List of main battle tanks by generation

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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 with first generation of tanks up to 1945, and four generations of main battle tanks[Note 1][1] while Canadian strategists organize main battle tanks into three generations.[Note 2][2] 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.[3] 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.[4] 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.[4] The third generation is determined by the usage of thermal imagers, digital fire control systems and special (composite) armour.[4]

However, Hilmes acknowledged that tanks cannot be definitively grouped by generations, as each tank-producing country develops and introduces its tanks in tune with its own ideas and needs. He also states that breakdown of postwar tanks by generations is based on timeframe and technical factors, as a basis for further discussion.[5]

First generation[edit]

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[3][6] 1946  United Kingdom First "Universal Tank" (MBT) Culmination of the WWII cruiser tanks.
T-54[3][6] 1946  Soviet Union Russia's First Generation of MBT.
M47 Patton 1952  United States A development of the M46 Patton and M26 Pershing tanks.
M48 Patton 1953  United States A further development of the M47 Patton tank.
T-55[3][6] 1958  Soviet Union Improved T-54.
Type 61[3] 1961  Japan Developed and used by the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force.

Second generation[edit]

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 or derivatives of it.

Name Entered service in Origin Notes
T-62[3][6] 1961  Soviet Union A further development of the T-55.
M60 Patton 1961  United States A further development of the M48 Patton tank. Later models(M60A2 and M60A3) are considered as the first intermediate generation.
Leopard 1[3][6] 1965  West Germany A main battle tank designed and produced in West Germany that first entered service in 1965.
Panzer 61[3] 1965   Switzerland A further development of the Panzer 58 tank.
MBT-70 1965  United States /  West Germany An American-West German joint project to develop a new main battle tank. Never entered service.
T-64[3] 1966  Soviet Union World's first composite armored tank, later versions of the T-64 may be considered as third generation.
AMX 30[3][6] 1966  France The AMX 30 served as the principal Main Battle Tank (MBT) for the French Army.
FV 4201 Chieftain[3][6] 1966  United Kingdom Armed with the British 120 mm Royal Ordnance L11A5 gun.
Vickers MBT[3] 1967  United Kingdom British private venture design for export, licence built as the Vijayanta for India.
Stridsvagn 103[3][6] 1968  Sweden Turretless design developed and employed solely by Sweden. Double engine feature; both diesel and gas turbine.
Panzer 68 1971   Switzerland Swiss Main Battle Tank (MBT) based on the Panzer 61.
T-72 1973  Soviet Union Hilmes puts the T-72 in the first intermediate generation.[3]
Olifant Mk 1[citation needed] 1974  South Africa A further development of the Centurion Tank.
Type 74 1975  Japan Hilmes puts the Type 74 in the first intermediate generation.[3]
Merkava Mark I[citation needed] 1979  Israel First Main Battle Tank developed and used by Israel Defense Forces.
Ch'onma-ho 1980  Soviet Union /  North Korea Copy of the T-62; later versions include upgrades.
OF-40 1981  Italy Main Battle Tank used by United Arab Emirates.
Tanque Argentino Mediano[citation needed] 1983  Argentina "Argentine Medium Tank" developed from Marder IFV by Argentina and Thyssen-Henschel.
Merkava Mark II[citation needed] 1983  Israel Improved Merkava Mark I.
T-55AM[7][8] 1985  Soviet Union /  Czechoslovakia T-55 with new engine, FCS computer, BDD composite armor (later active armor or ERA; T-55AMV, T-55AMD), equipped with new APFSDS ammunition (BM-20 or BM-25). Frontal protection of T-55AM with BDD add-on equals first T-72s .[7][9][8]
Lion of Babylon 1985  Iraq Licensed copy of the T-72.
Type 88 1988  China Variants include the Type 80, Type 85 and Type 88C.
CM-11(M48H) 1990  Taiwan Variant from M48 Patton.
CM-12 1990  Taiwan Variant from M48 Patton.
Type 96 1997  China Domestic version of Type 85-IIM later known as Type 96.
Al-Zarrar 2003  China/ Pakistan An upgraded variant of the Chinese Type 59 tank.

Third generation[edit]

The third generation of main battle tanks is characterized by composite armour and computerized stabilized fire control systems, which allow firing on the move as well as very high first hit probability on targets up to 2,000 meters away.

Name In service from Origin Notes
T-80[3][10] 1976  Soviet Union World's first turbine engine equipped tank. Though the Swedish Stridsvagn 103 that entered service in 1960s used a turbine engine alongside a diesel. However, T-80 in Hilmes's book is very different to a T-80 in real world,[11] and early models of the T-80 offer no big differences compared to T-64A in overall performance. So models prior to the T-80B should be regarded as Second generation intermediate.
Leopard 2[3][10] 1979  West Germany Replaced Leopard 1.
MBT-80 1979  United Kingdom Prototype, never entered service.
M1 Abrams 1980  United States Replaced M60 Patton.
FV4030/4 Challenger 1[3][10] 1983  United Kingdom Replaced FV 4201 Chieftain.
AMX-40 1983  France Prototype, never acquired by the French Army.
M-84 1984  Yugoslavia A Yugoslav variant of the soviet T-72.
EE-T1/EE-T2 Osório 1986 Brazil Prototype, never acquired by the Brazilian Army.
K1 88-Tank 1988  United States /  South Korea
Merkava Mark III 1989  Israel As of 2016, the Merkava III is by far the most numerous tank in frontline IDF service. Compared to the Merkava II, it has upgrades to the drivetrain, powertrain, armament, and electronic systems. The most prominent addition was the incorporation of the locally developed IMI 120 mm gun.
Type 90 Kyū-maru[10] 1990  Japan Replaced Type 74.
Ch'onma-ho 215/216 1992  North Korea A further development of Ch'onma-Ho.
AMX Leclerc[10] 1993  France Replaced AMX 30.
Zulfiqar I/II/III 1993  Iran Iranian tank derived from T-72 and M60 Patton. Zulfiqar III is the most advanced variant.
T-90[10] 1993  Russia Updated version of the T-72; originally named the T-72BU, it was renamed the T-90 after the poor performance of the Iraqi T-72 crews against American armoured crews during the Persian Gulf War.
PT-91 Twardy 1995  Poland A development of the T-72M1.
C1 Ariete[10] 1995  Italy Replaced OF-40.
TR-85 1996  Romania First built in 1985, the modernised TR-85M1 "Bizonul" (the bison) variant was updated in 1996, as an effort to bring it up to date with other NATO countries. The project was a cooperative effort between Aerospatiale-Matra, Sagem, Kolmorgen-Artus, Racal and Romanian factories, such as ROMARM, METRA, I.O.R. and Aerostar
Stridsvagn 122 1997  Sweden Based on the German Leopard 2.
M-95 Degman 1997  Croatia Croatian development of the prototype Yugoslav M-91 Vihor.
FV4034 Challenger 2[10] 1998  United Kingdom Armed with the British 120 mm Royal Ordnance L30 gun. A future life upgrade is the planning phase.
T-84 1999  Ukraine Upgraded Ukrainian version of the T-80 tank.
K1A1 2001  South Korea Upgraded version of the K1 88-Tank.
Al-Khalid/MBT-2000 2001  China Design based on T-72. Variants exported by China as VT-1A/MBT-2000[12]
Type 98/99 2001  China Replaced Type 88.
Tank EX 2002  India Prototype, Never entered service.
T-72M4 CZ[13] 2003  Czech Republic Upgraded Czech version of the T-72 tank.
Olifant Mk 2 2003  South Africa Improved Olifant Mk 1 Tank.
Arjun MBT[3][10] 2004  India Replaced Vijayanta.
Merkava Mark IV[citation needed] 2004  Israel Improved Merkava Mark III.
M-84AS 2004  Serbia Upgraded Yugoslav version of the M-84 tank. M-84AS is sometimes referred to as M-84AB1 and M-2001.
Type 96A/B 2005  China Upgraded version of the Type 96.
Type 99A 2014  China Upgraded version of the Type 99
T-72B3 2013  Russia Upgraded Russian version of the T-72. T-72B3M is the most advanced variant.
PT-16 2016  Poland A further development of PT-91 Twardy. Upgrades include improved armor, armament, and mobility.

Next Generation/Third generation advanced[edit]

Next Generation[14] or Third Generation Advanced[15] are still under development or at early stages of their generation. While the term '(Fourth) Next generation' and 'Third generation advanced' have no formal basis, these main battle tanks are using the latest technology and designs to compete with the current advanced warfare environment.[16] "Third Generation Advanced" been stated, rather than "Next Generation" in many premieres for these tanks. Those described as "Third Generation Advanced" are normally upgraded variants using the same framework of the standard third generation tank. They have their advancements built into existing or newly designed frames than being an add-on technology. Those described as "Next Generation" have had their tanks and their advanced features designed and built from scratch and are not considered upgrades of previous existing tanks.

Next Generation/Third Generation Advanced

Name In service from Origin Notes
Merkava 4 (Merkava Mk IVm Windbreaker) 2011  Israel 3rd Generation Advanced
T-90MS[17] 2011  Russia 3rd Generation Advanced
Type 10[18] 2012  Japan Next Generation[19]
Arjun MBT MK 2 2012  India 3rd Generation Advanced
K2 Black Panther[18][20] 2014  South Korea Next Generation
Leopard 2A7+ 2014  Germany 3rd Generation Advanced
VT-4 2014  China 3rd Generation Advanced
Type 99A2[21][22] 2009  China 3rd Generation Advanced
T-14 Armata 2020?  Russia Next Generation
Altay 2017[23]  Turkey /  South Korea Next Generation[24]
Karrar 2017  Iran 3rd Generation Advanced
M1A2C 2017  United States 3rd Generation Advanced

See also[edit]


  1. ^ “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.”
  2. ^ “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.”
  • 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."


  1. ^ —Sewell 1988, note 1.
  2. ^ —Lamontagne 2003, pp 7–8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Hilmes, Rolf (1983). Kampfpanzer der Die Entwickelungen der Nachkriegszeit (in German). Verlag Soldat und Technik. ISBN 3-524-89001-6, p. 7.
  4. ^ a b c Hilmes 1983, p. 8.
  5. ^ Hilmes 1983, p. 10.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Czołgi (in Polish),, p. 2[unreliable source?]
  7. ^ a b Nagy, István (1996). "A harckocsi és harcjármű fegyverzet fejlesztésének lehetőségei" (PDF). Katonai Logisztika. 3.: 18–30.
  8. ^ a b "CZK - T-55AM2". 25 December 2009.
  9. ^ Warford, James M. (2002). ""Ilich's Eyebrows": Soviet BDD Tank Armor and Its Impact on the Battlefield" (PDF). ARMOR. 3: 30-31.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i option=com_content&task=view&id=5&Itemid=6&limit=1&limitstart=2 Czołgi Check |url= value (help) (in Polish),, p. 3[unreliable source?]
  11. ^ Hilmes 1983, p. 27.
  12. ^
  13. ^ "Tank T-72M4 CZ" (in Czech). Army of the Czech Republic official website. Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  14. ^ Keller, John (4 February 2014). "General Dynamics gets contract to build 12 advanced main battle tanks with digital vetronics". Military & Aerospace Electronics. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  15. ^ Baglole, Joel (1 January 2014). "The Abrams Tank - Next Generation". US military. About. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  16. ^ "Aware" (PDF). SMDC. USASMDC/ARSTRAT Public Affairs Office. 16 August 2010. Archived from the original (PDF) on 16 February 2013. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  17. ^ "T-90MS Tagil Main battle tank". Retrieved December 14, 2015.
  18. ^ a b "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.
  19. ^ "The world's top 10 main battle tanks". Army technology. 28 November 2013. Retrieved February 25, 2014.
  20. ^ "K2 Black Panther Main Battle Tank, South Korea". Army technology. Retrieved February 28, 2014.
  21. ^ "Type 99A2", China military, Global security.
  22. ^ APA PLA AFV, Aus air power.
  23. ^ "Turkey launches tank test center - BUSINESS". Hürriyet Daily News | LEADING NEWS SOURCE FOR TURKEY AND THE REGION. Retrieved 2016-12-25.
  24. ^ "ALTAY". Retrieved 2016-12-25.