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Tanks That Melt
by James Dunnigan
May 16, 2009

For the last 18 years, a small firm in Germany has dismantled, for scrap and spare parts, over 14,000 armored vehicles. Most were tanks and armored personnel carriers, and about half the vehicles were from the former East German Army. This force, and all its Russian equipment, became surplus when the two Germanys merged in 1990. The West German Army had nearly 10,000 armored vehicles, and most of these have been scrapped because of the end of the Cold War in 1991, replacement by new equipment, and a disarmament treaty (Conventional Armed Forces in Europe, or CFE) that limited the number of armored vehicles Russia and Western nations could maintain in Europe.

While most the metal goes into the furnace to be recycled, many engines are sold off as spare parts for remaining vehicles of the same type, or for other uses. Some of the steel is very high quality, and is melted down for industrial and consumer items that require quality steel. Also removed and sorted are other types of metal, like copper. Many automotive and electrical components are also removed intact for reuse.

The work is monitored by Russian CFE inspectors, and photo satellites, to insure that combat vehicles are definitely destroyed. It takes 2-3 days to take apart a tank. Some components have to be cut into pieces that will fit into the furnace. No special tools are required for disassembly, just a lot of hard work. The firm doing all the work is called, not surprisingly, the Battle Tank Dismantling Corporation. It is located 300 kilometers southwest of Berlin.

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