List of main battle tanks by generation
Main battle tanks are often classified as belonging to a particular generation, although the actual definition and membership in these generations is not clearly defined. Soviet and Russian military planners organize tanks into a generation of tanks up to 1945, and four generations of main battle tanks, while Canadian strategists organize main battle tanks into three generations. The military of the People's Republic of China also recognizes three generations of its own tanks.
In 1983 Rolf Hilmes saw three tank generations and three "intermediate generations", which consisted mainly of upgraded vehicles. The first generation of main battle tanks were based on or influenced by designs of World War II, most notably the T-34 and the Panther tank. The second generation was equipped with NBC protection (only sometimes), IR night vision devices, a stabilized main gun and at least a mechanical fire control system. The third generation is determined by the usage of thermal imagers, digital fire control systems and special (composite) armour.
The first generation consists of the medium tanks designed and produced directly after World War II that were later redefined as main battle tanks.
|Name||Entered service in||Origin||Notes|
|Centurion||1945||United Kingdom||Culmination of the WWII cruiser tanks|
|M48 Patton||1953||United States|
|T-55||1958||Soviet Union||Improved T-54|
|Type 59||1959||China||Licensed copy of the T-54A|
The second generation had enhanced night-fighting capabilities and in most cases NBC protection. Most western tanks of this generation were armed with the 105 mm Royal Ordnance L7 tank gun.
|Name||Entered service in||Origin||Notes|
|T-62||1961||Soviet Union||Based on the T-55, featured world's first smooth bore tank cannon|
|M60 Patton||1961||United States|
|Leopard 1||1965||West Germany|
|T-64||1966||Soviet Union||World's first composite armored tank|
|FV 4201 Chieftain||1966||United Kingdom||Armed with the British 120 mm Royal Ordnance L11A5 gun|
|Vickers MBT||1967||United Kingdom||British private venture design, license built as the Vijayanta for India|
|Stridsvagn 103||1968||Sweden||Turretless design developed and employed solely by Sweden. Double engine feature; both diesel and gas turbine.|
|T-72||1973||Soviet Union||Hilmes puts the T-72 in the first intermediate generation.|
|Olifant||1974||South Africa||Improved on the centurion tank.|
|Type 74||1975||Japan|
|Merkava Mark I/II||1978||Israel|
|Tanque Argentino Mediano||1983||Argentina|
|Type 69/79||1983||China||Based on the Type 59|
|M-84||1984||Yugoslavia||Based on the T-72|
|Ch'onma-ho||1980s||Soviet Union / North Korea||Licensed copy of the T-62; later versions include upgrades.|
|Type 88||1980s||China||Variants include the Type 80 and Type 85|
The third generation of main battle tanks is characterized by composite amour, smooth bore main cannons and computerized stabilized fire control systems, which allow firing on the move as well as very high first hit probability on targets up to 2000m.
|Name||In service from||Origin||Notes|
|T-80||1976||Soviet Union||World's first turbine engine equipped tank. Which is argueable since the Swedeish MBT 103 already in its prototype version of 1959 it was a twin-engine solution.|
|Leopard 2||1979||West Germany|
|M1 Abrams||1980||United States|
|FV4030/4 Challenger 1||1983||United Kingdom|
|EE-T1 Osório||1985||Brazil||Prototype, never acquired by the Brazilian Army.|
|Type 90 Kyū-maru||1990||Japan|
|Zulfiqar MBT||1993||Iran||Iranian tank derived from T-72 and M60 Patton. Zulfiqar 3 is the most advanced variant|
|PT-91 Twardy||1995||Poland||Sometimes seen as 2.5th generation tank.|
|T-90||1996||Russia||Upgraded Russian version of the T-72 tank|
|FV4034 Challenger 2||1998||United Kingdom|
|T-84||1999||Ukraine||Upgraded Ukrainian version of the T-80 tank|
|Al-Khalid MBT/MBT 2000||2001/Bangladesh- 2012||Pakistan / China/ Bangladesh||Joint development between China and Pakistan|
Advanced third generation
In-between generation of third and fourth. These main battle tanks are basically third generation design and development with fourth generation technology. It is a cheaper than creating a new main battle tanks frame and where no threat of a fourth generation main battle tank seen in the near future. Some of these main battle tanks are seen as upgraded variants.
- Leopard 2A7+ - planned modular upgrade for existing Leopard 2
- M-84AS: Serbian-upgraded M-84 tank
- M1A3 Abrams: Upgrade of the M1A2 model
- M-95 Degman: Under development
- MBT Arjun Mk-II: - Prototype in testing
Fourth generation are still under development or at early generation. These main battle tanks use the latest technology and designs to over take a third generation and compete with other fourth generation main battle tanks.
|Name||In service from||Origin||Notes|
|Type 10||2012||Japan||Early Fourth Generation|
Tanks that are currently under development and not yet in service.
- / Al-Khalid-II: Introduction planned for 2012
- CSU-152: - Prototypes in testing
- Type 99KM
- Main Battle Tank 3000: Introduction slated for 2014
- K2 Black Panther: Introduction slated for 2014
- T-99 Armata: Introduction planned for 2015
- Altay: Four testbeds produced, serial production planned for 2015
- “The Soviets saw tank generations in this manner: 1920-1945, first generation; 1946-1960, second generation; 1961-1980, third generation; and 1981-present, fourth generation. Since the last really new tank design, the T-80, came out in 1976, they feel that they have not produced a true Fourth Generation Tank Design. In comparison, they count the M1, Challenger, and Leopard 2 as Fourth Generation and the LeClerc as Fifth Generation.” —Sewell 1988, note 1.
- “The Canadian Directorate of Land Strategic Concept defines three generations of Main Battle Tanks. The first generation of post World War II Main Battle Tanks includes the U.S. M48/M60, the German Leopard 1 and the British Centurion and Chieftain. The second generation includes most of the 120 mm Main Battle Tanks such as the American M1A1, the German Leopard 2 and the British Challenger. As for the third generation Main Battle Tank, they include the latest ‘digital’ tank such as the French Leclerc and perhaps the American M1A2 and the German Leopard 2A5.” —Lamontagne 2003, pp 7–8.
- Hilmes, p. 7
- Hilmes, p. 8
- Pancerni.net 1[unreliable source?]
- Pancerni.net 2[unreliable source?]
- "Competition Tank Asian countries: China Satellite Compass may be supported 99A2". Military of China, force comment. August 31, 2011. Archived from the original on February 23, 2012.
- "Milli Tank Altay In Test Surusleri Basladi".
- Note to the Pancerni website source - Translation of most important parts of 1st, 2nd, 2.5 and 3rd generation MBTs characteristics: "The first generation MBTs are tanks made immediately after WWII. The second generation MBTs have better sights in comparison to the first generation MBTs. Also second generation MBTs were the first ones to use laser sights and APFSDS rounds. The third generation consists of tanks armed with high caliber and velocity guns like M1A1 Abrams. Third generation tanks also use composite armour as well as armour made out of highly resistant sintered ceramic materials. Third generation tanks also have full stabilization system for the main gun. There tanks between second and third generations, like Soviet T-72 which has powerful gun which would classify it as a third generation MBT but at the same time the stabilization system is much too primitive for it to a third generation MBT. It also lacks engine power to be a third generation MBT and has ammunition with less quality."
- Lamontagne, J.G. Pierre (2003). Are the Days of the Main Battle Tank Over?. Toronto, Ontario, Canadian Forces College.
- Sewell, Stephen ‘Cookie’ (1998). Why Three tanks? in Armor vol 108, no 4, p 21. Fort Knox, KY US Army Armor Center.
- Hunnicutt, R. P. Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank. ISBN 0-89141-230-1.
- Hilmes, Rolf (1983). Kampfpanzer der Die Entwickelungen der Nachkriegszeit (in German). ISBN 3-524-89001-6.