Defense Tech, , 31 March 2017
“I think for the very near term, the Abrams is still near the very top of its class,” said Lt. Gen. John M. Murray, deputy chief of staff for financial management, referring to the third-generation tank built by General Dynamics Corp. that entered service in 1980.
“I think we have parity,” he said during a March 22 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s Airland Subcommittee. “I think there is parity out there. I don’t think we have overmatch.”
Murray’s comments came in response to a question from Sen. Dan Sullivan, a Republican from Alaska and a Marine who served in Afghanistan. He later elaborated on the topic in response to a question from Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and chairman of the subcommittee, who asked what foreign tanks are competitive with the Abrams.
“I would say that the Israelis’ — the Merkava — would be one,” Murray said. “The [Russian] T-90 is probably pretty close. People talk about their Armata tank and that’s still, in my mind, not completely fielded. Probably the British tank [Challenger 2] is pretty close. I would not say that we have the world-class tank that we had for many, many years. I’ll be an optimist and say that we’re at parity with a lot of different nations.”
Here’s a closer look at the foreign tanks he mentioned:
Israel’s Merkava MK-IV
Israel Defense Forces’ Merkava first entered service in 1978, though the newest model, the MK-IV (Mark 4), entered production in 2004. The 65-ton tank was developed by Mantak and the IDF Ordnance Corp., and carries four crew members. It features a top speed of 40 miles per hour, a range of about 310 miles, a 120mm smoothbore gun. The IDF is moving forward with plans to add to the vehicle the Trophy Active Protection System, which is capable of destroying anti-tank missiles.
Russia’s T-90 is a third-generation tank that entered service in 1993, though an upgraded variant, the T-90A, became operational in 2004. The 46-ton tank is made by Ural Design Bureau of Transport Machine-Building (Uralvagonzavod), carries three crew members, and features a top speed of 37 miles per hour, a range of about 340 miles, a 125mm smoothbore gun, as well as an active-protection system.
Russia’s T-14 Armata
Russia has reportedly stopped buying the T-90 to develop and field the next-generation T-14 Armata tank, which is believed to still be in testing and not yet operational (see Murray’s comments above). The 50-ton tank being developed by Uralvagonzavod is designed to carry a crew of three and feature a top speed of as much as 56 miles per hour, a range of about 310 miles, a 125mm smoothbore gun and an active-protection system.
Britain’s Challenger 2
The United Kingdom’s FV4034 Challenger 2, made by the British defense giant BAE Systems Plc, entered service in 1998 to replace the Cold War-era Challenger 1. The upgraded variant weighs about 63 tons and carries a crew of four, including a commander, gunner, loader and driver. It features a top speed of 37 miles per hour, a range of 340 miles and a 120mm rifled gun.
Meanwhile, the latest variant of the U.S.-made Abrams, the M1A2, weighs about 72 tons, carries a crew of four, and features a top speed of 42 miles per hour, a range of 243 miles, and a 120mm smoothbore gun. The Army for years has talked about adding active protection to the tracked vehicle, but hasn’t yet.
Murray said the Army is “just about reaching the limits of what we can do with the Abrams, so it is time for us to start looking at a next-generation tank.” But, he added, “There is nothing on the horizon that indicates a fundamental breakthrough in technology where we can come up with a lighter tank.”
A spokesperson for General Dynamics, which makes the Abrams, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
*Editor’s note: The Leopard 2 series of Main Battle Tank should be included in this list. As an addendum to this article, the Leopard 2A5 has been added.
The Leopard 2 is a main battle tank developed by Krauss-Maffei in the 1970s for the West German Army. The tank first entered service in 1979 and succeeded the earlier Leopard 1 as the main battle tank of the German Army. Various versions have served in the armed forces of Germany and 12 other European countries, as well as several non-European nations. The Leopard 2 was used in Kosovo with the German Army and has also seen action in Afghanistan with the Danish and Canadian contributions to the International Security Assistance Force, as well as seeing action in Syria with the Turkish Armed Forces against IS and the YPJ.
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 other improvements. All models feature digital fire control systems with laser rangefinders, a fully stabilized 120 mm Rheinmetall L55 smoothbore 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.