK1 retained the XM1’s M68E1 105 mm rifled main gun, which would also be domestically produced under license with designtion of KM68, as well as the fire control system by Hughes Aircraft Company and the Nd:YAG laser rangefinder. One of the major differences was the addition of tank commander’s independent panoramic sights on XK1, which was missing on XM1, giving the XK1 the capability to utilize the FCS more effectively, notably by engaging in Hunter-Killer tactics, which the M1 series could not do until the introduction of M1A2. The tank commander’s panoramic sights were not, however, equipped with light amplification or thermal optics, which led to the tank commander having to rely on personal night vision goggles to operate his sights, while the gunner’s sights were equipped with thermal observation device, which meant that XK1 had superior sensors until the introduction of M1A2. XK1 was also equipped with a hybrid suspension system consisting of hydropneumatic system on road wheels 1, 2 and 6, while 3, 4 and 5 are equipped with torsion bars, a feature not present on XM1, granting the XK1 greater stability and ability to elevate and depress the main gun nearly twice as much than tanks equipped with torsion bars alone. (+20 to -9.7 degrees for XK1 versus +10 to -5 XM1)
The development of the vehicle was completed in 1983 with a prototype being delivered to the South Korean government in the same year. As mentioned above, however, the AVCR-1790 used for the design was replaced by MTU MB Ka-501 just prior to mass production, which resulted in K1’s engine deck and exhaust grills becoming cosmetically similar to Leopard 2’s.
Hyundai Precision, now known as Hyundai Rotem, took the responsibility of manufacturing the tanks, and the mass production began in 1985, with deployment lasting from the same year to 1987. The vehicle was not, however, unveiled until 1987, for security purposes. Foreign journalists were invited to the unveiling ceremony, and a massive training exercise using the new tanks took place during the event for publicity.
After the production of approximately 450 K1s, the Gunner’s Primary Sights (GPS) designed by Hughes was replaced by Gunner’s Primary Tank Thermal Sights (GPTTS) by Texas Instruments. The new system also replaced the Nd:YAG laser rangefinder used in the Hughes unit with a CO2-based one, which has proven to be safer to the users’ eyes, although having less effective range than the former in foul weather.
While the exact composition of the armor has still not been released, it has been confirmed that K1 is equipped with composite armor, the Chobham. Automatic fire extinguishing system were not present on the vehicle, so the vehicle crew have to manually activate the fire extinguish system in case of fire. And, while air conditioning system is installed to aid in crew comfort, the vehicle lacks overpressure system to effectively protect the crew against nuclear, biological, or chemical attacks, requiring the crew to don protective gear while operating in contaminated environment.
Production remained at approximately 100 units per year at its peak.
5. Merkava Mark IV (Israel)
The Merkava is the main battle tank of the Israel Defense Forces. Since the early 1980s, four main versions have been deployed. The “Merkava” name was derived from the IDF’s development program name.
It is optimized for crew survival and rapid repair of battle damage. Through the use of spaced-armor techniques and quick-replacement modular designs, the design team was able to incorporate composite armor, a derivative of rolled homogeneous armor (RHA) and Chobham armour. Additionally, the space between the inner and outer hulls is filled with diesel fuel—an economical storage method and a means of defeating HEAT rounds.
Following the model of contemporary self-propelled howitzers, the turret assembly is located nearer the rear than in most main battle tanks. This gives the crew additional protection against a frontal attack by putting the engine between them and the attack. This arrangement also creates more space in the rear of the tank that allows increased storage capacity, as well as a rear entrance to the main crew compartment allowing easy access even under enemy fire. This allows the tank to be used as a platform for medical disembarkation, a forward command and control station, and an armored personnel carrier. The rear entrance’s clamshell-style doors provide overhead protection when off- and on-loading cargo and personnel.
It was reportedly decided shortly before the beginning of the 2006 Lebanon War that the Merkava line would be discontinued within four years. However, on 7 November 2006, Haaretz reported that an Israeli General Staff assessment had ruled of the Merkava Mark IV that “if properly deployed, the tank can provide its crew with better protection than in the past,” and deferred the decision on discontinuing the line.
4. K2 Black Panther (South Korea)
Although the K1 and K1A1 were considered more than adequate to counter opposing North Korean tanks, most of which are obsolete and aging Soviet-era equipment such as T-34 and T-54/55, development was started in 1995 to create and field a new main battle tank with heavy emphasis on domestic technique. The intent was to further modernize the South Korean military and allow the vehicle to enter the export market without pressure from foreign nations due to licensing issues.
The Agency for Defense Development, or ADD, was given the task of developing a modern armored fighting vehicle with state-of-the-art technology. The design was finally deemed production-ready in 2006, following 11 years in development and a research budget expenditure of approximately USD $230m. More than 90% of the vehicle’s design is domestic.
Two major designs were under consideration during development: one fitted with a manned turret, and another fitted with an unmanned turret. The latter was scrapped in favour of the former at the early design stage. It was also originally planned for the K2 to field the experimental 140 mm smoothbore gun developed by Rheinmetall. This plan failed to materialize following Rheinmetall’s decision to stop development due to the lack of foreseeable threats that their latest gun, the 120 mm / L55, could not defeat. The K2’s gun was subsequently reconfigured to the L55, along with necessary modifications for ammunition capacity. The vehicle is, however, capable of mounting the 140 mm gun with minimum modifications should the need arise. The gun’s autoloader is similar to the French Leclerc.
The Black Panther reached its production phase on March 2, 2007, when the first of the three production models rolled out of the assembly line in Changwon, South Korea. At that time, several media sources speculated that the K2’s main gun was a L52 (6.24 m) main gun similar to the one used on the Leclerc. This was incorrect as the K2 uses a L55 (6.6 m) main gun.
3. Challenger 2 (United Kingdom)
FV4034 Challenger 2 is a main battle tank (MBT) currently in service with the armies of the United Kingdom and Oman. It is built by the British company Vickers Defence Systems (now part of BAE Systems Land and Armaments). The manufacturer advertises it as the world’s most reliable main battle tank. As of January 2008, two Challenger 2s have been damaged in combat, and one destroyed by another Challenger 2 in a friendly fire incident.
Challenger 2 is an extensive redesign from Challenger 1, the MBT from which it was developed. It uses the basic hull and automotive parts of its predecessor but all else is new. Fewer than 5% of components are interchangeable. Challenger 2 has now replaced Challenger 1 in service with the British Army and is also used by the Royal Army of Oman. It has seen operational service in Bosnia, Kosovo and Iraq (2003–present). During the 2003 invasion of Iraq the Challenger 2 was the only tank operating in the Gulf that did not suffer a loss to enemy fire. In one engagement a Challenger took multiple hits from rocket propelled grenades and from one MILAN anti tank missile.
2. Leopard 2A6 (Germany)
The Leopard 2 is a German main battle tank developed by Krauss-Maffei in the early 1970s and first entering service in 1979. The Leopard 2 replaced the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and twelve other European countries, as well as several non-European nations. More than 3,480 Leopard 2s have been manufactured. The Leopard 2 first saw combat in Kosovo with the German Army and has also seen action in Afghanistan with the Danish and Canadian ISAF forces.
There are two main development batches of the tank, the original models up to Leopard 2A4 which have vertically-faced turret armour, and the “improved” batch, namely the Leopard 2A5 and newer versions, which have angled arrow-shaped turret appliqué armour together with a number of other improvements. All models feature digital fire control systems with laser rangefinders, a fully stabilized main gun and coaxial machine gun, and advanced night vision and sighting equipment (first vehicles used a low-light level TV system or LLLTV; thermal imaging was introduced later on). The tank has the ability to engage moving targets while moving over rough terrain. It can drive through water 4 meters (13 ft) deep using a snorkel or 1.2 meters (3 ft 11 in) without any preparation and climb vertical obstacles over one metre high. The tank is powered with a turbo-charged multi-fuel V12 diesel engine that produces 1,500 PS (1,479 hp, 1,103 kW).
1. M1A2 Abrams (United States)
The M1 Abrams is a main battle tank produced in the United States. The M1 is named after General Creighton Abrams, former Army Chief of Staff and Commander of US military forces in Vietnam from 1968 to 1972. It is a well armed, heavily armored, and highly mobile tank designed for modern armored ground warfare. Notable features of the M1 Abrams include the use of a powerful gas turbine engine, the adoption of sophisticated composite armor, and separate ammunition storage in a blow-out compartment for crew safety. It is one of the heaviest tanks in service, weighing in at close to 68 short tons.
The M1 Abrams entered U.S. service in 1980, replacing the 105 mm gun, full tracked M60 Patton main battle tank. It did, however, serve for over a decade alongside the improved M60A3, which had entered service in 1978. Three main versions of the M1 Abrams have been deployed, the M1, M1A1, and M1A2, incorporating improved armament, protection and electronics. These improvements, as well as periodic upgrades to older tanks have allowed this long-serving vehicle to remain in front-line service. It is the principal main battle tank of the United States Army and Marine Corps, and the armies of Egypt, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and since 2007, Australia.