Armor: The End of the Line, For the Moment


May 11, 2007: While the U.S. Army, and most other armies, wonder what the next generation of tanks will be like, there's a lively business in upgrading existing tanks. All this is happening because the cycle of tank development, that got going during World War II, came to a halt with the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. During that fifty year period, the basic designs of World War II (U.S. M-26, German PzKw V, Russian T-34) evolved into the leading designs of today (U.S. M-1, German Leopard and Russian T-90). The M-1 was the most successful of these, partly because it got lots of combat experience, which the technically superior (according to many) Leopard did not.

There are actually several very different models of the M-1, and that's where all the upgrade potential comes from. The first generation of M-1s, had conventional armor and a 105mm gun. Some 3,200 of these were built between 1980 and 1986. Then came the M-1A1, with its 120mm gun and depleted uranium composite armor. There were several variants of this model built into 1990s, for a total of about 4,500. More were built for Middle Eastern customers (Egypt, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia), for a total of nearly 9,000 vehicles. Most of the current upgrades are for better fire control and communications systems.

The M-1, and its contemporaries, are the end of the line, for the moment, of practical design ideas for new tanks. There are lots of impractical ideas being proposed. But, basically, none are sufficiently superior to warrant replacing the improved M-1 type tanks now available.


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