Armor: Turkish Designed Tanks Go Global

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October 31, 2017: A Turkish firm has collaborated with an Indonesian company to produce the prototype of the 34 ton KAPLAN MT tank. The prototype was displayed during the October 5th Indonesian armed forces day parade. The Indonesian design team worked in Turkey with the manufacturer to design and build the prototype which has been undergoing field tests in Indonesia since the vehicle arrived in September. Twenty of the KAPLAN MT tanks will be assembled at an Indonesian plant and some of the components will be manufactured in Indonesia. Most of the tank components are made in Turkey although the turret comes from a Belgium firm. More orders will follow if the KAPLAN MT continues to perform well in the many diverse parts of Indonesia.

The KAPLAN MT has a three man crew and a 105mm gun that uses an autoloader (with 12 rounds ready to fire). The 105mm gun fires armor piercing and high explosive rounds accurate out to about 4,000 meters. A 7.62mm machine-gun is mounted coaxially with the 105mm gun and a 12.7mm machine-gun is on the turret top. The vehicle armor will protect against 25mm armor piercing rounds and all types of shell fragments. The underside of the tank will protect the crew against most anti-vehicle mines. Top speed of the vehicle is 70 kilometers an hour on roads and onboard fuel with take the vehicle 450 kilometers. The main gun uses a modern fire control and battle management system that includes a laser rangefinder and thermal sight. There is an auxiliary power unit to keep the turret electronics going while the main engine is turned off. The three man crew is provided with air conditioning and protection from chemical weapons. The initial order is for 20 tanks and the first of these is to be available by late 2018.

KAPLAN MT is the first Turkish tank to be exported. Earlier in 2017 the Turkish Army successfully completed acceptance tests for its new locally developed Altay tank. The Altay is similar to the modern American and European tanks and has been in development since 2008. The Turks plan to buy a thousand of the new Altays for about $5.5 million each. These will be acquired in four lots of 250 each although not all may be needed depending on the regional military-political situation. The Turkish Army currently has about 700 German Leopard 1 and 2 tanks, 900 American M-60s (upgraded by Israel) and 1,300 American M-48s. Most (except for the Leopard 2s) are quite old and need replacing soon. Turkey doesn’t really need 3,000 tanks when half the number of more modern ones would do. Altay is similar to the 338 Leopard 2s the Turks currently have. Most of the rest are Cold War era tanks and rapidly approaching retirement age.

Altay is also similar to the American M1. Both have a 120mm gun, composite armor, and high-end electronics. The two tanks are so similar because in 2011 Turkey paid South Korea $400 million for rights to much of the technology in the new 55 ton South Korean K2 tank. This vehicle was in turn based on the 1980s K1, which deliberately emulated the M1 design in many ways and did so with the cooperation of the United States. The K1 and K2 proved to be successful designs, and the Turks already had decades of experience maintaining and upgrading American M-60 tanks (the predecessor of the M1). With the addition of the South Korean tech the Altay rapidly took shape.

The K2 design was attractive to the Turks because it used a number of new electronic defenses. These include a laser detector that will instantly tell the crew the direction the enemy laser beam is coming from. Most tanks use a laser range finder before it fires its main gun. The K2 fire control system also enables the main gun (120mm) to be used to hit low flying aircraft (helicopters, mostly). There are also numerous improvements to the K1 mechanical and electronic systems, as well as more armor (both composite and ERA). This made the K2 (and Altay) easier to use and maintain. An autoloader reduces the crew to three men. The Altay is more heavily armored than the K2 and does not use the auto-loader. Saudi Arabia is considering purchasing several hundred Altays as part of an effort to cement an unofficial alliance with Turkey against Iran and anyone else who might threaten Saudi Arabia and its immediate neighbors. Some other Moslem states are also interested.

 


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