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An Era Passes
by James Dunnigan
September 30, 2011

European nations, which invented and perfected the main battle tank (MBT) a century ago, are rapidly shedding their heavily armed and armored behemoths. Two decades ago, there were over 80,000 MBTs in Europe (most in Russia and Eastern Europe). By the end of the decade, over 80 percent of those will be gone. Most died of old age, replaced by cheaper MRAPs (bomb-proof trucks) and wheeled combat vehicles like the U.S. Stryker. European nations no longer see much possibility of large armor battles, but do perceive a need for armored vehicles suitable for peacekeeping. That’s where MRAPs and Stryker type vehicles come in.

Most of the MBT attrition took place after the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991. In the following decade, 80 percent of the once mighty Red Army disappeared, as did most of the 50,000 MBTs that made the Red Army so formidable. Over 10,000 MBTs belonging to former Soviet satellite states in East Europe also got turned into scrap. Western nations put their higher quality tanks on the market, and exported thousands of them to nations around the world in need of upgrades.

On the eastern end of Eurasia, MBTs are still popular. China and India are busily expanding and upgrading their MBT fleets. If there’s ever going to another major armor battle, it’s going to be in the Middle East, or points east.

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