On September 15th 1916 during the Battle of the Somme, 49 British tanks rumbled slowly across the battlefield toward the German lines. While many of these new military creations broke down, roughly one third made it across No-Man’s-Land and sent the Germans troops running. From that day forward, the tank became an important piece of weaponry which every major power in the world developed and deployed over the following century. From the fields of Western Europe to the Russian steppe, tanks were integral to how armies fought the Second World War. From the Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights to the border region shared by Iraq and Iran, the Middle East has seen some of the largest tank battles of the past 50 years.
As with any military weapon, the major powers of the world have continued an arms race involving tank production since that September day during World War One. Tank developers have pushed the limits of technology in an attempt to achieve the highest rating in the three most important tank characteristics: mobility, protection and firepower. Of course, pushing to have the best protected, fastest and most powerful tank costs considerable money. Tank armor has gone through radical changes over the years, moving from steel plates to composite material made up of steel, plastics, ceramics and other classified material. Engines have improved in power and reliability. Gone are the tractor engines of World War One, replaced by turbocharged diesel and, in some cases, turbine engines producing well over 1,000 hp. Tank guns have become larger and more accurate and fire a range of projectiles from ‘regular’ high-explosives to guided missiles. Finally, computers, high end optics and advanced warning and protection devices all make today’s frontline tanks deadly and expensive.
The following list takes a look at 10 of the top-of-the-line tanks in use today. These tanks are considered the best because they score highly in the three categories of mobility, protection and firepower. That said, they are ranked not by which one is ‘the best’ but instead by which tanks cost the most per unit. Monetary values have been updated as close to 2014 figures as possible, often using government or production company reports.
10 ZTZ-99 (China) - $2.6 million
9 T-90AM (Russia) - $4.25 million
8 Tied-7. Merkava IV (Israel) - $6.0 million
7 Tied-7. Arjun Mk II (India) - $6.0 million
6 Leopard 2A6 (Germany) - $6.79 million
5 M1A2 SEP (USA) - $8.5 million
4 Challenger 2 (Great Britain) - $8.6 million
3 K2 Black Panther (South Korea) - $8.8 million
2 Type 10 (Japan) - $9.4 million
1 AMX-56 Leclerc (France) - $12.6 million
This is France’s main battle tank and currently the most expensive tank in the world. Figures on the cost of this tank vary greatly depending on who you talk to. Critics within the French government say each Leclerc has cost France $23 million or more. Companies who build and upgrade these tanks give a more conservative (but still ridiculously high) figure of $12.6 million per tank. The Leclerc entered service in 1992 after 15 years of development and trials. The tank uses modular armor which can be taken off and replaced quickly. The armor is a composite of steel, ceramics and Kevlar. Protection on the roof of the turret and sides is very thick and the tank even has redundant electrical systems to ensure survivability. Like other Western tanks, the Leclerc uses a 120mm smoothbore gun and 1500 hp engine. It only has a crew of three and uses an autoloader very similar to the one used in South Korea’s K2 Black Panther, reportedly able to fire 12 rounds per minute. Advanced optics and computer systems make this one of the best tanks in the world – and the most expensive.
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