The tank first arrived on the battlefield in 1916 when it was deployed by the British Army against the Germans in World War One. It was developed as a weapon which could cross No-Man’s Land, crush the fields of barbed wire and break through the enemy’s trenches – the whole time well protected from enemy machine gun fire and shrapnel. By 1918, the first tank-vs-tank battle occurred between the British and the Germans. Powered by tractor engines and equipped with around a half inch of armor and a variety of machine guns and cannons, these early tanks were slow, lumbering machines which could often be as dangerous to their own crew as they were to the enemy. Nonetheless, the tank was here to stay and these weapons indicated a new direction in thinking when it came to how nations built and used their armies over the coming decades.
Like all weapons of war, the introduction of the tank to the battlefield led to an arms race as each nation worked to get the upper hand over the other. Since World War One the competition over tank design has focused on the three main characteristics of firepower, protection and mobility. Tank guns got larger, armor thicker and engines more powerful. Additionally, tank makers found that a market developed as other countries came looking to buy tanks of their own. The result is that the tank became an integral part of the massive arms export market, serviced primarily by the United States and Russia who last year alone sold a combined $56 billion in military equipment. In 100 years, the tank has come a long way. Advanced armor, high-tech sensors and communication equipment, improved engines and cutting edge weaponry all make this piece of military equipment one of the most sophisticated on the battlefield.
The following looks at 10 of the most sophisticated tanks used today. These tanks are on here because they have the most advanced array of weaponry, protection and electronics that can be found in a tank. Don’t be fooled however. Some of these tanks were first produced as far back as the 1970s and 1980s. While their designs may date back to the disco era, these tanks have been continually upgraded and enhanced over the decades to make them as capable (if not more so) and advanced as some of the models produced over the last few years.
10 T-84 Oplot-M (Ukraine)
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine was left with a tank factory in Kharkov which had been producing the T-80UD main battle tank (MBT). In an effort to develop their own tanks, it was decided to take the T-80 design and modify its design to meet the needs of the Ukrainian military. The result was the T-84 which, over time, evolved into the T-84 Oplot-M. This particular tank has been heavily modernized to make it one of the most sophisticated tanks fielded today.
9 Type 99 A2 (China)
For the most part, Chinese tanks of the last 50 years have not been considered sophisticated, especially by Russian and American standards. This resulted from the fact that for much of this time, Chinese tanks were developed and reverse engineered from captured or covertly obtained tanks. The result was often a tank that looked like a Soviet/Russian design but was far inferior in every respect.
Recently, that trend has started to change. While there is no denying that modern Chinese weaponry is still heavily based on foreign technology and designs, newer tank designs definitely display higher levels of sophistication. Defined as an enhanced third-generation MBT, the Type 99 is one of these tanks. The Type 99 is built by NORINCO and originally entered service in 2001 with the more advanced A2 variant entering production in 2009.
8 AMX-56 Leclerc (France)
7 Challenger 2 (Great Britain)
6 Leopard 2A7+ (Germany)
5 Type 10 (Japan)
In the world of modern military equipment, the Japanese forces often get overlooked. This is, in large part, because the Japanese military is designed as a defensive force and its products are not exported as US and Russian equipment is. Nonetheless, the Japanese have produced a new and rather sophisticated MBT in the shape of the Type 10. Classified as an advanced third-generation or next-generation tank, the Type 10 (aka TK-X) entered service in 2012. Compared with Japan’s previous tanks, the Type 10 is a huge step forward in mobility, firepower and protection.
4 Merkava IVm (Israel)
For much of its history, Israel was reliant on obtaining its tanks from outside countries. Battlefield experiences over the last several decades led Israeli planners to push for a domestically designed and produced tank that met the needs of the Israeli defence Force (IDF). The result was the Merkava series of tanks. The latest model of this tank is Merkava IVm. This particular tank has a crew of four and can hold several more soldiers inside.
3 M1A2 SEPv2 (USA)
Out of all of the tanks on this list, the M1 Abrams is by far the most battle-proven. In service since 1980, the M1 is an older design but constant upgrades have kept it at the top of the list when it comes to ability and sophistication. The M1A2 SEPv2 uses the 120mm smoothbore gun found in many Western tanks and can fire explosive or advanced armor piercing rounds reportedly capable of defeating the most modern armor.
2 T-90AM (Russia)
The Soviet-era T-72 tank was and continues to be the backbone of many tank forces around the world. Over the last few decades the T-72 was upgraded and improved on a regular basis to remain competitive with Western designs. By the mid-1990s, the design had been upgraded so much that Russian designers decided that it warranted a new model – the T-90. For the most part, the T-90 looks like the T-72 but it also incorporates many of the advanced features from the more expensive T-80.
1 K2 Black Panther (South Korea)
In the mid-1990s, the South Korean government decided to begin developing a domestically designed and produced tank. The result was the Hyundai-built K2 Black Panther which was operational by 2013/14. At first glance, the K2 looks like a Western tank with a large rectangular chassis and turret closely resembling the Leopard 2 and Leclerc. It uses a license-built version of the Leopard 2’s 120mm smoothbore gun as well as a 1500hp German diesel engine. The autoloader is very similar in design and performance to the Leclerc’s and can allow the tank to fire around 10 rounds a minute.
The gunner and commander have the newest day/night and thermal sights and in combination with the tank’s battlefield management and command and control systems, makes the K2 one of the most efficient and capable hunter-killer tanks around. Protection is provided by a classified composite armor and additional explosive reactive armor modules. For protection against enemy anti-tank missiles and rockets, the K2 is equipped with an active and passive protection system. The passive system warns of incoming threats and can start jamming and firing off decoys. The active protection system, similar to the Merkava’s ‘Trophy’ system, will attempt to destroy any missiles which are about to hit the tank by using a small explosive charge. Unfortunately, you won’t find any of these features in Hyundai’s latest line of cars and SUVs.
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